Dasyam—Becoming the Lord’s Servant

Service to the Lord is so intimate that He offers it to only the most trustworthy souls.

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, the devotee Prahlada Maharaja, a great spiritual authority, says, “Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Vishnu [Krishna], remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship … , offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krishna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge.” Here we continue our series on the nine processes of bhakti- yoga, or devotional service to the Lord.

Picture this classified ad: “Servant Needed. Must be qualified to anticipate and fulfill the master’s every desire without direct instruction. Must be available 24/7, with no time off for sick leave, vacations, or holidays. Should be willing to sacrifice life if needed. No salary. Modest meals and humble dwelling provided, along with much good will if the master is satisfied.”

Would there be many takers? The position of servant is the lowest in the socio-economic hierarchy. Servants collect garbage tossed aside by the rest. Always under orders from others, servants have the least liberty to pursue their own dreams and goals. Servants are overworked, unnoticed, underpaid, unappreciated.

As modern-day materialism deteriorates higher spiritual values, repugnance for servitude follows like a virus. The once noble, beloved, trusted servant has become a paid lackey, coldly measured by productivity, subject to impersonal obligations and betrayals. Though savvy bosses train employees to superficially delight the “always-right” customer, service jobs carry limited respect and value.

In such an atmosphere we approach the next process of devotional service: dasyam, the rendering of personal service to God. Here we step beyond materialistic views of servitude. Ideally, service leads the servant to become a confidante of the served. Service to God is so intimate that He offers it only to the most trustworthy souls.

Dasyam refers to a heartfelt yearning to be of personal service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. It is the ultimate expression of humility, yet it is bold in its aspiration to such a lofty position.

To attain dasyam one must completely understand that God is a person. He is not our creation. Rather, Krishna is a person of such wonder and magnitude that this vast, imponderable world is just a tiny spark of His creative ability. To serve Krishna we must come to know this magnificent person and understand His desires.

Just as famous or wealthy people don’t allow just anyone into their personal employ, Lord Krishna accepts personal service only from the pure-hearted. He sees when service is tainted by selfish motives. And while He kindly recognizes all attempts at service, the self-centered cannot attain intimate, truly personal service.

Two Noted Servants

The Ramayana offers an extraordinary example of personal service. Lord Rama, the celebrated incarnation of Krishna, loses his wife, Sita, to a kid-napper. Traveling to her rescue, Rama meets the monkey warrior Hanuman, who scours the earth and leaps the ocean to find Sita. Lord Rama did not have to instruct Hanuman or offer endless encouragement; because of Hanuman’s pure love for the Lord, the opportunity to serve enthralled him.

During his search, Hanuman was captured and tortured by the kidnapper Ravana. Yet Hanuman’s desire to serve remained unchanged. “An apparently pitiable condition in devotional service may appear distressing to the inexperienced student,” writes Srila Prabhupada in The Nectar of Devotion, “but the feelings of the devotee in this pitiable condition are considered to be ecstatic by expert devotees.”

Service to Krishna is described as both the means and the end. It is not simply a step to bigger things. In this world, who aspires to remain a servant for life? We expect some kind of payback—money or prestige. But spiritual servitude completely satisfies the servant. Hanuman prayed to Lord Rama: “My dear Lord, if You like You can give me salvation from this material existence, or the privilege of merging into Your existence, but I do not wish any of those things. I do not wish anything which diminishes my relationship with You as servant to master, even after liberation.” (The Nectar of Devotion)

Daruka, Krishna’s chariot driver, once prayed to the Lord to remove the ecstasy he felt as he fanned the Lord to cool Him. Daruka’s powerful spiritual bliss interfered with his concentration on his simple service, and he begged the Lord to help him control his overwhelming spiritual pleasure.

Daruka and Hanuman knew clearly the wishes of their masters, and the venerated Vedic scriptures herald them as great servants of God. Today, however, you may rightly ask who could be more presumptuous than one who claims to know God’s will. Although Lord Krishna reveals His will in general through scripture, His immediate will is veiled by layers of illusion wrapped about our hearts. While we are under the spell of this world, we cannot presume that we’re qualified to be Krishna’s servant. That would be prideful and offensive to the Lord and to the pure souls who offer selfless, unblemished service.

Servant of the Servant

So for us, dasyam means not to serve the Lord directly, but to serve those who serve Him. Indeed, if we are honest within ourselves, we’ll admit that even that position is perhaps too exalted for us. Our aspiration should rather be to serve the servants of the servants of the servants of the Lord, stretching our humility as far as our realizations will allow. It is said that the servants of the Lord are even kinder than the Lord Himself. So even if we’re impure, they can accept on His behalf our clumsy attempts to serve Him without offense.

That’s one reason we need a guru to attain dasyam. But who is a guru? In spiritual life, external appearance is irrelevant. People claiming a direct link to God may be simply advertising themselves as fools, captivated by a desire to be God’s best servant, basking in the praise of others. A true servant of God finds joy in serving the servants of God. So great is the pleasure found in the effort and sacrifice of such service that misery arises when pride obstructs it. True humility thus naturally appears in a true guru, whose heart is ever-satisfied as the servant of Krishna’s servants.