How to be a True Sevadar
Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted as saying: “The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
On our spiritual journey we are trying to discover who we really are. And in Sant Mat, self-realization comes before God-realization. The obstacle to this is that we have identified ourselves with the physical body and with our personality, which have been shaped by our actions in previous lives, including our interactions with the world around us and with other people.
We are raised to be someone “important,” to have self-esteem and to have an individual character. In our meditation though, this obsession with the self becomes our biggest obstacle. This is why Gandhi says we have to “lose” ourselves by helping others, by being of service to our fellow human beings. Caring for others changes our perspective; it reduces our sense of self-importance and self-infatuation. This makes it easier in meditation to forget ourselves and focus on the Divine within.
Our soul, which is a drop of the celestial ocean, is slowly cleansed of countless layers of mind and maya so that its loving nature surfaces more and more. Our higher nature knows only how to give, how to help, how to serve without expecting anything in return. We start becoming those good human beings that the Master wants us to be. On one occasion, when sevadars were helping earthquake victims build a shelter or community hall, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) asked to film them. The sevadars politely declined, saying that they were doing this purely to help the people in need. This is the attitude we want to imbibe in our seva – that it is a privilege to help other human beings in the name of the Lord, without profiting in any way. Rendering such selfless service is an expression of love that pleases the Lord.
The primary service and expression of love we can render to the Master and to the Lord is our spiritual practice. We have to slowly disconnect from the physical plane, raise our consciousness, and connect it with the sound current or Word within. Neglecting our meditation and concentrating only on physical, mental, or monetary seva – though these are surely good deeds – will not liberate our soul and help us escape from the creation. We may reap rewards in our next life, meaning we might enjoy certain luxuries or positions or regions in higher realms. But we will remain prisoners trapped in the cycle of birth and death.
It is only our meditation that has the power to transform us, allowing our weaknesses to diminish so that we can be filled with more peace and gratitude. If we do not meditate, then we carry our dominant weaknesses into our seva, where we are still ruled by our emotional heart instead of our spiritual heart, at the eye centre. If someone tries to give us advice about our seva, we might feel insulted. No one may dare to criticize our seva, as we would definitely get angry. And if our seva is taken away or shared with someone else, we might feel outraged.
So meditation is the foundation on top of which all other sevas are built, and it brings out the best in us. As Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh explains:
To serve humanity is a good thing; you are cleaning the “vessel.” But our approach is that if you love the Lord, all good qualities come in you like cream upon milk. If you love the Lord, you become kind, loving, generous and helpful to all humanity. But if you eliminate the Lord and try to help the creation, then you must involve yourself and become attached to the creation, which does not help you love the Creator at all.1
Hazur is motivating us to do our spiritual seva, as this will bring about the change we desire in ourselves and instil in us ‘sevadar qualities.’ Traditionally, the Masters have praised the humbling qualities of seva, which help us in our meditation. Lately, though, we hear that we need to do our meditation first and foremost so that we can gain the capacity to serve with the right attitude. Thus seva and meditation complement each other.
Sometimes we ask ourselves, Which seva should I do? The best answer is: The one given to you. If we want to serve the sangat, there is no harm asking for seva; but we should be absolutely open to take up whatever seva is given to us. The minute we start calculating, “What am I good at; where will I get the most recognition; I want the same seva as he or she has,” we are calculating our advantages and bringing the wrong attitude into seva. All personal considerations of what benefit we might receive from seva are inappropriate. Seva is about serving the Master and the Lord, without any personal interest or gain. Serving shoulder to shoulder with other sevadars, no matter who is rich or poor, who is educated or uneducated, who is strong or weak or what the color of their skin, brings a feeling of equality. We should be grateful for whatever seva we get. As the following story shows, contentment is not an exclusive privilege for the rich and successful. It may be the exact opposite.
On one of Maharaj Ji's visits to Indore, he was accompanied by Mr. Sam Busa, one of his representatives in South Africa. In the evening, Maharaj Ji asked Sam to visit the satsang area and see how things were arranged by the local satsang centre.
