Seva

Page author: Luke Burns

This page published on: 14/10/2020

Last modified: 14/10/2020

Within the Sikh religion, one of the important practical aspects is seva or selfless service, which takes the form of charitable actions.

Concepts

Table of Contents

Introduction

Within the Sikh religion, one of the important practical aspects is seva or selfless service, which takes the form of charitable actions.

One of the primary barriers between Sikhs and God is haumai or self-centredness, which prevents the individual from realising their dependence on Waheguru. Seva therefore serves multiple purposes: helping those in the community, building charitable networks, and undermining any grandiose ideas of self-importance.

One example of seva in practice is langar, a shared meal where all visitors to the Gurdwara eat together sitting on the floor, with no regard to hierarchy or background. The meal is a way to promote a sense of social equality, and also provides an opportunity for seva for those who donate, prepare, and serve the food.

The Gurus demanded through this common meal that all who came to them, Hindu or Muslim, Brahmin or Untouchable, Emperor or beggar, should lay aside their distinctions and become one in seeking the Guru’s presence. The langar in Sikhism goes back to Guru Nanak, but the Third Guru [Guru Amar Das] emphasised it as a device for expressing the theoretical notion of equality in a practical way.

Cole & Sambhi, 1978, p. 22

We can see an example of the charitable spirit of seva and langar in the Midlands Langar Seva Society, which was set up by Randhir Singh Heer to help provide food for the homeless. The charity operates across 17 cities in the UK, as well as using a converted bus to deliver hot meals (and a place to eat) wherever they’re needed, and also provides langar in India, Thailand, and Germany.

“Although the open kitchens provided by the Midlands Langar Seva Society have their roots in Sikh tradition, we support all and everyone in need of food,” he adds. “Helping people is something which spans every culture and every tradition.”

https://www.tsb.co.uk/local-pride/midlands/randhir/

Rather than limiting their charitable activities to Sikhs, or even just visitors to the gurdwara, the MLSS reaches out to the broader community, forming links with the local population and providing support for those in need. We can see how this activity benefits those Sikhs involved by bringing them together in shared activity, and diminishing haumai, but we can also see that it strengthens the broader non-Sikh community by combating the dangers of homelessness with hot food and a safe place to eat and rest, and establishes strong links across religious boundaries.

You can watch a video of the MLSS in action here:

References

  • Cole, W.O. & Sambhi, P.S. (1978) The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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