Here in Mexico City, where I’ve been visiting and teaching for the past few days, the joy of seva abounds. The students and teachers serve from a seemingly endless reserve of energy, enthusiasm, and love. One friend volunteers overnight at a local hospital to help women who would otherwise have no one with them during their labor and delivery. Several teachers work with homeless kids on the streets, teaching yoga and giving them a glimpse of a life and a consciousness beyond what they’ve known. Another friend labors tirelessly for the Teacher’s Association, IKYTA México, which sometimes feels like herding cats (teachers are very independent!) but in the end, bears the fruit of a beautiful fellowship of teachers and practitioners. He lives a life of selfless service that I find extraordinary.
My first experience of the joy of seva was at Khalsa Women’s Camp in Vancouver, BC. I was there on scholarship and I was assigned to kitchen seva. I was nervous; but once I walked in, I was welcomed by the fellowship of other sevadars (people doing seva) and the naad (sound current) of Sat Nam Wahe Guru. All day we chanted and chopped and cooked and cleaned; I still remember it as one of the best times I’ve ever had.
What is it about seva that brings us such pleasure? Studies have shown that philanthropy and service light up the brain’s pleasure centers. Joy naturally arises—it’s in our chemistry—when we reach out and help another person. As humans, we want to make a connection, and the simplest and most immediate way to make that connection is to serve. It’s also fairly natural for us humans to be selfish; but self-centeredness is the fruit of ego, and in the end it’s empty and lifeless. There’s no joy—only control and expectation and striving. When we serve, the ego softens. Letting go of our own agenda for awhile, we work toward a common goal. We serve side by side with our fellows and we experience shuniya—a zeroing out of our self and our own ego-driven agendas. We live and we serve from a place of emptiness—and from that emptiness all things come: joy, compassion, love, and a sense of belonging.
Seva is the final step of spiritual maturity. To serve without ego—to work toward a common goal without expectation of return; to uplift others without thought of ourselves or our own needs—that is true seva and it is a gift. The joy of seva is a life which is lived selflessly; a life which finds its abundance in people, smiles, laughter, and fellowship; a life which measures its success in the number of people who were served, healed, touched, uplifted on any given day. There are examples all around you. Join them and inspire others to join you in a life of joy and service, the joy of seva.
The Joy of Seva: Compassion Kriya
Sat Purkh Kaur Khalsa has been singing for as long as she can remember. Her music focuses on using sound to move the body, the mind and the breath toward powerful transformative experiences that uplift the individual and serve the soul.