Understanding Seva

Amongst seekers, one word that we often see being used is seva. The common translation for the word seva is selfless service. But what is selfless service? How precisely do we define seva?And what is it’s purpose? I’ve been thinking about this for a while and thought I’d share my thoughts so far…

In the Bhagavad Gita, one path to the Divine revealed by Lord Krishna to Arjuna is the path of Karma Yoga, or union with the Supreme through the path of Action. In Karma Yoga the essential mindset is one in which we continue to engage with the World through action, but where we forego, or do not focus on, or get attached to the fruits of those actions.

As seekers, we often choose to start invoking this mindset in our lives by doing seva, or selfless service wherever possible. But what exactly does seva mean?

I was listening to a very interesting recording of a satsang, or workshop as he often calls it, by the teacher and renowned kirtan singer Krishna Das. In it he shared some stories of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, and in particular shared his guru’s remarks when his disciples asked about the seva the were doing. “Pah! Only God can do seva!” he exclaimed. What an interesting and revealing answer from this great Master.

I believe there are three forms of seva, each of which conditions us in different ways and which are linked to our internal spiritual growth

The first seva is where we work, often for a particular amount of time and for a cause that is deemed to be beneficial to society. We contribute our time and energy, but with our focus on the desired result. That result, if we are truly honest with ourselves is only partly related to the cause we are working on. Quite often it is equally related to other benefits that we might get from doing that work – social respect, acknowledgement, personal satisfaction, and yes more likes on facebook!

In doing seva, we start to associate with people that also offer similar contributions of time and energy and this creates a positive influence on our thoughts and takes us away from solely focusing on our own individual, minute problems to thinking of others. From this perspective, starting to do seva is a wonderful thing. However, with the focus constantly assessing and measuring what we feel we are getting out it, confusion can start clouding our minds and we can potentially end up adding unwanted layers onto the ego. Where this happens we quickly find such ‘seva’ becoming counter-productive is creating spiritual growth

The second type of seva is where the mindset shifts to a perspective in which a person starts to regard all work as none other than service to the Lord. In this view, action is not taken for any personal benefit, nor even for the benefit of society. It is taken only to please Him, to allow us to know Him, and to seek His love. The work is performed to the best of our ability but without any attention paid to the success or failure. All success and failure in such work is surrendered to Him. Wherever thoughts start to arise from the ego – thoughts of personal prestige or satisfaction, they are calmly and soothingly sent on their way with remembrance of His name. This is where the beauty of japa, or the practice of repetition of the Lord’s name is found.

Our attitude starts to change as we offer everything of ourselves, or as we continue to serve our higher self with a loving surrender of our lower self. We start finding gratitude for things regardless of the external situation, and this only fuels our sense of wanting to offer more.

If you think of a situation in which you have been incredibly grateful for something someone has done, does what we offer that person as thanks ever feel like enough? In the same way the devotee feels that everything offered to the Lord in the way of service is inadequate but strives to offer with all his or her heart and soul.

We desire to be only an instrument for the Lord and through every action we consciously strive to continue to cleaning and purifying ourselves so that we may be able to offer and serve more.

The third type of seva can be described as the fruit of the second type of seva described above. As a devotee continues to surrender not just his actions in good deeds, but in all activity, the lower self that is surrendered eventually becomes silent – and actions become self-less.

When we hear a beautiful song being played, our reaction is to be amazed at the musician and offer affection to the player. We don’t ever feel in awe of the harmonium or guitar or drum! In the same way, the devotee becomes that instrument of grace. Whatever is played is the Lord’s song and all success or failure is irrelevant to that instrument.

The body and mind of such a devotee become an instrument that is perfect for the Lord to use – like the flute of Lord Krishna, it is hollowed of all ego-centric thought. As divine breath flows through the flute, each note played by the Lord is clearly and effortlessly transformed to sweet music. Each action performed by is an action of seva – a direct service to the will of the Lord, the Universe, Love, and Divinity.

In contrast to the second type of seva, in this ultimate form of seva all action is not performed in search of love, but rather as an expression of love.

