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- An enlightening panel discussion, Part 1

"Hands That Serve are Holier than Lips That Pray”. Sounds very simple, isn’t it? Yes, it is very pretty straightforward to understand and talk about but the real issues arise when one tries to practice this every day, in every situation, in every moment of ones life. Because that’s when one encounters situations when one is unable to decide “to do or not to do”. Given the great significance of this saying of Baba in one's daily life, especially for the youngsters, there was a panel discussion held in the Brindavan campus of Swami’s Institute during the “Summer Course On Indian Culture and Spirituality” in May 2002.

The discussion paneled by very eminent guests and staff of the Institute was a comprehensive elaboration on this subject. We have aired this panel discussion on Radio Sai on many occasions and many listeners have expressed their desire to have the text of the discussion emailed to them. For the benefit of those listeners and others who want guidance on this subject of “Service and Prayer”, we now bring the first part of this valuable discussion. The second part will be carried in the next issue of H2H on November 1st.


The Panelists

The moderator of the session was Prof. G. Venkataraman, eminent scientist and former Vice Chancellor of Swami’s Institute. The panel members were -

The Moderator’s Opening Remarks

Sai Ram. I extend a special welcome to our distinguished guests. You already heard about the theme of the panel discussion. It is bit of a tongue in cheek theme, if I might say so.

First, let me describe the way the panel discussion will be conducted. There will be several rounds. In the opening round, the panelists will make a brief opening statement relevant to the topic under discussion. After this I will ask the panelists specific questions in relation to the points they have made. This will then evolve into a dialogue followed by a general conversation. At that stage, I hope you will be sending us questions based on what you have heard; this is an important aspect of today’s exercise. We want you to ask questions. Write them down and they will be collected by volunteers and I will pose them to the panelists. At the end the panelists will make a one-minute summary statement and the discussion will be concluded with a brief summary by myself, the moderator.

The Panel Discussion Begins…


The theme for today is “Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.” To use the words of the distinguished speaker who gave us a very stimulating address, service can be a very important aspect of the psycho-social evolution of mankind. Let me tell you a brief story, and then the objectives.

The story is an incident that was narrated in the foyer of Prashanti Nilayam Campus by a teacher many years ago. It relates to Baba Amte, a well-known activist and social worker. In the early days of his life, he did a tremendous amount of work for the uplift of lepers. One day a person came and said, “You are doing so much for the lepers, you are such a good man. Why don’t you take five minutes off and go to the temple and offer prayers to Narayana?”

Baba Amte replied, “Why do I have to go to a temple to worship Narayana when Narayana is coming to me all the time and asking me to serve Him?” You may think it is a blasphemous remark, but I submit to you that it is a remark that ought to get us thinking. While the panel discussion is going on, I would like you to contemplate and ponder over the following questions.

What really is service?

When must service be done?

How exactly must service be rendered?

What are the different types of service that one could undertake?

How must service benefit others?

And last but not least, how must service benefit the doer?

When Swami gave the inaugural address at the time of the Sathya Sai Educational Conference, he started with five or six questions. In the same way I have posed before you the questions above.

With these remarks, I now invite the panelists to make their opening statement concerning today’s topic with the request that they be brief. May I request each panelist take 2.5 to 3 minutes?

I will start with our friend Sanjay Sahani, who has a unique experience. Why don’t you tell us something about the topic, Sanjay?

Prayer and Service

Sri Sanjay Sahani: Offering my loving pranams at Bhagavan’s Lotus Feet, respected fellow panel members, members of this august assembly.

Prayer and service are integral aspects of both the Sri Sathya Sai Organization and the Sai Educational Institutions. It is not our objective to discount the value of prayer, but to explore the significance of service. Then why this statement “Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.”

In this context, I am reminded of a graphic description Bhagavan gives for certain kinds of devotees of modern times. Let me give a verbal description to you of the incident that occurred one morning. A man was in his puja room, meditating on God: “OM Namashivaya, OM Namashivaya, OM Namashivaya…..Mannu ki ma, dhobi aaya? [ Has the washerman come?] OM Namashivaya, OM Namashivaya OM Namashivaya, Mannu ki ma, breakfast thayar he? [Is the breakfast ready?] OM Namashivaya, OM Namashivaya, OM Namashivaya.”

It is a vivid description that shows for the vast majority of people it is not possible to concentrate on God even for a few minutes. For such people not to be wasting their time in apparent spiritual activities service is the prescription.


“Serve others and you will experience spiritual joy easily, quickly.”

