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  Volume 4 - Issue 11 NOVEMBER 2006


- An enlightening panel discussion, Part 2

This is the second part of the panel discussion held in the Brindavan campus of Swami’s Institute during the “Summer Course on Indian Culture and Spirituality” in May 2002. In the October issue, we had the first part of this riveting discussion. To read that again, click here. We continue from where we stopped in the previous issue.    


You Can Serve Wherever You Are and Whatever You Do

Prof. G Venkataraman: Talking of duty brings me to the next point. It relates to an observation that Bhagavan made. When Bhagavan visited Delhi in March of 1999, He gave three discourses there. In one of the discourses, where a lot of dignitaries and senior government officials were present, Swami said, “Don’t think service means taking a broom and sweeping the villages. It does not mean that.”

He made many qualifications and one of the things He said, which is very important, is if you do your duties in life to the station you are born properly, that is service. If you are a doctor, do your job properly, that is service. If you are a teacher, if you do your job properly, that is service. If you are a bureaucrat and you do your job properly, that is service.

I would like the panelists to comment upon this, particularly drawing upon their own experiences.

Sri Sanjay Sahani: When we finish our education and join various organizations, many students have reported that at least initially they have very little time to do service activities. When you are a fresher in an organization, a lot of work is thrust on you. In such a circumstance, how do we participate in service activities? In this context, this particular issue is relevant. Whatever is your duty, if you do it with all your heart and you do it as your offering to God, He will receive it and He will recognize it and He will appreciate it. I am reminded of a personal experience, in this context.

One of our students was very weak in a particular subject. The first examination results were out, he had not done well and the report went to his father and the father was naturally worried. He had a chance to meet Swami and he expressed his concern to Swami. “Swami, my son is very weak in such and such subject.” Swami said there is a teacher in that college who is teaching this particular subject that he will take care, there is nothing to worry about. The father told his son to go and tell the teacher that this is what Swami has said.

Now what the teacher was teaching was a pure academic subject, there was nothing spiritual about it. Obviously the attitude with which he was doing that work had caught the attention of Bhagavan and at an opportune moment He let it be known to that individual also that He had recognized it.

If work is to be transformed into worship, it can happen only as Swami said, “Do your duty sincerely.” There is no point in going outside and doing seva when in your own house you don’t do service to your own children or in the organization where you are your proper duty is not discharged to the best of your capacity. This is an aspect of service which we should not ignore. Thank you, sir.

Prof. GV: This is an important point, where social implications are not properly understood by most people including us. If people do their duty as they are supposed to do, half the problems would just disappear. Without spending a single extra paisa or borrowing from this bank or that bank, discharging the obligations, responsibilities is very important.

Prof. Kumar: This is an episode described by Bhagavan during His earlier discourses. Hanuman was instrumental in bringing Rama and Sita together. When he started right from the mountaintop, Hanuman was warming up taking three jumps. He was just warming himself up, as cricketers do before the match. Three jumps: what do they stand for? One jump indicates determination, the second jump declaration, the third jump start off. Harmony in thought, word and deed.

In service, there is nothing like telling today and delaying later. Bhagavan said on another occasion, one person announced he would give ten thousand rupees. When people came to him, he consulted his wife and brought it down to ten rupees. Service does not mean anything like postponement. Immediate action! That is determination, declaration and action. All the three go together, as it happened with Hanuman.

You wanted me to tell my own experience, which is not such a happy episode, but you would love to hear it. It was the time when Prashanti Nilayam Institute Campus was under construction. I was serving as the Zonal Convener of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organizations, Andhra Pradesh, at the time.

Some people said that Bhagavan will be visiting the area. I immediately went there and grabbed a crowbar a few minutes before Bhagavan’s arrival. I was coming straight from Venkatagiri. Swami stopped his car by my side and said:


“Appa, Emi nadisthunnarayya, Emi Natakamayya.” – “How nicely you are acting.”

“Enu Swami Ala antaru?” – “Why do you say that?”

“Nenu Osthunnanu, Nanu Aduthunnananu…Natakamanthena?” – “You are acting because I will be coming? It is not acting?...No!”

Service is not action – service is reality.

