Seva: Serving God Through Creation
“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.
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.”
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?