When does ‘Seva’ begin ?

There are numerous organisations, institutions, communities, associations of persons and individuals who undertake activities that are of benefit to the society. These are activities that hope to usher in greater good over the long run. We hear about them very often through diverse media.

Corporations across the globe are becoming more serious in their efforts to become more sustainable and achieve carbon net-neutrality. This is increasingly becoming a necessity to ensure better quality of life for future generations. Circumstances are forcing countries and corporations alike to focus on this as a matter of survival efforts.

“We have no option as a society, as a business, but to really adopt a sustainable business model. It’s a pre-requisite for every business to survive, as we go forward,” RIL Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani said at the Qatar Economic Forum on Monday. (Source)

Philanthropists allocate and give away large portions of their wealth for charitable purposes. Having gained from society by way of the resources utilised, they consider it their obligation to put the profits earned back into society.

The billionaire who started out with a small voltage stabiliser business in 1977, two employees and a capital of ₹1,00,000 from his father, says it is payback time. “I was born and brought up in a village. The initial support from my father aside, I earned my fortune from society. I have a moral responsibility to give part of it away,” he says. (Source)

On numerous occassions we have seen Nations stepping up and providing humanitarian relief to other countries in distress. States doing this for other states. Towns doing this for other towns. Cities for other cities. Communities for other communities and so on. Having suffered oneself, there is deeper understanding and acknowledgement of the pain, that generates empathy, which in turn drives action. However many times, these are also valued and undertaken for strategic and political reasons. Surely its not bereft of additional considerations such as these.

In January 2021, India sent about 2 million doses of Covaxin to Brazil. Brazil was very thankful for this and sent a thankyou message which carried an image of Hanuman. (Source). Indeed a big heart.

But being the worlds leading manufacturer of vaccines, its but obvious that we would be exporting a lot of it to many countries accross the globe.

Charity, Philanthrophy, Donation, Peace Mission, Doing Good, Giving back to society and other synonymous activities are indeed laudable efforts. In a world that has lived selfish for too long, these give us hope of better days to come. People behind these generous and magnanimous efforts are definitely worthy of praise and adoration from society.

Covid pandemic has seen far more nobler acts across the country. Grieved hearts took the lead to help affected families and patients with food, oxygen concentrators, counselling, hospital beds, money and helped fill many other such resource gaps. We have heard, seen, known about and also experienced numerous such endevours. One could easily argue that the crisis brought forth the latent goodness in many of us. We consciously thought of and acted for others welfare so many times. (No specific source, since we all know about it)

I keep asking myself. Did my Master, refer to acts such as these when He repeatedly asked us to do Seva, to Serve All. What exactly did he mean ? Did he equate Seva with charity, or with philanthrophy, or with donations, or with doing good deeds, or with helpling others ? Is there a deeper meaning in the word Seva ?

Is it about giving back to society, empathising others pain and sharing and redistributing resources ? Is it about scriptural injuctions that encourage such acts with the promise of experiencing heaven hereafter ?

Where does ‘Seva’ begin? When does ‘Seva’ begin ? What does doing ‘Seva’ mean ?

Lets read some excerpts from the various public discourses delivered by my Master and reflect upon them.

  • To isolate ourselves from society, to stand at a distance from society and to think that we are doing something great or something important is wrong. So first and foremost we must, to at least some extent, participate in service to society and thereby do good to our own country and its future by introducing and infusing sacred ideals into our thoughts – this should be recognised by the Sathya Sai Sevadal as their primary duty. Without taking part and participating in service, even if you do different kinds of Sadhana, you are not going to get any benefit out of it.” (Source)
  • When we do service, instead of merely doing service for one’s own satisfaction, service that is done keeping the satisfaction of the recipient in the mind is the best form of seva. You must first introspect if your act of service is causing any harm or inconvenience to others. The essence and ideals of the Sathya Sai Seva Organisation should be promulgated and practiced; this should be taken up as an important Sadhana. Serving humans alone is not service. It is essential to serve all beings and creatures when the need arises. God is present in all beings. You must first recognise this Truth that God is present in all. It is only when this sacred thought is established in your mind, the seva that you do is sanctified. Without this faith and belief, any service rendered merely for earning name and fame will not aid you in sanctifying your life.” (Source)
  • You are referring to the gift of food as Anna-dhana (the charity of food). But, no one has the authority to give In charity what has been given by God or be proud of it or even to feel that he has given something In charity. God gave the rains, God fostered the sapling and God ripened the grain; what right have you to call it yours and give it in charity? It is not dhana (charity) that you do; you are only offering gratitude to God; you are sanctifying the grain you have harvested by offering the food prepared out of it to these Narayanas (Gods in human form). Call it Narayana Seva! That will be more correct. Anyway, since you are doing it with love and humility, in spirit of Divine worship, I have come to your village to bless you. Do not cast all responsibility on a committee, or a group of enthusiasts; join them wholeheartedly and offer to share the burden. I want everyone to join in this Narayana Seva and that it should be done, not once a month as now, but even at more frequent Intervals. (Source)
  • So, for whose sake are you performing seva? You are doing seva for your own sake. You are engaged in seva in order that you may become aware of the Atman in you, in order that you may discard the allurements of your ego, in order to know yourself and to get the answer to the question that torments you, namely, “Who am I.” You do not serve others, you serve yourselves; you do not serve the world, you serve your own best interest. (Source)
  • You should learn from the example of Ranthi Deva, who retained his faith in God and exhibited his compassion for the suffering despite the extreme privation to which he was reduced by the vicissitudes of life. To feed a hungry man, he and his family gave up the meagre food they had gathered and denied themselves even water, to relieve the thirst of a man crying for water. The Divine had subjected him to these ordeals and later blessed him with grace. (Source)

There is a beautiful Subhashitam in Sanskrit that captures the essence of ‘Seva’.

पिबन्ति नद्यः स्वयम् एव न अम्भः स्वयं न खादन्ति फलानि वृक्षाः । 
न अदन्ति सस्यं खलु वाराविहा परोपकाराय सतां विभूतयः ॥
Rivers do not drink water flowing in them; 
Trees do not eat fruit growing on them; 
Clouds do not eat grains grown with water rained by them; 
Prosperity (Wealth, Assets, Fortune, Gifts) of the saintly people, similarly, are meant for the benefit of others.

As I read the words of my Master and reflect upon them, I understand that ‘Seva’ is verily the way of life where there is a clear recognition of the principle of oneness and the understanding of the whole universe being one integrated whole of which each of us are particular parts.

Would we call the acts of rivers, trees and clouds highlighted in the verse above as ‘Charity’? No, that would be grossly incorrect and foolish. They are not giving back as a duty. They are not giving away the excess out of empathy. They are not doing it for greater good or need of the hour. They are not restraining themselves out of some compulsion or neccessity for collective survival. No crisis has brought out the good in them. Its the way things are designed. Its their way of life.

In Conclusion, I would say that Seva is the way of life of those who are in sync with this beautiful design of interconnected oneness. Where the sense of other disappears and only Love remains. True Seva can be done only on the foundations of Loving onself & Loving All.

Love All, Serve All - Sathya Sai Baba (My Master)


  1. Very well articulated and summarized the essence of doing seva.
    Hope everyone of us to numerate on the point that it is a way of life.


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