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Way! No-Way! Wu Wei! The Paradox of “Seva Saves”

May 14, 2012

Paradox is an impossible concept, or at least a concept impossible to conceive. It is the pulsating heart of all our problems, and it smiles sardonically like Schrödinger’s cat at us in every conscious moment of our lives. In it, we find both joy and anxiety. It is the spirit of the spiritual journey, the warp and the woof of wu-wei. As it turns out, paradox is also the soul of true seva (service). The discovery of this paradox was the essential theme of Sat Yoga’s recent community retreat: “Seva Saves: The Path of Karma Yoga.”

What is seva? Seva is facilely defined as spiritual service. But, as Shunyamurti reminded us, there can be no true service as long as there is an “I” that believes it is doing service. But how does one reach the state of no-I? It has to be through an act of surrender. But the surrender itself cannot be made by a false I, but must be a divine act of grace! Consciousness can wander despairingly or happily through this mesmerizing strange loop. “In principle, we are already there. But we’re there when we are not there,” smiled Shunyamurti.

Gambhira expressed his appreciation for the subtle teachings in the retreat: “Even though the real effect of this retreat is hard to grasp by the mind, there is perception of the increase of understanding real Divine Service: a quantum leap on the pathless path of liberation from apparent bounded consciousness. From the voice of true gurus we listen to what our Heart is telling us deep within: that everything in the phenomenal plane is interconnected, empowered by the underlying eternal Presence of the One Supreme Self, and the ignorance of this is the illusion of being in bounded consciousness. Seva, or wu wei, as explained by Shunyamurti, is of great aid in the dissolving of the fragmented soul into trans-conceptual emptiness which leaves nothing behind.”

During the “Seva Saves” retreat, Shunyamurti explored the Taoist theory of wu-wei (effortless action) in depth, citing the Tao Te Ching, the teachings of Lao Tzu, the insights of the other great Taoist masters, along with commentaries by Confucius and the later Mohists. Wu-wei is the state in which the dancer becomes the dance, or when the music plays the band. And in this sense, it is  identical to the yogic practice of Karma Yoga: action without the sense of being a doer, or having any desire for a particular outcome.

“Every retreat has the magical effect of taking us deeper into our relationship with the Self through the lens of different practices (like alchemy or seva) and attitudes (gratitude, empowerment), shedding light where there has been darkness. For me, the focus of this retreat in particular went to the heart of the ego’s resistances to giving and serving which, as it turns out, are the key practices for dissolution of the false narcissistic persona. Shunyamurti’s mahavakyas (spiritual teachings) about the purifying nature of effortless action, wu wei, washed away any painful narratives often projected onto the act of service: ‘I should be doing a more important task. I am being taken advantage of. I am not important. I don’t know how to do it,’ revealing a natural tranquility of mind, fullness of heart, and clarity of connection to the Self—salvation through true seva,” remarked Saraswati.

Shunyamurti delineated three distinct types of seva: blood seva, water seva, and honey seva. The blood seva is a form of action that is done grudgingly. It is not viewed as an opportunity to restore the kingdom of heaven on earth, but as mere drudgery. “The moment seva becomes work,” said Shunyamurti, “we are lost.” Water seva is service done in a flowing way, but it does not contain the sweetness and the joy of the ultimate seva, the honey seva.

This concept of seva, of joyous union with God while the body is in action, has been at the heart of spiritual communities both in times of old, as well as recent times. In fact, the Shakers, a Christian sect that had a network of spiritual communities that sustained the soul of the culture of the United States for 200 years, had a saying that reflected their own view on seva: “Hands to work, hearts to God.”

“I cherished having the chance to both learn about and participate in seva at the Sat Yoga retreat. It was a virtuous circle in the sense that I could perform karma yoga duties, then hear a teaching reminding me of the exalted state that I must be in to engage in true seva, and then apply that during my next karma yoga opportunity. Contemplating the paradox of wu-wei, my mind was silent and joyful,” recalled one retreatant.

Yogiraj appraised the gems of wisdom that he discovered in his week at Arunachala: “The Seva Saves retreat was an inspiring reminder that the miraculous is indeed happening at Arunachala. I felt a great resonance with what Shunyamurti shared in the first morning’s teaching when he said that ‘we are never more active then when we are doing absolutely nothing.’  The extraordinary potential that lies dormant within each of us—if we can constantly renew the stillness and channel that energy into the present moment—is something to be ever mindful of. The ego-less service of the community, and the extraordinary results that divine love is yielding, need to be seen to be believed. This short but sweet time together reinforced the need for humility in service and was an excellent opportunity to remain vigilant in the surrender of the ego to the flow of the Lila. What has stuck with me most post-retreat is the importance of not being fragile and the incredible gift that we can give to ourselves through our openness to be corrected and to remain aligned with the Logos.”

The teachings and lessons learned from the retreat impacted the participants greatly:

“Through this retreat I have been blessed to come to a much deeper recognition of the supreme importance of seva in and as my spiritual practice. I have been forced to face the difficulties and obstacles to performing true service, and I have arrived at an understanding of how facing these challenges with detachment, wisdom, and love will be invaluable tools in my quest to growing into a perfect instrument of the Absolute,” commented Santosha.

Pilar revealed, “For me, this retreat was a wholesome experience, showing me how life can be when you are connected to God. Giving, receiving, and loving at every moment raises your frequency and makes you feel you are part of everything. That nourishes and makes you grow. Thanks for the experience. I would not change a bit of it.”

“This retreat impacted me on every level that I can perceive—and certainly beyond. It completely exceeded my expectations (I’m sure because I literally left all expectations at the entrance gate). We learned many useful things about being content while being of service. And I’m making use of what I learned at the ashram “out here.” I felt that I had returned home,” recalled Ashley from her encounter at Arunachala.

Grettel remarked, “I feel that I have grown a lot from this retreat. You can’t hear these teachings and stay indifferent—there’s just no way! The most remarkable aspects of the retreat were the teachings (and how they answered my questions without me even asking), the sangha working together, and the unconditional love that Shunyamurti transmits.”

For all of us who have been shipwrecked in the sea of egocentricity, egoless service may be our only “life-seva”! Through selfless service, the winds of false pride are taken out of the ego’s sails, and we learn to paddle our way out of the whirlpool that our lives had been caught in. After that, we realize that no paddling is necessary, only the surrender to the flow of life, drifting buoyantly above the waves of the petty concerns, unaffected by the ego’s tempest in a “me”-cup. The water itself transforms into divine honey. Then, upon reaching the yonder shore, we can finally finish the process of alchemy with the master awaiting us there.

The winds of change are in the air. Come and complete your transformational process at our next retreat, “Alchemy of the Atman.” We’ll see you there.


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