Volume 7 - Issue 11
November 2009
Other Articles


By Dr. Shiva Shankar Sai

In August 2009, Prasanthi Nilayam witnessed a unique convention of brahmacharis and tyagajeevis held within the sacred precincts of the Yajur Mandir, Bhagavan Baba’s residence.

The event was organized for a specially select audience comprising of two groups. The first were the men alumni of the Sri Sathya Sai University currently serving in various institutions in Prashanthi Nilayam and Brindavan, Bhagavan Baba’s ashram in Bangalore. These gentlemen are associated with various Sai Institutions both in Puttaparthi and Bangalore. Married only to their spiritual missions, the path they have chosen is one of discipline, devotion and dedication.


The second group in this audience was a band of selfless workers known as the thayagajeevis. The thayagajeevis are men who have taken a sacred vow to selflessly serve the cause of a values-based education at the Sai Schools at Alike and Mudanahalli in the south Indian state of Karnataka.

This convention, organised under the divine direction and supervision of Bhagavan Baba, offered these brahmacharis and thyagajeevis a special dose of motivation and practical wisdom to pursue their path with heightened determination.

One of the speakers at this gathering was Dr. S. Siva Sankara Sai. An alumnus of the Sri Sathya Sai University, Dr. Sai now serves as the Warden of the Boys Hostel as well as the Head, Department of Physics, Sri Sathya Sai University, Prasanthi Nilayam campus.

Dr. Sai joined the Sri Sathya Sai College, Brindavan in 1976 for his Bachelor’s in Science. He was among the first batch of the Sai university students to join the M. Sc. Physics program. He went on to do his Ph. D. at the same University in Prashanthi Nilayam and Swami chose him to be the recipient of the best all round student gold medal in 1980.

At this special session he addressed his peers on the ‘Synthesis of Seva and Sadhana’ or ‘Service and Spiritual Discipline’. Here are select excerpts from his presentation.

Dr. Shiv Shankar Sai, Warden,
Sri Sathya Sai Senior Boys' Hostel

Humble pranams at Bhagavan’s Lotus Feet. Invoking His blessings and presence, I pray to Bhagavan to speak through me and do justice to the topic.

By virtue of our proximity to Bhagavan and through our stay in various Sai institutions we sometimes have the confusion: is sadhana or a specific spiritual discipline really necessary for us? We work in Bhagavan’s institutions – schools, colleges, hospitals, Central Trust and so on and have the opportunity of serving Bhagavan. We have enough work and we perform it as seva or spiritual service.

So is it necessary to do separate sadhana, is the confusion that some of us may have? The previous day, we heard about a young person in Muddenahalli who wanted to quit his job and go to the Himalayas to pursue his sadhana. We in Prasanthinilayam also know of the predicament of one of our elders who wanted to quit everything and go to the Himalayas for his personal sadhana. Swami convinced him against it and asked him to serve in the hostel instead. Let us recapitulate what Bhagavan has said about these two words – seva and sadhana and later try to affect a synthesis.

Service and Spiritual Discipline - Inextricably Intertwined

Bhagavan categorically emphasizes that what seva does to you is far more important than what seva you do.

Seva is not a compulsory duty or an uncomfortable obligation. Swami says it should happen naturally and spontaneously. It should occur naturally to us to serve others. He gives a Vedantic stamp to it and says Paropakaarardham idam sariram – this body is meant to help others.


It is the very purpose of this body. Hence seva should become a natural thing for us. Swami’s definition of seva is very generic and all encompassing. Best example of seva is Bhagavan Himself, not by the many projects that He is doing which are in any case models for the whole world to emulate, but by the wisdom He gives! Swami says by your thought and word too you can do seva.

In fact, I remember when Bhagavan asked us to introduce the prayer samastah lokah sukhino bhavanthu, he said when we pray for the whole world, it has immense effect on our minds and the atmosphere surrounding us.

Why should we do seva? Swami says chittasya suddhihi karmaha – it is to purify the mind that we should do seva; to remove the contamination. Swami says purity leads to unity, which in turn leads to divinity. So the seva that we do is to reach divinity through purity and unity.

The Service Provider is its Greatest Beneficiary

Bhagavan categorically emphasizes that what seva does to you is far more important than what seva you do. We serve in the canteen, wash plates, go for grama seva (rural outreach), etc. but the ultimate aim of seva is to get rid of the ego. It brings us to that elevated state of mind and increases our ability to love. This is very important as love is all encompassing; love is God and we have to live in love. He gives a lot of emphasis on love and says that true love transforms both the giver and the recipient.

