By TARA MANIAR
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, spiritual head of Parmarth, Niketan Ashram, says: “Let your selfless service [seva] be your prayer and meditation. It is this seva or selfless service which is key to discovering the divine spirit within.”
I first learned about seva in 2001 when I stayed at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India for three months. I had volunteered for different organizations in Winnipeg, but it took my stay at the ashram for me to truly understand the concept of seva – selfless service. Integrity, active compassion, humility, honesty, inspiration, respect, enthusiasm and devotion to the work are the essence of seva. In seva, we perform whatever duties are asked of us with the full belief that “in the work lies the key to discovering the divine spirit within.”
Seva is translated as “selfless service” without expectation of recognition, appreciation or reward. It is an offering to humanity. Seva can be offered on the job, with family and friends and even strangers. It can complement every thought, word and action. In seva, we become the instrument through which the work is performed. Seva starts off as something you do; then it becomes who you are.
It is a process. During my three-month stay at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in 2001, I was responsible for guest relations whenever there was a large group. If any of the guests needed something or had a complaint, they were directed to me. I was encouraged to mingle with the guests to make sure they were okay.
When needed, I became the representative of the ashram. With little or no knowledge of the ashram, I found that I had quite a learning curve. With the essence of seva in mind, and trusting that Pujya Swamiji had seen in me the possibility of serving in this manner, I accepted the responsibility. The following year, I was asked to respond to emails from individuals requesting accommodation at the ashram. Then I was asked to also respond to those who wanted to come for yoga courses, special ceremonies like weddings and the other “rites of passage,” including the immersion of the ashes of the deceased into the holy river Ma Ganga.
Today, I continue this seva wherever I am as part of a reservation team. Others now attend to emails for general stays, yoga courses or sanskars (rites of passage). I respond to the emails requesting special consideration, guidance around sanyas (renunciation), enlightenment and confusion issues, and to serve at the ashram. Also, I am responsible for large events and retreats for groups of 20 to 1000 guests. Additionally, I am involved with finalizing and expanding our program schedule by suggesting new programs and inviting visiting instructors to bring their programs to the ashram.
When I initially embraced seva, the false ego caused me to be very nervous and uncertain of my ability to perform this seva. Intellectually, I knew that I would not be asked to do something of which I was incapable. That’s the challenge we face on this path of seva. Initially, we do not trust or surrender completely, even though we know that it is the only way to being one with the essence of seva. We need to get out of our mind and focus on the duties themselves and on those we are serving. As we perform our duties without expectation, the fragrance of seva emerges. I relied on the guidance and support of my guru and my regular spiritual practice, or sadhana, to help me get out of my head. The essence of seva slowly emerged in the form of love and active compassion for all and integrity, humility, inspiration and joy for the opportunity to serve.
How to begin seva
Seva takes desire, conscious effort and a willingness to surrender to the process. It is the attitude with which we approach all that we do. Start off slowly with one activity wherever you are in your life journey. Most of us feel good and bring our best self when we give our time and skills to volunteer activities.
Volunteering might be a place to start. Initially, it’s okay to volunteer for your own benefit. Eventually, you feel that sense of compassion for others as you continue to volunteer. It could be as a coach of a sports team, or helping those who are less fortunate, or contributing to a humanitarian cause that is close to your heart or belief system.
Some of us volunteer for power, recognition and appreciation. This is not seva. As we continue to serve, the focus may change from oneself to those you are serving – then volunteering has become seva. Seva is an offering to humanity without expectation of recognition or appreciation. In seva, recognition, appreciation or criticism are irrelevant. It is the service that we perform that is most important. In the performance of the work lies the key to discovering the divine spirit within.
This work can be whatever is expected of us at home in all the different roles we play within our family. When we bring this attitude of seva, or selfless service, to the chores at home, it is no longer a chore but a joy to serve the family. You become an example, spreading joy with every smile, every word, every action. This joy becomes contagious, and eventually your family and home are joyous.
Seva is the attitude with which we perform our duties, wherever we are. How will your joy at work impact others? Will your co-workers become suspicious? Or will your joy become contagious? When you bring the attitude of seva to your job, your perception of your job changes. You now see your job as a service to others. Analyze your duties and determine how you are helping others. That is where you keep your focus. When you take your eyes off yourself and put them on the service you are doing, you no longer look for appreciation or feel concern about being underappreciated. Your attitude changes and, therefore, your performance is enhanced. When your performance is enhanced, the results are enhanced. Whether you perform your duties with joy or with frustration or with stress, you will still receive your paycheque. What would you prefer to receive at the end of the work day? Joy? Stress? This is your choice!
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service.”
All is seva! Whatever I do for self, family and community, whether as an individual, Chakradance facilitator or spiritual life coach, is all seva. Following the teachings and examples of my guru and Mahatma Gandhiji, I lose myself in service on the journey to discovering the divine spirit within. Whatever clients feel inspired to comfortably offer for my services, I gratefully accept. I trust and know that I am fully supported as I stay focused on the service of empowering them to know and learn the wisdom of the body, mind and spirit. They are authorized to heal what needs to be healed, release what no longer serves them and discover the truth of who they are, beyond the roles they play at home, work and leisure.
Tara Maniar is a teacher and practitioner of traditional yoga, a certified Chakaradance™ Facilitator and a spiritual life coach. Tara empowers strong women to transform their inner turmoil into enlightened possibilities. She strives to live in humble service to humanity and Guruji. Visit her online at taramaniar.com.