That was a hard lesson. I will also tell one more incident.


Service opportunities were given to all volunteers there and also to some of the devotees in Kodaikanal once. One devotee from Argentina by the name of Martin was doing service in his own way. He was just at work. Bhagavan stood by his side and this gentleman did not look at Him, whereas we stopped our work, waiting for Bhagavan, looking at him! Here is a man who very seriously got himself identified with the job on hand.

Swami said, “How are you?”

He said, “Swami, Swami!”

Swami said, “Where is the letter?”

That gentleman was carrying a letter for Bhagavan in his pocket while he was doing work at that time.

“Where is the letter?”

He cannot give Swami the letter because both his hands are totally soiled from digging in the ground. Do you know what he said?

“Swami, my hands are dirty.”

“Come on, pick up the letter”. Swami received the letter and said, “This is the fruit of service.”

We don’t have to hand over the letter. When we do His job, He receives your letter. Sai Ram.

Prof. Ramamurthy: Doing your duty is service, I don’t deny it. However, there are occasions when you have the options and opportunities to go beyond it. I remember my days when I was not a Sai devotee and I was engaged in teaching professional courses. If the boys do not pass in the first year, then they are left to themselves, no further instructions are given to them and they have to manage on their own.

I requested the authorities to provide accommodation so that their classes could be organized and revisions could be organized. They said “No, accommodation is not available.” I went to another school and got the headmaster to provide accommodation and had free classes for them.

A thought came that these are the ones who are left out. They don’t have a second chance of hearing and revising the lessons. We must provide them an opportunity. I was going beyond to what I am committed to do.

Small industrialists were there and we formed a small industrialists' management association so that they could be taught how to manage their affairs in finance and other areas, without fee; the programs were organized for them. This came spontaneously because by looking outside we have the means and we can provide the necessary assistance. When such opportunities come, we must grab them, meaning going beyond the committed duty of the job you have in the profession you have chosen.

There may be many such opportunities and other avenues. If you have the capability and skill, take those opportunities, and if you can, go beyond the committed duty for which you are earning a salary.

A Seeker of Liberation Must Serve

Prof. GV: When one said you are doing the duty, it does not mean you must only do the job properly for which you are paid. It means the whole gamut of the daily experience, one’s duty at home to parents, to children. This is something you should think about.

I would like to move on and raise some more points.

I would like to congratulate the students as they have been sending many questions and I am having a tough time listening to the panelists and sorting these out simultaneously. I will dispose the few simple questions I can handle. I will keep the tough ones for the panelists. That is a privilege I have.

One student asked, “Self service is the best service. Prayer is a service to the self. Is prayer itself adequate service?”

My answer is simple. Yes, prayer is a service to the self. Why don’t you see the same Self in the others and extend the scope of the prayer by doing them service also?

Now I would like to draw upon this question bank. One thing I would like to ask all of you gentlemen is to briefly tell us, “What do you feel is the importance given to seva in Indian spirituality and culture.”


Sri Sanjay Sahani: It is said Paropa kaarartham, idham shariram – The body is given only to serve others. Swami Vivekananda used to say, “If you cannot think of the world, at least think about your country; if you cannot think about your country, at least think about your community; if you cannot think about your community, at least think about your family; but for heaven’s sake do not think about yourself.”

There is a famous saying that Swami often quotes: “Na thapamsi na theerthani,” – Not by penance, nor by pilgrimage – “na shastram japa nahi” – not by the study of scriptures, nor by continuous chanting – “samsara sagarothare sajjanam, sevanam bina” – if you have the aspiration to cross the ocean of worldly existence, if you are a mumukshu – seeker of liberation – then you must serve.

Sajjana – Who is a sajjana? It is the good people. One of the important duties of the students was to serve the Guru. Guru is the repository of the knowledge and wisdom. By serving him, they gained the knowledge of the Guru. There is a famous episode in Shankara’s life. There was a disciple named Padmapada. All his fellow classmates used to do lot of study but this boy had no inclination for study, his only aspiration was to serve the Guru.

