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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

सक्ता: कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत | कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम् ||

(Bhagavata Gita 3.25: “As ignorant people perform their duties with attachment to the results, O scion of Bharat, so should the wise act without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.”)

‘The wise work without thinking of their welfare, whereas the ignorant work for their profit,’ Sri Krishna explains to Arjun in these words.

            This invoked various feelings in me—it made me realise how many of us live in this world purely for selfish reasons. The purpose of our lives is to provide for ourselves, and our families, and to satisfy our wants.

At the same time, we also have an inner voice that tells us that selfishness is ultimately a bad trait. Our conscience may shape this sentiment, or our parents, teachers, and religious leaders may instil it in us. We are urged to give back to society in gratitude for all that it does for our welfare, as well as to be compassionate and helpful to others. For those who believe in God, it is believed that every being is imbued with God, and we are, in a way, pleasing the Almighty by helping the needy without selfish motives.

The teachings of Swami Vivekananda bear the roots of seva in the contemporary world. He often emphasised the significance of volunteering. For him, “service” was a path to enlightenment rather than just a kind deed. He was convinced that many of our country’s issues might be solved through this principle. He stated that to be prepared for the difficulties that lay ahead of us, we must first strengthen our willpower and build ourselves. He desired that our approach expand centrifugally, starting with oneself and progressively embracing people nearby until it included all of mankind.

            A similar sentiment was held by Mahatma Gandhi, who dedicated his life to seva and advocated the concept of serving God through volunteer work. He believed that the soul inherently moves towards purity and selflessness. It was this belief that drove him to fight for independence and improve the lives of Indians.

Gandhi discovered that love, which manifests itself in services to the voiceless, is the foundation of all religions, including Hinduism. ‘Ahimsa’ was the seed that gave rise to the idea of satyagraha. Varnashrama dharma, ascetic activity, and dedicating one’s life to society and the welfare of every one were all concepts that Gandhi braided together.

In Hinduism, seva is the principle of volunteering without expecting anything in return. In Hindu texts, it is regarded as the leading edge of ‘dharma’ (righteousness). It is believed to be good karma, helping the soul to break free from the death-reincarnation cycle. Seva has almost always been used to refer to worship before the start of the 19th century. The Bhagavad Gita, elaborated by Sri Krishna, explains the ideas of seva and karma yoga. This idea has been paralleled recently to include volunteering for mutual benefits, such as in disaster aid and other major events.

Similarly, one of the core ideas of Sikhism is Kar Seva. The idea found in Sikh scripture establishes customs wherein everyone is made in the image of God and that by serving people, one is also serving God’s creation. Sikhs practise three types of seva: physical (tan), spiritual (man), and material (dhan), which includes financial support. Sikhism places a strong emphasis on ‘kirat kar,’ or honest labour, and ‘vand chakko,’ or sharing with and helping the less fortunate for a harmonious society.

            Among the most important qualities a Christian can possess is selflessness. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these;” Jesus claimed it as one of the most important of all God’s commandments (Mark-12:31; cf. Galatians-5:14). Being unselfish is far more challenging than being selfish because it goes against human nature. It is only natural for us to be self-centred, and we are constantly compelled to do so. But a Christian is instructed to remember what the apostle Paul said: … Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.20)

When it comes to Islam, it is believed that we are all different from one another in terms of social position and ethical standards, but we customarily work together to meet one another’s needs. The ones who help Allah’s creation on a moral, material, and physical level without expecting anything in return are the ones who are closest to Him. As mentioned in the Holy Quran, “They give them precedence over themselves, even though they are in need themselves; the successful are those who are guarded against their inherent greed.” (Qur’an: 59:9) Until the final hour of this world, the path to closer ties with Allah via “selfless service” will be open. According to the Holy Quran, we will be put to the test by our acts of righteousness, and those who do the right thing will get forgiveness from Allah.

Culturally speaking, India has a long and distinguished tradition of citizen involvement through volunteerism. We are a recognised country for the ethos of Seva or ‘Shramdaan’. As he stressed, the “greatest way to discover yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others;” Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged and valued the significance of volunteering. However, Bharat’s altruistic volunteering mindset is slowly waning as India rapidly progresses towards being a developed nation. Nowadays, volunteering is frequently motivated by monetary rewards and tends to be urban-centric.

Fostering seva is crucial. When society is strengthened, democracy also strengthens. To put democracy into practice, it must acknowledge the fundamentally important activities of the people. It transcends electoral democracy – much beyond simply being a tax and vote-paying citizen. It entails working together to build the just society that we all desire, the liberties that we dream of, under the guidance and aid of sound governance. It includes helping people who are more vulnerable than us by giving our time, skills, and resources. However, for this purpose, a culture of sustainable volunteerism is needed to ensure its continuation. People’s intrinsic willingness to volunteer is a precious resource that must be nurtured. This is feasible through establishing dialogue within local communities, particularly among the young, to motivate people to serve their country, a role that NGOs may play.

We must be careful not to expect anything in return for any acts of service we perform in our society, where there is a strong undercurrent of reciprocity in every activity. This is only possible if we carry out the activity while internalising the fact that we are only a vessel used to carry out the service and not the one executing it. Thus, the ability to serve must come from our nature and not from feeling like a provider.

“Iswarah Sarva Bhutanam Itruddesha Arjuna Tishtati” – As the God within me is within the other person, serving them, whether they be animals, birds, trees, or people, is the same as worshipping them and following their example.

Soumyaa Somatra

Delhi South '24

Independent and self-motivated Sociology Graduate student with work experience in Public communications and Social Media management, looking to put my knowledge of analysis, research methods, creativity and social media towards helping people and creating change.