Seva, or You Gotta Serve Somebody – August 9 2020

Seva, or You Gotta Serve Somebody – August 9 2020

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

Rabindranath Tagore


You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.


But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody,

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Bob Dylan, 

Gotta Serve Somebody


Seva is a Sanskrit word that means ‘selfless service,’ or ‘service to God.’ In India, as here in the USA, it is standard in most ashrams that the members of the ashram perform daily seva. Working for the good of all, performing tasks that may not be enjoyable in the usual sense of the word, setting aside one’s personal preference so that one may become aligned with a teacher, with a set of principles, with God. It is a way of stepping outside of identification with the ego.


We can see it, too, in our churches and temples, in yoga studios: individuals performing work for which they are not being paid and that is not for their own personal benefit.


In Alcoholics Anonymous, the concept of ‘selfless service,’ or ‘working with others’ is the main principle underpinning the whole twelve-step program.


We can see it today, in those who wear masks in public; for my mask can’t protect me from COVID infection, but it can protect you, if I have been infected.


In our tradition of Vedic Meditation, too, it is a time-honored tradition that one gives service to one’s teacher, by helping to set up or take down chairs, helping out at introductory talks. My road to being a teacher of meditation began with me simply pitching in and helping when I saw something that could make things easier for my own teacher, leaving him free to counsel other students or teach them this meditation.


The reason this practice of seva is so ubiquitous is that it is one of the most direct ways to bypass our thoughts, opinions, feelings and personal desires, aligning ourselves directly with the flow of life that is happening always just beneath the surface of what we think we are. Nature always is evolving itself. By giving selflessly without thought of return, we behave as nature itself behaves: supporting another part of itself toward progressive change, loving another part of itself in order to help it love itself, uplifting another part of itself simply because it is right to do so.


We always can find something or someone to serve. In fact, we always are serving something or someone, though perhaps most of the time it is something small and of the ego. Not because we are bad, but because we are not making ourselves aware of our motivations. Once we become aware, it is almost ridiculously easy to choose to serve selflessly. And the payoff is the joy of knowing ourselves as what we truly are: nature itself. Existence, consciousness, bliss. Individual expressions of the evolution of nature, moving always and only in the direction of greater wholeness, greater happiness, greater fulfillment.


Today I will step outside the idea of trying to fulfill my individual needs and I will give of myself to another, without expecting anything in return. I will ask of the universe what it would have of me, and I will keep my eyes open to see where I may be of service.

Three Men, Kumbh Mela, Prayag, Uttar Pradesh, India