There is one word that is not well known – but needs to be. The word is “seva,” which in Sanskrit means “service.”
I’ve learned that 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 do our work and carry out 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 be seva.
This includes 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. 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 has been 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.
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 be the recipient of many priceless rewards.
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This article touched the center of my heart. At the age of 63 I somehow awakened to the call of Seva. I didn’t understand it at the time but I chose to follow the call. I quit an otherwise successful job, sold my beautiful house and moved nearly 500 miles away from my family and friends to a place I had never been but felt like home when I arrived. In the midst of the unknown I felt awakened to start a free coaching service for teens. This was all new but it is the call of Seva. I feel so strongly about the call of Seva that I had it tattooed on my body. परोसना Living my life now from the inside out is freeing and I’ve never felt as alive and vibrant as I do today. Just by following the call to Seva. Thank you for affirming my choice!
Dr. Raj: You state “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. Thank you for this post. The reminder is needed during these challenging times.