Sikhs and Seva
The two main tenets of Sikhism are sewa or selfless service and simran, remembrance, living your life in accordance with the gurus’ wisdom, gurmat. The purpose of seva is to dissolve the ego.
In Sikhism, there can be no worship without seva (GG, 1013). The Sikh is forbidden from serving anyone apart from Existence (‘Serve Existence alone: none else must you serve’ ((GG, 490).
Seva in Sikhism is key for spiritual life. There can be three key types of seva in Sikh tradition: through the body (tan), through our mental faculties (man) and materially (dhan).
Seva using the body (tan) was not only sanctified by the Gurus, they also institutionalized it, that is, service in Guru ka Langar (the Guru’s free community kitchen) and serving the sangat (congregation) by preparing food, cooking food, feeding the sangat, washing the sangat’s used dishes, cleaning the sangat’s shoes, washing their feet and so on.
It is imperative to direct some of one’s mental abilities (man) to the wellbeing of the community, the society we live in and humanity per se, whether those abilities are organisational, educative, communicative, technological, theological, philosophical or inspirational.
A Sikh also ought to participate fully in the lives of others, their joy and their pain. That is one of the reasons why the Sikh prayer ends with a supplication for the welfare of all.
Seva through material (dhan) means is often done by contributing dasvandh (a tenth of one’s income) to the common coffers of the community or to another cause. The Sikh is specifically urged to direct seva at the poor. “The pauper’s mouth is the mouth of the Guru”, says the Rahitnama of Chaupa Singh.
True seva as per the Sikh scriptures ought to be undertaken selflessly, without desire (nishkam), with no thought of getting anything in return.