There remains considerable confusion and ambivalence with regard to the role of work and service in spiritual development. Throughout the world, those who live a life of labour and service have been considered to be “lower” than those who practice other Dharmas in carrying out their existence. In the West, this has led to slavery or various forms of servitude, whether physically enforced or economically enforced on people. In India, this has developed into the Sudra caste of society. At the same time, any realistic observation of the nature of life shows that work and service are both essential and carry out, in their ultimate sense, spiritual principles that need to be part of any integral realisation.
Partially due to the undeveloped nature of people who fit this general soul-type, and the lack of opportunities and educational support to assist them in developing their inherent soul-powers in a positive manner, we find that many simply work in order to survive, and do so without enthusiasm or motivation, and of course, they will tend to avoid labour when not actually necessary for their survival, as the Guna of Tamas is mostly highly evident in the unregenerated form of enforced labour. One employer I know made the point once that he had to ensure that he balanced the payments and the timing of those payments to his employees properly or, if they had too much money at one time, they would simply not show up for work until the money was depleted! Modern day theories have stressed the need for universal education and advancement opportunities as a way of raising up the general class that has been exploited and suppressed simply to obtain their labour without thought of their spiritual possibilities.
Sri Aurobindo comments: “The ancients held that all men are born in their lower nature as Sudras and only regenerated by ethical and spiritual culture, but in their highest inner self are Brahmanas capable of the full spirit and godhead, a theory which is not far perhaps from the psychological truth of our nature.” This approach would very much support the idea that through ennobling the concept of service, and by providing those who take up that role opportunities for growth, development and education, there could be a much higher overall spiritual development within society.
Sri Aurobindo also observes the necessity of this aspect in the life of man and society: “And yet when the soul develops, it is in this Swabhava and Dharma of work and service that there are found some of the most necessary and beautiful elements of our greatest perfection and the key to much of the secret of the highest spiritual evolution. For the soul powers that belong to the full development of this force in us are of the greatest importance,–the power of service to others, the will to make our life a thing of work and use to God and man, to obey and follow and accept whatever great influence and needful discipline, the love which consecrates service, a love which asks for no return, but spends itself for the satisfaction of that which we love, the power to bring down this love and service into the physical field and the desire to give our body and life as well as our soul and mind and will and capacity to God and man, and, as a result, the power of complete self-surrender,…, which transferred to the spiritual life becomes one of the greatest and most revealing keys to freedom and perfection. In these things lies the perfection of this Dharma and the nobility of this Swabhava. Man could not be perfect and complete if he had not this element of nature in him to raise to its divine power.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 15, Soul-Force and the Fourfold Personality, pp. 718-720