Nishkam Seva

Surinder Singh | Washington D.C.

My introduction to nishkam seva wasn’t so different from many of us have who were born and raised in a village in Punjab. I was born into a family with more than 13 members, including my grandparents, uncles and aunts. But it didn’t end there. In a village, all the houses you can count around you are also almost part of your family. Here’s the trick though, all the houses they can count are their family and thus it is your family, too. The day used to begin with someone ringing the doorbell. This is just an expression I am using for your better understanding. We didn’t have door locks, and forget the doorbells. The doors were always open to everyone. Living in such large families, the younger you are the more you have to carry on your head - the weight of the authority of elders. Respect the elders, listen to them and serve them were ingrained in you right along with the first food you ever received. Soon enough I grew up a little and started playing at the village’s gurdwara sahib. And that playing converted to seva on the special occasions. On the major gurpurab celebrations, there were Akhand Paats, and we were assigned duties to wake up paatees, serve them langar and tea. We would take turns to help and cover for others. On the following Sundays, on the actual celebration day, we would help with langar seva, such as cutting vegetables, salads and washing dishes. Was it really a source of satisfaction for us or was it just another form of playing, I do not even recall. The true meaning of nishkam seva didn’t come to me until my late twenties when I picked up the book “Garland Around My Neck,” a biography of Bhagat Pooran Singh. This was when I started realizing that I thought of the seva I had been doing as being reciprocal. It was a contract of convenience that I will do this for you and you do that for me. What Bhagat Pooran Singh was doing was beyond that because there was no “I” to begin with. He would go begging, but not for himself. He would beg for the needy. He would ask for favors from the people pulling horse carts, but not for himself, but for others. The most beautiful part of this book was Pyara Singh, who was the “garland” around his neck. How Bhagat Pooran Singh served this crippled child unconditionally and carried him on his back for years was beyond one’s limited understanding. And the most beautiful piece of the book was when Pyara Singh fell so sick that doctor advised that nothing could save him. Bhagat Pooran Singh prayed for him, saying that I had never asked anything for myself from You and I will never do, but if something happens to Pyara Singh I will never come to Your door again. This was to me the ultimate nishkam seva, the ultimate humanity and the ultimate sacrifice. While remembering his picture from the book, where he was shown eating leftovers from his one metal bowl he used to carry with him, I also sometime like to put my rice, daal, sabzi and salad in one bowl and eat that way to taste the satisfaction he would have tasted from that bowl - a taste of completeness, which we never find in our lavish lunches and dinners. When he passed away he had some belongings, which are still saved in a museum. They include one long shirt, one-and-a-half pairs of shoes, a cloth bag, a metal bowl and a pair of old glasses. He also left something else, a legacy that will live on for centuries to come: Pingalwara, a facility that was built with his efforts, which serves thousands of sick, and mentally and physically -challenged people of all ages. The second personality to influence my life with nishkam seva is Bhai Jasbir Singh, Khanne Wale, who went beyond just doing seva through kirtan, and inspired people to donate their eyes and other organs after they die so that the living could have a better life. He just served and served unconditionally. He used to say, “Please, I beg you, say a loud Fateh only, because I live on your Fateh, otherwise I will not be able to do all this.” In many of his audio recordings, which were not recorded through a prepackaged contract, he would say at the end of his Kirtan that many have offered some maya in respect of Gur Shabad, wherever management feels it is required they can use it. He didn’t take a penny for his Kirtan in any shape or form. He ran his store back in Khanna to support his family’s needs. And yet he was able to inspire many to become good Gursikhs. He was able to touch countless lives and plant this ever-growing tree. Speaking of the tree, he encouraged all to keep the environment clean, make it a drug-free, pollution-free world, so our children can breathe in cleaner air. The more I studied the lifestyles of such heroes around the globe, the more I discovered that they didn’t just live. They existed through their work. They existed through their seva. That’s why they never died. And they will always live in the hearts of millions around the world. Through their light, many more were born and spread throughout the nations. Seva, to me, starts from my home by serving others with love and respect. Then it moves on to the community I live in, my neighbors, helping them carry the heavy trash cans outside, watching for their children at the bus stop if needed, and picking up their newspaper from the walkway and dropping it off at their doorsteps. These are just some quick ways I can serve. More avenues are available in the parking lot of my work place, in the hallways of my office. There is always something on the floor for me to pick up and trash it in the bin. I have found my means of satisfaction by focusing on others beyond any conditions, beyond any limitations. And there is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone smile with watery eyes and murmur the words, “God bless you.” _________________________ The author is a teacher at the Guru Harkrishan Institute of Sikh Studies, and a coordinator for its Sikh Youth Camp. He also is a youth and education coordinator for Gurdwara Sikh Foundation of Virginia. And he is the SikhNN Web master. Commentaries are the opinions of the authors, and not necessarily that of Sikh News Network.

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