Seva: Serving God Through Creation

One concept pervades virtually every faith I’ve encountered thus far during Project Conversion, and that is the idea of service. And not just any kind of service, but the raw, selfless kind. Within Sikhi, it is considered the highest act, and the reward is no less than God’s court itself.

“Whatever good service to humanity is done on this earth, will secure a seat in the Court of Lord.”

Selfless service in Sikhi is called Nishkam Seva. The term is usually referred to as simply seva and has a curious development. Broken down into two parts, the first part, sev, means “to serve, worship, honor, attend to,” etc. What’s interesting is that within greater Hindu society, the highest service given was by the Brahman caste to the temples and gods themselves. Sikhs turned this whole system upside down. Because God was not only Creator, but pervasive, the whole of creation was overflowing with His presence. Now, any and all selfless acts of service toward every member of society–and even the Earth itself–was a service to God.


Hey! I can see my gurdwara from here!


Indeed, meditation on NAAM, the act of meditation on God, is found within seva. When you feed the poor, you are meditating on God because you are feeding and strengthening a body which contains the divine within every single cell.

“The poor man’s mouth is the depository of the Guru.” –the Rahitnama of Chaupa Singh.

We find ways to serve and opportunities to give in many places within Sikhi, one of the most popular being within the gurdwara (Sikhi house of worship) itself. Floors are swept, windows cleaned, carpets vacuumed, service and upkeep, and volunteering for the langar. Every week, many Sikhs offer their time and resources in the free kitchen of the gurdwara. Here, meals are cooked from scratch and served to all who come to the gurdwara, regardless of class, race, religion, or any other man-made distinction. This is the true essence of humility, service, and love as every member of the congregation is equally served.

Many times when I try to serve each faith during the month, I am invaribly told that the very act of Project Conversion–the fact that I am helping educate folks on that faith–is enough of a service. That statement is both humbling and frustrating at the same time. I always wish I could do more to help those helping me, but sometimes I think we get so focused on huge acts of service that we forget the little ones that mean just as much.

And many times, these acts of service aren’t necessarily religious.

Soccer is a big tradition in my family. When my two daughters expressed interest in the sport, I couldn’t be happier (now, if I can only talk one of them into goal keeping!). Trouble is that in prior seasons, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend every game. I also didn’t think the parent volunteers had enough experience to coach, so I often complained.

Okay, so why don’t you coach?”

Leave it to my wife to put me on the spot. I shut up real quick then, but her question was not rhetorical. How often do we complain yet fall short of offering a solution? That was me, and the look in my wife’s eyes said to man up. So, I volunteered this year as a coach. My team consists of nine six-year-old girls.

I was terrified. I can barely handle our two girls. How in the world would I manage nine of them?

The first practice turned out brilliantly. Once I introduced myself and started kicking the ball around, the kids and I found common ground and my inhibitions melted away. I probably laughed more in that one hour than I have in a long time. Now, I could put my money where my mouth was and be part of the solution. Now, I could serve these kids by passing on the knowledge and skill I learned from others who volunteered.

Service is cyclical.

And is like an economy. Society rots when we hoard our resources and talents.

“I beg to serve those who serve you.”–Guru Arjan

As a social species, we are designed to share. Ever since we left the confines of a hunter-gatherer paradigm and became agrarian, we have constructed empires based on the concept of “surplus.” We are one of the few creatures on this planet who can (in many cases) earn or gather more than what we individually need to survive. So why do we hoard? What is the point?

“By remaining a slave to greed,
the “Greed of the mind” can never be appeased,
even through the accumulation of all the wealth in the world.”
–Japji Sahib

We are meant to share. We have survived the rigors of evolution and reached an epoch in development so that we could give back what Nature favored in us. And now, not only can we share our food and space, but also our time. When we give of ourselves freely and without thought of reward, we have our reward. When I serve those little girls and teach them about a sport I hold dear, I become the reward of every coach I ever had. By serving, we become the legacy and hope of our species. Nourish the planet that nourished you. Protect the rights of the veteran who fought for you. Serve your parents who sacrificed all for you. Feed the hungry because in our world, with so much left over, no one should ever go hungry.

How will you serve today?

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ryan H

    (1) I’m a Baha’i since birth. Many times over the years I’ve taken beliefnet’s “belief-o-matic” test several times just out of curiosity. Sikhs always come up in my top 3 results, and I always wondered exactly why. Thanks to your month as a Sikh, I now understand SO much better why and it’s been very rewarding.

    (2) Service – this is ingrained into me as well, whether by religion or environment I’m not sure. But I took a similar leap of faith recently when I first became my oldest son’s cub scout Den leader (leading 10 kids), then later Pack leader (leading 100 kids!). It has been such an amazing experience, and I’ve really hammered home the service aspect of scouting this year in the hope of instilling that spirit early in the boys’ lives.

    • abowen


      Hey there! Isn’t the Belief-o-Matic fun? I love seeing my results. I’m glading your are learning a little about Sikhi here on Project Conversion! 100 kids?! Maaaan, more power to you!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Beth Irwin

    Now you’re getting it. My dad used to teach me – if anyone finds out you did it, it doesn’t count. Kept us focused on the small stuff that was really needed, rather than the big things that get worldly notice.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment gupt

    nicely put article :) seva is one of the hardest things to do.. because its done without ego… its done with humility and these are the hardest to have.. :( everytime i do seva i expect to be rewarded :P and start feel quite good about myself but then when i do something thats an act of maya i dont expect to be forgiven… human race is strange. i dont know whether i am making any sense actually.. :P

    i absolutely love this shbd

    Ego is opposed to the Name of the Lord; the two do not dwell in the same place.
    In egotism, selfless service cannot be performed, and so the soul goes unfulfilled. ||1||

    Ryan, i love baha’i faith it has many similarities with sikhi although all religions are very similar.. like baha’i faith.. wah-e- guru means greatness of god which is close to what “Bah” means :)

    • abowen


      You are right. Our ego stands in the way of so much good. It’s no wonder almost every religion teaches that we should control or even defeat it!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jamicam

    Wonderful post!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anonymous

    Such an awesome post! Can’t wait to read what you conclude from Sikhi!

  • Seva Food Bank

    I encourage you look into what we’re trying to do with the Seva Food Bank here in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Its exactly along the lines of what you’ve described in your post:

    “The Seva Food Bank provides safe, nutritious and culturally-appropriate food to low- income families living in Mississauga’s L5B and L5C postal codes. An initiative of Sikhs Serving Canada, a registered not-for-profit organization, our mission is to positively impact local communities by acting on the basic Sikh tenets of sarbat da bhalla (the well being of all) and seva (selfless service).”

    • abowen

      Seva Food Bank,

      Thank you for sharing your efforts! Truly a great program!