Arsha Vidya Pitham, Saylorsburg, PA

Sevā Bhāva ~ An Attitude of Service (text)

by Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Pūjya Śrī Swami Dayananda Saraswati established AIM for Seva in 2000. The idea for starting this movement came
from a conversation with an elderly woman in Anaikkati, a village in southern India. She appealed to Swamiji to help
educate rural children as they did not have schools where they lived, and they did not know how to educate the local village children. Pūjya Swami Dayanandaji started thinking about creating an infrastructure for educating children in remote areas; they typically do not have the privilege of going to school or they drop out due to the prohibitively lengthy commute from many kilometers away.

Some people are effectively separated and disconnected from the main society because of modern developments, namely economic development, social development, and infrastructure development have not reached these areas. Pūjya Swamiji thought it was very important to bring these people into the mainstream and integrate them with the rest of the country through education. Some people are deprived of even basic necessities – food is a necessity, education is a necessity, healthcare is a necessity, cultural education is a necessity, and a sense of self-worth is also a necessity. Connection with one’s culture, education, health, economic well-being – all of these provide a person with a sense of self-worth. Then alone one can live one’s life happily.

Poverty is not only in terms of money but also in terms of education and health; it is also in terms of self-worth.
Self-worth is a very important asset in making a person feel happy. People are deprived of this self-worth for
various reasons, including intergenerational social injustice. Pūjya Swamiji felt that those who have the capacity to
contribute must do the task left undone by our forefathers, in integrating society’s most marginalized through service. It is very important that those who possess one or more types of wealth or means – money, education, healthcare, religious education, spiritual education – need to reach out to those who are needy.

We are blessed and should reach out to those who can use our help

We should recognize that we are really fortunate. We are what we are on account of the favor and contributions that
we continue to enjoy from the rest of the world. We should count our blessings and recognize that we are enjoying
the grace of Īśvara, the Lord, the grace of our parents and ancestors, the grace of our teachers, and the grace of all
those who have helped us. Pūjya Swamiji used to say that when we reflect back on all of our successes, we can see
that we did put in the necessary effort but at the same time, we happened to be at the right place at the right time. If we examine our lives and look at whatever small and big successes we have, we realize that we have always been
enjoying lots of blessings, lots of favors. We recognize that we are what we are on account of the many favors that we have been enjoying from many sources. Our scriptures say that we enjoy favors from five sources: parents
and ancestors, teachers, divine forces, other human beings, and nature. Teachers also include those who taught in the past, ṛṣis, who contributed to the storehouse of knowledge. Divine forces, called devatās, substantially and continuously contribute for us to function. That our body functions, that we can see, hear, walk, talk, think,
learn, feel, remember, and communicate – all of these are possible because of the grace of the divine forces. We also enjoy the favors of other members of human society such as farmers, merchants, doctors, soldiers, and many others. We enjoy favors from both animate natures like plants, trees, and insects, but also inanimate nature like rocks. It looks as though the whole universe is designed to support and sustain us.

We may perhaps feel that we are not as lucky as some others, or that we are deprived. Maybe we feel that we do not have what many others have, that we wish we had more or that we deserve more. It is possible that we do not have what others have, or we do not have what we think we should have, etc. Everyone feels that they are not lucky enough. But we are very lucky if you look at our life and the privileges that we are enjoying, the benefits that we have, and the various opportunities that we receive. All of this is a blessing and there are many who do not enjoy these privileges. It may be the fructification of all of our past good deeds. Some others are not as lucky as we are because they did not have the benefits of good karma. We are not to judge that, but what we see is that there are some who are not as lucky or privileged as we are. Therefore, it becomes our obligatory duty to reach out to those who are not as privileged as we are.

