Ideals and Values/Sevā
Sometimes transliterated as: Ideals and Values/Seva, Ideals and Values/SevA, Ideals and Values/Sevaa
What is Sevā
Sevā means helping others by doing volunteer work. We should help our parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and anyone else who wants our help. When we do Sevā, we should have a smile on our face. We should never ask for money or a gift when we help others. Sevā is a special type of charity in which we donate our time and labor and not necessarily a good material or money.
Doing Sevā is good Karma. Bhagavān acknowledges and likes people who do Sevā. In the modern society, Sevā or voluntary service is needed to run many charitable institutions, temples, old age homes etc. These institutions do not have enough money to pay everyone whose services are needed and therefore they rely on free voluntary services of their volunteers.
Story: Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa cleans dirty Dishes Yudhishthira was the king of Indraprastha. His friends advised him to perform the ceremony called Rājasuya. After performing this ceremony, they said, Yudhishthira would become the king of the whole of India. Invitations were sent to all the kings of India to attend the ceremony and they were asked to come with presents for Yudhishthira. Lord Kṛṣṇa, who was the king of faraway Dwaraka in western India, also came. Everyone wanted to do some Sevā in the grand-function. Lord Kṛṣṇa also requested for some work to do.
But he had come from a long distance and was the last one to arrive. The only duty that he could get was cleaning the kitchen after the feast was over. Everyone requested Kṛṣṇa not to worry about doing this dirty job. They said that servants could take care of cleaning the kitchen. However, Kṛṣṇa insisted that he too wanted to help and would be pleased to do this dirty job.
According to tradition, all the guests had to select a chief guest among them. This chief guest had to be someone who was a very good person. The chief guest would put the crown of the Emperor of India on the head of king Yudhishthira. Everyone thought that Lord Kṛṣṇa was the greatest of all the guests in the program. Therefore he was appointed as the chief guest for the entire ceremony. After the program was over and Yudhishthira had been crowned as the Indian emperor, everyone decided to take some rest. However, Kṛṣṇa, the chief guest, was found nowhere.
When people went out to look for him, they found him in the main hall, where he was picking up dirty dishes and carrying them to the kitchen for cleaning. Everyone was very moved to see how Lord Kṛṣṇa kept his word. Even though Kṛṣṇa was the chief guest and is the greatest of all, he performed his duty very humbly. Most people would have thought that picking dirty dishes and clean them was a dirty task which only humble servants should perform. But our Lord Kṛṣṇa clearly thought the opposite!
Lord Kṛṣṇa demonstrated that no task is lowly and that we should carry out whatever Sevā has been assigned to us. Remember that work is worship. If Kṛṣṇa could clean dishes after everyone had eaten, we too should follow his example and clean not just ours but also our family's and friend's dishes after they have finished their food.
Sevā and Dignity of Labor
Some people think that it is below their dignity to work with their hands. They consider physical work as dirty and lowly and want only the poor 'servants' to do all this work for them. They'd rather do only office-work in front of a computer and other such as white collar 'clean' jobs. The following examples from the lives of great Hindus show that physical work is neither dirty, nor lowly. It is uplifting and elevating. The concept of Sevā therefore teaches us that physical labor is not undignified on the contrary, it is has a dignity of its own.
The Sevā of Sister Nivedita, who gave her all for India Swami Vivekananda inspired numerous young men and women all over the world to spread the message of Hindu Dharma. Below is a story of an Irish lady who gave up her country, her home and her religion to become his follower and dedicated her life to Hindu Dharma and India.
Margaret Elizabeth Noble was born in Ireland but moved to England in her teenage years to work as a teacher so that she could support her family financially. She happened to hear Swami Vivekananda's discourses on Hindu Dharma in London and several other places and was very impressed by his teachings. In her mind, she decided that India was her true motherland and Hindu Dharma her religion. She wrote to Swamiji asking him if she could follow him to India and become his disciple. In those days, England ruled over India and therefore the English considered Indians as an inferior race.
Swami Vivekananda tried to dissuade her saying that the living conditions, poverty and the climate in India were too harsh for her. But she did not give up and finally he agreed. In India, Swami Vivekananda initiated her into Brahmacharya, and she now had a new name "Bhagini Nivedita or Sister Nivedita". The word "Nivedita" means "dedicated".
Nivedita chose to live in a very poor neighborhood of Calcutta, which was then the capital of the British Empire in India. She completely immersed herself in Hindu culture, served the Indian society with full commitment. In 1899, the dreaded bubonic plague broke out in Calcutta and many people started dying of disease. Nivedita was pained to see that the local residents were not doing anything to clean up and fight the epidemic because they considered it as dirty work that was beneath their dignity. Undeterred, she started rescue operations and cleaning the roads, drains and garbage heaps with brooms herself.
