Sewa is a universal concept, which involves performing an act of kindness without expectation of reward. It is performed selflessly and without ulterior motive.
As a concept, Sewa in embedded in Indian traditions, and is actively promoted by different cultures and faiths – as the core belief is the same – to sacrifice your time and resources for the benefit of others without expectation of anything in return.
‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ – Mahatma Gandhi
An act of Sewa can be big, small, long, short, quiet or even loud. It can vary from a huge fundraising event, cleaning up a park, organising bhajans at a mandir to serving food at a soup kitchen. Sometimes the outcome of a physical act may not be clear and it may be difficult to see what the resulting gain is. However, acts such as the education of others can lead to subtle positive changes in the person or community. Acts such as those that cause political pressure and lead to long term goals or positive changes in government behaviour are also forms of Sewa
‘Knowledge purifies the mind. Love purifies the heart. Sewa purifies Karma.’ – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The motives that inspire human beings to do an act of Sewa have been varied and many. The feelings of compassion, humanity and sympathy are usually mentioned as reasons why human beings do Sewa. The cardinal principle is that God is residing in all beings, be it human, animal, bird or plant. The same God who is present in me is also present in other beings. Therefore serving man and other beings is serving God. Sewa isn’t only rewarding to oneself and acting upon ones sewa, but it has the potential to bring joy to others and relieves hardship. Dependant on what type of sewa; it can help the environment or even inspire others to help their community and others around them.
As mentioned, this extends to all beings whether human, animal, birds, plants or any other. It also includes the environment and living in harmony with nature.
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”- Albert Einstein
To What Extent?*
This is a very difficult question. To what extent should a person give his time, efforts and wealth in charity? Is there a limit to charity?. NHSF (UK) believes that one should give as much or as little as they want as sewa, and the value of the sewa isn’t on how much is given but the intent behind the sewa.
Paropakaraya Punyaya, Papaya Parapeedanam
“What ever conduces to the good of others is noble deed and should be followed”
Iswarah Sarva Bhutanam Itruddesha Arjuna Tishtati
“The same God who is present in me is also present in other human beings.”
Shatahasta Samahara, Sahasrashasta Sankira
“Earn with hundreds of hands, and distribute with thousands.”
Datavyamiti Yaddanam Deeyatenupa KarineDeshe Kale cha Patercha Taddanam Sattvikam Smarutam
“That gift which is made to one who can make no return, with the feeling that it is one’s duty to give, and which is given at the right place and time and to a worthy person, that gift is held sattvik.”
Sewa is as old as man himself.
Never has there been a time which there wasn’t a need for sewa. History has shown that wherever there is injustice, inequality and oppression there have been those that have stood up to fight against it.
These fights for justice have occurred since the dawn of man regardless of faith, belief or ethics.
It is because of those acts of sewa that man has progressed so far in terms of freedom, democracy and equality. Yet today there is much to be done and still a great need for sewa.
We’re all concerned about disadvantage, deprivation and ignorance. Sewa provides an opportunity to do something positive that makes a meaningful difference to someone else’s quality of life.
“Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world; but to change ourselves.”- Mahatma Gandhi
*Although defined so simply, the grasp and depth of sewa is far more implicit. The important questions above have been considered, debated and contested in depth, with the answers coming from and leading to some of the most fundamental aspects of Hindu dharma