In our Indian culture it is said, Paropakararam idham shariram – The body is given to serve others. In the nine paths of devotion, Nava Vidha Bhakti, one of the forms of service is Pada Seva, worship of the Lotus Feet.

What is Pada Seva? The Purusha Sooktham says, “Padosaya vishwa bhuthani, thripathasyam rythm dhivi” – One portion of the Lord’s splendor is this manifested universe and three portions of it is unmanifested, transcendental.

The practical implication of worshipping the Feet is to serve mankind, to serve the world. Bhagavan says, “Dil mey Ram Hath mey Kam” – “Lord in the heart, work through the hands.” There are so many organizations, so many individuals, who do service. What is unique about Sai Service?

The uniqueness of Sai service is the spiritual attitude which we have to look at, sometime later. Sai Ram.

Prof. GV: Thank you Sanjay for that good opening. The most important point he made is we are not easily geared to bhakti (or devotion) the way it should be practiced. To start with, he said, service is a good starting point; you can add bhakti later on like sugar as you go along. He made other important statements, which I hope you will remember. Now to the one and only Anil Kumar, you have only three minutes.

Prof. Kumar: Sir, I make statements and I don’t dare to explain. Let me say what Bhagavan has to say on the matter. Here are three statements.

Statement 1:

Karmamuna puttunarudu – Man is born for actions

Karmamuni vruddhichandi chanun – In the field of action he is totally involved during his life sojourn and ultimately ends his life.

Karmame karanamu narunaruku sukha dhukhamulalo – Action is responsible both for bondage and liberation

Statement 2:

Karma margambu kali bata – The path of action is something like walking along the journey

Gnana margambu vimana yanamu – The path of knowledge is something like traveling by flight from one area to another

Bhakthi margambu bandi bata – The path of devotion is something like traveling in a bullock cart

Yoga mana jaladhi pai odakkade – Traveling by ship is yoga. This is what Bhagavan has described.

Statement 3:

Prayer is the root, service is the fruit. Sai Ram.

Service is Prayer in Action and Prayer is Communion with God

Prof. GV: Now Professor, why don’t you increase our appetite with what you have to say?

Prof. Ramamurthy: Pranams to the Lotus Feet of Bhagavan. Before I venture into this statement, there is an angle that has to be resolved. Service is prayer in action. Action is communion with God. In order that seva be properly done, it is essential that it should be done with love and humility. In-depth prayer and a constant prayerful attitude will fill you with love and humility and therefore for the service to be done properly, it must flow from God’s grace arising out of prayer. Only then will you be able to provide selfless, spontaneous service of the nature it deserves.

Unless you have connection to the powerhouse, you can’t have the electric light. So prayer leads you to God almighty, from where you get the faith and love, and with that armor you can render effective, fruitful service.

Man starts his spiritual life with an objective to see the external God in simple ways, at a primary level. Later on he tries to see God as Hrudayavasi, the Indweller, when he matures. And further on he sees God as pervading all, or omnipresence. At that stage he sees God in man. That is when service to man becomes service to God.

Mother Theresa has what she calls a business card which she gives to those who come to her:

'The fruit of faith is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is love.
The fruit of love is service.'

Swami has also mentioned that Lord Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita, any devotee has got to have these three attributes together. Tan mana – they always perceive the Lord and enjoy the bliss in His presence ever and keep Him in their mind; Tathbhakthi – intense devotion to the Lord; and Thathchidhi – you are willing to give dedicated selfless service.

Prayer, bhakti and devotion have to be combined. They are not mutually exclusive. Depending upon the nature of the individual and his temperament, the degree to which each can access one or the other will vary, but these options are available to all, and depending upon situations, they have to make the choice.

Prof. GV: Thank you, Prof. Ramamurthy. Just to remind everyone, service is prayer in action and prayer is communion with God. And if they go hand in hand, you can see God within you when you pray. You can see God in the outside world and you can see God inside when you pray. You have had three gems from our panelists. This is more than I bargained for.

The Bliss of Service

Here is a question: Sanjay, using an example, you said service helps us focus more easily on God than sitting in the puja room. Can you give me an example of how service helps you focus better on God, from your own example as a teacher and as a student?

Sri Sanjay Sahani: Who is God? God defined is God defied. One of the descriptions of God is Satchitananda [God is Bliss]. Service is a means to that bliss. You asked me to narrate a personal experience. In this context I am reminded of the first gram seva [service to villagers] we had two years ago. In the course of gram seva, teachers were assigned duties to go one day earlier to the villages, survey the villages, and decide on the logistics and come back with suggestions.