It was about ten o'clock at night when Sam, in the company of a sevadar, reached the satsang grounds. Most of the satsangis had retired for the night. Sam was taken around the entire complex and shown all the tents, shamianas and places where the sangat were sleeping. It was a cold February night, and because of the very large gathering of satsangis, enough covered sleeping space was not available. Many satsangis, both young and old, were therefore sleeping under the trees, covering themselves with only a thick cotton sheet.
In the morning, Maharaj Ji asked Sam if he had made a round of the satsang complex. Sam replied, “Yes Maharaj Ji, I did. But I felt very sad, for people were lying on the bare ground under the tents and even in the open under the trees. It was very cold, and they had only ordinary cotton sheets or mats with which to cover themselves. I was shocked; their standard of living is very poor.”
Maharaj Ji smiled softly and said, Yes, Sam, their standard of living is very poor, but their standard of contentment is very high.2
So let us not fall into the trap of thinking that the more we have or the higher our position in life, the happier we are. The same applies to seva. The happiness lies in serving, in helping and making other people happy. The Masters have always lived by this principle, as we can see from the following anecdote:
Just before the Great Master passed away … [he] called his sons and their families and said, I have settled you all independently and well. Now [that] you are all earning, I would like to advise all of you, “Never spread your hand to receive, always extend it to give.” His sons replied, “By your blessings, it will be as you desire.”3
This tradition carries on to the present day. The Masters and their families perform all types of seva to support the sangat. It will do us good to follow their example. It is an illusion of the mind that we will be happier by constantly getting and receiving from others. It is giving and being helpful to others that will make us happy. No one should think they have nothing to give. It is not so much the monetary things that count. Giving time, attention, support – just listening – can be very meaningful to people today. Therefore, it is possible to perform seva not only in the sangat but anywhere, as long as we are giving without expecting anything in return. The best way is to give in the name of the Master – meaning, we are doing it for him.
As seva is based on humility, we need to be aware of its opposite – pride and ego, which sometimes do creep into our mind during seva. There is no such thing as an important or unimportant seva. It is the love and devotion with which we serve that count, not the type of seva we do. We should keep a vigilant watch over our mind so that it does not get inflated with pride. Did not Sardar Bahadur give us the following advice?
The Lord loves the humble and the low.… Always speak gently[?], lovingly and selflessly. The higher the position you hold, the humbler your mind should be. A sweet word never costs anything, but wins the world.4
In seva there is no need to be bossy and commanding just because we think our seva position allows it. On the other hand, we should be thankful for the seva, as we are doing it for the Master himself. It is our meditation that gives us the strength to adapt and find the right attitude in seva. Instead of feeling separateness, seva makes us feel oneness with everybody.
And beware of vanity – that is, believing we are irreplaceable. We need the seva; seva does not need us. In previous years, it was possible to do the same seva or keep a certain position for decades. This, however, increased the risk of our identifying too much with a certain position rather than with doing the seva itself; this made it more difficult to let go when it was required. Currently, regular rotation in seva has been introduced. This provides more people with the opportunity to do seva. So whenever we accept and begin a seva, we should remember that there will be a time to let it go.
Let us look at a gurumukh’s attitude toward his seva. (A gurumukh is one who has completely surrendered to his Master.) When Maharaj Charan Singh was formally installed as the Master, he addressed the congregation by saying:
My love for Hazur Maharaj Ji, the commands of Sardar Bahadur Maharaj Ji, and the affection of the sangat compel me to carry out the wishes of Sardar Bahadur Ji to serve the sangat and the Dera. But when I look at myself and my shortcomings, I feel diffident and find myself unable to decide whether I am really fit for these onerous duties…. I request the sangat to look upon me as their younger brother and thus help me in serving them and this great institution. If the sangat looks upon me in any other light, it would mean that you do not wish to support and to cooperate with me, and that would be doing a great injustice to me.5
If we approach our seva with this attitude of humility, then perhaps it won’t be difficult to deal with criticism or to let go of a duty when we are asked to step down. Remaining faithful to our meditation practice will help us lose our own self-importance.
