Here's a provocative piece by Osho Robbins, a frequent commenter on this blog who emailed it to me.
He writes about a recent experience where volunteers ("sevadars") acted in a high-handed manner at a large gathering of RSSB (Radha Soami Satsang Beas) followers -- an India-based group that I was a member of for many years.
What is seva? What is selfless service? Great questions.
What is seva in RSSB?
by Osho Robbins
This is an interesting question for an RSSB follower to contemplate.
It is just (a) following orders given from those above you?
Or is it (b) using your own discretion to be HELPFUL to another.
Conceptually the idea of seva is to be of service to others. In fact the word actually means service.
So you would think that if you are a ‘sevadar’ at some event, like a national satsang meeting, then the purpose of doing seva would be to make the life of those attending the event easier, not harder. I completely understand that the sevadars have a set of rules to adhere to.
However, is service simply the act of getting compliance? Or is it about helping things to go more smoothly?
At the end of the national satsang meeting, the logical thing to do would be to open many of the tent exits to allow the people to leave the the satsang easily. Why would you want them all to squeeze through a few exits? And if anyone tries to leave another way – stop them. How exactly is that considered to be seva?
I attended the national satsang at Haynes park in the UK a week ago.
At the end of the satsang, when they are announcing that nobody should leave yet, I stood up and made a sharp exit. Why? Because I don’t want to be in the stampede of people who are going to be getting up in about 30 seconds time.
So I exit the tent by the closest exit which is to my right. It turns out that this is only for those who want to use the toilets and washrooms. So when I try to exit towards the car parking area, I am stopped and told there is no exit this way. Well, I can clearly see there is an exit, but what they mean is that I am not allowed to exit this way.
Anyways I turn to go back towards the tent and then start to wonder what the purpose of these stupid rules is. So I walked straight past the sevadar who tried to stop me from taking the forbidden exit. He asked me to stop and I said I need to get back to my car as I am in a hurry. Well, he called for backup. I love these situations because it tests who the sevadars are and what they are all about.
The one sevadar starts to push me back as I am walking peacefully towards the car park area. I ask him calmly to stop pushing me otherwise I will sue him for assault. This seems to do the trick and he stops pushing me. Then five more highly trained sevadars turn up. They tell me to turn around and go the other way. One folds his hands saying it’s a humble request. So then I stopped to talk to them and this is what I said.
“Can anyone explain to me why I cannot exit this way?” Of course nobody had an answer other than “It’s not allowed, please go the long way around.”
So then I said, “I am going to turn around and go the long way around, so there’s no issue about that. However, if this is not an exit, can you tell me why it was not announced in the satsang hall. How was I supposed to know this is not an exit?”
And more than that, I said to them “What you are doing is not seva. You can call it by some other name, like following orders, but it is definitely not seva because seva should make life easier for the sangat, not harder. What is the logical reason for closing this exit? All I want to do is go back to my car and leave the site. Why exactly do I need to go back into the tent and exit that way? What is the purpose and who made this rule? And if you can’t tell me, then why are you blindly enforcing these rules that are pointless?”
This does raise a lot of questions. If seva is simply following orders, then who is making the rules? If you ask the Guru, he says he doesn’t get involved in these small details. In which case, someone else is making these rules. Why? And why is no other sevadar questioning them?
I do of course know the answer.
In RSSB, there is an hierarchy. The people at the top give orders to those below them and they in turn command those below them. To question the person above you is considered insubordination and nobody dares to do it. If they did, they would immediately be asked to leave their seva. So, out of fear of losing their seva everyone obeys. And they see other sevadars doing the same, so this becomes the natural thing to do.
So seva becomes OBEDIENCE. It becomes an unspoken rule that to question the person giving you an order is akin to questioning the guru, which of course is a big no-no.
Now this explains a lot. It explains why the sevadars have no individuality and are just order followers. They cannot think for themselves. They are zombies. This is a far cry from true spirituality. No sevadar is allowed to think or voice their opinion. A friend of mine once accompanied me to a seva day and observed that is was just like a concentration camp because everyone simply followed orders.
The statements I made to those sevadars fell on deaf ears.
I said to them that this is not seva because they are making my life difficult for no logical reason. Those sevadars are too far gone to even hear a thing I say. They are too conditioned to follow orders. As far as they are concerned they have just done their duty and will feel good about it.
The other big questions this raises is about MEANS and ENDS. The seva is meant to help in the spiritual progress of the disciple. However, I would suggest that it hinders. Why? Let’s see.
Firstly the sevadar becomes totally distracted from the whole reason why he first became initiated. He did not become initiated to BE A RADHA SOAMI. He took initiation on the basis that it might lead to spiritual enlightenment. He might traverse spiritual regions and reach the goal of sant mat.
Secondly, the act of doing seva creates ego in the sevadar, not humility. It also becomes like the rat race. Instead of chasing money the sevadar is chasing power and position. This is blatantly obvious as sevadars who do seva more regularly move up the chain of command. If they decide to give their seva less time they are warned that they will lose their position and will have to start at the bottom.
This also happened to me when I was a satsang speaker.
When the powers that be stopped me from doing satsang they said I could start again but would have to start at the bottom of the chain as a local speaker first and work my way up to national status. This of course is all nonsense and just to prove it I applied to be a speaker again. As soon as they realized it was me – they stopped me from being a local speaker because this is a power game.
My point is that this is a far cry from the original reason for getting initiation.
In the same national satsang – I went to the mike and made a statement. I said “Rabi ik gunjaldar, Rabi ik gurakh dhanda. Phid is diya paunda pagal ho jai banda” This translates as:
“God is a mysterious puzzle. Trying to solve it – you will go mad”
I then spoke about Kabir and said “Kabir says that I tried in every way but failed to find God. He says as long as I was looking for him, I did not find him. Then in the second stanza he says that in the end I still did not find him. What happened instead was that kabir disappeared and God appeared. Which means the meeting never happened.”
I simply made this statement and let the guru make his own comments. He said that he agreed. The ego has to disappear first. He said this happened through meditation.
Now Kabir is making a very important point in his verse.
He is saying that God will not become a decoration for your ego. You cannot hang God on your ego. You cannot claim to have found God, as your disappearance is the appearance of God. Meaning that YOU go then GOD comes. GOD already is and you are overshadowing him. You are like the wave in the ocean. You want to survive. You want the guru to come at your death and save you. Impossible.
No wave ever survives because the wave is unreal. Only the ocean survives because it is real. The waves come and go and the ocean remains. In the same way souls come and go. However we are told that we are a soul and the soul is eternal . Therefore we will survive death. That now becomes a worry because we want to make sure that we go to Sach Khand and the guru will come and save our soul.
However, Kabir is saying that there is no separate soul. You are not real. You just think you are real. Your ego created the illusion that there is a YOU. There is no You. There is only the ONENESS. You do not exist as a separate entity. If you did exist – then the ONENESS would be an illusion because there is more than one. ONENESS means that there is only the ONE and there is no other.
Paltu says “Paltu there is only the ONE there is no other.” The scripture cannot be any clearer, but the reader creates his own meaning to make it fit in with his own beliefs.
That is all we do in life. We make sure that we are right and we make everything fit.
A man phones his mother and says “Mum, I am a zombie”. She says “Son, you are not a zombie”.
He insists he is, so she asks him to call his father. “Dad, I’m a zombie”.
“Son, you are not a zombie” says his father. Again he insists he is. So his father says, “Do zombies bleed?” “No” says the son. “Great” says the father, “Now take a pin and stick it in your finger”.
A few minutes later, the son says “WOW – zombies DO bleed!”