Sewa is selfless service performed without expecting anything in return. It is an act performed by humans as a basic property of being a human, not guided by the expectation of joy dependent on desire fulfillment. As a human, we feel compassion, which is a state in which one sees all life forms as part of one’s own self, and thus everyone’s suffering as one’s own suffering. The action which then takes place in response to this compassion is sewa. Thus, sewa is a physical manifestation of the realization of shared divinity in all life forms.
Reasons for performing sewa:
1. Sewa is worship. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God. Is it not a great privilege to be allowed to worship God by helping our fellow men?” Even if you are atheist or agnostic, being skeptic about the existence of God, being a pragmatic humanist behooves you to feel the suffering of fellow humans and feel the urge to eradicate it.
2. The world becomes yours. Every day we face the equation of “mine versus others.” As we conduct sewa, the “mine” side of the scale increases. You interact with people who are outside your usual comfort zone. You realize the commonality and emphasize it. The differentiation becomes secondary, less glaring. Taken to the ultimate degree, it embodies the philosophy of “so ham asmi” (I am what he is).
3. Sewa explores your fullest potential. Most of us are identified by our job or a corporate title. Sewa activities let you expand your repertoire of attributes. A computer engineer becomes a coach, a favorite math teacher, an environmentalist. You gain knowledge, overcome shyness, enhance leadership skills and discover abilities you never knew you had. You realize that there are many more facets of your personality that get exposed, accentuated and polished.
4. Sewa lifts barriers. Sewa brings down the barriers between groups that have been separated by prejudice and stereotyping. It will alleviate the feeling of fear and hatred of people who are different. As you perform sewa, the served community gets curious about you in a positive manner. Once they come to know that you want nothing in return, they appreciate and accept you.
5. Sewa mitigates mid-life crisis. As we age, many of us start pondering our mortality and the legacy we leave behind. The self-focused definition of joy starts to manifest limitations. Sewa helps us look outside. Instead of complaining and blaming, we start looking for solutions. Trash on the highway becomes an adopt-a-highway project. Our attention, intellect and material strength becomes manifest in creating solutions instead of getting trapped in quagmires of unhealthy, excessive self-analysis and criticism.
6. Sewa creates a better world for all. If the giver gives in such a way as to uphold the dignity of the receiver, over time the act of sewa empowers the receiver to be a self-respecting and self-reliant individual who can then perpetuate the cycle of serving others. Your act of sewa may have a butterfly effect of changing the life and destiny of a human or the entire humanity.
On a final note, lots of acts of sewa are done unseen, unstated, un-recorded and unpublished in small ways without even being understood by the doer that they are doing sewa. Don’t be awed by huge sums and organized efforts by large charities and be dejected by your relatively meager effort. A drowning man needs only one strong arm at the right time to save him, not an aircraft carrier.