Our Insignificant Sevadar
In a recent question-and-answer session, Baba Ji referred to himself as an “insignificant sevadar.” Was he kidding? He has often said, “I am just a sevadar,” and that is something we might be able to accept, but an insignificant sevadar? We are aware of the long hours he spends every day to carry out the tasks needed to keep the Dera running and expanding; to sort out major issues and problems at other centres as well; to look after the sangat worldwide with seemingly inexhaustible energy. Without him, how could Naam Daan (initiation) ever take place, how could prashad be distributed, how could we have darshan, and how could there be these lovely question-and-answer sessions? With all of these tasks that he is performing, how could he call himself insignificant?
Saints never say anything they do not mean (except, of course, when they are joking). So, he did mean it when he said he was just an insignificant sevadar. He truly, deep down within himself, regards himself as just a sevadar, the same as all other sevadars. Seva means “selfless service.” As this phrase indicates, there are two aspects to it – the “self” of the sevadar that has to be eliminated, and the “other” who is being served. This word seva is used extensively all over India, but most of the time it is only the second aspect that is emphasized – i.e., the benefits being provided to others. In Sant Mat, the first aspect should get priority. Eliminating the “self” from the picture is the more important and more difficult part of performing seva.
When seva is being provided by organizations as large as RSSB, it becomes necessary to have a system in which some people perform what may look like “more important” tasks. Therefore, the challenge for a sevadar who is performing a “significant” seva is – can I do it without feeling significant or important? The more insignificant we can feel, the more our inner being is made ready to perform even more significant sevas without the ego overpowering us. A young woman once asked the Master for seva, saying any seva would do. Baba Ji advised her: why not aim high, like the seva of a satsang speaker, or, as he has often joked, why not even ask to occupy the Master’s chair? If we keep the “selfless” aspect of seva foremost in our minds – irrespective of how much importance others may give it – this will gradually increase our ability to perform selfless service. We need to shift our attention away from worldly accomplishments and accolades. This is best accomplished through meditation, by attaching our attention to the Shabd.
Being attached to the Shabd is the goal of this path. Living in the Will of the Shabd is the fundamental criterion when one Master selects someone else to occupy his chair. This Shabd is within each one of us, but we never put in the required effort to listen to it, preferring to listen to the mind instead. To be able to listen to the Shabd, we have to become truly humble. Baba Ji has said that meditation is, above all, a humbling experience. When we struggle to keep our mind in simran and realize how impossible such a seemingly “simple task” is, we are naturally moving towards humility. Only when sufficient humility is developed do we begin hearing the true Shabd within. At this point, we start switching our allegiance from the mind to the Shabd. Finally, we will surrender to the Shabd. At that point, we will lose our individual identity, as it will no longer be important to us. As Sant Kabir has explained, real love occurs only when the disciple completely loses his or her identity in that of the true guru, the Shabd.
As Baba Ji has said, we grow up in this world by creating an identity, and then on the spiritual path, we grow up by discarding it. Once our identity is fully discarded, it doesn’t matter what task we are assigned – we do it with the same zest and humility, all in the name of the Master. The ultimate goal of each initiate is to become such an “insignificant sevadar” – when everything is done as commanded by the Shabd, the “I” being entirely absent. In this sense, as Baba Ji has said many times, we are all prospective Masters. While we may feel we are a million miles from that goal, Baba Ji advises that we should not look at the situation that way, but from a different perspective. He once gave the example of a very tall mountain that we are trying to climb. If our attention is always on the peak, we will feel “oh, the task is so difficult, how could I ever reach there?” But if we instead focus our attention on the instructions of the mountain guide who knows how to reach the peak, and just follow those instructions fully, we will accomplish our goal – without feeling proud. We will understand the value of carefully adhering to the guide’s instructions, and we will know that without the guide, we could never attain our goal of reaching the peak.
In Indian mythology, Lord Krishna’s mother was given the name Yashoda. It is a highly symbolic way of conveying a deep mystic truth. Yash means fame or glory; da means to give away, to donate. The greatest danger of our ego strangling our spiritual progress lies in situations in which we get name and fame. If we can develop the ability to donate that praise to the Lord or guru, the way Baba Ji is doing, then the Lord is “born” within us. The symbolism of Krishna being born to Yashoda is therefore a reference to the internal condition of a true guru – the Lord is born in him because he gives away the glory associated with his actions to his own guru. “Being born” in this context is just a way of conveying what God-realization is. The Lord is already there within us. He doesn’t have to be born anew. It is just a question of realizing his presence. Therefore, Baba Ji tells us “Aren’t you all prospective Masters?” The reference here is not to “occupy the chair” but to becoming a truly insignificant sevadar – giving all credit to one’s guru, becoming totally humble, and thereby realizing God.
Doing seva (any selfless service), even just wanting to do seva, is a highly desirable trait in any satsangi. But just as in any worldly task, it carries with it the danger of the ego rearing its ugly head – “I rolled 120 chapattis in an hour; no one else came anywhere near that figure”; “I gave such an inspiring satsang”; “I have reorganized the centre’s activities so efficiently”… The possibilities for enhancing our egos are endless! Such forays of the mind are natural and inevitable. It happens to everyone. Baba Ji often explains this by saying, “There is the ideal and there is the practical.” Ideally, the ego should not take over while we are doing seva. But in practice it often does. The only way to overcome this problem is to keep doing the seva and simultaneously keep a constant watch on our thoughts. As the saying goes, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
If we can perform our seva well and donate to God whatever praise we receive or feel, we will be prepared for anything and everything – even becoming a guru, i.e, a truly “insignificant” sevadar.