Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why Seva is Simple

Jagdish Temple nearing sunset.  This Hindu Temple is basically right in the middle of the Old City, surrounded by a constant fury of people, Tuk-Tuks, cycles, and vendors.  
So, after one week of living at Seva Mandir there has been plenty to see, hear, eat, touch, taste, experience, and so much about which to think.  Some things stand up as exemplary, others lay deep down as questionable and unfortunate. Exemplary (and rightfully listed as first) -- the sharing-culture.  Unfortunate -- the disparity of resource access and understanding.  Exemplary -- palak paneer (hmm got to get that spinach and cheese!).  Unfortunate -- village children sustained by packaged "wafers" (chips, oh, not so different from my kids in SE Washington, DC).  Exemplary -- water filters and tanks.  Unfortunate -- unsanitary water wells and polluted rivers.  Exemplary -- WiFi.  Unfortunate -- isolated villages.  

But telling truths emerge from such words.  My descriptions of such observations are not helpful for the situation.  The positive and excited words are nice and enjoyable to share with others, while the saddened and hardened words are difficult.  My two months of exposure to these dichotomies -- as they appear to me -- will indelibly impact my outlook and the types of questions I pursue, but in the meantime they pull me in innumerable directions to synthesize and cope with all that is here.  I have always read and seen India as a land of mixes, but the spectrum I experience each day is almost incomprehensible.  When I spent time in Sri Lanka, it was a similar situation, but maybe because transit and most meals were provided, the day-to-day bustling exchange and interactions were lost on me.  As an immediate reaction to it all, I love the embrace and reception into everything.  Nothing can beat the sharing-culture, except maybe not sharing a 4-person space with 8.  The sharing-culture is a sign of trust, a sign of solidarity, a sign of acceptance.  Anything can be shared, just try it :)  But, simultaneously, it pains me that the sharing-culture I have been in also represents survival, struggle, and need.

Broken well in Dilwara. Yes, the water is that color #nofilter. 
My first day in Bichiwara, K told me that we would be going to a very poor area.  I told him I was ready and that I hoped my presence wouldn't offend anyone.  I wasn't shocked by the conditions we saw, but was very happy to experience K's final words, "The people may be poor materially, but they will treat you with the utmost rich kindness." In every community I have been in that finds itself at or below "poverty level," I have always had this experience.  This is where the sharing-culture means the most.  Nearly every family we met with that day brought us chai and sheepishly laughed with me as I tried out some Hindi.  Though we were far separated by words, we sat close with some tea.

The importance of taking you and myself back to that day in the village after my written introduction is to tie together the exemplary and the unfortunate.  After living the sharing-culture for one week among the villagers, the Udai townspeople, and the wonderful other volunteers, it is easy to see that it is a form of seva.  Remember, seva can mean service, but in tradition and especially in practice it takes on much more than what one might think of as service.  Seva embodies a selfless act, almost to an extent that there are not selves, per se, just an existing need or opportunity for good.  From what I understand of its philosophic roots, the service constitutes worship of the divine [my exposure has been in the Bhagavad Gita and some Jain agamas, if you want some places to look].  I haven't had conversation about the intention yet, but will be interested to compare responses about this between my rural friends and urban fiends.  My point in all this, though, is that this shared-culture as service, seva, transcends the differences of material wealth, it collapses the gaps between strangers, and creates a microcosm of community.

Community. That is why seva is simple.  It is doesn't come with posh and airs, it is one just living, being, sharing -- making it.

An unfinished rooftop in Dilwara, but what beautiful doorways.
I don't have ready solutions or thorough proposals for improvements or directing development, but there are many wonderful people, organizations, and projects working nonstop that do and I hope my time on the sanitation projects in the Kherwara block will be a piece.  I am grateful to be part of Seva Mandir's effort that has been in action for so long.     

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