I believe this is what the wise master meant in his remarks to his devotees. When we start on our internal quest, we start trying to perform seva to start purifying ourselves and to set us on a path of yoga. It is when, through surrender and service we ourselves become selfless, and ultimately become the path itself, that our attempts to perform seva stop, and true seva begins to flow through us.

Why Do We Fail?

Hari Om friends!

Finally, I am returning to this blog after 4 long and unexpectedly challenging years in which I haven’t felt able to do any writing. The exact external circumstances and events that occurred are not so interesting – suffice to say that it was a period throughout which I was tested many times – physically, emotionally and spiritually. In truth, on several occasions I felt I failed which took me to some dark places. But ultimately, through His grace and through the love of those around me, I found my way back and now find myself in a new version of life that is fuelled by love, service and gratitude.

I know now that many have experienced some challenge like this in life – for each of us the exact nature of the challenge is unique to us but the effects on the mind and therefore your life are the same. I once heard a wise man say, the Lord doesn’t give you what you want, He gives you what you need.

Sometimes, what we need is to be shaken violently, to be pulled out of our comfort zones and back onto the path where we should be. This transition can be rough, but sometimes it’s necessary to give you the training for the life you are meant to lead. Because out of that struggle alone comes real strength. Not just mental or physical strength (although that too may be important for you). I mean a strength of conviction about who you are and what your purpose is. A rough uncut and dust-covered diamond must be cleaned, cut and polished many times before it becomes pure – a shining diamond radiating light in every direction.

Isn’t it interesting that some people have much more hardship whereas others seem to breeze through life? Of course there are many factors at play in life, but from a spiritual point of view perhaps it just that some of us need more polishing than others. With His grace hopefully one day we can be that bright illumined diamond.

The other thing that I found eventually comes from this type of struggle is gratitude. You realise that nothing you are is solely because of your own merit or effort. Everything you have become is a result of someone or something in your life that created that reality for you. It is only because of how strongly we identify with our personality that we assume that we have achieved something. Once you start to question what you have actually ever done yourself you come to some interesting answers. Interestingly, at one stage you even become grateful for even the struggle itself because you see the difference it has created in you.

From a practical point of view, in the hardest of these times what I found amazing was the strength I got from kirtan – simply keeping His Name with me wherever I went. In fact it continues to amaze me how powerful this technique is. Any time I felt my way was lost, I simply said his Name over and over again, chanting and singing simple kirtans whenever I was alone. Instantly, the mind gets snapped out of its constant pointless chatter and thrust back into a place of happiness and peace. Now whether there is some esoteric reasoning to this, or its just a potent form of NLP, I don’t really care – it works!

Luckily it seems there has recently been a huge surge of interest in kirtan music and you can find many offerings by amazing devotional artists online – try Spotify or Apple Music for starters. So even if you don’t know any chants or mantras you can find something you like and can connect with. In the coming months I will also add several links to offerings I come across that I like. It is a practice that works whatever beliefs, faith, or religion you follow.

So, while I continue on my path, I thought I would share this experience with you in case it can be of any help on your journey. Now I look forward to getting back to this blog and sharing again with you!

Narayan Narayan!!

Who is Hanuman?

Recently we enjoyed celebrating Hanuman Jayanti, the birthday of Hanumanji. In preparing for this very special day, I took some time to clarify in my mind what Hanuman – the superhero of the Ramayan epic – meant to me. After continuing to reflect on this during the 108 Hanuman Chalisas that we sang that day, I noted the following:

That force that roars silently from within, urging you, pushing you, to achieve absolute perfection in life – to love unconditionally, to serve without expectation, to surrender and offer every action to a higher noble Ideal.

That flame that, in the depths of your assumed despair, or at the heights of your alleged joy, will illuminate the path back home and irradicate the folly of your mind.

That strength that seeks to protect the good and wise that will nurture your vision, and crush all others that will distract you.

That form that meditates only upon the Truth, and is none other than that Truth.

That is Hanuman.

That Ideal is Ram.