Purpose Driven Life
Seva: What is Selfless Service?
What is selfless service? How do we know if we are doing God’s work? How can we know God through our actions? An interview with Swami Khecaranatha, author of “Wearing God’s Mala: The Seva Sutra”, on the Tantric tradition of Seva (selfless service).
THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED with excerpts pulled from Khecaranatha, S. (2014). Wearing God’s Mala. Prasad Press.
What is selfless Service?
In Wearing God’s Mala: The Seven Sutra’s Swami Khecaranatha, the author describes selfless service as an unconditional offering of our life to God. In selfless service we access and express the supreme powers of will, knowledge and action, versus our individual will, knowledge, and action.
The act of seva comes from merging our heart with the heart of God, in a state of complete surrender. Seva is a simply our expression of the love, gratitude, and devotion that we feel and as such is a state of consciousness. Swami Khecaranatha describes that “ we serve out of love, and from the gratitude of the possibility of knowing the God within us”. If we serving, but resentful about it, we may be helping out, but it’s not selfless service because we have not changed inside. He aptly says “it’s all about the level of consciousness we are acting in”.
“What we do or how much we do is not the point. Believe it or not Siva doesn’t care about the specifics of our lives. We get to choose what we do with our will and energies. Being a doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief, or living in a cave doesn’t really have any effect on our freedom. We can get lost in the decision to be his or that or we can be freed in the same decision. In that sense it doesn’t make a difference what we do as long as we choose to be open while we’re doing it”. P150
Seva is called selfless service because we are not serving just ourselves, or serving just what we want to serve. While it appears that we are serving those around us, we are ultimately serving God.
“The highest service we can do for God is to free ourselves”. P90
“ Seva can be boiled down to one thing: giving what is wanted and needed and not what we want to give. Service will break down every boundary in you, every resistance to giving that you find surfacing in yourself. True selfless service Is the conscious decision to discover and live in a state not affected by any condition or by what we are receiving or not receiving. “ p 95
“Serving God’s will is not separate from our own will, but rather the results of the merging of the two. We can do anything, because God’s power, flowing through us, is the energy of creation itself. P168
- 0:33 What does it mean to be of self less service?
- 6:22 What are the three Seva mantras?
- 7:38 How can all your actions be in service of God? How can we know God through our actions?
- 8:53 What is the purpose of all our actions? How do our actions reveal a higher understanding/knowledge?
- 9:50 Why do our actions help us understand God as ourselves?
How does selfless service help us find our own God-like powers?
It’s through selfless service that we realize that we are Siva and can experience the powers of Siva (Shiva) and Sakti (Shakti) in limited form. The Anuttara Trika tradition refer to Siva as the all-pervading consciousness that contains within it five essential powers:
“The first is that of Consciousness itself. Then emerging from within Siva’s infinite Consciousness is Sakti, the divine energy that creates, sustains, and dissolves the universe again and again. Sakti is the power of bliss, and arising from bliss, and arising from bliss are the triadic powers of will, knowledge, and action” p3
These five powers of consciousness, bliss, will, knowledge, and action are the source of everything that is manifested including our own lives. These powers determine everything we think, do, act, reject, attack, etc.
When we exercise these powers in seva we are able to discover our unity with the source, the light that illuminates life (prakasha), and the power of Consciousness to know itself (vimarsha). Swami Khecaranatha describes the three Goddesses that represent the powers of will, knowledge, and action and the three ways that Siva’s light shines within us (below).
“Para is the supreme goddess of Siva’s will, the ultimate power of His intention to create. This power arises from bliss for the sole purpose of expanding Siva’s own state of perfection, joy, and freedom. Knowing this to be the purpose of creation, Siva then, through the power of action, unfolds all of life. Tantric traditions therefore delineates that there are three aspects of supreme goddess- Para (Will, Parapara (knowledge), and Apara (action). They are all part of the one goddess who embodies the triadic energy of kundalini.” P4
Here are some passages in the book that describe Para (will):
“Para- From within Siva’s experience of his own freedom and joy comes the will to perpetually expand that state. If divine will is the expansion of freedom, perfect in its understanding, and its own bliss, then everything that emerges and manifests from it must also be perfect.”p45
Swami Khecaranatha describes Parpapara (knowledge):
Siva knows himself and exactly what He wants to create in order to share his freedom and express his joy. That power of knowing is jhana sakti, the goddess Parapara, and the highest knowledge is to know your Self, even if you’re Shiva P45
Last, Swami Khecaranatha describes action:
“Our actions must be in service of the goddess Parapara for the purpose of gaining knowledge, not to produce an effect, or what is classically called “the fruit of action”. We serve because we want to know ourselves, not because we want to get something or are looking for any result? P 104
“If you really suspend what you think you ought to be doing, and just do for others- it will crunch your bone and grind up every density within you. We’re serving God by taking the power of action that He has given us and reversing its direction back inside so that it can return to source. ..
