There was once a king, who questioned many a scholar and sage who came to his court, “which is the best service and which is the best time to render it?” He could not get a satisfying answer from them.
One day, he got separated from his troops, in a thick jungle; he rode a long way, exhausted and hungry, until he reached a hermitage. There was an old monk who received him kindly and offered him a welcome cup of cool water.
After a little rest the king asked his host the question that was tormenting his brain, ‘Which is the best service?” The hermit said, “Giving a thirsty man a cup of water.” And, which is the best time to render it?” The answer was, “When he comes far and lonely, looking for some place where he can get it.”
The act of service is not to be judged, according to the cost or publicity it entails; it may be only the offering of a cup of water in the depth of a jungle. But the need of the recipient, the mood of the person who offers – these decide whether the act is gold or lead.
If you want to eliminate your ego, you have to consider yourself a servant. More than penance, meditation; service to others is the means by which one transforms oneself. You should try to ascertain the cause of their suffering and try to remove it.
Only then can you do selfless service properly. Momentary sympathy or charity or competing with others in exhibiting one’s generosity is not true service. In rendering service if you try to do something which is beyond your capacity it is a sign of your ego.
If you give less than what you can, then you are a thief (denying to others what is due to them). You must be discriminating in your service. You must regard service as a spiritual effort.