One day he had taken the clothes of his Guru and gone to the river to wash them. As luck would have it, the river suddenly started overflowing and he was surrounded by the waters. The Guru heard that the river was in spate and he called out to his disciple “Padmapada!” He was worried about him. When Padmapada heard the call, he took his Guru’s clothes on his head and started walking on the water. Wherever he put his step, there emerged a stone lotus and he was able to cross the river and reach the presence of the Guru.

When the Guru saw that, he was amazed by this. He said, “Padmapada, come here,” stretched out his hand and put it on the disciple’s head. Swami says the entire knowledge and wisdom which was gained by long and arduous study by other disciples was bestowed in an instant by the guru to that disciple.

It is a very long tradition that we have. Service is not new today; it is honed and sharpened in the Gurukula of earlier days. Even today, when Swami establishes His own Sai Educational Institutions, so much importance is given to service. Sai Ram.

Prof. GV: Thank you, Sanjay. You made an important point. Service today is viewed as a social concept which brings together a lot of people as an organization with a structure, funding, etc. Service was a concept built into the fabric of the individual’s daily life. For example, it is a tradition to offer cooked food to a crow. This is the service; we don’t merely serve fellow human beings but also fellow creatures, all living beings. We water the tulasi plant and so on. So I want you to get the ideal or lesson that service is not a new invention, it is an old tradition and has many dynamics. Please think about it.

Service and Namasmarana Go Together

Here is a question by a student and it is referred to you, Prof. Kumar.


“If service is considered most important, then why in the Kali Yuga is namasmarana [repeating the Name of the Lord] said to be the path for liberation and not service?” This is a tough one, handle it.


Prof. Kumar: Before I go straight away to the question, for academic interest, one more point. Sir has made a comment just now that service has become a matter of social element today. What did Bhagavan say about it? The social service, which has become a status symbol – how is it? It is a slow service or a show service. Social service is slow service or show service. But this real service is spiritual.

Now onto the question: in Kali Yuga namasmarana is said to be best, then how do you claim that service is important?

It was the time of construction of the Super Specialty Hospital in Prashanti Nilayam. We were asked to serve and lift some bricks and assist the masons there. Many of us were very busy because we were quite sure of a visit by Bhagavan. Everyone was working very hard. Swami came straight and stopped and called me.

“What are you people doing?”

“Swami, we are doing work.”

“Yes, yes I see.”

“Swami, what do you want us to do?”

“Emi atla ekkuuthunnaru? Naku panivaru lekhuna? Bhajan chesthu pani cheyandi.” – “Sing the glory, sing the bhajans as you do work.”

So service and sankeertana [singing the glory of the Lord] are not separate. Service and sankeertana go together. Pumping of the heart and breathing of the lungs go together, so also service and sankeertana go together. That is the answer to this question.

The Bliss of Service

Prof. GV: Thank you, thank you. There is no need to separate the heart from the lungs. Now, over to Sanjay. I am posing this question to you as it relates to something you said earlier. “What confidence do you have that the bliss which you enjoy while serving is the bliss of the God and not the bliss of your own momentary joy?”

Sri Sanjay Sahani: If a person has never tasted sweet, how do you explain what is sweetness to him? If he has had some sweet and you tell him, “This is mysoorpak [a delicacy] which you are going to get for lunch,” immediately one who has experienced this, his mouth starts watering. It is not possible to explain what sweetness is; you have to experience it, you have to taste it.

Point two: How do I know if it was true divine joy and not momentary happiness?

When you are able to transcend the senses, that is bliss. When it is within the realm of your senses, that is momentary happiness. There are certain questions which the heart alone can answer, the head has no intellectual ability to properly explain it, and this question is a matter of the heart, not of the head. You have to experience it. If you have experienced it even once in your life, you will know what it is.


Prof. GV: Thank you. Would you like to say something about it, Prof. Kumar?

Prof. Kumar: While in agreement with what Sri Sahani has said, I would like to add a simple supplement. Momentary joy – how do you know that? Momentary joy is born out of selfishness. That which is selfish gives you momentary joy. When you are selfless, that gives you bliss.

Prof. GV: Wonderful clarification. The point he is making is that which relates to the body and the world is ephemeral. It is momentary. Bliss is not like that. Even if it has passed, when you recall, you will experience the same bliss. Swami smiled at me ten years ago, and when I remember that I am happy now. I ate a mysoorpak ten years ago, it was very nice then but does not give me the same joy now. There is a real difference, it is not trivial.

