- Topics & Settings
Karmayoga and Seva
One of the main tenants of Bharat Sevashram Sangha is seva, or service. Service refers to service for the community and service to God. This service can take on many different expressions.
As is mentioned in the page on Bharat Sevashram Sangha, the organization gained popularity in Norhteastern India through providing assistance during natural disasters and community service to the less fortunate. The organization has sought to replicate these efforts in locations around the world. However, through learning about seva from Satya Balroop, it is clear that seva is a broad term that encompasses any work done in service to god.
Karmayoga refers to the specific action and consequence that comes from performing seva. Karma refers to the actions of an individual dating back to their past lives, and yoga refers to the disciplining of those actions.
When I asked Satya to define karmayoga, she responded by saying “Religion is about action.” Action for Satya can range from the rituals of the satsang or performing a mundane task.
Satya was introduced to the term while in New York through the devotion of her husband. As soon as the family entered the New York temple, Bharat would go the kitchen to prepare prasad (devotional food for the congregation). Satya would protest by telling him, “come sit here as a family, everyone does that, they come and sit in the pews and they listen.” This protest was made out of a desire to perform a specific form of family piety. Bharat would “make excuses” and join the women in the kitchen and stay late after satsang to serve people and clean. On one satsang, the Swami’s words connected the couple:
"One day, I was at a sermon, and all of a sudden, I thought the Swami was speaking to me – he was talking about karmayoga – service to god is not sitting and only sitting and listening to what I [the swami] am saying. But you will get more benefit from lifting your hand and help pick up a piece of paper and put it in the garbage and do something there. That message just hit home for me." -Satya Balroop
Satya has repeatedly told this story as the first time when she began to understand karmayoga. Satya acted upon the words of the swami and during the next satsang, she followed her husband to the kitchen and asked what she could do to help. This is formidable experience for Satya in understanding the value of the all work of religion.
Because what I’m doing here is not something that one can just wake up tomorrow and say “okay, I’m going to start a temple. Let’s go find a building and do it.” I don’t — no. It’s not a business. It’s not something that one can just wake up and say ‘this is what I want to do.’ It’s something that has to be built into that person over the years; over life, over time. To have endurance, the confidence, the patience, the perseverence. You know, it takes a lot of strenght to be able to do this. Even people, when they join a religious organization like this, in order to be successful, they need to have all these qualities. Or else they’ll cause problems with the committee...So, when one decides to go this path, it means that there is a higher call. There is something, you know, that’s in their DNA from the previous birth that’s ingrained in this; that’s why they are able to do this. Because it’s part of your life. You don’t — if you dont do it, you feel a loss. You don’t feel complete. And I know my husband feels that way, because whenever he doesn’t prepare food for temple, he feels lost all week. So he feels he must be able to do that, because that’s his way of praying. You know, making food and serving. This past Sunday we had lots of food, loads of food. And my way is to make sure that everything runs smoothly. And that it functions, it opens. Even winter time, when there is lots of snow, I beg the boys, go and shovel snow, go and plow it so that people can come to the temple. Make sure the door is open, so that people can come. Because I don’t like for people to just come and get turned away...So it does take a lot. The goal is not to have a big building. Not to have the biggest building in the community as a temple. The goal is to bring people together, to unite together, to be able to have an understanding. To be able to grow spiritually and develop themself as a person. To be better human beings. And to be able to pass this onto their children, so that they will be able to live an ethical, prosperous life through this path. I mean, without this, I don’t think one can find happiness. You know, everlasting happiness. Because eventually we all want everlasting happiness. There is places we can go that we will have temporary happiness. It lasts just for moments, and then after that we forget about those pleasures and we’re looking for more [laughs]. We’re like, how can I get more pleasure? But this way, this path, gives you permanent pleasure. Gives you everlasting pleasure, where you just want to do more, you just want to give more, and you feel that deep within, you get that nectar. Because at one point — I wasn’t there yet; I think [my husband] got there first, before I did, by serving. He started to do it at the ashram in New York. And soon as we land there, he goes to the kitchen! And I’m like, no, come sit here and listen to what the Swarmi has to say, what the Guru has to say. I would tell him, no, you need to come and sit here as a family; everybody does that, they come and sit in the pews and they listen. And he would say, no I have to go help out there, they don’t have help there. So he would make excuses. And I know that there are loads of ladies in the kitchen who can make the food, but he wants to go there. So I said, why do you have to go there? And even at the end of the program, he would stay back and he wants to serve people. Make sure they want to eat, and he wouldn’t eat. And I’m like, did you eat? I was the one who would be dragging him. Come on, the kids have homework, we have to leave. And he would say, no, I have to make sure everyone eats. And there, it’s 200 or 300 people. With big pots and huge kitchens and lots of work. And I have to sit there and wait. I’m always in a hurry. Because I used to work, at that time, in the city, too. So I’m always, oh I have to go back. Then he said, one day he looked at me, and he said, ‘why don’t you come in the kitchen and help out?’ And I said, ‘are you kidding me? I can’t lift one of those pots, they are so big! What am I gonna do here? What am I gonna do?’ And so I never went. And one day I sit in sermon, and all of the sudden, I thougt the Swarmi is speaking to me! And I felt so guilty, because he is starting to talk about the ___ and how service to God is not only sitting and listening to what I’m saying. But you get more benefit from lifting your hand and picking up a piece of paper to put in the garbage, do something. I mean, that message there just hit home to me. And I thought, ‘oh my God, he’s talking to me!’ He must know something, I’m thinking. I’m feeling this guilt. So the next week, I got up and went to the kitchen to see what he’s talking about. So I went to my husband, and sheepishly I ask my husband, ‘what can I help you do?’ And so one of the ladies saw me when I approached, and she says, ‘oh you are here to help? We do need some help. You see that pot down there? We need to start helping to get that clean.’ And so I said, ‘how am I gonna get this into the sink?’ You know, they have this sink, and then this big pot that’s like — that pot can’t fit in the sink! Is there something else to do? Then she says, ‘that’s all we have to do.’ And I feel so bad now, I’m like, I came here to ask for help, and I — the thing is, it was all black soot under, and I didn’t want to get my fingers on there either! And so my husband came over and he said, come, let me show you how you can do it without. And so he shows me how I can just take the water, and scrubber, and scrub the inside, and then just empty it into the sink. It may take you a little longer, but that’s how they do it. You don’t even have to do under, just do the inside. Make sure the inside is clean. So once I got that understanding — I did! — I called the woman and I said, ‘I did it.’ So it made me feel good, you know? I’m like, I did it! So, next week I came again and something else to be done, and I ended up cutting vegetables and things. And I started to help to serve the food. So now I would come week after week. I wouldn’t go and sit in the temple; I would come here. And my boys, they would go and help out to sell. They would bake breads and sweet breads and things like that. Or books. So at that time I had two older boys and they would go and help to sell. They set up their table and they were sitting there and when the people come out they will sell it. And they were having a ball doing that! Yeah. And here I was working in the kitchen, too, helping out, and I was finding a lot of pleasure doing that! It was more pleasureable than just sitting, you know? And I thought to myself, hm, no wonder my husband has been coming here, you know, getting this pleasure. I was feeling pleasure. And now I feel I must be there; I need to do this. And eventually my prayers turned to karmayoga. So that’s how I started karmayoga. Even though I was doing it forever when I was little, but like I said, I was doing it robotically because I was told I have to do it. But, you know, that opportunity was presented to me, since then. This is what I need to do, instead of running off with friends to go and play. That was my pastime. And then New York, I started to develop that pleasure through karmayoga.
The importance of karmayoga often is an example of the need for volunteers to maintain the temple. At Hindu Milan Mandir, Satya often sends out emails urging supporters to help with the maintenance work.
The poster to the left came attached in an email with the subject, “Spring Cleaning.”
Lovers of Karma Yog,
Hindu Milan Mandir is presenting to you a great opportunity to perform Seva/Selfless services.
The email ends urging participants to “serve God through selfless services.” Karmayoga informs how the community is understood at the Hindu Milan Mandir.
At the Mandir karmayoga is referred to often. The importance of karmayoga is an example of the need for volunteers and hard work to maintain a temple.
The audio clips are examples of how karmayoga comes up in conversation at the mandir.
As long as you add the “yoga” on the end of it, then it becomes a sacrifice. Whatever actions you perform, it’s a sacrifice. And like we were saying, do it in the name of God. Do it — whatever you do: taking care of your body, cleaning the house, cooking for your children — it’s all because of God. It’s all in the name of God.
Like an act of gratitude?
It’s an act of gratitude that you have to feel in your heart or your mind. You have to have that in mind. Because if you don’t have that in mind, therefore, you are thinking you are doing it for this body. Because of course, the self is God. This self that’s within is God. But if you’re thinking that “this body is me,” that means you are not giving the merit to God. And everything belongs to the cosmos, to the universe. Everything. I mean, this manifestation of everything is God. Is one part of God, the manifested form that you see. And the manifested form is not only the skies and the sun and the stars and the houses and the animals, you know, it’s everything. It is a table, it’s a chair, it’s every object that you see. God resides within. Because if God was not within, we wouldn’t see it, there would be nothing, we wouldn’t be here. So everything, all manifestations, everything that you see, all objects, is a manifestation of God. You have to learn to think that way. Because the more that you’re thinking “oh, I made that table,” or “I made that whatever,” the “I,” you’re giving yourself the praises. So the moment you give the satisfaction or the merit to yourself, you have to feel the consequences. There will be a consequence. That’s where karma comes in. That’s karma. You know, cause, and that would be a reaction. Because it’s not gonna be an effect, it’s gonna be a reaction. And the reaction is usually something — if it’s pleasant, it’s going to be more mentorly. And if it’s going to be some sort of punishment, meaning I’ve got a headache or a disease or something like that, then that’s a form of punishment. And it’s all based on our thoughts, the way we think. The moment we take the merit for our self and don’t give it to God, we have to bear that consequence. We have to bear the results.
That’s a lot to have to think about all the time.
Yeah. It comes, like everything else, by practice. If you start conditioning your mind, then eventually, you know after a month or two months, you will see that you’re doing things without even thinking about it. Just like learning to play anything...Baseball, or whatever.
So really anything you do is a prayer, then.
It’s a prayer, yeah. In Hinduism, it’s a prayer.
These are all the teachings that the guru will teach you. You can get these teachers out there, [but] many of them probably don’t know these things. Or they don’t put it in practice. Because if you just pick up the book and read it you don’t get the jist of what the message is. But if you have a guru who has experienced it and who has practiced all his life, he will be able to tell the secrets of how to do it and what to do.