On the topic of seva I observed two things:
a.There are a plethora of sub-topics within seva that deserve a dedicated discussion (like The origins of seva, the changing face of seva, the 3 modes of seva, the story of Bhai Kanaiya or Guru Andad Dev Ji & more)
b.It is not possible to draw a defining narrative on seva, as it doesn’t have a beginning middle or end, instead I wanted to share some extracts from SGGSJ that have helped my gyan (knowledge) break out of the pre-existing thoughts I had on the topic & the ideas that are most common in a majority of text in literature & online about Sikh Seva.
Man’s common understanding of Seva:
1.Selfless service, Sarbatt da Bhalla
2.Explanations in texts & online commonly offer a myopic narrative of seva, & this is of course what is educating the sangat today. Common ideas of seva include
a.3 modes of seva (tan – body, man – mind, dhan, wealth)
b.Synonymy of seva & langar
3.Examples of seva cited commonly refer to:
a.Activities within the Gurdwara – Langar, shoe seva, washing dishes, sweeping floors
b.Activities within the community – volunteering to help the elderly, the infirm, those in need, charity work.
Understanding Seva through bani:
•Ang 11: ” You (Waheguru) are constant in each and every heart, and in all things”
•Ang 1013: “Worship is not conceivable without seva”
oThe very act of worship is itself seva.
At the Gurdwara for instance, one drops money to the golak – dhan.
Carrying food rations to Langar – tan, sarbatt da Bhalla
Matha tekh – offering your head to the Guru – man, tan. Offering your head, for the guru to use as his instrument to serve humanity at every moment. In effect doing seva, is doing God’s work here on earth.
•Ang 1068: “Serving the True Guru, one is liberated, and the five demons are put under his control”
•Ang 116: “Serving the True Guru, inner filth and pollution are removed”
•Ang 1253: “You have not shunned lust. O brother, you have neither forgotten anger nor avarice. You have not abandoned the slander of others. Your Seva is fruitless if all these vices are your friend.”
•Ang 1044: “Through the Shabad, serve the True Guru”.
•Ang 1046: “Without serving the True Guru, no one finds liberation. O mind, tune into this, and see”
•Ang 490: “Serve you the Lord alone, none else must you serve”.
•Ang 43: “I Beg to serve those who serve you”
•Ang 758: “Those who serve you, become you. You preserve the honour of your servants”.
•Ang 26: “If one earns merit here through seva, one will get the seat of honour in His Court hereafter.”
•Ang 728, Guru Nanak tells us: “First wash the vessel, then disinfect it with incense, only then is it ready to receive the milk.”
oMind = vessel, milk = amrit. Incense = humility.
oMeaning, humility, attributed to selfless service is, the way we can prepare our minds (by controlling the five vices) to receive amrit and gyaan.
1.Centrality within Sikhi
a.Worship is seva – the remembrance of Waheguru is seva, Daily nitnem is vehicle through which we do seva. The words ‘seva’ & ‘Sikhi’ are synonymous. The definition of would also do for the other. For instance, standing ready to serve humanity at all times whilst keeping the gurbani on the mind at all times.
b.Seva elevated to the most Godly of persuits
c.The Ultimate Prize – Through seva one obtains jeevan-mukti from the cycle of birth & death
2.External Vs. Internal –
a.Common understanding of seva refers to the external, what we do & how we engage with the world around us. But guru teaches us that seva is in fact internal – our state of mind. From our state of mind, our external actions will naturally follow. Seva is not something that one plans to do, but something that one cannot help but think.
b.Seva is not just the physical act of service, but that serving is just the tip of the iceberg. Seva is truly about the abandonment of one’s sense of self and the control of one’s worldly desires and destructive emotions. When one controls these five vices (kam, krod, lobh, moh, ahankar), one’s mind is automatically conditioned to serve.
c.If we see Guru in everything & everyone, we serve everything & everyone, & every moment. Just as Guru Angad Dev Ji did by serving with complete humility Guru Nanak. In fact by bestowing the GurGadi upon Bhai Lehna over his own sons, Guru Nanak himself teaches us that seva is the noble of pursuits a Gursikh may partake in.
3.Serving God & Serving man:
a.To serve God is to serve one’s self AND humanity –
b.At source Guru Nanak created Langar, where rich & poor serve, sit & eat together, against a back drop of the caste based Hindu society, where serving God was the preserve of the so-called learn-ed Brahmin priests, & serving man was a task relegated to the poor & uneducated. Guru Nanak broke this falsehood by bringing together the service of man with the service of God.
c.God created man in his divine image hence man is born divine. But one only comes to realise this divinity through serving the sat naam.
4.The physical act of seva is unimportant.
a.The physical act is the natural conclusion to a long process of though, understanding & reverence that went before it. Today Neuroscientists tell us that that the simple physical act of raising your hand above your head, is the result of a thousand electrical connections that are made in the cerebral cortex of the mind.
b.As such the Gurmukh’s thought process (or cerebral connections if you will) is to see Guru Ji in everything, all the time, and so stands ready to serve the guru in whatever way the circumstance may demand in that moment, and the physical act of doing comes as a result of that process/understanding. Be it:
i.With body (tan): Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji/ Emporor Aurungzerb to save the Kashmiri Hindus (direct ancestors of India’s first Prime Minster)
ii.With Mind (tan): Guru Har Gobind/ Bandi Chor, helping the enslaved Hindu Princes
iii.With wealth (Dhan): YOU, Sangat, offering money for the upkeep of the Gurdwara
5.Seva is not something you do, it is something you are, as said by some of the world’s greatest thinkers:
(Gr. 1850) Nietzche, “to do is to be”
(Rs., 1800) Kant, “to be is to do”, (Ang 549: “you become like the one you serve”)
(Fr. 1720) Descartes, “I think therefore I am”
….Sikhism came about in 1469 – 3oo years prior to all this…..perhaps we might want to tune into this leading wisdom.