20 November 2013 - QA 1

Gurudev, what is the true meaning of seva? Does it mean to support someone, help them or give them some donation? And if our family opposes our doing seva, should we still continue to do seva, or instead serve our family alone and be happy with it?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:

Seva means to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return. It means to do without the desire of any reward in return.

You should do whatever you can do, whether it is by contributing your time, or by donating your money, or just by speaking about positive things. You should do seva in whatever way you can. But it does not mean that you do seva by putting your family members in trouble, or making them uncomfortable and going against their wishes. You should balance both intelligently. Do your Seva and also manage your family well.


Some people go do seva even when there is a family member at home who is ill and needs their care and support. This is not right. You should do seva with wisdom.


You might have heard this short story before. Once a lady asked a Christian priest, 'Father, what does service mean?' The priest replied, 'My dear, say you see an old lady trying to cross a busy road all by herself. Then helping her to cross the road safely is service'.

So when someone heard this, they went out on the streets to look for such people who were trying to cross the road. But they did something quite opposite. They would approach elderly people and ask them, ‘Do you wish to cross the street?’ Though they said, 'No', these people forcefully held their hands and took them to the other end of the road (Laughter). When the elderly person moved a little ahead, another person approached her and asked the same thing, ‘Do you wish to cross the street?’ When she again said ‘No’, he said, ‘No no! You have to cross the street. I wish to do some service’.

So the poor old lady was taken from one end of the road to the other and then again back to the same end. This happened some four or five times. She got frightened because of this. So, this is not seva.


Some people pledge themselves to serving the cows and taking care of them. But what they do is light some camphor and perform an Aarti (rotating an oil or camphor lamp around a deity or idol as an act of worship) before the cow! The cow gets so frightened seeing the flame. Is this what is meant by serving the cow? The poor cow gets so frightened. You should instead feed the cow well – that is its service.

Worshipping the cow with rituals is not seva. It is by taking care of the cow with love. But people often mix seva with many superstitious beliefs.


I have often told the Vedic pundits here when they perform the cow worship, not to take a flame near or in front of the cow, as it would get frightened seeing it. All these rituals are not necessary. In fact they are wrong also. But many people take a long time to understand that they are doing wrong. Over time, people make a habit out of such rituals and get entangled in it. We need to rise above all these things.


The other day, I saw that someone had dressed their dog in a jacket (Laughter). It is you who are fond of clothes, not the poor dog! (Laughter) Why trouble the poor animal with such things?

I have heard that nowadays there are beauty parlours and spas for dogs in some countries. Dogs are bathed and given massages there. And people do all this in spite of knowing that dogs are scared of water! (Laughter) The next time the dog is taken to a spa, it gets frightened even before getting inside. What is the need for the dog to go to the spa? Its master may be going to the spa frequently, but what is the point of taking the dog too? Such people are very foolish.


You know, some restaurants also serve a buffet for the dogs, where the dogs are served different dishes. Now what does the poor dog know about one dish from another (Laughter)? It will simply eat whatever is kept before it. The dog does not have the sense of filling up its bowl with a little bit of this dish, and a little bit of that dish. It will eat whatever it is served first, and will have its fill with that.

I tell you, these dogs belonging to rich families and households are so troubled! The stray dogs on the street are more free, and happy-go-lucky than them.


Someone once told me, ‘Gurudev, my dog is suffering from depression’.

I asked them, ‘How do you know that for certain?’

They said, ‘Gurudev, for many years we had no child in the house. After our child was born, this dog became jealous because we started loving the child more. So it became depressed. It started feeling jealousy like how siblings feel. So ever since then, our dog has been depressed’.
You know, they even took the dog to an animal psychologist! (Laughter) The psychologist examined the dog and prescribed some medicines for it. But even then, the master and his wife were not convinced. So they took the dog to a powerful psychic, who could find out what was going on in the dog’s mind. And that psychic placed some instrument on the dog’s body, and tried talking to its soul! (Laughter) All this happens in America also, and it has become very widespread today. There is no limit to the amount of foolishness in the world today.


In the same way, someone came to me and told that they have a parrot at home, who started suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome after a minor earthquake hit their town (Laughter). They thought that the parrot was suffering from the trauma and distress of the earthquake. I asked the person, ‘How do you know the parrot is suffering from stress?’

He said, ‘Gurudev, it is because ever since the earth quake happened, my parrot hangs upside down in its cage’ (Laughter)

So then I asked him, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

He said, ‘Gurudev, I am going to show him to the animal psychologist’.

My God! They do not even leave a poor parrot alone! Just imagine the plight of these animals. Some people like these might take their parrot or dog to the doctor for treatment, saying that ‘my pet is suffering from a vitamin B-12 deficiency’. Then the doctors would give different kinds of injections to the poor animal. This is all very strange.