It is our duty to reach out to others

Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā teaches us that we are indebted by our privilege and it is our duty to return that favor. That is how the idea of contribution comes. Each one of us needs to become a contributor. A consumer is one who keeps receiving favors. We are all consumers. To keep living, we need these favors. At the same time, there should be contribution too, as an expression of gratitude for the favor that we are receiving. We have needs at the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels, and these needs should be satisfied. But at the same time, in the scheme of the universe, each entity enjoys a certain relationship of being privileged and offering privileges. Every entity is helped and is helping in return, whether sentient or insentient. Mutual aid is the inbuilt order of the
universe. Every entity, whether a tree, an insect, or an elephant, contributes in accordance with its ability to the functioning of the universe. This is true for all other beings in the creation, except for the human being. When it comes to human beings, this system may or may not work because the human being has been given the free will to make choices. There are barriers within our nature that are obstacles to the free flow of the emotional and spiritual growth that is required for happiness. The human being has inner barriers such as greed, which other creatures do not seem to have. An emotionally mature person can be happy. A spiritually mature person can be happier, and to grow in maturity is the primary purpose of the human embodiment. Other creatures do not have this privilege, which is fine to live their life because they just sustain their life. These are the natural instincts given to all,
including human beings: food, sleep, self-preservation, and procreation. Nature has given the means to fulfill those needs. We also have those needs, but further, we have a need to become happy and free, which requires emotional growth. We have an ego with which to make choices. In making the right choices, we are guided by the mind. We may believe that we make choices that are good for us, beneficial for us. But our understanding of what is beneficial may not be accurate, and we may, in fact, make poor choices that result in self-harm. The human being is in a position to use his free will properly after judging a situation appropriately to make the right choices. Alternatively, we can make the wrong choices and hurt ourselves. Therefore, making the right choices is important to us, but it depends upon our maturity.

We have to conquer detrimental impulses to recognize our self-worth

Pūjya Swamiji was fond of quoting a mantra from Sāma Veda – setūṁstara, setūṁstara, setūṁstara, dustarān
setūṁstara, cross the (four) barriers that cannot be crossed by any other means. Setu is a barrier or a dam. Setūṁ tara, cross the barriers. We have many barriers and this mantra highlights four of them: lobha, greed or miserliness, anṛta, falsehood, krodha, anger, and aśraddhā, lack of faith or trust in others. Dānena adānaṁ tara, may you cross the barrier of adāna, incapacity to give by dāna, generously giving. Akrodhena krodhaṁ tara, by compassion may you cross krodha, anger, another barrier that makes us violent. Satyena anṛtaṁ tara, by truthfulness, honesty one crosses the barriers of falsehood and dishonesty. Śraddhayā aśraddhāṁ tara, by śraddhā, faith in the words of the scriptures and teachers, may you cross the barrier of aśraddhā, the incapacity to respect scriptures or wise people.

Lord Krishna identifies kāma, krodha and lobha as the three barriers to cross in Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā. Kāma is
the impulse to indulge when something is very tempting. Krodha is anger. Lobha is miserliness. These barriers are
within us and we have to cross them for our own well-being and self-worth. When one feels that he is weak, he cannot have self-worth. An angry person’s self-worth is undermined as he knows that anger is a sign of weakness. Similarly, indulgence is also a sign of weakness. A weak person cannot resist when there is a temptation for pleasure, power, wealth, fame, etc. Very often, values are compromised and we fall prey to many vices when we are weak. Greed or miserliness is also an obstacle, and those who suffer from these cannot have self-worth. We have to cross or overcome kāma, krodha, and lobha. These are the barriers or obstacles which deprive us of self-worth. When we do not look upon ourselves as worthy, when we do not respect ourselves, we cannot be happy. One can be a wealthy, powerful, or famous person, but he is not necessarily a happy person.

Happiness comes from a sense of self-worth, self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-satisfaction. Therefore, Śrīmad
Bhagavad Gītā teaches us a way of life, certain values, and attitudes that are conducive to discovering self-worth. This cannot be acquired externally, but rather we have to tap into ourselves to discover this worthiness. Kāma, krodha, lobha, anṛta, aśraddhā, etc. deprive us of our self-worth. That is why Sāma Veda says setūṁstara, cross these barriers. Then we discover worthiness in our own perception. Wealth, power, etc. are not necessary. One can feel worthy when one is compassionate. When one is charitable, giving, generous, and can control his own impulses, he feels, “I am worthy.” This is the purpose of human life. When one has the inner wealth of honesty, charity, compassion, faith, trust, self-control, and self-discipline, one feels worthy irrespective of his wealth, power, fame, etc.

By recognizing our inner wealth, we can help others become self-worthy

Dānena adānaṁ tara. Adāna is the other barrier. It is a lack of charity, but Pūjya Swamiji explained it as the incapacity to give. Something prevents us from giving; it is innate miserliness. Greed prevents us from reaching out. It is an unwillingness to give, an incapacity to part with what we have. This is an obstacle to our emotional growth and to our sense of self-worth. Dāna should be given to deserving people at the right time and right place.
Ritual, religious discipline and charity should be in our daily routine. One is rich when one gives, when there is
an urge to give, or when he feels he has more than enough to spare. Inner richness is required. If you do not have this sense, then “fake it till you make it.” How much do you give? Give until it pinches you.

