Swami Vivekananda is known for his insightful views on Karma Yoga. He got a new light or idea about the spiritual dimension of work during his tutelage under Sri Ramakrishna.
One day Sri Ramakrishna was explaining to his devotees the three basic tenets of Vaishnava religion. The incident took place at Dakshineshwar where Sri Ramakrishna used to live. Narendra Nath (the pre-monastic name of Swami Vivekananda), who was a teenager at that time, was also present in the room.
Sri Ramakrishna first explained the tenet “Taste for the Lord’s name”. Then he mentioned the second one, namely, “Compassion for the Jivas”. The moment he uttered the word “compassion”, he went into a transcendental state and lost his outer consciousness. When he came down from that state to the normal plane, he said, “What! How can a human being, who is insignificant and worse than a worm, show compassion to another? It is not compassion, but service to God in Man or Shiva Gyan Se Jiva Seva.” He meant that one cannot show compassion, but should serve others looking upon them as veritable manifestations of God.
Narendra Nath remarked that he had heard something new that day and should God give him an opportunity he would broadcast this truth throughout the world.
In fact, the world renowned philanthropic institution Ramakrishna Mission, which he established in 1897 after his return from the West, is founded upon this idea.He set before the Mission a twin ideal, namely, Atmano Mokshartham Jagaddhitayacha, i.e., for one’s own spiritual evolution as well as the welfare of the world. Hence, all the apparent secular activities undertaken by the Ramakrishna Mission, both by monks and the lay devotees alike, have a deeper spiritual basis. They form an integral part of spiritual sadhana or Karma Yoga where the aspirants sincerely try to serve God in Man.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 24th May 2014