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The Gurbani on ‘Seva’

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“Cursed are the hands and feet that do not engage in seva” (Bhai Gurdas, Varan, 27.1).

Seva also Sewa, short for the word Karseva refers to “selfless service”, work or service performed without any thought of reward or personal benefit. Sikhs are encouraged by the Guru Granth Sahib to perform Seva, as it is believed to not only benefit the community but is also good for moral upliftment of one’s own self.

Sikhs engage in free service at Gurdwaras by washing dishes, cleaning the floors, serving food, etc. Other services include performing unpaid work in hospitals, community centers, etc.

Sikhism is founded on the principles of Sarbat da bhalla – working towards the “common good of all”. For Sikhs, this means reaching out to serve and uplift all of humanity as an expression or devotion to the Creator.

Three varieties of seva are sanctioned in Sikh lore:

  • That rendered through physical means – “taan”
  • That rendered through the mental apparatus “maan”
  • That rendered through one’s material resources “dhan”.

The first of these is considered to be the highest of all and is imperatively prescribed for every Sikh.

What does the Gurbani say?

This point is highlighted by the Guru in many places in the Guru Granth Sahib. The text explains the spiritual benefits of doing seva and the ways in which one should perform it, focusing on the state of the mind when performing seva.

1.

ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰਤ ਹੋਇ ਨਿਹਕਾਮੀ ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਹੋਤ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਸੁਆਮੀ

One who performs selfless service, without thought of reward, shall attain his Lord and Master.”

The one who perform selfless service without desire for a reward will certainly attain liberation. The need to be “desire-less” (“nehkaami”) is critical in making this action fruitful.

2.

ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਸੇਵ ਕਮਾਣੀਆ

You shall find peace, doing seva”  

Peace can be obtained through Sewa as it brings its own tranquillity and serenity which cannot be found in doing anything else. For a Sikh, simran and seva are the spiritual right and left hand. As a Sikh, one must do both to keep a balance.

3.

ਸੇਵਾ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਏ

Center your awareness on seva and focus your consciousness on the Word of the Shabad.”

A Sikh has to make a concerted effort to seek opportunities to perform Seva. One has to focus on both the mind and human function

4.

ਕਰਿ ਸੇਵਾ ਭਜੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ

Do seva, follow the Guru’s Teachings, and vibrate on the Lord’s Name, Har, Har.”

Three things are necessary to obtain salvation and liberty. To perform Seva, to follow Gurbani and to do Simran

5.

ਸਤਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਗਾਖੜੀ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਇ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਮਿਲੈ ਸੇਵਾ ਪਵੈ ਸਭ ਥਾਇ

“It is very difficult to serve the True Guru. Surrender your head; give up your selfishness. Realizing the Shabad, one meets with the Lord, and all one’s service is accepted”

Undertaking seva for the Almighty is tough and one needs to “surrender” their head and abandon selfishness. Hence, one needs have humility and “nimrata” (without “ego” or “pride”) before undertaking seva.

6.

ਵਿਚਿ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਸੇਵ ਕਮਾਈਐ ਤਾ ਦਰਗਹ ਬੈਸਣੁ ਪਾਈਐ

In the midst of this world, do seva, and you shall be given a place of honor in the Court of the Lord.”

Finally, in the following verse the Guru informs the devotee that performing seva in the correct fashion will bring “honour in the Lord’s Court”.

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