The Bhagavad-Gita warns the aspirant for true wisdom to beware of "attachment to objects of sense," and St. Paul says "the love of money is the root of all evil." In both cases it is not the "objects" or the "money" themselves that are denounced, but the concentration on more or less selfish and personal desires and satisfactions which obsess the mind, in spite of the fact that it leads to nothing but a succession of pains and so-called pleasures. The attachment to objects of sense is a hardening quality and one of the most formidable obstacles to spiritual progress. If we want the Light to shine we must clean the lantern and trim the wick.
There is a more subtle meaning to "attachment" than appears at first sight. It is perilous to the health of the soul not only when applied to gross matters such as greed for power, riches or praise. Everyone knows that danger to some degree; it is elementary. But attachment is also to be avoided in regard to much that we are apt to pride ourselves on, such as the personal gratification aroused in us by doing good works. It is a subtle form taken by "the snake of self" mentioned in Light on the Path, and which though not altogether ignoble, must be killed and not only scotched. In a world like this, so selfish and slow to learn, acts of beneficence if based on pure desire to help our fellow men are of untold value to giver and receiver, and will be blessed, but if alloyed with the personal element of "I am doing this" even self-sacrificing labor for others loses some of its virtue. Let us see what a high authority says about this:
Many years ago, in 1896, when Katherine Tingley was in India, she was directed to visit "the Holy Man of Benares," Swami Bhaskaranda Saraswati, a chela of the Master M. and a highly honored spiritual and intellectual Teacher, then more than 100 years old. He was full of energy and kindliness and his intelligence was undimmed by the passing of the years. The meeting of these two Leaders, both inspired by the same ideals, was a remarkable event, which she described in detail to some of her students on her return to America. The Swami's teaching was largely directed toward the development of that positive quality of impersonality so necessary for spiritual progress. D. Gopal Mukerji, one of his followers, describes the Swami's methods of training his chelas, one of which is worth careful thought in regard to the subject we are considering.
During one of his visits to Benares, Mukerji noticed that a hospital had been erected on the grounds of the asram, and on being asked about it the Swami said it was "the punishment for doing good!" The Swami had a strong vein of humor, but this quaint remark had a deep meaning. He told Mukerji that although it was a good work and a necessary one he had to be careful to keep his personality from being too deeply entangled in its administration.
Noticing that the Swami's disciples were working with great enthusiasm in the healing work, Mukerji remarked that they might be in far greater danger of becoming immersed in good works to the exclusion of higher duties. The Swami replied:
"Yes, like those two young ladies there, other people come to me to serve God. Well, youth suffers from the delusion that it can "do good," but I have remedied that somewhat. I let them take care of the sick as long as their outlook on God remains vivid and untarnished, but the moment any of my disciples shows signs of being caught in the routine of good works — like a scavenger's cart that follows a routine of removing dirt every morning — I send that soul off to our retreat in the Himalayas, there to meditate and purify his soul. When he regains his God-outlook to the fullest, if he wishes, I let him return to the hospital. Beware, beware, good can choke up the soul as much as evil."
He said much more to the same effect, pointing out that by living a noble and sanctified life without straining to "save" the personality by doing good, "the routine" as he calls it, all the good you wish to do will come about of itself. This, of course, when properly understood is the inner meaning of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, where Jesus reproved Martha for being "cumbered" by her concentration on the personal "routine" of hospitality, while Mary, more intuitive, flung it aside "to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear his word."