Seva also Sewa, short for the word Karseva refers to “selfless service”, work or service performed without any thought of reward or personal benefit. In the Punjabi language the person performing such service is called a Sevadar.
All Sikhs are encouraged by their Guru (Guru Granth Sahib) to perform Seva or Selfless Service. This is not only good for community relations but also is good for the moral uplifting of the person. You will find Sikhs engaged in free service in Gurdwaras washing dishes, cleaning the floors, serving food, etc.
Sikhs are also encouraged to help the community by performing unpaid work in hospitals, ‘old peoples’ homes, community centres, etc. Volunteers engaged in Seva are referred to as Sevadars and for many people this activity forms an essential part of their life, providing spiritual fulfilment and practical benefits.
Sikhism is founded on principles of Sarbat da bhalla – working towards the “common good of all”. For Sikhs, this means reaching out to serve and uplift all of humanity as an expression or devotion to the Creator. Many other Sikh institutes, such as Guru-ka-Langar, Kirtan, Paath, etc., depend on the performance of Seva by many in the congregation. So the principles of Seva underpin many Sikh values – such is the importance given to Seva in Sikhism.
This point is highlighted by the Guru in many places in the Guru Granth Sahib. The text explains the spiritual benefits of doing seva and the ways in which one should perform it, focussing on the state of the mind when performing seva.
1. The importance of selfless seva is highlighted by the Guru in this verse: “ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰਤ ਹੋਇ ਨਿਹਕਾਮੀ ॥ ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਹੋਤ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਸੁਆਮੀ ॥ One who performs selfless service, without thought of reward, shall attain his Lord and Master.” (SGGS p 286) The Guru states that one who perform selfless service without desire for reward will certainly attain liberation. The need to be “desire-less” (“nehkaami”) is critical in making this action fruitful. When one does Seva, one should just do it without any thought for a return – think of it as a duty to the society.
2. Guru tells the followers that peace can be obtained through Sewa: “ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਸੇਵ ਕਮਾਣੀਆ ॥ You shall find peace, doing seva” (SGGS p 25) Doing seva bring its own tranquillity and serenity which you cannot find in doing anything else. For a Sikh, simran and seva are the spiritual right and left hand. As a Sikh, you must do both to keep a balance. These are like the two wings of a bird – the bird must use both otherwise it will not be able to fly.
3. A Sikh has to make a concerted effort to seek opportunities to perform Seva. One has to focus ones mind on this duty and ones human function so that the opportunity of this life are not wasted. When you perform Seva, the mind should recite Gurbani: “ਸੇਵਾ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਏ ॥ Center your awareness on seva and focus your consciousness on the Word of the Shabad.” (SGGS p 110)
4. Three things are necessary to obtain salvation and liberty and they are: To perform Seva, to follow Gurbani and to do Simran: “ਕਰਿ ਸੇਵਾ ਭਜੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ॥ Do seva, follow the Guru’s Teachings, and vibrate on the Lord’s Name, Har, Har.” (SGGS p 176)
5. The Guru confirms that doing pure seva for the Almighty is tough and one needs to “surrender” their head and abandon selfishness. So make sure that you have humility in your mind and “nimrata” (without “ego” or “pride”) before you undertake seva. The Guru’s instructions are: “ਸਤਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਗਾਖੜੀ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਇ ॥ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਮਿਲੈ ਸੇਵਾ ਪਵੈ ਸਭ ਥਾਇ ॥ “It is very difficult to serve the True Guru. Surrender your head; give up your selfishness. Realizing the Shabad, one meets with the Lord, and all one’s service is accepted”.” (SGGS p 27)
6. Finally, in the following verse the Guru informs the devotee that performing seva in the correct fashion will bring you “honour in the Lord’s Court” thus: “ਵਿਚਿ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਸੇਵ ਕਮਾਈਐ ॥ ਤਾ ਦਰਗਹ ਬੈਸਣੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥ In the midst of this world, do seva, and you shall be given a place of honor in the Court of the Lord.” (SGGS p 26)