If I were to ask you as to what differentiates the human species from other species, your response would probably be that humans are bipedal, have the power of language, are self-aware, can think, but what really differentiates us is our capacity to do “seva”, our ability to help others. Only the human species has this capacity for helping all life forms, which we call altruism, prosocial and philanthropic behaviour. But the essence is captured in the word ‘seva.’
Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service and is perhaps considered the most important part of our existence. It asks us to serve others with no expectation of outcome. A parallel western concept is volunteerism/help/service/community/social service, philanthropy, and the more contemporary and chic Corporate Social Responsibility and Institutional Social Responsibility.
Seva is a motivational state that a person possesses with the goal of increasing the welfare of another living being. While Seva, on the surface, seems to benefit others, it is actually the individuals engaged in Seva who also benefit. Seva is positively correlated with happiness, health, and well-being. People who did Seva showed greater satisfaction in life and exhibited reduced rates of depression and anxiety. So when you feel depressed, lonely, or anxious, go out and do seva. It could be working with animals, humans, the environment, etc. It is therapeutic and all-consuming and leaves no room for negativity.
While many of us feel drawn to helping others, our ego tends to drop in and voice our own thoughts. We use it to promote ourselves, our brands, and flaunt our service, which makes it counterproductive. Ego can also judge how we serve others. It may tell us that some types of service are more noble than others. “Oh, you help your neighbour once a week with her groceries? Well, I run events that serve 500 people.” “Oh, you help animals. Why don’t you help old people or children? “ This is not seva but the ego at work, because the aim of seva is to silence the ego, dissolve the ego, as all mental diseases emanate from the ego and its fears.
When we serve with the essence of seva in mind, we begin to see the myriad ways the ego, the source of all our troubles, is standing in front of the heart. When we transition from the head to the heart, then Seva becomes a practice of purification, a spiritual act. It is also in listening to the heart that we begin to understand that our innermost nature is a giving one. While the ego mind may tell us we need to focus on ourselves and even when we serve, it is when we shift into the spirit of seva that we realise we are naturally kind. In other words, we are naturally moved to serve others. It is when we do seva that we realise that all life is connected and working for others is the only path to mental fitness, wellness, and wellbeing and the royal road to spiritual growth.
The question you need to ask yourself for your happiness is, “Did you do Seva today?”
Dr Chavi Sharma Bhargava is the founder and CEO of Indic Center for Psychological Wellness and Holistic Health and Conversationists-Talking Cures.