What do we need in order to do seva? Money? Material? Of course, these are required but Bhagavan says these are not as important; instead what is required is a pure heart. A pure heart full of love is the highest qualification we need to do seva. He summarizes it by saying, to live is to love;
you live so that you may learn to love and you love so that you may learn to live.

helping hand

Supreme Lesson from Sai: Love for God, Fear of Sin and Morality in Society

I recall an incident, which happened about five years ago. We the teachers of Swami’s institutes have a unique privilege of seeking His blessings before the commencement of the academic session every year. That year we went to Brindavan and spent three days with Bhagavan. The day we were about to return, we prayed to Bhagavan to bless us and He mercifully called us inside to the first floor of Trayee Brindavan. All the teachers of Prasanthinilayam, Brindavan and Higher Secondary School were sitting in rows and Swami, after speaking to us, asked us if we had any doubts.

It was a wonderful session with lots of teachers clarifying their doubts. One of the respected teachers, vexed with the day to day problems of the hostel, asked Swami if we could do any sadhana given our already tight routine work? Swami spontaneously replied, “Serve the students, do seva to the students, that itself is your sadhana. Attain Me by serving the students - that is the message that Bhagavan gave us that day. 'Whatever responsibilities are given to you, discharge them as an offering to Me' - that itself is a sadhana.

shivashankar sai

As you may recall, this year (2009) on May 29 when we were seated inside the Prasanthi Mandir for blessings, though it initially appeared as if Bhagavan was not going to come near us, He eventually did and gave us the maha mantra for this year – Daiva preethi, papa bheethi, sangha neethi or ‘Love for God, Fear of Sin and Morality in Society’. He advised us to make students inculcate this maha mantra (supreme wisdom) as part of their being.

Sadhana: Transformation that Leads to Fulfillment

Bhagavan beautifully says sadhana removes our vasanas or tendencies (carried from many births)! It helps us to have trikarana suddhi – the unity of thought, word and deed.

Now I will switch to the second part – sadhana. As Bhagavan has said seva itself is sadhana. So does it mean separate sadhana is not required at all? Is doing seva enough in itself? The root of the Sanskrit word sadhana is ‘sad’ which means ‘accomplished’, ‘to succeed’. So the power of sadhana is to transform and bring one to the level of fulfillment. Sadhana is a spiritual practice that one needs to do so that we are in tune with the Lord. Sadhana is devoting time and energy to establish communion with the Lord who is inside us. The ultimate aim of any of the spiritual practices is to establish a communion or hotline with the Lord so that we see Him in everything and hear Him everywhere.

Sadhana Promotes an Attitude of Servitude

Sadhana provides the necessary attitude to do seva. The correct attitude to do seva is provided by sadhana. It helps us to derive the complete benefit of the seva that we do.

Regular sadhana, Bhagavan says, helps us to derive an inner joy and remove selfishness and desires. Bhagavan beautifully says sadhana removes our vasanas or tendencies (carried from many births)! It helps us to have trikarana suddhi – the unity of thought, word and deed. So how do we carry out our sadhana?

Swami gives us the prescription. He says the simplest way to do sadhana is to join sathsang or good company. Reading Sai literature is a great way to have sathsang. Sai literature is so enormous – Bhagavan has spoken on every conceivable topic. So much of literature is available that we should learn to read, assimilate and imbibe. Listening to Bhagavan’s discourses, listening to elders, singing bhajans, prayers, etc. are all part of sadhana. Bhagavan doesn’t prescribe severe austerities. He always asks us to take the middle path and speaks about hitha and mitha. Hithamga undali, mithanga undali, meaning, you should be pleasant, you should be good and moderate. This is what He prescribes. Especially for those of us in Bhagavan’s institutions, it is easier to do sadhana, as seva and sadhana are integrated for us in the daily curriculum itself. And if we have to teach the students and encourage them to do sadhana, it is obvious that we have to follow it first.

ABCD of Transformation

What is the measure of the transformation that occurs by doing sadhana? Having seen what is Sadhana and how we can achieve it, what is the measure of Sadhana, the metric – as we are all used to quantitative measurements? What is the measure of improvement in Sadhana? As mentioned, beautifully, in the book Helpline, the ABCD of transformation is the measure of our inner transformation. The ABCD are:

shivshankar sai

A – Awareness of inner joy. If we are doing sadhana it should result in the awareness of the inner joy.

B – Balance of Mind. How balanced we are during the thick and thin of our lives on earth; how calmly can we take the successes and failures in our lives.

C – Ceiling on desires. Control of our senses and mind is an acid test of our progress.

