Unfortunately, there is no limit to the world’s need to eliminate suffering. We live in societies where there is poverty, where old people have few resources and failing health, and where children need help with their education, health, or a place to live. Our planet is also in need of help and so, too, wild animals are affected by drought, overpopulation, and poaching.
This is where the practice of seva can make a difference. Seva is a Sanskrit term that translates literally as “together with” and represents the act of performing charity work or service without any expectation, acknowledgment, or recognition in return.
Seva can be applied to anything: people, animals, the environment, your community, your country, the world. It does not require a particular setting or location, nor does it need to be done at a particular time or frequency. There are no application processes or standards for the doer, other than the work be done selflessly. This is very important because seva gives peace of mind and satisfaction for you, the person doing the work, because you did something for your community. When you do seva you should not advertise to others, otherwise you will not reap the benefits of whatever seva you’ve done.
Because the world is in need of such work, seva often comes when our consciousness has illuminated our desire to work for others or for something other than ourselves for the betterment of the world. Supporting projects financially is important, but seva is more profound in that giving your time and skills greatly adds to the aid of those suffering. Human contact and human energy put forth from people in the community can reach areas where money cannot.
In this life, there are three paths we can take to obtain moksha, or liberation. One is through self-realization, which includes doing yoga, studying philosophy, and applying that to your life. This requires a lot of studying, and after many years of practice you may be liberated. The second path is through devotion to your Ishta Devata, which is to show devotion to whichever deity you like. The third path is through seva. You can be liberated by doing community service and continually doing service for others.
Many people devote their entire lives to seva. Everyone has to earn money for a living, but we should also spend some time doing community work without expecting any returns. Each one of us has our own profession, and we can do seva through that. Everyone also has certain skills, and when brought to the act of seva, the benefits can be enormous.
For example, if I’m good at teaching yoga, then I may help people without charging any money. I can do this type of seva in my everyday life. In fact, we are doing this through the shala by offering scholarships. Now many Indian students are learning yoga. Yoga is for humanity’s well-being, and that’s why it should reach everyone.
Wherever there are people in need, be it in your neighborhood or elsewhere, that is where you go and do the work, and it becomes seva.
Seva reminds us that there is something beyond meeting our own life goals, such as education, good health, and providing for our family and ourselves, because when we do seva, we have the satisfaction that we did something for someone. It is very powerful and an important motivator in life. When you do seva, it’s the experience of doing something not for your survival or success—it’s selfless giving.