The Importance of Seva
When the Great Master announced his intention of building the satsanghar, a wealthy contractor offered to build the entire building at his own expense. Great Master replied:
No, I want every satsangi, even the poorest of the poor, to be given the opportunity to offer something in seva, even if it is only half a rupee. I would also like all satsangis, rich and poor, young and old, to participate in the construction, even if they carry only a handful of sand or a few bricks. Their smallest efforts are precious to me. Every drop of perspiration shed by them is valuable to me. This is seva of love and devotion.
Labour of Love
The opportunity to perform service for the Master is one of the greatest gifts a disciple can receive. Whatever seva we are invited to perform, we should keep in mind that there is a process and methodology which we are asked to follow by putting our personal likes and dislikes aside. When doing seva we should focus on the service we perform and on the Master. This creates love and humility.
In Spiritual Perspectives Vol. III, Maharaj Charan Singh tells us: “It is entirely by his grace that we get an opportunity to do seva and that we are capable.” No matter how much we may want to do seva, we may find obstacles that prevent us from doing it. Certain seva requires specialized skills or qualifications which may preclude us from doing that seva, or our personal circumstances may simply prevent it. It is through his grace that we get both the opportunity and the ability to do the seva.
Seva is a great equalizer. Through seva we learn to put our opinions and ideas aside as we learn to submit to others. Submission and surrender are the real benefits of seva, through which we learn how to let go of pride and arrogance. But if we continue to perform our seva according to the dictates of our minds and not as we have been requested, this will only serve to puff up the ego.
Ego is the greatest obstacle on our spiritual path – it alone stands between us and the Master’s Radiant Form. The more pride we have and the more opinionated we are, the greater our inflated ego. Seva gives us the opportunity to break down this barrier, to slowly change the ego’s opinions. But if we stubbornly refuse to change our thinking and attitudes, how can our seva ever help us?
At the time of initiation the Master asks us to follow the four principles of Sant Mat, and he connects us to the Shabd. With the Master by our side and Shabd as our weapon, we are empowered to win the battle against the ego – provided we do what the Master says and not what we think.
It is through our adherence to the four principles, especially our regular meditation, that we slowly learn to put aside the likes and dislikes of the ego. The Master provides opportunities for us to do seva which, when done with the right attitude, helps us to subdue the ego. This in turn enhances our meditation. It is our dedication to the practice of the Master’s teachings that is the greatest seva we can perform, as this will ultimately enable us to achieve withdrawal and unite with the Radiant Form within.
Again, in Spiritual Perspectives, Maharaj Charan Singh says that although we speak of four types of seva, there is only one seva. The other three sevas are means to achieve that one seva: seva with the body, seva with the mind, and seva with money are done so that we may be able to bring our consciousness to the level of the Shabd.
The first type of seva is the kind of service we can offer the Master with our body and brain, which is to do manual and intellectual work. Whether the service is easy or difficult is irrelevant – the important thing is that it must be done according to the instructions we are given. Many times we may question the procedure of the seva we are doing, but the point is not how quickly we can get it done, or if we can employ a better method, or whether it is important or unimportant – the object is to obey the Master’s instruction. Whatever seva we are given is a gift from the Master, and its importance lies in our attitude towards its accomplishment. To do our seva as instructed is to have faith in the word of the Master. To continually question our seva is to challenge the Master’s instruction; to simply do it our own way is to deny his authority. If we can obey his instructions at this physical level, then we will learn to follow his instructions at a spiritual level.
The second type of seva is service with the mind. We should offer our mind and intellect to the Master. In other words, we should use our intelligence to understand the teachings so that we can translate the philosophy into action. First we learn by word of mouth and then through experience. By taking control of the mind, we are able to practise concentration and sit in meditation to enjoy the sweet melody of the Shabd. Maharaj Charan Singh tells us that seva with the mind is really our attempt to bring the mind back to the eye centre by means of simran.
The third type of seva is that of wealth, which does not necessarily refer only to money but also to anything material we have earned through honest means. We are told that there is no better use for worldly wealth than offering it in the service of the Master – bearing in mind that he, personally, has no use for this wealth and would never take it for personal use. From our earliest childhood we are taught to protect what belongs to us. We learn to be frugal with our pocket money. We learn to invest our income, accumulate and plan for the future. An important lesson in wealth seva is that it instills in us a sense of surrender, for we are now asked to surrender something that all our worldly instincts tell us to hold on to. Kahlil Gibran writes so beautifully:
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked,
through understanding; …
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now,
that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
Wealth seva encourages us to detach ourselves from an excess of worldly riches, and this in turn helps us attach ourselves to the wealth of Shabd.
The fourth type of service is that of the soul – offering one’s own self to the Master. In a nutshell it means withdrawing our soul current from the body and connecting it with the Shabd. As stated in Thoughts on Indian Mysticism: “We should be singular in our devotion, singular in our purpose, singular in our life’s ideal and mission of service and devotion to the Master.” This is service of the soul.
Maharaj Charan Singh says that all these sevas are done to achieve one seva, which is also the biggest seva – to bring our consciousness in touch with the Shabd by means of our meditation. Other sevas are just to clean our cup so that we may be able to fill it with that nectar within.
The Master himself is a wonderful example of a perfect sevadar, as he devotes his life and love selflessly to the sangat. Through his love and dedication he sets us free. We should emulate his attitude in whatever seva we perform. Let us follow his instructions with dedication, love and devotion.
As Kahlil Gibran says:
All work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself
to yourself, and to one another, and to God. …
Work is love made visible.
When I was sick, it came to me that there are two approaches to work. One is bold and quick, fearless in action. The other is worried and constricted with concern about things that could possibly go wrong. If action flows from anxiety, the outcome is murky and disturbed. But if action moves with a swift joy and courage, the world begins to resolve its difficulties and grow whole.
Bahauddin, as quoted by Coleman Barks & John Moyne in The Drowned Book
Only such a one is in a position to serve the Master as has abundant grace of the Lord, because this service is imprinted on the individual’s forehead and was preordained as the result of his previous life’s actions or karmas. He is fortunate indeed who devotes himself to the service of his Master, because the Lord himself is manifest in him.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I