The importance of Sewa in Guru Nanak’s teachings
Concept of Sewa: The man (Jiva) of Guru Nanak is the creation of the Almighty God and while creating man God has put a part of His own light in him. Thus God has created a divine lineage for man. Since he is of divine lineage he is essentially good and not evil. Evil is something not inbuilt in a human situation. It arises out of man’s ignorance of his Divine origin and his deviation from the Truth of Oneness of God.
Guru Nanak, from his various travels called Udasis, learned that there are two types of personalities that man can adapt. A person who listens to his mind alone and goes wayward becomes ‘Manmukh’. A Manmukh person gets attracted to vices like Kaam; Krodh; Moh; Maya and lobh and falls prey to haumai or ego which is a negative human propensity. On the other hand, there are people who take a journey into their own life and develop their sensibilities in search of the truth. People with this positive human propensity are called Gurmukh or God-oriented by Guru Nanak Ji.
In Japuji Sahib Guru Nanak Ji has explained this by dividing the spiritual journey into five realms called Khand. The character of a Gurmukh gets molded in a transitional ascending order in each realm. These five Realms are; Dharam Khand; Gyan Khand; Saram Khand; Karam Khand and Sachuh Khand. When a Gurmukh reaches the Realm of grace he is bestowed with God’s grace and his mind starts fashioning beautiful ideas and concepts for the welfare of humanity. From this stage of spiritual consciousness a Gurmukh’s journey to becoming Sachiar, the most truthful, and ready to be accepted to God begins.
In Japu Ji Sahib Guru Nanak has attached the greatest importance to the moral conduct of man. These ethical teachings are recited by the devout Sikhs in their morning prayers. Perseverance; chastity; wisdom; self-control; patience and obedience to the Will or Hukam of God are the most prized virtues. These virtues lead to the right thinking in man.
Guru Nanak Devji wanted his followers with right doing as well. Guru Nanak Ji laid special emphasis on practical virtues. His most important thesis on this is his concept of Work (Kirat Karni); sharing your earnings (wand shakna) and singing the praises of the Almighty (Naam Simran). In the last eighteen years of his life, he spent in Kartarpur now in Pakistan. Where he lived teaching these practical virtues to people who came visiting him. He worked on his fields and shared his earnings with all his visitors. Guru Nanak laid emphasis on Seva, – self-abnegating deeds of service.
He established a community kitchen and called it langar. In this langar, the food was cooked and served by all people irrespective of their caste, religion or status. Seva or humble service to others became a virtuous deed that purified body and soul. It removes your ego, humbles your pride in status. This community kitchen or langar Seva also helped to remove caste stigma from the minds of his followers. A universal society started taking shape where a brotherhood of humanity took to new dimensions. Seva in langar has taken the shape of an institution in modern days.
Most Sikhs take part in Seva with monetary contribution; labour as well as humility. This was a Masterstroke Of Guru Nanak Dev Ji to bring together people for singing the praises of Almighty Lord in Sangat, contemplating on the Will of Lord and then partaking food in a Pangat irrespective of caste, religion or status. The langar Seva invoked a feeling of self-respect and equality in the downtrodden people.
Guru Nanak says: when one dwells on Guru’s word, one’s mind flows out to serve the others and one practice contemplation and self-control by overcoming ego (Seva surat Sabad vichar II Jap tap sanjam haume maar II SGGS Ang 1343).
According to him, a person must fulfill his social obligations and moral duties to realize himself and without realizing self a spiritual realization will not come. Guru Nanak not only practiced this ideal of social service all his life but made a mission of his life to bring awareness in his fellow human beings to recognize human brotherhood and eradicate ego. This ingredient of Seva or a practical version of altruism was very important to inculcate in his disciples to fully understand his mission.
All the preceding Gurus paid utmost importance to this tenet of Seva and this consolidated as a social habit in Sikhs. Community Service is not limited to langar or food alone but Sikhs come forward in the field of education, medical help and help of all kinds at the time of natural calamities. The Sikhs have wandered all over the world and carried this tenet of social service with them. Sikhs living in prosperous nations also share their earnings with the needy particularly in the time of natural disasters and especially to the victims of man-made disasters and war zones.
The unique contribution of Sikh Gurus to the tenet of service is that it is not allowed to be called a charity. Charity is seen as a negative value that gives rise to pride, pity, and show of status. Outside many busy temples, one can see rich distributing food, clothes, blankets, etc. to the beggars because they are carrying the burden of guilt and to remove this charity has been sanctioned as a religious act in Hinduism.
Some come for the show of their welfare and concern for others. In Asa di var Guru Nanak reminds us: mati thodi sev gawayiye, meaning: we lose the merit of service through the smallness of our mind’s (ASA, SGGS 468). He also says; all living beings are your own creatures, but no one can obtain a reward without rendering a devoted service (jete jive tete sab tere…Asa 354). This means a devoted Service to the Lord is a must for spiritual consciousness to understand the Will of the Lord. He further says: we shall be rewarded according to the service we render (phal teveh payiye…. Asa 468).
Seva a service to the mankind was of highest esteem to Guru Nanak. He says: If we want to get a seat at the Divine portal, we should dedicate ourselves to the service of the people in this world (wich duniya sev kamayiye tan dargah baisan payiye SGGS Siri 26). Guru Nanak further dwells on the service rendered to the True Lord by a pious person. For him, only those who are really contented meditate on the Lord. Such people do not do any evil or sin, do good to others and practice piety. They break with worldly bonds and live on paltry food and water. O Lord you are a great bestower and give manifolds and accept them to your own (Pauri 467 Asa Mahala 1 Sev kiti Santokhai).
Whom shall we render service? This is an important fact to bring change in one’s self in order to serve the Lord. The prejudice that one might have while serving others must be purged out completely and no distinctions shall be made between good and bad. In Guru’s words: “As long as man is engrossed in duality, so long he calls some good and some evil. Only the Gurmukh, the truly pious know there is only One and is absorbed in One. That is the service that is pleasing to the Lord and which the Lord approves. SGGS 747(Bura bhala tichur….).
Gurus recommend only that service which is rendered without the considerations of reward. Any conditional service is bargain or trade. Guru says: by calculations service is performed not and nor what is done is approved. (Gante sev na hovai….. SGGS 1246).
Seva or practical altruism established by Guru Nanak Ji was a powerful tool to fulfill his dream to render service to God’s Will that all humanity is equal to him and they must be awakened to this fact so that self-respect; self-pride consciousness to truth; removal of malice and fearlessness is obtained in the followers. This social change in the psyche of people was required to establish universal brotherhood and compassion for humanity.
All Gurus contributed to this tenet by doing Seva with their own hands. Guru Arjun Ji says: In various ways you render your service to the Lord. You place your life; soul and wealth. Forsaking your ego, carry water and wave fan. You sacrifice yourself manifold. She alone is the happy wife who is pleasing to her Lord. O mother I move in her company. II Pause II I am the water carrier of the maids of the Lord. Dust of their feet I cherish in my mind. If good destiny is recorded on my brow I may come into their Society. Through His pleasure the Spouse has met me. II 2II( Asa Mahala 5 SGGS 391 Anik bhant kar seva kariye…).
Seva has become a Sikh ideal in modern times. Kindness and understanding descends upon a person that can lead to Universal brotherhood a highly prized value for universal peace.
Concept of Sewa by Rajinder Kaur Johal
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