Siva knows what He wants to create in order to share His Freedom and he does that through the power of infinite action, kriya sakti, the Goddess Apara. Divine action is not directed toward any specific result but it the expression of His own energies, His own Consciousness, and His Own bless. P45
How EGO gets in the way of selfless service?
Swami Khecaranatha explains that for service to be truly selfless and about giving that we must free ourselves from our thoughts that service is a “tit for tat” situation:
“I need this and I want that”.
“ I shouldn’t have to do this… why should I have to when they don’t have to?
“ I don’t want serve anymore… I’m too tired.”
“I’ll do it if other people do it”
“There needs to be more to life than this!”
“ I can’t do more than this”.
“Why do I have to do all of this and nobody else has to?
“My teacher will love me if I serve”.
“That’s not the higher service, I know better than tat”
“ I can do this, but I want do that”.
“ I have to have (fill in blank) in order to be happy? “
We must serve unconditionally without injecting our own needs and desires into the equation. It’s about freeing ourselves from giving based on our own perspective, or attachments to the results of our actions. Our spiritual practice (sadhana) is learning how to break down our resistance, remain open, and find that we truly want in our lives. It’s about choosing to change and allowing God’s grace to change us. Swami Khecaranatha says that if we want to grow that we must give what is wanted, not what you want to give and doing wo will break your brain, it will break your bones, and it will break your heart. He describes true service is breaking everything in you that needs to be broken in order for you to recognize the perfection in giving.
“The fundamental reason people are not free is that they will not move past their belief that they need. SIva doesn’t say , “I need”. Need arises from the veil of duality that asserts our separation, because as long we feel separate from God, we will remain incomplete… The very pursuit of need (material positions), in fact, reinforces our need, because we do feel incomplete. Searching for something to complete us, we perpetually look for something and can never do it. Never.P 51”
“Do not enter into a life of seva if you’re not willing to let go of what you think you need”. P53
Our commitment to serve the highest in ourselves, and to expand our willingness and capacity to serve god must be greater than the distractions of our minds. The reward of our hard work is to know the ultimate truth, which is that everything is consciousness including ourselves.
“ The amount of discipline, clarity, and conviction that you bring to your wish is the determining factor in whether that wish frees you, or you end up living a life of regret. Understand that no person or situation can affect the power of your wish. No condition can steal your freedom unless you let it. Your wish is forged in the fire of your own conviction, the face of your own suffering.” p 88
The three “impure” beliefs that create veils of illusion
Swami Khecaranatha describes these three veils or impurities (tattvas) that create the most suffering:
“ I am separate”, which limits freedom and awareness of Consciousness. When divine will is limited in us, we think we are in control.
“ I am different”, which gives rise to diversity and relative distinctions that limits or knowledge of Self.
“I am the doer” which the limitation of God’s agency of action. It binds the individual to the results of action and obscures the infinite powers of will, knowledge and action.
- 3:13 What does it mean to be non dual?
- 4:44 How do Shakti and Shiva work together to manifest?
- 10:45 What are the three illusions we carry?(mantras)
- 12:13 Who is “doing” our lives?
- 12:30 What happens when we act from a place of ego?
- 13:02 How do we create karma?
- 18:25 How do the mantras help?
- 21:26 How do our sense of “needs” and ego get in the way of us truly feeling complete?
- 24:11 What is the definition of ego?
- 26:11 How do we free ourselves from dualistic consciousness?
- 29:46 How can you serve God without being judgmental or being willful?
- 30:45 How surrender is key in a spiritual practice?