Now to you Professor Ramamurthy. “Define prayer and service.”


Prof. Ramamurthy: Service is prayer in action. Prayer can be of many types. You can chant. I chant a number of Sanskrit slokas without knowing the meaning.

When I chant the message I want to convey to the Lord does it occur in my mind? Am I going along? That is a very important factor.

You make silent prayer to the Lord, particularly when you are in difficulty; the intense prayer that you do, the commitment in terms of the mind and heart that goes in the prayer that you are affecting is very important. That is the difference between chanting and praying.

When you believe that God is in man and when you are serving man, you are serving God, which translates itself into prayer. That is why it is said gnanis having attained that pinnacle still come back and do their duties, engage themselves in service so they can stand as models for others to follow. “My job is done. I have reached the absolute, there is no need to do anything.” That is not their stand.

Lord Krishna says, “I do service.” This is the role model that others should follow. So service to man can also evolve as a prayer. When you get the solution for others, solution comes for you also. That is what I would have to say.

Charity Versus Service

Prof. GV: In this explanation, you answered several questions that I have here. In the interest of time, I will take only “star questions” as they say in parliamentary language. This is a question for Sanjay Sahani. What is the difference between dhaana [charity] and service?

Sri Sanjay Sahani: Generally there is a feeling that to do service, you need money. It is far from true. To illustrate this point, let me narrate an incident which was depicted the other day by one of the groups of students on the orientation programs. It is a real life incident. There is a youngster who was in Ahmedabad when the riots broke out. To his utter horror, people whom he had known for years, his friends, his neighbors, who he called uncles, who were well-to-do, who were well-educated, left the home and joined the mob.

The mob is in a mad frenzy, in a killing spree. This youngster asked himself, “What should I do? What is my dharma?”

In this particular context and the depiction that was made brought out certain important facets of service.

The boy thought to himself, “First thing is not to join the mob. Individually they may be sane, but the mob as a whole has gone crazy. If I join the mob, I will lose my sanity. The minimum I can do is not to join the mob.”

First principle of service: “If you cannot help anybody, at least do not harm them.”

Second, he thought to himself, “I cannot prevent these riots from taking place, I cannot put out this raging fire that has swept our town. There are people who I know, who I have interacted with. Perhaps if I talk to them and convince them, at least those people will not resolve to arson.”

So he tried to convince them not to participate in the riots and was successful in that regard. To prevent people from doing evil is also service.

Third, he said to himself, “So many people are affected by the riots, how can I help them? Can I talk with them? Can I console them?”

So he went out and talked with some of the riot affected people and took some positive action. He didn’t require money to undertake these service activities. This is important.

Bhagavan has clear ideas on charity. He says when you find people in need, don’t give them money. Invariably, people misuse it.

Find what they need. Do they need clothes? Do they need food? Do they need medicines? Give it to them.


The gram [village] which is coming up next to Puttaparthy, Swami is setting aside funds for the education of those children who are going to be settled there. He does not want to put the money, thousands of rupees, in the hands of those people. No, He wants to put it in the banks. From the interest earned from the deposit, those children will be educated.

Charity is something that is miniscule. Also, the motive is very important. If you are going down the road and a beggar is nagging you and you give him some money, you may be indulging in charity but you are not doing service. You are trying to get away from the nagging beggar which is a fundamental difference between charity and service, which you should really understand. Sai Ram.

Prof. GV: Prof. Kumar, could you supplement please?


Prof. Kumar: Let me give clarity on charity. What is charity, dhaana? I have money, you do not have money, I give it to you, that is charity.

Charity is an action between the one who has and the one who has not. From a spiritual point of view, the money you have is not yours. The property you have is not yours, it is God’s gift, God’s grace. You are intelligent not because of your own buddhi, shakti, parakrama, [strength, intelligence, etc.] whatever it may be. The affluence, the aishwarya, that’s all God’s gift to you, it is not yours. You are passing on God’s property to another God.

