Atmabhava is the ability to see oneself reflected in another person. People see their reflection in their offspring and are connected with them, sympathize with them, love them and believe that the child is theirs because it is born of their womb. They are able to see a reflection of the nature of their soul in that child. However, when they are able to see their reflection in everyone, it is called atmabhava. Service happens most efficiently when there is atmabhava.
An incident in Swami Sivananda's life illustrates atmabhava. One day a pilgrim on his way to Badrinath came to him. In those days there were no roads or cars, only bullock-carts and the pilgrim's two legs. That particular pilgrim was sick. He came to Swami Sivananda's dispensary, described his problem and Swami Sivananda gave him some medicine. The pilgrim went on his way. Three hours later, Swami Sivananda felt that the medicine was not the appropriate one and a better one could have been given instead. He called Swami Satyananda and said, "Locate that pilgrim and give him this medicine for it is the better one. I have given him the wrong medicine." This was not an easy task for Swami Satyananda!
This is a story of atmabhava. It was not necessary for Swami Sivananda to go through this motion of compassion. He did not ignore the suffering of any individual or his responsibility, his commitment, dharma or duty, for he saw the divine presence in everyone.
Seva is the only way that God has given to ensure that others are helped. Seva means cooperation. In nature everything exists for others. The human being is the only creature who lives for himself alone. Until and unless this selfish, self-centred human being is convinced and has the strength of character to walk the path of seva, he will not be able to achieve anything.
Seva is the first expression of Swami Sivananda's yoga, which begins after having come to the state of Sage Patanjali's meditation and an understanding of atmabhava. As the spiritual aspirant serves more and more, as he connects himself with people more and more, he purifies himself internally and an unconditioned love emanates from his being, touching everyone.
The love of an enlightened being is universal and unconditional. Just as the rays of the sun shine equally on all, the love that radiates from an enlightened being embraces all.