Building Inclusion by learning from the Indian practice of SEVA (Selfless Service)

Building Inclusion by learning from the Indian practice of SEVA (Selfless Service)

If you grew up in India and probably lived with your grandparents or in some way lived connected to your ancestors and the ancient wisdom you probably have known or have heard about SEVA. Seva can quite literally be translated to Service in English. In this blog, I will share with you the roots of SEVA, what it means, the forms of SEVA and how it can help build an inclusive environment.

I was blessed to have spent some foundational years of my life growing next to my grandparents in our ancestral home and had an extended connection with about 15 grandfathers/grandmothers. I have also witnessed a couple of great grandparents in their last years of survival. Living with my folks on one huge campus, in my hometown meant that by default we were an inseparable part of each other’s lives. Every household was independent but we lived a very interdependent life. Our community life was rich and there were several levels of interactions and collaborations that happened almost every day regarding everyday life, events in our lives both big and small, festivals, celebrations, mourning and several other religious practices and rituals.

As kids, we were soon guided into the practices of this community-based lives and we were automatically trained into this way of life partly by observing the adults around, partly by the stories, myth and legends were told and partly by the vivid explanation of this way of life and why it was so important to practice the way of life.

One of the KEY learnings as a kid you get is the IDEA of SEVA or selfless service. Seva is a Sanskrit word it means a simple way in which you can selflessly serve others. We were taught to SEVA without any expectation, return or reward, name or fame. This is in fact practised in many religions in India including Hinduism, In Sikhism, selfless service is a paramount belief. In Shia Ismailism, service is described as doing volunteer work for others from the heart.

The Bhagavad Gita says, ‘That gift for which one can make no return, with the feeling that it is one’s duty to give, is held to be satvik.’ The Gita encourages selfless service to grow spiritually; thus, it is closely linked to the concept of karma yoga.

SEVA is practised towards following

  1. God:- Serve god by taking care of him as if he is someone we love, offer him gratitude and every piece of material possession before using it as it al comes through god. Devotee time, attention and love.
  2. Animal and Plants: Treat them with care, compassion, provide them with food, water and shelter as an everyday practice. A simple practice could be to offer food and water at your door step to animals around, birds hat come by, water the tress and plants around.
  3. Community :- Participate in peoples joys, in their happiness, loss, grief and troubles. You do not need for an invitation to offer help just reach out and be present on the spot for people and contribute in any way you can.
  4. Household:- Make selfless contribution towards the upliftment physical, emotional and spiritual growth of our household.

Thus, Seva was a form in which we learn to practice compassion and to GIVE. It’s the act of seeing our shared form of being in all forms of LIFE and also a visible form of unity in all MANKIND. According to Vedantic philosophy, it is a way in which we learn to practice love without attaching ourselves to expectations. Thus, it’s a detached form of compassion. it helps us to isolate ourselves from our KARMA and continue to give and share.

‘Service before self ’ is a great motto in the forces. it also serves the SELF or the individual who indulges in these acts as, through this mindful awareness of challenges, Seva is a powerful tool to learn about ourselves, our thoughts, personalities and behaviours.

Seva comes back in the teaching of several leaders and religious icons like buddha, Swami Vivekananda, Ramkrishna, Martin Luther King and is the basis of the Gandhian school of thought as well. ” Only the devoted service has merit” was the great teaching of Guru Nanak. “Love me in all beings” was the message of Krishna who teaches us all about love in our mythology. In recent times Mahatma Gandhi also talked about serving by sharing wealth, contributing towards the society based on the amount of wealth you possess.

Now when we understand the concept of SEVA and its importance for being the glue that united the community culture in India and lead to harmony and peace. The act of SEVA brings grounding within ourselves, it helps us to build a belonging within ourselves and empowers us to rise above our self-interest and practice compassion towards others. it helps me learn to love unconditionally and get the joy in life from serving/giving.

If each one of us leads our everyday lives with the idea of contributing and serving our immediate communities, neighbours, colleagues, teams, friends and family we will be building a very strong foundation of love and compassion. The motto of service before self can be a huge contributor in this age where we can learn to practice empathy, inclusion and create a sense of belonging for ourselves and others.