Karma Yoga and Seva

Bindu Balakrishnan


Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi Devi*), launched another new scheme this month. Free health cards were distributed amongst the rural poor who live in the areas surrounding Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kochi, Kerala. These health cards will allow them to avail of medical services at AIMS for up to Rs. 10,000 per family each year at no cost to the card holders.


For the poorest of the poor who get barely any attention even at government hospitals, this comes as a huge blessing. AIMS was started only nine years ago in 1998 and yet, it has grown to become one of the most expansive and complex super-specialty hospitals in the country. In addition to all its medical achievements that have propelled it to the top, the other unique factor that sets it apart from most of the hospitals in the country is that it provides free surgical and post surgical services to the poor. These services are provided without compromising on the quality of medical care.


AIMS’ extensive infrastructure comprises 22 modern operating theatres, 1200 beds including 125 comprehensively-equipped intensive care beds, a reference diagnostic Clinical Laboratory including advanced Molecular Biology and Cytogenetics Labs, and a state of the art Diagnostic Imaging Center. Additionally, the academic wing of AIMS provides educational degrees in various disciplines including medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmaceutical sciences and paramedical services, at undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. (More info at http://www.aimshospital.org)


All of what the hospital owns today is the sum result of generous, selfless donations. Apart from the financial contributions that support the hospital, a huge health care provider like AIMS needs a variegated and competent work force to bring it to life. The specialized doctors and surgeons at the hospital are professionals who have quit very successful practices in America, Europe, Australia and India to embrace community service (seva). The administrative and technical staff comprises of people who share a similar story.


One might wonder what motivates these people to do what they do. On the surface, they seem no different from us. They probably had dreams, aspirations, ambitions and family responsibilities, like all of us do. What drove them to take such a dramatic step that involved altering their lifestyle and redefining their goals to make community service the primary objective of their life?


Amma’s teachings have inspired many people across the world and have kindled their interest in seva. Amma herself always leads through example and says that life takes on a special meaning when we dedicate it to a selfless cause. She instills the belief that acts of selfless service/seva are what make the world go round. Every pair of comforting hands, every shoulder provided for someone to cry on, every skill unhesitatingly given towards alleviating someone else’s pain are what matter most towards building a better world.


For many of us, this may not be the right time in our lives to drop what we are doing to go work for a cause full time. For us, Amma says that we should aspire to apply the concept of seva in our everyday lives. We could start by setting aside some time each week towards community service. If we look around carefully, there are many ways in which we can help and make a difference. Unhesitatingly choosing to dedicate a few precious hours to contribute to the community around us will go a long way.


On top of this, if we can change our attitude in a way  that each moment of our life becomes seva, wouldn’t that be precious? The question then would be, “How can we do that?” In the Bhagwad Gita, the concept of Karma Yoga explains how we can develop seva bhav.


Consider this. The Bhagwad Gita says that working – yet dedicating work to God without any expectations in return is karma yoga. The hardest part about bringing karma yoga to our work place is the sheer act of dedicating it to God. Don’t get me wrong, many of us dedicate our work and our very selves to God. Many of us have sung the Ganesh Aarti and mechanically repeated,


“Tan Man Dhan Sab Tera, (my body, my mind, my wealth is all yours)

Sab Kuch hai tera, Swami Sab Kuch Hai Tera,(everything is yours master, everything is yours)

Tera Tujhko Arpan, Tera Tujhko Arpan, (I give yours back to you-2)

Kya Laage Mera”.( Doing this doesnt cost me anything)


But, the moment things start going right (or wrong) we take the same tan, man and dhan right back from him! Each time we take matters into our own hands and manipulate a situation, we forget that we took back what didn’t belong to us in the first place (hadn’t we dedicated that to God when we sang the aarti?)


It is possible to slowly, yet surely make the switch from doing Karma to performing Karma as yoga. We only need to start with trying to remember that each thought, word and action is a dedication to God. I used to have a small card paper on which I had written that and propped up against my monitor. It worked as a prompt each time I dared to forget that. I have caught myself biting my tongue many a time, right as I was about to use a choice word, only because my eyes happened to fall on that card paper. On other occasions, I would write just the word “Remember” on card paper. Every time I saw the card, I remembered to think about God or remembered to dedicate my next action to him. It helped me in two ways – firstly, I was careful of what I was about to say/do since it was being dedicated to God, and secondly, it allowed me to remember that God - and not I - was in control.


Taking Karma Yoga a step further to encompass seva comes easily and naturally. As we internalize the concept that our every thought, word and action is dedicated to God, we automatically stop working for ourselves or other human beings and start working for God. Once we realize that our true boss is the Lord himself, we will only give everything we do our very best. And once we give everything we do our very best, we would also recognize every moment wherein we can make a contribution. While earlier we may have not recognized those situations or may have chosen to ignore them or thought that “I need not do this, it isn’t my job” or “Someone else will get it, I needn’t” or better still, “I don’t have to really help, people will get by”, we go that extra mile in each situation and we will do so happily. Seva Bhav will arise within each heart that is lit with the light that burns for God.


May we be inspired to love and serve!


(* Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is known more popularly as the Hugging Saint. She is known for her humanitarian activities all over the world. More information at http:www.amritapuri.org)

Bindu Balakrishnan was born in Kerala and grew up in Mumbai. After her graduation from college, she joined a consulting firm and was trained in marketing, human resources consulting and recruitment.

After her career successfully took off in consulting, she was hired by an American executive search firm to help build their business in India . She worked with the firm for five years in Mumbai and came to Atlanta on a transfer in 2000.


After working here for five years, she decided to quit the mainstream corporate world and involve herself with community service which she has always felt strongly about. As a volunteer with Mata Amritanandamayi Devi¢s group in Atlanta , Bindu is currently involved in community service work locally as well as with the group¢s main ashram in California .


She is married to Samir Kamat who is a consultant by profession. Her 9 year old son, Vajraang is in third grade.


Her hobbies include biking, playing chess, walking and music.

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