The Heart of Seva

Sannyasi Dharmapriya (Amboli, India)

When first I wore the geru cloth, my heart was strong and committed towards working for the guru, his mission, for yoga. It was unclear how this would happen, but I knew I wanted to teach this magic as it would help other people the way it had helped me.

It has been only a few years. Though the numbers of people I've been able to reach has grown and is growing, so has the awareness that teaching, or sharing as I like to call it, is not enough. The geru cloth brings with it a sacred trust, a tremendous responsibility towards those who see it as a symbol of help and hope.

I have realized that seva is the very essence of geru. Geru stands as a beacon to those who feel lost in this samsaric sea. To be this beacon, to be the karma sannyasin I pledged to be, I would have to burn my little self, my small desires, my circle of comfort, my cradle of habits and conditioning. As this conviction springs from my heart I cannot turn my back on it. This set me thinking about seva.

What is seva? Is it when we come to the ashram, sweep and swab, do jobs that do not remotely challenge our intellectual capabilities? Or is it seva when we organize yoga camps that are great experiences for all the participants? When is it seva and when is it not? For whom is the seva? For the guru? Or only for the sick, needy and poor?

It came to me that seva is for everyone who needs it at that particular moment in time - animals, birds, trees, insects, people. Seva bhava is more important than seva, the work itself. Seva bhava is the attitude, the emotion from which the seva springs, and that has to be love. Love is the heart of seva.

However, I realized I do not truly know the meaning of love, even though I have prided myself on being a great lover all my life. Love has always been the flagstaff, the pole star. So it was a rude awakening to realize and admit that I do not know and have never really known love. Even those close to me I love because in turn I receive love from them. In every relationship I examined, it was so. Though it did not diminish them, the truth could not be denied.

It would be glib to say that only one's relationships with God and guru stand apart. Yet, although neither one needs nor expects anything from us, both boundlessly fill our life with plenty. However, to be in relationship with either God or guru is something that I can only yearn for. I pray to God to be taught the experience, the lesson of love. Meanwhile it is possible to examine how one's limited understanding of emotion manifests in seva.

When we occupy a seat or a position of however limited an authority, do we try and help others or do we rigidly stick to a procedure? Could we be accused of trying to be liked, or being too literal, or pumping up our ego, where one is meant to use discrimination and common sense. Therefore, seva requires that we go that extra mile for no charge or reward.

Seva is subtle. A smile, a word of cheer, a shoulder to lean on or cry on, and acceptance of another's seva makes the world a nicer place to live in. If we know what feels good for us, at the very least we can offer others the same. Many will come who will need you in that moment and when God comes walking to your door, isn't that a blessing?

After all, what have I to give? What I think I can give seems pitifully small - money, food, shelter, clothes, comfort, encouragement, beauty, cleanliness. The giver is always the Lord whose bounty is endless, whose every moment is prasad. So it seems that even if I allow all that comes to me to simply flow out through me, it's still not enough, because it is still limited by individual ideas and preconceptions.

Successful seva is accomplished when you are aware that the recipient of your seva is indeed doing you a service by letting you serve them. As indeed God and guru do for us when we serve them.