The local youth saw her in action and felt ashamed at their indifference and callous behavior. They were greatly inspired by her sense of service and soon joined her in large numbers to clean the city. With a lot of help now available, Nivedita still did not give up doing the most dangerous and dirty jobs and she continued disinfecting the huts and whitewashing them. She even used the small amounts of money meant for her food for medicines for the victims of plague. Later, in the year 1906, a dreaded famine broke out in Bengal. Once again, Sister Nivedita was at the forefront in doing relief work, providing food to the hungry and transporting food to the famine struck areas.
Sister Nivedita wrote numerous books to make Hindu Dharma more comprehensible to westerners. She worked a lot for women emancipation in India. In her later years, she also dedicated herself to promote Bengali art when she saw that the educated people of Bengal had started disowning their own heritage and adopting English arts instead. Whatever she did, she did with a complete sense of dedication. After Swami Vivekananda passed away in 1902, Sister Nivedita felt that a regeneration of India was not possible without political freedom. Therefore, she traveled across the Indian subcontinent to strengthen and participate in different movements which aimed at overthrowing the British rule. Many Indian freedom fighters like the great Subramania Bharati and Rashbehari Bose acknowledged her as their Guru in motivating them to fight for India's freedom. She also started a school in Kolkata, which is today known as Sister Nivedita's Girls High School.
Not even once she wrote any letter to the newspaper or any other piece of writing highlighting her social service or in order to gain publicity. She wholeheartedly gave her soul to Mother India and Hindu Dharma and passed away at the young age of 44 years in Darjeeling, India, far away from her home country. A memorial at the site where she was cremated reads.
Impressed by her services to the Hindu society and her commitment to our Dharma despite having been born a Christian in Ireland, some Hindus believe that she was an Avatār of Renuka, the mother of Bhagavān Parashurāma. The government of India has issued a postal stamp in her honor.
Story: Guru Nanak serves his own disciple Lehna Towards the last years of his life, Guru Nanak settled down in a place called Kartarpur where a devotee gave him and his disciples some land. Guru Nanak tilled and cultivated his own plot because he believed in earning his bread through his own labor, even though he headed a religious community.
Lehna from Khadur, a small village close to the city of Amritsar, had once heard some verses of Guru Nanak being recited. He was very impressed and moved by the profundity of the hymns. Desiring to have a darshana of Guru Nanak, he arrived at Kartarpur. While searching for Guru Nanak, he encountered an elderly man working in a field. Approaching the latter, Lehna asked him if he knew the whereabouts of Guru Nanak. The farmer replied, "Let me finish my work in this mustard field and I will take you there myself." Lehna asked the farmer, "Do you know if he meets visitors who are strangers? What does he look like? Does he live quite far from here?" The farmer smiled and responded to all the questions. When the farmer finished his work, he asked Lehna to mount his horse as he must have been tired walking a long distance from Khadur. Then, the farmer pulled the horse gently by its reins and walked them to the house of Guru Nanak.
Lehna entered the house and was ushered in to the room of Guru Nanak by his disciples gathered outside. When he entered the room, he was shocked to see that the farmer who had led him to the house now sat on the Guru's seat! Lehna felt very bad and he apologized to the Guru, "Gurudev, I did not realize that it was you doing the farming work in the field. I should not have let you walk while I myself came here on your horse." Guru Nanak smiled and said, "You do not have to feel sorry for anything. You are my guest and it was my duty to take care of you."
Lehna had tears in his eyes and he asked for forgiveness multiple times. He asked Guru for permission to stay with him, so that he can serve him. Guru Nanak could see that Lehna had the spark of spirituality in him and so he obliged. After a few years, Lehna succeeded Guru Nanak as Guru Angad, the second spiritual head of the nascent Sikh community.
Story: Bhagavān Śiva recognizes the Sevā of Alagi About 1000 years ago, the great Emperor Rājā Raja Chola, who ruled over much of South India, Sri Lanka and parts of Burma and Indonesia, decided to construct a massive temple to honor Lord Śiva in Thanjavur. It was to be known as the Bṛhadeshwar temple and intended to be one of the most magnificent structures ever seen. Workmen and sculptors were brought in from all over the country. They toiled all day, digging the earth and chiseling stone. By evening they were completely exhausted.
