Seva in the Time of Covid
In 2020, everything changed. Our old normal disappeared in a heartbeat, and it’s not clear what the new normal is, how long it will last, and when or if we will ever again experience what used to seem normal before the pandemic. We are undergoing the truism that the only constant in life is change.
For many of us, depending on where we live, what we used to know as seva – often done in large groups, working closely together – has vanished. It seems there is still seva being done in India, as we glean from the occasional inspiring videos of Covid-care centres and groups that are chosen to join Baba Ji’s question-answer sessions at the Dera. Also, some centers around the world have been hosting small groups of socially distant sevadars, and some satsangis are fortunate to be working on seva projects that can be done at home. But many of us are aching for seva that circumstances don’t allow us to undertake.
So, the question arises: what is the new seva for us? This is a good time for us to consider what seva really is, and how we do it, regardless of what physical form it takes. Perhaps our understanding of seva needs to deepen.
In the film “Seva of Love,” available on this website, we get a taste of the rich experience of seva throughout the world before the pandemic, covering the origins of the Dera up through the making of the film. The film discusses outward seva, showing various examples of seva involving others, as well as meditation as seva, with views of satsangis sitting in meditation. Various satsangis share their thoughts about the nature of seva, including the idea that seva is done to please the Master.
Hazur addresses this point in Spiritual Perspectives, telling us:
Real seva is meditation – withdrawing your consciousness back to the eye centre and attaching it to the divine light or melody within…. Other sevas are means to that end…. So, every seva pleases the master, and all these sevas will lead you to the real seva. The real seva will help you to go back to the Father.1
He helps us understand how seva helps us return to the Lord when he explains:
The purpose of seva is to create humility in us, to help us become one with our fellow humans…. It is the ego which separates us from the Father, and we have to eliminate that ego. When we serve the masses, serve the people, then automatically we become humble. That is the real purpose of seva.2
Let us lean more deeply into these words, in an attempt to deepen our understanding of what seva is and how it helps us:
If, as Hazur implies, the manner in which I do seva in my country has the potential to please the Master, whose physical form is in India, what does that tell me? That he is with me always, that physical proximity has no meaning. Perhaps “nearness” is a matter of tuning in to the master within rather than closing physical distance. We are told at initiation that the master takes his seat at our eye centre – but at what level do we understand that? Is it still a concept, or have we actually experienced the profound truth of it?
Now that most of us are cut off from our usual seva activities, such as preparing meals, trimming trees, or sweeping floors, we are thrown back on ourselves, especially if we live alone. How can we use our solitude, our physical distance from the master and other satsangis, and our break from pre-pandemic routines, to strengthen our inner relationship with our master and turn to the real seva of meditation? As a student learns school lessons, so seva can subtly teach us about the reality of the master and our relationship with him.
Could it be that the real value, the vital importance of all those blessed gifts of seva that once occupied as much of our time as we could spare was to prepare us for the inevitable moment when the ever-changing world would suddenly shift and throw us off balance? How strongly and consistently are we turning toward perhaps the only seva left to us: meditation? Viewing our meditation practice as a form of seva might help us to value more highly this time of forced retreat, allowing us the precious opportunity to finally give practical shape to the teachings we purport to follow.
And finally, are we treating the tasks of daily life, including service to others – family, coworkers, community members – as seva that is worthy of pleasing the master? Does this count as seva?
A satsangi asked Hazur that very question, one that so deeply resonates with the present situation we find ourselves in:
Q: Maharaj Ji, in the West, away from the Dera, is there a way that our worldly work can be a form of seva? Is there some approach to our worldly work that you can take to make it like seva?
If you keep the Lord and the master in your mind for all twenty-four hours, whatever you do is seva. You don’t bring your ego into whatever you do, you do everything as a duty towards your Father. If the Lord is always in your mind, whatever you do is seva.3
What comforting words! The thought that wherever we are, seva is within our reach as long as we remember the Lord. It can be a lifeline to us in this time of upheaval. It tells us that yes, it is entirely possible for us to continue being sevadars – loving, responsible, humbly serving our fellow humans – as long as we continue our efforts to remember the Lord and sacrifice the ego. And if we lose that orientation, we can always bring ourselves back to it, again and again, as we do with our daily meditation and simran. The choice is ours, every moment of every day.
Just as Baba Ji and his local sevadars are lovingly serving the suffering in India, we can lovingly serve those around us, and because he is always with us, it will give him as much pleasure as when we did seva at our satsang sites. We just need to turn our attention to the one who lives within our eye centre, who is waiting for us to turn toward him. Seva is always available to us, as long as we remember him. As the rabbinic sage Hillel the Elder once said, “If not now, when?”
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #189
- Ibid., #192
- Ibid., #197