Nowadays, the Indian Sanskrit words “karma,” “mantra,” “pundit,” “dosha,” and “chakra” are becoming very mainstream. There is one such word, however, that is not as well known—but needs to be. The word is “seva,” which in Sanskrit means “service.”
Seva is not just any kind of service, but rather selfless service performed with a sense of gratitude. It is service infused with kindness and respect for the ones served, and it arises from a place of peace and love.
If we all were to do our work and carry out our other relationships in accordance with seva, the world would change profoundly. Seva is not about taking a few hours out of our busy week to help others. It’s not something to be turned on and off, as if kindness, compassion, and gratitude are qualities to be doled out in limited amounts. Seva is about designing our lives in such a way that we consistently serve others selflessly. Every action, every interaction should beseva.
This includes in our work lives. Professionals of every stripe—lawyers, doctors, dentists, and others—often assume a distant or even superior attitude toward their clients or patients. They fail to connect with the other person’s humanity. For caregivers to take such an attitude is especially sad because for such professions, the rewards of seva are great. If a doctor, for example, greets a patient with an attitude of compassionate service, with actions and words that essentially say, “I am thankful to you for finding me worthy of service to you, and for providing the means of my livelihood,” then the doctor will likely find that the patient already feels better before anything else is done or said.
Seva is not selective. It does not evaluate our fellow beings and select some for care and respect while ignoring others. It treats all humans with compassion and tenderness.
As The Wisdom of the Tao fifth verse says, “I work at eliminating all of my judgment of others.”
Taking up an attitude of service with gratitude provides us with many rewards in all four dimensions of our lives: physiological, mental, social, and spiritual.
In regard to our physical health, seva is a form of positivity, which Professor Barbara Frederickson of the University of North Carolina reports is linked to a number of physiological benefits. These include a decrease in stress hormones, lowered blood pressure, and improved immune system functioning. Practicing selfless service with gratitude also increases our levels of the feel-good hormones prolactin and DHEA.
Socially, when we let seva guide our interactions with others, we create open spaces where people feel acknowledged, respected, and cared for, as their barriers come down. To practice seva is to recognize the natural bond between ourselves and others. Kindness and compassion take us out of our selfish egos and expand us, making us larger. We strengthen our relationships and friendships, while creating new ones. Socially, everyone benefits from seva.
Mentally and spiritually, seva promotes powerful happiness-creating emotions—kindness, caring, and gratitude. This not only brings profound karmic benefits, it infuses our lives with meaning and value, lifting us up spiritually along with those we serve.
By profoundly affecting all four of our dimensions, seva builds health, peace, harmony, and joy in our lives.
We can even take seva into the bedroom with us. Sex without seva is just sex. But when this basic natural act is approached as seva, it becomes lovemaking. With seva, you do not simply aim for your own personal satisfaction. Instead, you focus on pleasing your partner, giving all you can to making her or him happy. Your partner’s response to this selfless attitude then creates delight for both of you. What results is a wonderful mix of physicality, psychology, and spirituality that leads to ecstasy and deepens intimacy.
My friends, I urge you to undertake all of your activities, personal and professional, in the spirit of seva. To do so is to live by your heart. Without striving, without effort, you will receive many priceless rewards.
Remember the seventh verse from The Wisdom of the Tao:
“It is through selfless action that I experience my own fulfillment.”