Near the site of the temple, there lived an old woman called Alagi. Although she was weak and in poor health, Alagi wanted to do her bit for her king and for God. As she wandered around the site, she saw that the laborers became exhausted under the noonday sun and could hardly lift their heads. Everyday Alagi made buttermilk with ginger and curry leaves. She poured it in earthen pots and served the artisans with her own hands. Revived by the drink the men found energy to work better and for longer hours.
Soon, many rich merchants and nobles competed with one another to contribute to the splendor of the temple. Lavish gifts and ornaments were given by the king's sister and his four queens. Alagi, who also wanted to make a contribution, went to the chief mason and asked him to use a granite stone she had at the back of the house. Her neighbors laughed at her temerity, but the mason, who had seen her serving his people for many long years agreed to use it as a coping stone.
Six years later, the temple stood completed, resplendent in all its glory, with a tower that was 216 feet tall. The king fixed an auspicious day for its consecration and hundreds of priests, cooks and entertainers were called up for service. The night before the ceremony however, the king had a dream. Lord Śiva appeared before him and said he would be pleased to reside under the shelter provided by Alagi.
The king was astounded. It was he who had planned and executed the temple project. His family, friends and allies had generously gifted money, images and jewels. Who was this Alagi, the Lord was speaking of? The next day, the King went to the temple, thinking that she lived there. But she was not found there. He sent out a search party for her. She was soon found living in a small hut. The monarch learned of her tireless efforts in taking care of the workers for several years during the hot afternoons, day after day and her humble offering of a stone. Humbled by her devotion, the King went with folded hands to her hut and respectfully brought her to the temple himself. He honored her before the crowd gathered before starting the consecration rites for the temple. He proclaimed that her simple devotion had won favor in the eyes of the Lord over and above all the material riches that made up the temple.
Alagi accepted the recognition of her services to Lord Shiva with great humility and chose to spend the rest of her life serving the temple and the temple employees. The site of her hut came to be known as Alagi garden and the small tank before her home was named as Alagi tank. A few decades back, the city of Thanjavur decided to construct their municipal office on that holy site where her hut once stood.
Story: Pandit Ishvarachandra Vidyāsāgara teaches the dignity of labor to his guest The renown of Ishwarachandra Vidyāsāgara, a Sanskrit scholar and a Hindu social reformer, spread far and wide. Despite his fame, Vidyāsāgar continued to live a simple life and wear traditional Indian clothing.
Once, he was invited to deliver a lecture at a village in Bengal. When Vidyāsāgara alighted from the train at the railway station, he did not find anyone who had come to receive him. Another gentleman, dressed in western clothing, got off the train and he thought that Vidyāsāgar was a coolie. Addressing him rudely, the young man asked him to pick up his luggage and take it to the destination where a famous scholar "Vidyāsāgara" was scheduled to give a talk. Vidyāsāgar quietly picked his bags and took him to the venue.
Later, when the young man saw that it was none other than Vidyāsāgar whom he had thought of as a coolie, he was shocked and fell at Vidyāsāgar's feet asking for forgiveness. But Vidyāsāgara smiled and said, "I just wanted to teach you that there is nothing degrading in picking one's own luggage. We must not feel ashamed doing our own work!"
Once, Pandit Ishwarachandra Vidyāsāgara was travelling to a neighboring village with his friend. On the way, they noticed that a laborer was lying on the road, with his luggage by his side. Vidyāsāgar touched the laborer and realized that he was suffering from Flu. In those days, Flu was a dreaded disease. The laborer's clothes were stinking and he was all dirty.
Vidyāsāgar did not worry about catching flu. He lifted the laborer and carried him on his shoulders while his friend picked up the luggage of the laborer. The two then walked to their destination village and approached a physician. They paid the physician and made arrangements for the stay and recovery of the laborer. When the laborer recovered from his illness, Vidyāsāgar gave him some money and then returned to Calcutta.
Story: Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants Entire Forest A little over 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav Molai Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India's region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site where he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly, the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acre of jungle that Payeng planted single-handedly.
We recently caught up with Payeng in his remote forest lodge to learn more about how he came to leave such an indelible mark on the landscape: It all started way back in 1979 when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng, only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life. The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested, says Payeng, now 47.
While it's taken years for Payeng's remarkable dedication to planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it didn't take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants species increasingly at the risk from habitat loss elsewhere.
Despite the conspicuousness of Payeng's project, Forestry officials in the region first learned of this new forest in 2008 and since then they've come to recognize his efforts as truly remarkable, but perhaps not enough. "We're amazed at Payeng," says Assistant Conservator of Forests, Gunin Saikia."He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero."
Child who does Sevā V/S one who doesn't
Let us see the examples of two boys below. One of the boys loves to do Sevā while the other boy does not like to do it.