D – Dedication to serve others.

These are some of the indicators, which tell you about your progress in sadhana.

Follow the Perfect Role Model - Bhagavan

The role model for us in this path of sadhana is undoubtedly Bhagavan. He is totally beyond sadhana itself.


This reminds me of an incident which happened when I was studying at Brindavan. Once, Swami was getting into the car after a public discourse. And as all of us know, His magnetic personality is such that everyone tries to be as close to Him as possible, no matter where He goes. So there was this huge crowd. But unlike now, those days the volunteers used to open the door of the car and close it after Swami sat in the car. In order to stop the surging crowds, the volunteer closed the door of the car without noticing that Swami’s little toe was still outside and thus it got jammed.

Bhagavan did not show any sign of pain; He blessed everyone outside with His Abhaya Hastam (two hands raised in benediction) and then asked the driver to start. After sometime, Swami asked the driver to stop when nobody was there, got the door opened and then took his leg in. Some of us had seen Swami’s toe, it was crushed!

But He bore all the pain for so long just to save the volunteer from the torment of guilt. For Him, His devotee is more important than His own body.

Seva and Sadhana are Inextricably Bound

Having seen the twin aspects of seva and sadhana, let us consider the synthesis of these. Seva without sadhana results in bondage and sadhana without seva is a burden. Although seva itself is sadhana, seva is not a substitute for sadhana. We need to do sadhana to cultivate the spirit of seva. Sadhana should fill us with an urge to serve others; it should fill us with the divine essence of life, which is Love. The attitude of love can only be derived from the inner satisfaction.

Our Organization is called Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization. Bhagavan has named it so because He gives utmost importance to Seva. It is not just the help we render to the downtrodden in the name of social service or welfare schemes. Swami reminds us often that the Sai Organisation should render service not only to the downtrodden but should do so selflessly to anyone in need. It does not distinguish between rich and poor.

shivshankar sai

Spirit of Servitude Should Guide Service Initiatives

We need to integrate seva and sadhana into a spirit of worship of the divine and offer it to the divine. We have this unique privilege of integrating seva and sadhana automatically in our daily routine under the umbrella of Bhagavan. This is what Bhagavan calls as Karma Yoga or the Yoga of Action.

Swami does not expect us to give up our work and devote ourselves completely to sadhana. He says, Jnana or wisdom is the ultimate goal of human life and is the culmination of all activities. Therefore, we should do seva – which is the Karma marga – through Bhakti (devotion) to attain Jnana – the ultimate wisdom to merge in Him. Swami says, work hard and share your gains with others. Work intelligently, devotedly and do every act as an offering to Him. The karma or sadhana will wash away any harmful impressions left on our mind. Seva and sadhana are complimentary to each other. Karma itself done with the right attitude becomes sadhana and our very life becomes a Karma Yoga. “Head in the forest and hands in the society” is Bhagavan’s dictum to all of us.

The Sacred Mahavakyas - Lighthouses for Life

Swami beautifully explains the five mahavakyas taken from the Bhagawad Gita and the Upanishads. These are the five different aspects of Karma Yoga.


The first is Yogah Karmasu Kousalam” – Dexterity or excellence in action is yoga. Competence and performance of one’s duties is the first step in Karma Yoga. We achieve competence by developing a liking to what we ought to do. Swami says real happiness lies in liking what one has to do and not in doing what one likes to do.

The second one is “Samatwam Yogamuchyate” – The balance of mind is Yoga.

The third is “Karmanyevaadhikaaraste, Maa Phaleshu kadachana” – You have the right to act but none whatsoever to expect a result of the action. We should offer it to Him. What one has done is bound to come back - but one should not expect it. The Lord knows when to give, what to give and how much.

The fourth is “Sarva Karma Bhagavat-preetyardham” – Do every action as an offering to Bhagavan and to please Him. This elevates or transforms work into worship.

The fifth and the last one is “Nimittha Maatram Bhava Savyasaachi” – By this the Lord intends to tell Arjuna that he is a mere instrument in His hands. It is He who acts through us. Having this humility, awareness and the understanding is what is termed as Karma Yoga.

I would like to summarize by saying that seva and sadhana are complimentary and not contradictory: Seva without Sadhana is bondage and Sadhana without Seva is a burden. Sadhana helps us to develop the right attitude to do seva and that in turn helps us to purify the mind to do sadhana. I pray to Bhagavan to confer on us the understanding of seva and sadhana and the power to implement these in our daily lives so that we become fitting instruments in His divine mission.

Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories from devotees who have been touched by His Love? Please write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.

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