- 32:01 How can we truly experience freedom?
- 34:53 Why do we do seva?
How do we know if we are in true service of god?
Swami Khecaranatha suggests that we get quiet inside and ask “How may I serve you? Or “How me how to serve you?:”If we are open and in our hearts versus closed and contracted, then we know that we are acting from a place of God versus ego. We can use self-inquiry and move into stillness to better examine whether we should act and if we are genuinely coming with the intention of selfless service:
- Do I express and live my will in the pursuit of freedom?
- Do my actions emerge from the bliss of unconditionality?
- Am I doing this action to serve?
- Will I better understand myself in the deepest way”?
- Am I offering service as act of my will and trying to redirect what’s happening in somebody else’s life?
- When should I act, what is the best way to give even if we don’t know a person?
Swami Khecaranatha offers three mantras that help remind us moment to moment of our commitment for selfless ervice. These mantras help us align our individual will, knowledge, and action with Siva’s powers.
I offer myself into Your service, without thought of price- do with me as You wish. As you repeat this mantra be aware of your response; Is it dep fear, or joy and gratitude? Surrender fear, embrace joy.
May my will be Your Will. In your day, look for times when you express your own will.
May I know You as my Self. Become aware of when you identify with something outside of yourself, or when your perspective binds or contracts you.
May all my actions serve You. Pay attention to the moment when you serve yourself.
How do I know if I’m in the right job for me?
“There is no “wrong” place to be if we are growing, if what we are doing is part of a revelation of discovering ourselves. It doesn’t make a difference WHAT we do in this world. What we do in the world is only peripherally important to WHY we are doing what we are doing in the world. If we are doing in the world to know God, then we are a janitor, guru, radio host, or whatever. Ultimately, none of that is important. We can discover that supreme self no matter what we are doing. We want to have this sense that it is our destiny or God’s will to be a radio host. God doesn’t give a ding dong what you do. What God wants you to do is to live in love and freedom. God’s will is to express that joy!”– Swami Khecaranatha
What does it mean to surrender to a higher calling?
What is the meaning of surrender? How do we know if have let go and surrender? Why should we surrender?
0:09 Why do people come to a spiritual life?
1:11 Why is life hardship (death, loss, etc) really an act of Grace from God?
6:01 What does it mean to surrender to grace?
10:56 How should we use our free will? Why are actions are all about joy?
11:29 How do we know if we are surrendering to life? How do we allow an experience to reveal itself through us?
12:39 When do you know you are not surrendering?
12:54 What is it that we are supposed to surrender?
13:59 How does Swami describe joy?
14:43 How do we learn and grow?
“If you are feeling tense, resistance, at attempt to control, that’s not joy. And it’s not surrender? You surrender your willfulness, thought constructs, and the part of us that does not understand. How else can the part of us that understands be released? Ask, what is this trying to show me? What is it trying to reveal in me that I don’t understand? “- Swami Khecaranatha
“There is a difference between getting an experience of “selfless service” that you think you need versus allowing experiences to reveal itself through you through the surrendering of yourself” – Swami Khecaranatha
About Swami Khecaranatha – Author, Teacher, Founder of Sacred Space Yoga Sanctuary
Swami Khecaranatha (born Steven Ott) began practicing Kundalini Sadhana under Swami Rudrananda (Rudi) in 1971. Rudi recognized him as a teacher within this lineage in 1972.
Khecaranatha (“Nathaji”) lived in an ashram for 30 years, and has traveled to India, Nepal, & Asia, spending extended time in meditation and spiritual practice. At the same time he is very accessible, and understands the pressures of living in the world. He has dedicated his life to spiritual development and to serving others in their spiritual quest.
Khecaranatha grew up in an international environment. When he was six he moved to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina—basically the bottom of the earth. He lived there until age 12, then moved directly to North Africa, where he lived in Tripoli, Libya. In 1970 he returned to the United States.
Shortly thereafter, Khecaranatha met Swami Rudrananda—in October of 1971. He moved into the ashram in January f 1972 and lived in Indiana, Massachusetts, and most recently, Portland, Oregon. In June of 2001 he came to Berkeley to start a spiritual center, called Sacred Space Yoga Sanctuary, now located at Rudramandi