Seva: For Whom?
There is a story of a young college graduate who was given the opportunity of doing seva as an usher during regular Sunday satsang. She gladly accepted the offer and was very excited to start her seva. But this young sevadar was no ordinary girl; on the contrary, she had graduated from a top American university with honours and had received several job offers across the country. Everything she did was always very well planned, organized and meticulous. She never accepted anything below an ‘A’ at school and this attitude ultimately became a part of her work ethic, which made her very successful. Filled with excitement, she accepted the seva of being an usher and showed up on time every week with a very committed heart and full of new ideas on how to improve the seating process.
For such an accomplished individual, being an usher would seem pretty simple, wouldn’t it? How hard could it be to ask people to turn off their cell phones and direct them to the front of the hall? On the contrary, she confessed that it was one of the most difficult tasks allotted to her in her life! Her coordinator was an elderly individual who had been doing his seva for years and who spared no opportunity to tell this young ‘know it all’ what she did wrong. Week after week she was reprimanded for the minutest things, to the point where she considered quitting. It was the first time in her life that she ever considered ‘giving up’ at anything. At one point, her coordinator even told her: “You see that sign on the wall that says ‘NO CELL PHONES’? It can do your seva. Don’t consider yourself so indispensable.” Need-less to say, it was a serious blow to this Ivy League graduate’s ego.
But like all committed sevadars, she swallowed her pride and stuck it out. In time, the elderly man grew very fond of her and she eventually became his assistant. When asked how she felt about the entire experience, she sighed and replied: “I realized that one does seva for oneself, nobody else. The seva did not need me, I was the one who needed the seva.”
Like this young woman, many of us have gone through the experience of doing seva and feeling inadequate in some form or another. To have our ideas shot down, plans criticized or strategies simply dismissed, can be difficult to swallow. Sometimes we are placed on teams with people with whom we have some history, or with whom we don’t see eye to eye, or must report to people that we feel are younger or less qualified than ourselves. Yet why do most of us keep ploughing ahead? Because like that young graduate, deep down we know that seva has always been going on and will continue to go on, with or without us. We need the seva to better ourselves – the seva does not need us.
At times like this, some of us feel we need to stick it out in our seva out of love and respect for our Master. We feel like we are doing it for him – but in reality, he is providing us with an opportunity to learn. Do we ever stop to wonder why a young Ivy League graduate somehow gets paired with a wise, though less educated elder, or why the businessman who wants everything done yesterday gets paired with a lawyer who takes his sweet time crossing every t and dotting every i? Or why is it that someone with the least possible computer knowledge is assigned a task in the administration office? This is because seva is not about how quickly results are being achieved on the outside, but about the work that is taking place on the inside. Seva is not about the final outcome – it is about the transformation that takes place within.
During the construction of satsang centres, it hardly matters how quickly buildings get erected; what is important is how much of our ego is demolished in the process. Even the cleanliness of our centres’ bathrooms is secondary to the purity of our hearts. The point is, like the college graduate and the elderly sevadar, have we become more understanding, patient and compassionate through our seva? Have we become more humble and receptive to other people’s ideas? The truth is that we need one another. The Master uses us as sandstones to smooth out each other’s rough edges, and if this is taking place, then the true purpose of our seva is being accomplished.
Indeed, we are often reminded about how Maharaj Ji could have quickly built the Dera Hospital with the use of bulldozers, dump trucks and heavy construction gear, but instead he chose to build the hospital by mitti seva. Bucket by bucket, sand was carried on the heads of villagers, doctors, lawyers, housewives, locals and foreigners alike, while Hazur Maharaj Ji himself would sit at the site under the hot sun for hours in the afternoons. It was extremely dusty in those days and, possibly aggravated by all the dust, in his later years he often suffered from a bad throat or cough. Whenever questioned about his health, he would brush aside any concern saying: “These ailments are the natural decorations of a body at my age.”
On another occasion, speaking about the langar at the Dera, Hazur Maharaj Ji said: “One of the objects of running the langar is to provide an opportunity to the satsangis to serve others. It increases mutual love and understanding amongst the satsangis. It enables them to rise above the narrow distinctions of the rich and the poor, of the high and the low.”
We must always be mindful of the true purpose of our seva. We often get carried away by our egos and perceived talents and forget the true value of the task at hand. While building the hospital in Dera, the architects kept coming up with beautiful modern designs and facades. However, none of their designs found favour with Hazur Maharaj Ji, and understandably this made the architects unhappy. Hazur Maharaj Ji diplomatically explained: “The hospital is not for you and not for me. It is for simple people who will come for treatment. So we don’t want the building to look intimidating or strange, no matter how beautiful it may be.”
All our seva is but a means to an end – and that end is inside each of us. The Masters are our example and they work with all of us, no matter how accomplished or illiterate we are. The Great Master used to say that if the Lord wills it, then even sticks and stones could do our seva. Or as the elderly usher aptly told that young graduate, even a sign could do her seva!
At the completion of the Eye Camp in 1989, Hazur Maharaj Ji beautifully summarized the true purpose of seva by reminding the sangat that the real beneficiary of seva is neither the patient nor the institution but the one serving:
It is one’s great good fortune to get this opportunity to do seva. It is the Lord’s boundless grace, and we should thank the patients for giving the Dera sangat this chance to serve.
Seva is service to the Master through service to our fellow human beings. Nobody is being more helped than the one who does the service. The purpose of seva is to help us expand in our love. Seva is an act of love meant simply to help us grow in love. That is seva. The practice of meditation will gradually help us to look upon everything we do as the Master’s work.