Pūjya Swamiji’s message was: Become self-worthy and help someone realize their self-worth. Because of the lack of
education, lack of connection with our own culture, lack of benefit of good physical and intellectual growth, and other deprivations, there are those who are not as privileged and are not happy. They don’t feel self-worth. Therefore, we should reach out to them. Because we have enjoyed a lot of privileges and continue to enjoy these privileges, it becomes our duty to reach out and become contributors. Transform yourself from being purely a consumer to a contributor. We can remain consumers because of our needs, but at the same time, we also need to become contributors. That will create a sense of self-worth in us.

Pūjya Swamiji loved the word sevā, service done with care. Reaching out can provide us with an opportunity
to perform various acts of kindness. That is how we can initiate or enhance our own inner or spiritual growth and
become instruments in the growth of others. This is in recognition that what we are is due to the privileges that we
enjoy and there are others who are not as privileged as we are. Therefore, we should reach out to them. People helping people. This is why Pūjya Swamiji established AIM for Seva.

We have to contribute ourselves and create an awareness of this movement. The more people become aware of this
movement, the more they will contribute and help rural children. We have to solve the twin problems of lack of
education and lack of health. Our Free Student Homes help solve these problems. These homes also can become a hub for many related activities like caring for women in nearby areas and to make them aware of their own rich heritage in terms of spirituality, religion, arts, social forms, etc.

Charity need not only be in terms of wealth or money. We all have one or more of the three Ts: Time, Talent, and Treasure. We may not have all of them, but most in our position have at least one or more. We should share what we have with those who are needier than we are, and should do so in the spirit of sharing, a spirit that is abundantly
prevalent in the whole universe. There is a subhāṣita which says that trees bear fruit for others, rivers flow for others to use, cows give milk for others, and this body of ours is meant to serve others. When this spirit of sharing comes in us, we become happy, and therefore we should give. It is a sign of emotional maturity and it makes us happy. Share with others what you can. If that urge does not come, then you should pretend to have that urge till it slowly develops in you. One should give anyway because it is our duty to give. Īśvara has given us what we have. It is our privilege to share and to give. Start with the idea of duty and it will slowly become our nature. The whole process generates
happiness and leads to discovering our own self-worth.

Om tat sat

This essay is based on a talk given by Sri Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati, one of the foremost disciples of His Holiness Pūjya Śrī Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of AIM for Seva. The talk was transcribed by KK Davey and edited jointly by Vinita R Davey and KK Davey.

Lord Daksinamurti

In the vision of the Veda, this creation is a manifestation of the Lord. Being the cause, he is all knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. We have a name for that Lord Daksinamurti.

The Lord presented in this form as Dakṣiṇāmūrti is the one who has eight aspects. The first five aspects are thefive elements. In the Veda the world is presented in the form of five elements—ākāśa, space,which includes time; vāyu, air; agni, fire; āpa, water; and pṛthivī, earth.

In this Vedic model of the universe, the five elements are non-separate from the Lord. In fact, these five elements constitute the Lord’s form, which is this universe.

The next two aspects are represented by the sun and the moon.

When, as an individual, I look at this world, what stands out in the sky are the sun and moon.

The moon represents all planets other than earth, and the sun represents allluminous bodies.

The eighth aspect is me, the jīva—the one who is looking at the world.

These eight aspects are to be understood as one whole. This is the Lord.

When we look at the form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, we can see representations of the five elements. Space, ākāśa, is represented by a ḍamaru, a drum, in his right hand. In order to show space in a sculpture, it needs to be enclosed.

Empty space is enclosed in the ḍamaru, enabling it to issue sound, or śabda.

Next, vāyu, air, is represented by Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s hair with the bandana, the band, holding his hair in place against the wind. Bandana is a Sanskrit word which comes from the root band, to bind.

In his left hand, you will see a torch, which represents agni, fire.

Āpa, water, is shown by the Gaṅga, in the form of a Goddess, which you can see on Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s head.

Pṛthivī, the earth, is represented by the whole idol.

Then there are people, the jīvas, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana and Sanatsujāta, who are the disciples of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, sitting at the base of sculpture.

The sun and moon are also shown in this form of the Lord.

On the left side of Dakṣiṇāmūrti you will find a crescent moon, and on his right side there is a circle, representing the sun—a whole circle.

