The Seva Talks
The fictional diary of a young sevadar
A few years ago, when I had just started doing seva at one of the RSSB satsang properties, I was getting a lift home on Saturday evenings with one of my cousins and his uncle, a man we called Darji. ‘Darji’ is short for ‘Sardar Ji’, and I suppose he was considered to be a bit of a sardar in Punjabi society – an elder. I sometimes feel that in traditional societies there can be a lack of sympathy with the younger generation’s viewpoint, but Darji was never judgemental. There was a warmth in his eye and a friendliness that cut across all superficial boundaries.
I really liked Darji, and I liked the way the things he said got me thinking, so I used to jot down some of our talks afterwards. What he said made me appreciate seva better. When I came across my notebook the other day, my sister found me reading it, insisted on joining in – the way sisters do – and persuaded me to share it. So here are some of the pages:
Saturday 26 February
It was a very cold morning. We arrived at 8.30 a.m, checked in and had some tea, then we sat around waiting a very long time before the tools were found and the seva actually began. I felt bored, then critical, then angry with myself for feeling like that. When Darji asked me, on the way home, if I’d had a good day, I said yes (to be polite). Sandy, my cousin, was more forthright and said that the organization hadn’t been good.
Sandy: I’m not going to keep going, man, if they mess us about like that.
Darji: Oho! Spoken like a real lord. And I thought you were a humble sevadar, Sandy. But tell me: how would you organize it?
Sandy: Er … buy enough tools to go round. Have someone get them out earlier. Divide us into better groups …
Me: Introduce new people. Everyone seemed to know each other. I felt left out.
Darji: You should talk to the sevadar in charge.
Sandy: Why would he listen to us? We’ve only just joined that activity.
Darji: Are you saying that you need patience?
Me: Yes – I guess. Darji, are you saying that in time we would be able to make suggestions?
Darji: Why not, Ranj? Because, of course, Sandy’s right. How can those doing the difficult job of organizing take on board the comments of every newcomer? And, as a newcomer, how good a feel do you have for all the constraints? The people whose words are listened to are those who are trusted, who have given some service, weathered it out a bit …
Sandy: (sarcastically) … Sat around kicking their heels for a few hours.
Darji: Please apply the Alternative Test – don’t you know what that is? You should always apply the Alternative Test when you’re dissatisfied with something. Alright, you’re dissatisfied with the way you spent your time today. You think you may not want to put yourself inthis position again. So now decide on the alternative. How will you spend next Saturday? Will it be better? Will it solve the problems you discovered today? Come on, Ranj.
Me: Oh … okay. Well, next Saturday I suppose my alternative could be shopping and watching the football. If I’m truthful, it may be better in some ways – but may be worse in others. The problems I discovered today were, unfortunately, my intolerance, also the problems of organizing work for a lot of people. And no, staying home won’t solve them.
Darji: Well done, Professor!
At that we all began to laugh. Somehow, though it was never said, I think Sandy and I both remembered why we were going for seva in the first place. It isn’t, actually, to see perfect efficiency in action, is it?
Sunday 15 March
For the last two Saturdays, things have been better. I really enjoyed it yesterday. Going home in the car, I asked Darji, “Is seva for oneself or is it for the Master?”
Darji: Hmm … What do you think?
Sandy (indignantly): Well, it had better be for the Master, or else we’re all just wasting our time!
Me: Well, why does it say in the books, then, that seva is for our own benefit?
Darji: Why can’t it be both?
Me: Yes – I wouldn’t come here if I wasn’t motivated by wanting to give something.
Darji: And that feeling is something that helps you – I mean you, Ranj – ultimately.
Sandy: AND the work helps the Master – don’t forget that. That path I’ve just laid, that’s for him to walk over, not me.
Darji: Okay, Sandy, we hear you; we’ll make sure you have to walk in the mud!
Saturday 18 April
But today was awful. This guy at college had asked where I was going every weekend. After I got talking to him and told him about Sant Mat, and going for seva, he’d suggested that I was being exploited. Time and labour have a value, and no one should expect others to give it without payment – that was his opinion. I didn’t answer, because I already regretted opening up to him and I saw myself falling into another hole if I started saying that satsangis do find rewards in seva.
Then when we were mending a fence this morning, Sandy by mistake cut all the wire to the wrong length and it was wasted. The supervisor got angry – I mean really angry – and a couple of the boys spoke angrily back. Sandy walked away and didn’t reappear until it was time to go home. All the thoughts about exploitation resurfaced in my brain – I suppose the shine had gone out of the day’s work after that angry outburst.
Me: Darji, I thought satsangis were meant to have risen above anger and all that.
Darji: “Meant to” are the key words here. How long do you think it takes to control the mind?
Me: He shouldn’t be in charge of other people if he’s going to …
Darji: If he’s going to show that he’s at the same level as you and me? Come on, Ranj. I agree with you, of course: he was wrong. But don’t you also think you’re being a bit idealistic? We just don’t live in aperfect world and we can’t expect others to be perfect. But on the other hand, nor do you need to be cynical. Yes, I heard you talking to Sandy on the way here about whether we were all deluded stooges. Of course you’re not being exploited. We come here because we want to give freely of ourselves. Like we’ve discussed before, this is for our ultimate good and not the Master’s. We are in the process of learning to control ourselves, to work with others, put others first, and eventually to love. Because it’s a process, it’s highly unrealistic to expect perfect behaviour, even from those in charge. We all do our best and we must all support each other, whatever the odds.
With that, the car stopped at my front door and Darji said goodnight.
Sunday 26 April
Yesterday the supervisor who had got mad at Sandy came over and apologised to him. What’s more, Sandy said, “I’m sorry too. That’s cool: I wasn’t concentrating.” I said to Sandy afterwards, “You know what? You’re not bad really.” Sandy said, “I know.” And I said, “Now you’ve spoilt it, man.” But I was just joking. In the car going home, we talked to Darji again.
Sandy: I was upset when I got home last week. I thought maybe I’d get thrown out of the team.
Me: Well, I’m glad you felt like that. I thought you wouldn’t come back.
Sandy: The funny thing is, it made me realize how much this all means, how much I want to be part of it.
Darji: See how the Master hears our inmost thoughts. You take one step towards him – and that step can be taken in many different ways: in thinking it over, in feeling sorry, in sincere prayer, in reconciliation with the people you’ve offended – and he takes a hundred towards you. We think, ‘This person has spoken angrily to me; now this person has reconciled himself with me,’ but in fact the Master acts through others so as to teach us many lessons. If you don’t believe me, look in the books. In one of the letters in The Dawn of Light, the Great Master says that whatever good or bad happens to you proceeds directly from our loving Father – that all persons and objects are but tools in his hands. This understanding is what we get from seva. Just be happy, boys, that, as you say, you’re “part of it”.