Focus of the Month: September 2020

Seva, finding a more meaningful orientation for engaging in the world.

written by Haiyan Khan

As a yoga practitioner, have you ever wondered what yoga has to say about how to move through life? Or how to engage in life? Or does yoga only talk about asana, meditation or even mindfulness? It turns out yoga does talk about how to move through our lives, and what it has to say is just as radical and controversial as its other teachings.

There is an entire branch of yoga called Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. This branch encourages us to engage in the world and promises that by engaging with the right orientation, we can find spiritual liberation in the process. This orientation is referred to as Seva, or selfless service. In essence it encourages a yogi to move through the world by giving and serving or being present without even the slightest consideration of ever seeking a reward. It is a profound action focused on the whole. Even today this idea is revolutionary!

Seva is an orientation. That is to say, it’s best taken as a pointer or something to strive towards rather than a destination to achieve. Selfless service is not something to be obtained; rather, it’s a purifying force that you invoke through your actions. This very force starts to work on us in ways that are mysterious. Just as a salt rock thrown into an ocean dissolves till one day nothing is left but the ocean, in the same way, the ego through seva dissolves along its journey and perhaps one day there is only the journey but no one on it.

So how does one practice Seva? Just like any other thing. Start by doing it and have the intention to embody it. Find the right orientation. Do something in this spirit. Anything will do. Be earnest and honest. Catch yourself when the ego is getting the best of you. Don’t play games and don’t waste time.

One simple (but definitely not easy) way of orienting yourself is to choose actions that benefit another or the whole. It will start the process of Seva.

For me, working with this teaching is a continual unfolding process. It’s an act of struggle with moments of deep and profound surrender. It’s a practice that seems to both enrich and hollow one out at the same time. Perhaps it is unfolding till there is nothing left to unfold. Utter surrender. Or as my teacher Peace Pilgrim said, “a complete willingness, without any reservations, to dedicate my life to service.”

Seva is open-heartedness. It’s an invitation to love fully, even when you know it will end. Seva is to not get stuck in the past. It’s to meet the present in this moment. Seva is to say yes first and think later. Seva is to live like you’re dying and die as if you lived a full life. It’s to stand strong in the face of injustices. To die rather than live small. It’s to stay strong in the face of uncertainty. To have faith in the good and the good people of the world. It’s to have faith in yourself that deep inside, even if you can’t see it, there is only good. It’s to stay soft in the heart. It’s to learn constantly while not getting stuck in any learning. Feel rather than think. Work for the whole! It’s to play with a child. It’s to be with your lover! Fully. It’s to forgive often and to admit your mistakes. It’s to make amends. Seva is to not dwell on what can go wrong. To not engage in tit for tat. It’s to break the cycle of becoming!

So strive to find the right orientation. Act. Share, Open, Surrender and Love. Your life is your seva!

Here is a link to much more on Seva (written in November 2018) for additional resources.


September 2020