Swami Tapasyananda: Impersonal interest and Selfless Service

Swami Tapasyananda

Interest is of two kinds, personal interest and impersonal interest. Swami Tapasyananda (1904 – 1991), was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. Here, Swami Tapasyananda writes about the importance of impersonal interest in spirituality.

Personal interest, as in business, is always motivated by considerations of personal gain. Under this inducement, man can do much for the advancement of society, provided he is guided by a proper sense of discipline and a code of honour. Give and take is the norm to be followed here. It is the generally prevailing law of life.

Impersonal interest is applicable only to people who have risen to a higher level of thought and living, who feel that life is not worth living if it offers opportunity only to live for oneself and to work only for personal gain. They want a higher sanction for human effort than mere interest born of personal gain. Now the ideal of work without attachment is applicable only to such persons.

In the questions raised above it is assumed that everyone can adopt this ideal or is capable of adopting it, or is asked to adopt it. That is not correct. A person who can temperamentally feel inclined to work only when work fetches personal gain, is incapable of serving humanity with detachment or out of compassion. Give and take is the only law for him.

To one who feels it is not worth living only for the narrow self, interest can be created in work only from higher considerations born of one’s identification with wider groups, causes or ideals.

Thus service of a community – service of one’s country, service of humanity, and service of God have provided such souls of higher evolution with motives for action. It is wrong to think that in such actions there is no interest and there is no zeal in work. Great zeal and energy have been shown by workers in the service of great causes though they do not gain anything personal through it.

Detachment does not mean indifference but zeal without consideration of personal gains.

But complete detachment combined with efficiency in the most genuine sense is possible when service or work of any kind becomes a part of one’s devotional life. The conviction that all the world belongs to God and that we are His humble servants entrusted with certain duties, must become the most dominant note in our life. We must also feel that all the energy we get mentally and physically is from God and that success and failure are attendant on His will and that we are merely His instruments. If we are fully entrenched in this conviction, born of devotional experience, we will be detached in the fullest sense of the term and also be most zealous in the cause for which we are working, be it country, humanity or anything else we could consider as God’s. A sense of instrumentality is also needed to get full detachment and this is possible only when a devotional element supplements the pursuit of impersonal values like patriotism, humanism, etc.

As for the question of recompense for work without attachment, the issue is raised only by persons who can think in terms of personal gain alone. The feeling that a cause has been promoted or one’s duty has been done properly, is the recompense. The recompense is qualitative, not quantitative and cannot be called recompense in the ordinary sense. It improves the quality of our spirit, it makes us better men and women, it pushes us forward in the path of evolution.

Those who work with detachment in the devotional spirit, gain God’s grace, says Sri Ramakrishna: ‘A servant works for years for his master without any personal consideration. The master, being pleased with him, puts him on his own seat of honour and tells others that he is as good as himself and they should all obey him. A devotee who works for God’s sake without a tinge of self, is raised by Him to His own exalted state.’

According to the Vedantic doctrine upheld by Shankara, detached work purifies the mind and prepares the aspirant for the higher discipline of knowledge, Jnana-vidya.

Swami Tapasyanandaji Maharaj (1904-1991), was one of the brightest stars that shone in spiritual firmament of the Ramakrishna Order in the twentieth century. His life was a shining example of austerity, devotion, knowledge, a very high degree of inner poise, and dedicated serviceful action – thus, a fine synthesis of Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana as taught by Swami Vivekananda.


Swami Tapasyananda


Image Credit: Vinayak Lohani, Belur Math