The Sikh Tradition of Selfless Service Illustrated

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Seva, The Sikh Tradition of Selfless Service Illustrated

Shoe Seva Gurdwara Bradshaw
Shoe Seva Gurdwara Bradshaw. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Seva, the Act of Selfless Service

One of the core concepts of Sikhism is seva, the act of selfless service. Many types of seva are performed by at the gurdwara by worshipers. Nearly every aspect of caring for the gurdwara is managed by voluntarily by members of the Sikh congregation. Any person involved in the act of selfless service is called a sevadar.

Shoe Seva, Cleaning the Worshipers Shoes

Before entering the gurdwara hall, devotees remove their shoes. In this this photograph a Sikh cares for the shoes of worshipers, cleaning, and arranging, them neatly. Shoe seva is considered to be an act of humility. Shoe Seva may sometimes be performed as a remedy for ego in an act of penance known as Tankhah.

"Jaat kuleen sevak je hoe||
If someone of high social standing becomes a selfless servant,
taa ka kehnaa kehahu na koe||
Then his praises cannot even be expressed.
Vich sanaatanee sevak hoe||
And if someone from a lowly social class becomes a selfless servant,
nanak panheeaa pehrai soe ||4||1||6||
O Nanak, he shall wear shoes of honor." SGGS||1256

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Mopping the Gurudwara Floors

Seva - Mopping Entry of Gurudwara Fremont
Seva - Mopping Entry of Gurudwara Fremont. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Mopping the Gurdwara

Several thousand Sikhs visit the gurdwara during weekend programs. The team of Sikh men in this photograph are mopping dust from the entry corridor, which leads to the carpeted main hall, where worship services are held. They also scrub floors in the washrooms and off to the side where worshipers remove their shoes.

"Jan kee dhoor man meet khattaane||
The dust of the feet of the humble beings is so sweet to my mind." SGGS||199

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Distributing Napkins

Seva - Distributing Napkins
Seva - Prashad Napkins. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Distributing Napkins

Sikh children are often eager to help with seva. The child in this photograph is passing out napkins to worshipers as they wait for prashad, a sanctified delicacy, which is served at the close of every gurdwara program.

"Saadhoo saadh saran mil sangat jit har ras kaadd kaddeejai ||
Seeking the sanctuary of the true and holy companions, I have found the Sublime Essence of the Lord.
Paroupakaar boleh bahu guneeaa mukh sant bhagat har dheejai||7||
They do good deeds for others, and speak of the Lord's many Glorious Virtues; please bless me to meet these devotees of the Lord." SGGS||1325

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Serving Prashad to Worshipers

Prashad Seva
Serving Karah Prashad. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Serving Prashad,a Sactified Delicacy

The Sikh man in this photograph walks among the worshipers distributing handfuls of prashad, a delicacy which is prepared while meditating, and blessed by prayer.

"Kar kirpaa sant ttehalai laae||
Granting grace, He enjoins the mortals in service of the Saints.
naanak saadhoo sang samaaae||4||23||36||
O Nanak, such a person merges with the true and holy congregation." SGGS||1146

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Serving Food to the Congregation

Seva - Langar Service
Singhni Serving Seconds to Sangat. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Serving Food in the Dining Hall

The young Sikh girl in this photograph exemplifies the true spirit of selflessness in her endeavor to serve. Assessing the needs of the diners, she eagerly carries a bucket containing food from the langar kitchen in order to insure that they take their fill.

The concept of langar, the Guru's free kitchen, is at the heart Sikhism. All gurdwaras, sikh temples, have a langar kitchen and every program is followed by langar meal service in the community dining hall.

Guru Nanak, first guru of the Sikhs, set the example of langar and serving others, when he fed hungry, and homeless, holymen.

"Raam mo ko har jan kaarai laaeeai||
O Lord, let me work for the humble servants of the Lord." SGGS||881

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Serving a Drink of Water

Seva - Serving Water
Seva - Serving Water. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Serving Water to the Congregation

"Panni? Do you want a drink of water?" In this photograph, a Sikh pours water into the cup of a thirsty diner.

The Sikh tradition of providing water to those in thirst, is exemplified by the example a Sikh who carried water to soldiers fallen in battle. Bhai Kanhaiya (Ghanaya) administered to the needs of those wounded in combat, whether friend or foe. When questioned about his actions, he replied that the light of God shone from every soul, and that he had been unable to distinguish between them. Guru Gobind Singh learned about Bhai Kanhaiya service and gave him medical supplies so that he could treat injuries as well.

"Sakhee saajanee kae ho charan saraevo har gur kirpaa te nadar dharee||2||
I serve at the feet of my companions and friends; the Lord has showered me with His Mercy, through Guru's Grace." SGGS||355

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Serving Cold Drinks in the Hot Sun

Seva - Quenching Thirst
Seva - Quenching Thirst. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Putting the Needs Of Others First

In this photograph, two Sikhs stand in the direct sunlight at high noon. The temperature is well over 100 degrees. They have been in the same spot for over two hours offering cold drinks to the congregation who walk by on their way from the worship hall to the dining area.

"Gur parsaad raakh lae jan ko har ras naanak jhol peeaa ||5||7||8||
By Guru's Grace, please preserve Your humble servant; O Lord, Nanak stirs up this juice, and drinks it in." SGGS||1127

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Washing Dirty Dishes in the Langer Kitchen

Seva - Washing Utensils
Seva - Washing Utensils. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Cleaning up the Kitchen

The Sikhs in this photograph are washing utensils used during langar meal preparation. All cleanup is done voluntarily. Seva is considered, by Sikhs, as an opportunity to clean stains from the soul, if performed with loving meditation.

"Bhareeai mat paapaa kai sang||
But when the intellect is stained and polluted by sin,
ouh dhopai naavai kai rang||
it can only be cleansed by the Love of the Name." SGGS||4

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Taking Charge of Waste Management

Seva - Waste Management
Seva - Waste Management. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Manning the Waste Receptacles

The Sikh man in this photograph stands by the waste receptacles during the entire langar meal service. He takes dirty used disposable plates, cups, and utensils from the diners hands, and deposits them into the bin.

Such humble actions, when performed while remembering God, are like spiritual dollars deposited into a bank of deeds done in the service of humanity.

"Poonji saacho naam thoo akhutto darab apaar||
My capital is Your True Name, O Lord; this wealth is inexhaustible and infinite.
nanak vakhar niramalo dhan saahu vaapaar||2||
O Nanak, this merchandise is immaculate; blessed is the banker who trades in it." SGGS||1090

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Cleaning the Washroom

Seva - Washroom Cleanup
Seva - Washroom Cleanup. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Washroom Cleanup

The Sikh woman in this photograph refreshes the gurdwara washroom sinks. Others join with her in seva, by mopping floors, and cleaning filth from fixtures in the stalls. Focusing selflessly on the comfort of others, while contemplating God reaps a divine reward.

"Bhaaee re gurmukh sadaa path hoe||
O Siblings of Destiny, the Gurmukhs are honored forever.
Har har sadaa dhiaaeeai mal houmai kaddai dhoe||1||rehaao||
They meditate forever on the Lord, and they wash off the filth of egotism." ||1||Pause|| SGGS||28

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Your Citation
Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "The Sikh Tradition of Selfless Service Illustrated." ThoughtCo, Jul. 16, 2012, Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2012, July 16). The Sikh Tradition of Selfless Service Illustrated. Retrieved from Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "The Sikh Tradition of Selfless Service Illustrated." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 25, 2017).