So we see five elements, two planets and the jīva constituting the aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, the Lord of these eight factors that are the whole.

You can worship Dakṣiṇāmūrti as the Lord, the one who is aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, or you can invoke him as a teacher, because he also is in the form of a teacher.

His very sitting posture, āsana, is the teacher’s āsana. What does he teach? Look at his hand gesture. That shows wha the teaches. His index finger, the one we use to point at others, represents the ahaṅkāra, the ego.

The other three fingers represent your body, deha, mind, antaḥkaraņa and sense organs, prāņa.

They also may be seen as the three bodies, śarīras, the gross, subtle, and causal. This is what the jīva mistakes himself to be. The aṅguṣṭha, the thumb, represents the Lord, the puruṣa. It is away from the rest of the fingers of the hand, yet at the same time, the fingers have no strength without it.

In this gesture, mūdra, in Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s right hand, the thumb joins the other fingers to form a circle, teaching that the jīva, who takes himself to be the body, mind and senses, is the whole. The circular hand gesture visually states the entire upadeśa, teaching: tat tvam asi, “You are That.” Just as a circle has no beginning or end, you are the whole. That is the final word about you. Nobody can improve upon that vision; no culture can improve upon it.

Even in heaven, it cannot be improved upon, for the whole includes heaven. Therefore, you have the final word here, because you are everything. It is better that you know it. That teaching is contained in the Veda, represented by the palm leaves in the left hand of Dakṣiṇāmūrti. And to understand this, you require a mind that has assimilated certain values and attitudes and has developed a capacity to think in a proper and sustained way.

This can be acquired by various spiritual disciplines represented here by a japa-māla, The fact that the Lord himself is a teacher, a guru, means that any teacher is looked upon as a source of knowledge. And the teacher himself should look upon Īśvara, the Lord, as the source of knowledge. Since the Lord himself is a teacher, the first guru, there is a tradition of teaching, so there is no individual ego involved in teaching.

Dakṣiṇāmūrti is seated upon a bull, which stands for tamas, the quality of māyā that accounts for ignorance. This is the entire creative power of the world and Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls this māyā; Then, there are bound to be obstacles in your pursuit of this knowledge. Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls all possible obstacles.

Underneath his foot, under his control, is a fellow called Apasmara—the one who throws obstacles in your life. This tells us that although there will be obstacles, with the grace of the Lord, you can keep them under check and not allow them to overpower you. There is no obstacle-free life, but obstacles need not really throw you off course; you keep them under control.

Thus, the whole form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti invokes the Lord who is the source of all knowledge, the source of everything, the one who is the whole, and who teaches you that you are the whole. He is Dakṣiṇāmūrti, the one who is in the form of a teacher, guru-mūrti.

We invoke his blessing so that all of you discover that source in yourself. If this self-discovery is your pursuit, your whole life becomes worthwhile. This project of self-discovery should be the project of everyone. That is the Vedic vision of human destiny

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam was founded in 1986 by Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In Swamiji’s own words,

“When I accepted the request of many people I know to start a gurukulam, I had a vision of how it should be. I visualized the gurukulam as a place where spiritual seekers can reside and learn through Vedanta courses. . . And I wanted the gurukulam to offer educational programs for children in values, attitudes, and forms of prayer and worship. When I look back now, I see all these aspects of my vision taking shape or already accomplished. With the facility now fully functional, . . . I envision its further unfoldment to serve more and more people.”

Ārṣa (arsha) means belonging to the ṛṣis or seers; vidyā means knowledge. Guru means teacher and kulam is a family.  In traditional Indian studies, even today, a student resides in the home of this teacher for the period of study. Thus, gurukulam has come to mean a place of learning. Arsha Vidya Gurukulam is a place of learning the knowledge of the ṛṣis.

The traditional study of Vedanta and auxiliary disciplines are offered at the Gurukulam. Vedanta mean end (anta) of the Veda, the sourcebook for spiritual knowledge.  Though preserved in the Veda, this wisdom is relevant to people in all cultures, at all times. The vision that Vedanta unfolds is that the reality of the self, the world, and God is one non-dual consciousness that both transcends and is the essence of everything. Knowing this, one is free from all struggle based on a sense of inadequacy.

The vision and method of its unfoldment has been carefully preserved through the ages, so that what is taught today at the Gurukulam is identical to what was revealed by the ṛṣis in the Vedas.