You are here

Obey, Serve, Love, Excel: Being Present for True Service

By GuruPrem Singh Khalsa

"You can be liberated by Seva alone!"

~Yogi Bhajan

I have learned many things from my years of study with Yogi Bhajan and as a Sikh of the Guru. By far the most valuable thing I have learned and am still learning is how to serve, selflessly. Selfless service, also known as Seva, is allowing God to care for His creation through you! Rendering true selfless service requires training. It has taken me years to be able show up with my heart in my hands and my ego behind me. Experiencing the love of doing Seva has been an ongoing process for me for about thirty-five years.

"Fake it and you will make it!"

~Yogi Bhajan

To begin, we just have to show up, it doesn't matter what your motivation is—to look good, feel good, or get praise—this is a starting point. Obeying external pressures to "Do Good," we are obeying the ego. I used to show up for service out of obligation or guilt. I tried to use Seva was a way to assuage my guilt for being blessed with the necessary resources for an easy physical existence or as penance for my past. To witness suffering bothered my consciousness. Helping the needy is always a good thing to do, but in and of itself it is not necessarily Seva.

Seva is not about doing good to feel better, or doing the right thing to appear grateful. I have done many “good deeds” because that was what was expected. Especially dressed the way I am, I am expected to behave saintly. Guilt and prestige were definitely my early motivators to do “seva,” because I wanted recognition and/or because I felt guilty. 

The shift to true service comes when there is no feeling of obligation; when no one is watching; when we are not getting points, or assuaging anything; and when we, in our truth, deeply desire to show up anyway! We are now obeying our true nature, our inner source of fulfillment, the Divine's need to serve his creation through us! This is one of Yogi Bhajan's most important teachings: Obey, Serve, Love and Excel. The trinity of Obey, Serve and Love, leads us to Excellence.

Obeying this inner call leads us to true selfless service, and when we listen to our inner truth and act on it, we feel full of Love. This can lead, by God's Grace, to our Excellence. Now, here is the wonderful part: once you start to show up (obey), give your head and intellect (serve), leave judgment of self and others and just get into the action for no reward, no benefit, you will love being in the moment. The action of just being and doing will give you an experience of God's Will and you will be excellent! Guru Nanak taught: Truth is high, but Truthful living is higher still. Seva is an essential component of living your truth.

"See the brotherhood of humankind as the highest order of Yogis: conquer your own mind, and conquer the world. There is one awareness among all created beings. One who recognizes the One Lord among all beings does not talk of ego. All human beings have the light of the Lord and are the same. Only by subduing one's pride and ego could one see this light in all." - Japji by Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Recently, I began to participate in a food service program on skid row in Los Angeles. What a wonderfully exalted experience! I have affectionately referred to this Friday night Seva as ‘date night with my soul.’ Now mind you, this was not a seva that I was looking for—to be out at night in one of the more dangerous parts of Los Angeles—but after many years of practicing quieting my mind and ego, I was able to obey this subtle call from my heart and soul. I have experienced deeper listening and the ability to obey the call and show up with my “heart” in my hands and just serve.

To be on skid row and serve a plate of hot food to someone while saying their name, changes the relationship from being that of a giver with ego and beggar with humility, to that of being one and the same. When I look into the eyes of a person facing the challenges of living on the street, the least I can do is say their name with a smile, recognize the God in them and pray that they recognize their own Divinity. 

"God's will is alive within us, no one is without it. When you understand God’s Will, all thoughts of self depart." ~Japji by Guru Nanak Dev Ji



GuruPrem Singh has had an active practice at the World famous Khalsa Medical Clinic in Beverly Hills as a structural, breath, and Yogic and Massage Therapist for over 28 years. He understands the body, and can read its patterns of tension and breathing.

The author of three books, The Heart Rules, Divine Alignment and the new Everyday Devotion, GuruPrem is also a musician, producer and composer. He has produced and arranged more than twelve albums of Mantra music, Chanting, Kirtan, Gurbani and Spiritual Songs including the new Suite: Kirtan SohilaThe Heart Rules, Tantric Har, Aquarian Sadhana, The Therapy Series with Nirinjan, and more.