Well friends, the holidays are officially in full swing, and now that the mashed potatoes and green bean casserole have been devoured, you are probably pondering what to buy all the people closest to you for the gift giving season. I have definitely been scoping out Amazon, and racking my brain for what my thirteen year old niece might like for Christmas. And it’s really easy to get caught up in family and friends this time of year, and forget that they are not the only ones whom we should be caring for. I was thinking about the concept of giving for the holidays when I came across a passage in a book by the Dalai Lama called “Ethics for the New Millenium” (yes, it’s a few years old, but his words remain tirelessly relevent), in which he states “Based on the simple recognition that, just as I do, so do others desire to be happy and not to suffer, it will serve as a constant reminder against selfishness and partiality. It will remind us that if we reserve ethical conduct for those whom we feel close to, the danger is that we will neglect our responsibilities to those outside this circle.”
Seva is the art of compassion, and recognizing the sameness in all beings. The roots of the word are “Saha” which means “with that” and “Eva” which means “too”. In its entirety, Seva= “Together With”, reminding us that we are in this world surrounded by others who have the same wants and needs as us. This sparks the flame of compassion. Naturally our compassion spready easier to people who we feel comfortable with, and know what to expect in return. But this passage reminded me that we must care for all those whom we meet, not just the select few who we know well and already have an affinity for. Of course this is much easier said than done. And while I am writing about it during the holidays, which is a time when we naturally feel more called to give gifts, donate money, and volunteer, the Dalai Lama is not suggesting that we show compassion just when we feel like it or it’s convenient, but each and every day, in every encounter we have.
The reason for Seva goes back to the Buddhist idea of Karma, meaning our actions accumulate, and we get back what we give to the world. So if we are constantly giving love and spreading joy to others, we will eventually reap the benefits from this. But a key component to seva is that this work is not for your own gain. You must not give from a place of pride, or hoping for recognition or a reward. It must come from deep in your heart, and from the understanding that you are one with those you are helping, no better or worse.
This season, and all year long, keep in mind that all those you meet are weaving their way through life searching for the same goal: happiness. If we are able to treat others with a never-ending stream of compassion, we may inspire them to share their own gifts. Whether you volunteer at a soup kitchen, play with dogs at the pound, or simply give a homeless man a granola bar, those actions will accumulate and create a cycle of beautiful thoughts and further action. Start by donating money to a worthy cause if you feel that you don’t have time to give. See how this small gift can inspire you to invest time in the future. As you spread your circle of compassion to those outside of your close network, expect nothing, but trust that your actions are furthering the wellbeing of our web of humans, animals, and the planet. As Nischala Joy Devi says in “The Secret Power of Yoga”, “If we must reap what we sow, let us sow the seeds of tasty fruits.”