Bhavathi bikshandhehi.” [ Give me alms, oh indweller] That’s what the beggar says. I am not asking the deha, that body - dehi, the Indweller, oh God in you, please serve me the food. That is the spiritual aspect. Sai ram.

Prof. GV: Wonderful elucidation of the service and the Indian tradition. A minor underscore of what is said: When you give charity, you give material that belongs to you, when you do service, you share the bliss. Bliss is God’s property. Like Swami gives prasadam and we go and give it around, that is what we spread around during service.

Why Help Others? – Our Debt to Society

This question is for Prof. Ramamurthy. The student says it was put to him by a well-to-do person. “If I have got everything in my life, I have earned it through my hard work. Why should I help others?”

This question has already been answered by Prof. Kumar. You are what you are because of the environment in which you have been allowed to come up. You might have put in your own effort, nobody denies it. The family that gives you full support, the neighborhood where the conditions were congenial. Society has facilitated. We require enormous facilities in terms of transportation, hospital, medical facilities, and so forth. Some agencies have made these things available for you.

Society has facilitated your development. You might not be aware of it, but you must be conscious about it. There is something you have to give back to the society. Swami emphasizes this point very often. There is not a question of my claiming that what I have done is my own making. I am a self-made man, you may say. You can’t make yourself unless you are allowed to be made to the stature that you are by those around you and with you. Since the conditions have been made possible for you to develop, it is essential that you have to pay back.

Prof. GV: Prof. Ramamurthy made a very important point: You are what you are because of the society. You just cannot write it away or wish it away. We don’t realize that.

Sometime ago, I was reading in one of the magazines devoted to business and commerce a statement made by an executive at Microsoft. You all know Microsoft is a huge company headed by Bill Gates. This man said we cannot wish away the society. We are here because of the society. It is society that runs the universities and schools. It is society that builds the roads, it is society that constructs airports, provides transportation, power, utilities. But for that, where would Microsoft be? We have a duty to the society and therefore Microsoft does as well.

I would now like to launch the landing formalities, because we have to wind up. I would like to start the closing formalities by requesting each of the panelists to give a one-minute summary of what transpired today. What is the message you wish us to carry home?

Service Leads to Humility

Sri Sanjay Sahani: To sum up, let me add a few words on service in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. The service activities in the Institute are primarily intended to instill in the students the dignity of labor.

When Gunal Mittal, the Swedish economist, visited India, he observed that “Indian education seems to instill a mentality that the young should not soil their hands.” The first objective of the Institute is to inculcate in one and all the dignity of labor.

Each one has their own talents and these talents gain expression in the various service activities of campus life.

Vidhya dhadhati vinayam – Education should confer humility. The more sincerely we participate in these activities, the more humble we become; once we become humble, we draw closer to God. These are some of the objectives of the service activities, social work activities, and self-reliance activities.


Prof. GV: Thank you, sir. Sanjay made an important point. Prayer may not make me humble; on the other hand it may make me more egoistic. Service will certainly make you humble and destroy your ego. Prof. Kumar, now.

Prof. Kumar: If you serve rich people, you are serving Lakshmi Narayana Seva; if you serve equals, you are serving Ashwatha Narayana Seva; if you serve poor people, it is Daridhra Narayana Seva. Narayana is common in all three.

The very title of this session: “Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.” If you don’t pray and if you merely serve it is karma, mechanical. If you serve with prayer, that is spiritual, karma yoga. Service and prayer should go hand in hand.

“Na sankalpantho samasthamu chadinchagalanu Itivari oka prameyamu akharaledu

Aiyna apadiki mee shakthi nimithami, mee bhakthi nimithamai

Nee mukthi nimithamai seva bhagyam andhisthunanu

Annaru Swami”

Which means, “Swami says: with my mere will I can accomplish everything. But I give you this opportunity to serve for your own welfare, your liberation, your devotion.”

For your mukthi (liberation), for your keerthi (reputation), service is an opportunity. Sai Ram.

Prof. GV: Prof. Kumar pointed out that even bhakti can be acquired through service. Don’t think bhakti is a shortcut.


Pray With All Your Heart, Serve With All Your Heart

Prof. Ramamurthy: I will only say, pray with all your heart and serve with all your heart.

