Thoughts on Seva
The experience of doing seva is always inspiring. However, it’s only recently that I have come to see how little I have really understood it and what a unique opportunity it represents.
During a visit to the Dera years ago, a foreign visitor would have the opportunity to carry out mitti, brick or grass seva, or any other manual task that Maharaj Charan Singh allowed us to share. With youth and enthusiasm it was easy to feel uplifted, sitting and cracking old bricks into bits with small hammers, or moving sandy soil in a leaky basket supported on our heads by a little cloth ring. Shoulder to shoulder with thousands of brothers and sisters and taking our turn to dump our bit of sand into a vast ravine, we would gaze over towards the Master. Maharaj Ji would be sitting nearby doing some of his paperwork as we turned, went back for another round, and once again caught that glimpse of him as we emptied our basket. This is what was engraved on my mind as seva – physical effort presented with devotion at the feet of the Master’s physical form. Not only that, but I was pretty sure that the task could not be accomplished without me and the rest of the human, earth-moving chain.
Now this is not strictly true. If we think about it, we will see that the Master deliberately gives to his satsangis the chance of carrying out work which he could easily get done by other means. Exactly why does the Master offer us the opportunity of seva? Just what is seva ? And do sevadars really play an essential part in helping the Master accomplish his work?
The present living Master is also giving us opportunities to come together in his name and perform seva. Throughout the world the organization is purchasing land and buildings in which satsang can be held. This gives us the opportunity to design, rebuild, upgrade and clean them, and carry out a multitude of other tasks before continuing with the general maintenance. Just as at the Dera, the physical seva is offered with love to the Master, although in this case he may be thousands of miles away at the other side of the world. Does the fact that he is not physically present make it any the less? No.
Learning to work together
Seva is an opportunity given to us by the Master to wash a little of our ego away. It is one of his gifts to us, and always comes with his personal invitation implicit within it. And if we approach our seva in the right way, it has a wonderful effect. Sometimes while doing seva, we have the opportunity to get to know people who were strangers to us before; and in working towards a common goal we have the pleasure of engaging in the kind of friendly cooperation that is pleasing to the Master. Occasionally we may find ourselves paired with a sevadar who has a view contrary to our own; on the other hand, we might meet someone who can help with a problem we might have. But, however it is, we get the opportunity to learn how to adjust to each other’s idiosyncrasies and needs. A respectful consideration for fellow sevadars and a spirit of teamwork is what the Master wants from us all, without regard to the level at which we are conducting our assigned tasks. In the Master’s eyes, all seva has equal importance.
When we visit the Dera we have a golden opportunity to see the true meaning of selfless seva. The langar is just one of the many locations where we witness seva’s dynamic action, and observe the total dedication to the Master. Though the work is hard, in hot and crowded conditions, hundreds of men and women labour all hours of day and night to prepare food to feed the masses, joy and love shining from their eyes.
So what is the mark of a true sevadar? The Master is the best example of that. Baba Ji, on a daily basis, shows us the real meaning of true service to his Master. He is always cheerful, always ready to take on the task at hand. He never complains or asks why but carries out his Master’s wishes without hesitation. Through his example we get to see the correct attitude toward seva. And it is attitude that is the key. It is the crucial element that determines whether what we do is seva or is just another day filled with humdrum activity.
Connecting with the Master
It is through attitude, above all, that we acknowledge the important sense of connection with our Master that seva gives us. Our meditation, of course, supplies that connection, but on another – perhaps more accessible – level, so does physical seva. And that is the answer to the question of why seva is offered to us and what its purpose is. It is to fulfil our need, at the physical level, for that vital connection which then leads to greater commitment to the inner connection. We can begin to see, then, that it is seva that is essential to our development as spiritual beings and not we who are essential to the task.
A loving attitude when carrying out our seva means that the kind of thoughts we have will be that we are doing our assigned task solely to please the Master without any thought of ‘me’ or ‘mine’, and without bringing our personal wishes into it. Because seva is precious to us, it is tempting to become possessive: “This is my seva – please don’t interfere with it!” But the moment the ‘I’ or ‘my’ comes in, the purpose of seva is lost.
So is seva really necessary? Should everyone do it? What if the thought crosses our mind that our little contribution might never amount to much? It appears to have such a small impact, why bother? What if we are just too busy living our lives, raising our children and going to work so that focusing on one more commitment seems beyond our reach? If this is the case, then these words from Maharaj Charan Singh might comfort us:
Seva comes from the heart. It is not a compulsion for anybody – it’s not that you have to do it, but you want to do it.…The greatest reward in seva is the contentment and happiness that you feel within, that you get an opportunity to serve someone. That is the greatest happiness one can ever get, to make someone happy.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
Whether it is as gardener, technician, builder, administrator, cook, cleaner, or one of the ladies sweeping the street at the Dera with a small hand brush, cleaning the dust and leaves from the road, the Master likes us to participate and is pleased when we do. The love in those ladies’ eyes will tell you that they understand the real meaning of that task – an opportunity to please the one they love.
Physical seva paves the way towards meditation, which is in itself a seva. The Master has said that the most important seva we can do is our two and a half hours of daily meditation. Every new dawn brings us an opportunity to join the Master in that most important task of all, and the gift of physical seva is a helping hand towards fulfilling this ultimate seva. How very fortunate and blessed we are.