Swami Sivananda had a simple process before eating. When the food came to him, he first took a little piece of rice, roti, dal and vegetables, which he did not eat himself. He put it on the ground as an offering to the gods and divine beings. Some people before eating take some food to the cowshed, as for them feeding the cow is the highest dharma, or duty. Swami Sivananda used to do his offering first and keep some food for a swami in the ashram.
Every day people gave so much to Swami Sivananda: blankets and clothes, sweets and fruits, biscuits and money. He just kept feeding and giving to everyone, from human beings to monkeys.
In Rishikesh, there used to be a lot of monkeys who were shrewd rowdies, not gentlemen. The ashram had a big kitchen with a hall and the residents used to close the door to eat inside. The moment they opened the door, the monkeys would come into the kitchen with great speed and take up to twenty rotis. When the swamis carried food from the kitchen to the rooms of the sick, the monkeys would attack and take away the rotis, vegetables and other food. Swami Sivananda said that the monkeys represented the great Hanuman, the monkey god, and it was the duty of the swamis to feed them every Friday morning. On Thursday, a large amount of horse gram was soaked in water and the next morning it would be taken out onto the terrace for the monkeys.
Great figures such as Swami Sivananda come ready-made with that nature, but in the case of most people, good deeds can be an egoistic action. A person is propelled by his ego, so he does good deeds in order to feed that ego and self-satisfaction. However, there are people who always consider it their duty to do good to others, and who were born only with that purpose. There are many stories in both the East and West about people who consider the needs of others to be more important than their own.
Swami Sivananda did act without any thought of self. It is difficult for people who are practical and pragmatic to understand what he was doing. He thought that God was in every form. The monkey is God, the boys and girls are God, the ashramites are God, the guests are God. Therefore, if anybody was sick or in trouble, he helped them not for any gain but as worship of God. That is the attitude of saintly people.
Saintly people have the attitude of divinity and people who are charitable, humanistic and philanthropic have the attitude of doing good to others. Sage Vasishtha says in Yoga Vasishtha (6:2:47:30):
Sajjano hi samuttaarya vipadbhyo nikatasthitam;
Niyojayati sampatsu svaalokeshviva bhaaskarah.
It is the nature of virtuous men to deliver their neighbours from danger and calamity, and to lead them towards wellbeing and prosperity, as the sun leads people to light.
Swami Sivananda liked to tell stories and parables to elucidate his teaching. One such parable is about a millionaire who wanted to send an urgent message to another rich man living in a neighbouring town. He calls his best clerk and hands him the message saying, "Please take this urgently to my friend." The messenger delivers the message to the other rich man. This haughty rich man accepts the message and indifferently tells the messenger, "I hope you have had your food; if you haven't, take this fruit and get away." The messenger is deeply hurt and goes away.
On the way, a poor man meets the messenger and with great love and solicitude offers a glass of cool water. The messenger is greatly pleased and refreshes himself with the water. The messenger reports the whole matter to his master who, realizing that the insult heaped upon his messenger is verily an insult to his own person, looks with disfavour upon the rich man who thenceforward lives estranged from the millionaire. The poor man is amply rewarded.
Similarly, God sends humankind His messengers in the form of saints and sages. They come to the earth with the message of hope, joy and immortality. The haughty man filled with the pride of wealth, position and power, builds an ashram for the saint or donates lakhs of rupees for the saint's mission, but all this is tainted by arrogance. This does not please the saint. A poor man, on the other hand offers the saint a flower, a fruit or just water, but with it, he offers his heart to the saint. The saint is well pleased with him.
Through the saint the Lord knows the comparative merits of the rich man and the poor one. What matters is bhava, the feeling, the quality that lies in the act of giving, and not the quantity of the gift.