Prof. GV: Pray with all your heart and serve with all your heart. Heart is the core of the individual and everything must flow from the heart. That is the message.

It is the moderator’s prerogative to unburden him of the wisdom. Before I do that, I would request the Vice Chancellor to share some of his thoughts as he listened and observed – just a couple of words of encouragement for the boys.

Vice Chancellor: Pranams at the Lotus Feet. I thank Prof. Venkatraman for this rare opportunity given to me. It was not my intention to speak and I can hardly add anything.

In our attempt to make the summer course as varied as possible and provide an opportunity for you to share your thoughts in a freer atmosphere and ask questions, we hit upon this idea of the panel discussion.

Thanks to the extremely professional manner in which it was conducted, you were able to raise a large number of questions and share many insights which could not have been possible in a brief period of time. Collapsing all of them in such a short span of time has enormous significance. That is what has been gained. I would wholly go along with what was observed towards the end of the session: Pray with all your heart, serve with all your heart. There can be nothing better than this. Sai Ram.

All Beings Serve and All Beings are Served

Prof. GV: Sai Ram, sir, and thank you very much, we really feel encouraged by your comments. It is now my duty to bring the curtain down. The question of service is closely related to the 4th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, where the Lord says this entire Universe is a cosmic gear chain.

Everybody serves and everybody gets served. Don’t forget that. If God has created ants, it is for a purpose. The ant serves you, though you may not know it. If God has created the crow, the crow serves us. Before our scavenging system came, the crow was nature’s scavenger. Crow serves us. That is why our ancients were so considerate, they used to give milk to the snakes and feed the crows. This is an aspect of our culture which I would like you to go back to and think about. It is closely related to the profound observation of Bhagavan in the 4th chapter. So if we are talking about service, let us not forget there is a cosmic setting.

Next point is related to the advocates of bhakti [devotion] who do not serve. Take for example, Shankara. Can you ever surpass the service that he did? Two thousand years ago, to go up and down across the country on foot to leave behind the legacy of the incredible treasures that will never get wiped out – is that not service? Yet, we never think of the karma yoga aspect of Shankara.

We must remember that service is rendered at three levels: to the body, to the mind and to the soul. The soul also needs service. Gnanis [men of wisdom] like Ramakrishna and Ramana in recent times also serve. Don’t let us imagine that they do nothing and they are parasites in society. In fact, they give the best service.

Nobody can give that service to the soul. Very few people are privileged to give service to the soul; they are the ones who are remembered throughout history. That is why Prof. Ramamurthy said, even a gnani has a duty of establishing himself as a role model, and when that fails, God Himself comes down. And you are hearing every day from Bhagavan how he brought the entire drama troupe, not just Rama, not just Lakshmana, but even characters whose names you have not heard of. It is very important.

One Can Always Do Service

Lastly, you can always do service. A blind man can do service, a deaf person can do service, even a person on his deathbed can do service. You can say I have gone out of my wits, but no! There is a famous story from the Crimean War, I believe.

A General was wounded and dying. His soldier was bringing him a glass of water. There was a soldier next to him who was also dying and crying, “Water, water.” The General said to his orderly, “Give him the water,” and told the soldier, “Thy need is greater than mine,” and gave up his life.

Even on your deathbed, you may not be able to do anything, but you can say Loka Samastas Sukhino Bhavantu [Let everybody, everywhere be happy]. What is preventing you from doing that? You can do that, I can do that. There is no moment when we cannot do service.

Service is very important and it becomes sweet when the sugar of divinity, namasmarana, is added to it. “Man mey ram Hath mey kam” – “Lord in the mind, work with the hand,” that is what Bhagavan says. You see our sevadals doing it. You go to Prashanti Nilayam, and all the time they will be moving food, trucks, or whatever it is, and they will be singing bhajans. There is no greater example.


Keep your eyes open. Look at Swami. We had no time to discuss the way Swami teaches lessons on service.

Open your eyes and see!

Open your mind and observe!

Open your heart and feel!

Pray with all your heart, serve with all your heart. God bless you. Jai Sai Ram.

– Heart2Heart Team

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Vol 4 Issue 11 - NOVEMBER 2006
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