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Seva and Simran

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Seva and Simran

The word Seva is derived from root word sev which literally means to serve, wait or attend upon, honor, or worship. It is usually translated as 'service' or 'serving'.

God in Sikhism is not apart from His creatures but pervades His Creation. Therefore, service rendered to humanity (i.e. God's light in man) is indeed considered a form of worship. In fact, in Sikhism, no worship is conceivable without seva (GGS, 1013). The Sikh is forbidden from serving anyone apart from God ('Serve you the Lord alone : none else must you serve' GGS, 490). However, this also means that whomsoever we serve, we really serve our Lord through him. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon the Sikh to render seva with the highest sense of duty since thereby he or she is worshipping the Lord.

Seva in Sikhism is imperative for spiritual life. It is the highest penance (GGS, 423). It is a means to acquiring the highest merit. The Sikh often prays to God for a chance to render seva. Says Guru Arjan, Nanak V, "I beg to serve those who serve you (GGS, 43)" and "I, Your servant, beg for seva of Your people, which is available through good fortune alone (GGS, 802)." According to Guru Amar Das, "He who is turned towards the Guru finds repose and joy in seva".

Three varieties of seva are sanctioned in the Sikh lore : that rendered through the corporal instrument (tan), that through the mental apparatus (man) and that through the material means (dhan). The first of them is considered to be the highest of all and is imperatively prescribed for every Sikh : "Cursed are the hands and feet that engage not in seva" (Bhai Gurdas, Varan, 27.1). In traditional Indian society work involving corporal labour was considered low and relegated to the humblest castes. By sanctifying it as an honourable religious practice, the Sikh Gurus established the dignity of labour, a concept then unknown to the Indian Hindu society. Not only did the Gurus sanctify it, they also institutionalized it, e.g. in the service of Langar (the Guru's community kitchen) and in serving the sangat (holy assembly) in other ways such as by grinding corn for it, fanning it to soften the rigour of a hot day and drawing water for it. "I beg of you, O, Merciful One, make me the slave of Your Slaves... Let me have the pleasure of fanning them, drawing water for them, grinding corn for them and of washing their feet," prays Guru Arjan Dev (GGS, 518).

Seva through the mental apparatus (man) lies in contributing one's talents - creative, communicative, managerial, etc. - to the corporate welfare of the community and mankind in general. It also lies in sharing the pain of others. Response to the pain of others is a sine qua non of the membership of the brotherhood of man. That is why the Sikh prayer said in unison ends with a supplication for the welfare of all. Seva of this kind is motivated not by the attitude of compassion alone, but primarily to discover practical avenues for serving God through man.

Seva through material means (dhan) or philanthropy (daan) was particularly sought to be made non-personal. The offerings (kar bheta) made to the Gurus and the daswandh (tenth part of one's earnings) contributed by the Sikhs went straight into the common coffers of the community. Personal philanthropy can be debasing for the receiver and ego-entrenching for the giver, but self-effacing community service is ennobling. Seva must be so carried out as to dissolve the ego and lead to self-transcendence, which is the ability to acknowledge and respond to that which is other than oneself. Seva must serve to indicate the way in which such transcendence manifests in one's responsiveness to the needs of others in an impersonal way.

The Sikh is particularly enjoined upon to render seva to the poor. "The poor man's mouth is the depository of the Guru". The poor and the needy are, thus, treated as legitimate recipients of dan (charity) and not the Brahman who had traditionally reserved for himself this privilege. Even in serving the poor, one serves not the person but God. This, thus, is the Sikh ideal of seva.

In the Sikh way of life, seva is considered the prime duty of the householder (grihasthi). "That home in which men-of-God are not served, God is served not. Such mansions must be likened to graveyards where ghosts alone abide", says Kabir (GGS 1374). The Sikhs are all ordained to be householders, and do seva as their duty. In Sikh thought, the polarity of renunciation is not with attachment, but with seva.

True seva according to Sikh scripture must be without desire of fruit (nishkam), in humility (nimarta), with purity of intention (hirda suddh), with sincerity (chit lae) and in utter selflessness (vichon ap gavae). Such seva for the Sikh is the doorway to dignity as well as to mukti (liberation). "If one earns merit here through seva, one will get the seat of honour in His Court hereafter (GGS 26).

Simran or Nam Simran, literally means to remember, love, and meditate on God by reciting and repeating the name of God. God's names are myriad, but the one accepted among Sikhs is Waheguru. In practice nam simran takes two forms. One is participation in worship in the sangat, i.e. believers gathered together to express or seek unity with God through singing and hearing His praises. The other way is that of private meditation , with or without the help of a rosary. The two methods are not exclusive of each other; they are complementary and a Sikh is expected to use both. Attendance in sangat is as important as contemplation in solitude. "Repetition of God's name erases doubt and delusion," says Guru Arjan (GGS 814), and "expunging grief, pain and fear, it produces happiness everlasting" (GGS 456). But mechanical repetition of Name is not enough. One has to realize the Divine as a reality and be in harmony with Him. As Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, has pointed out: "Everyone repeats 'Ram ! Ram !', but merely uttering 'Ram' from one's lips does not suffice; it is only when by the Guru's grace Ram abides in the heart that one gathers fruit"

(GGS 491). And again: "Everyone has 'Hari, Hari' on his lips, but very few have Him in the heart; they in whose heart the Lord abides, O Nanak, achieve mokh/mukti, liberation" (GGS 565). Nam simran, if it is to lead to union with God, depends on three things. The first is knowledge of the true nature of God as both nirguna (ineffable, abstract principle) and sarguna (manifest, with attributes, knowable).

Bhagat Tirlochan, finding Bhagat Namdev busy in calico printing, is said to have asked him, “You seem to be more interested in money than in God’s Name. You remain busy printing sheets instead of meditating on God.†Bhagat Namdev responded, “While the body is busy doing work one can keep his mind turned in to the love of God.†(GGS 1375)

In another hymn Bhagat Namdev refers to some daily experiences in life explaining how we keep our mind fixed in things with which we are deeply concerned and which we greatly love.

"When the boys fly kites, they also enjoy their mutual conversation. While busy in their conversation, their minds always remain tuned to their kites. A mother, who has her child sleeping in the crib while busy in her daily house chores, keeps her mind all the time tuned to the baby. The same way a devotee should always keep himself tuned to the love of God while he is busy performing his routine worldly chores." (GGS 972)

In a professional course, both theory and practice are necessary to learn the subject. Each has its own importance. In the same way, a Sikh must practice all the methods mentioned above depending upon his mood, time, situation, environment, and need.

The utility and benefit of regular Nam Simran can be understood from the following simple example. To live a happy and peaceful life, we need both body and mind in a healthy condition. Proper food is needed to keep the body healthy and strong. Sewa and Simran are needed to keep the mind free from vices. This is the way to keep your mind strong and direct your activities on the right path.

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