Often we get too preoccupied with the goal of our seva. We forget that it is the service itself rendered in the right spirit which is our objective. Naturally we will perform the seva task given to us to the best of our ability. Maharaj Charan Singh gives an example of a satsangi with only one leg who came to Dera with a desire to give:
He used to come from the hills of Himachal, and was very poor. Just to save money to give in seva, he used to walk from his village in the hills to the Dera, with the help of his crutches, covering a distance of over 75 miles. Once he was brought to me during money seva by Mr. Bolakani. He offered one rupee in seva. Looking to his poverty, I asked the sevadars not to accept it, but he burst into tears, and I had to accept his offering. How can you value this seva? Is it not worth much more than the hundreds and thousands that the rich give? The value of seva is not in how much one offers, but in the feelings and love with which it is offered.6
So before we start any seva, let us remember that we are serving our Master and want to give as selflessly as this satsangi. Serving in this spirit, without ego, will achieve harmonious and cooperative teamwork, which the Master cherishes far more than any particular outcome of seva.
The real sevadars are the Masters, who come to the physical plane to liberate their chosen souls. They have, through devotion to their Master and the Shabd, annihilated their ego and they serve the sangat in that true devoted spirit. They sacrifice their private life willingly to fulfil the wishes of their Master, sometimes even at the expense of their health, as depicted in the following letter from Maharaj Charan Singh to a friend:
Physically and mentally I am dead, though living. Maharaj Ji's mission has reached every corner of the world, but I have done a mess with myself and my health. I do not want to fail in my duty nor do I want to be short in the expectations of my Beloved Master. I have given to the people all I have. What I could not give, I just did not have. All that I am doing is just with a sense of duty and out of love for my Beloved. If anyone cares to follow my daily routine – minute by minute – then only one can know what I am going through.7
Maharaj Ji was telling his friend that he was travelling nonstop for nearly nine months, never sleeping under the same roof for longer than a week. He was totally exhausted but happy to serve his Master, giving all that he had. We can see that the Masters, even at the expense of their health, are willing to fulfil the purpose of their mission. Maharaj Ji’s written lines have another meaning though. The saints have conquered death and have risen above the physical and mental realms. For them the body is a means of achieving their spiritual mission. When their bodies are no longer able to serve this purpose, they leave them like someone taking off their coat. We know that is how Maharaj Ji left this world.
In many of his satsangs, Baba Ji has said that the soul is the true devotee and the Shabd is the true Guru. So let’s try to emulate our Master by merging our soul in the sound current within, so that we too become true sevadars.
Seva is always done with love and humility. Humility is a part of love. If there is love, automatically there will be humility. There can be no love without humility. Love makes you humble, love makes you meek. Love means that you want to do what pleases the other person rather than what pleases yourself. That is love, and that is humility before another person. Seva is done to please another person. Seva is not done so much to please yourself. When you please another person, you'll be happy to do seva. There’s more happiness in giving than in taking. More happiness in donating than in accepting. More happiness in helping somebody than in getting help from anybody. The pleasure that you get by helping somebody, making somebody happy in life – nothing can compare with that pleasure. So, seva is always done with love, otherwise it is not seva. Seva is not mechanically working with our hands. Seva is our intention to please another person. Automatically there will be humility in it. Humility is part of love. Love is part of seva.8
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Die to Live, #271
- Ibid., p.38
- Ibid., p.38
- Maharaj Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul (10th ed. 1996.); “Spiritual Bouquet”, #60
- Shanti Sethi, Treasure Beyond Measure, pp.63-64
- Ibid., p.244
- Ibid., pp.46-47
- The Maharaj Jagat Singh Medical Relief Society, Labour of Love, p.100