We went in search of a particular village near Puttaparthy and in the course of our exploration we discovered a small settlement of about 30 to 35 houses which was not even slated for our visit. We came back and reported to our elders. On that particular instance, we had planned to distribute clothes to the villages in accordance with the names given to us by the government officials, and this village was not even in the government roles.

We requested them, “If you can give us 35 saris and dhotis we can distribute them to the poor villagers.” They agreed. On that day, one of my teacher brothers requested of me, “Why don’t you personally distribute these clothes to the villagers?” Normally elders would do it, but he requested me to do it. So we called them from their huts and they were seated together, One by one, with innocence and humility, they received the clothes from us.

At that point in time I had a strange experience, it was like being uplifted from the ground floor of a building to the 25th floor. The joy that I experienced at that time cannot be explained by words. It is much more than a thousand rasagullas [a sweet delicacy] that we can have. That is experience. It was not even the clothes that we were distributing. Swami gave us all the material, but just by handing it over to those villagers, on that occasion, my mind was refusing to come down from the supernatural heights it had attained. When you experience that bliss, you know what God is, what Divinity is. Thank you, sir.

Prof. GV: Thank you Sanjay. You brought up an important point. Ultimately, what we have to do is experience bliss. When you experience bliss, you have experienced God.

Service offers an easy and a simple way of experiencing bliss. Experiencing bliss from meditation is more difficult and the point that Sanjay mentioned is that you can experience bliss through service. I can corroborate and verify the statement; I have seen thousands of our students experiencing this bliss.

Now, Prof. Kumar, more about the root and fruit, how sweet it is.

Prof. Anil Kumar: When I say the word root, I mean it is the foundation. The fruit cannot exist without the root underneath. It is the root that finds its fulfillment in the fruit. This root will supply all that spirit of humility, respect, reverence needed for fruition in the form of service. Prayer is the foundation that inculcates or supplies the spirit, the required background, reverence and respect which is needed for the service.

This is thriveni sangamam [confluence of the sacred three]. In other words, root is karma yoga, fruit is gnana yoga. In between, bhakti yoga. As I work with all humility, I will have the experience that gives the joy, what we call gnana (wisdom).

The first six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita is this: what we call karma shaka, bhakti shaka, gnana shaka. A kind of evolution, transition from the stage of action to devotion and on to wisdom. Finally, sir, one note I would like to share from the learned scholar this morning. What a wonderful statement: “The individual soul is connected to the universal soul only by means of service.” Sai Ram.

Humility – the Basis of Service

Prof. GV: Thank you, Prof. Kumar. I would like to make a brief comment on what you said for the benefit of all of us, particularly the students.

Prof. Anil Kumar said when you go out for service, you should not do so with a feeling of condescension, arrogance or pride or ego or anything like that. There must be reverence, humility, a sense of responsibility.

To underscore this, I would like to recall what happened at the time of the Gujarat earthquake. Bhagavan sent relief supplies to the people in Gujarat along with many people to distribute them and do the needful. Many NGOs from all over the world also sent relief supplies. Mr. Chiranjeevi Rao, though he was past 80, was personally sent by Swami to go all the way to Gujarat. That is the confidence Swami had in Mr. Chiranjeevi Rao. Mr. Rao told me when they arrived there, they saw the non-NGOs throwing the blankets and food from the trucks.

The people were saying, “Why do you do this? Don’t treat us like beggars. We are well-to-do people, we lost our house, don’t treat us like beggars!”

In contrast, our people served those in distress with great humility. I have a beautiful photograph of a sevadal combing the hair of a boy sitting in a chair. Where would you see this? I thought he was giving him a haircut. He was actually combing his hair.


Respect, humility, reverence, they are core to service. That is a wonderful point you brought.

Prof. Ramamurthy: In Buddhism, one said that if you want to lead others to salvation, you have to experience it first. Otherwise it will be the blind leading the blind. Another group of Bodhisattvas said, “Service will take you along that path, so the higher priority is to provide service at all costs.”

Again we must remember that while service will take us along the direction we deserve, the attitude becomes most important. Sanjay Sahani is deeply devoted to Bhagavan Baba and when he renders service, love and affection flow through him.

When an opportunity for service was given to him, he said, “This is the ultimate.” He can have a counterpart elsewhere, of comparable age, and position. Given the opportunity to provide a service of similar type, he might give it with an air of condescension, a sense of arrogance. It is essential that before we do service, ego is removed from your heart.

There are many institutions where individuals are found of various types. One is interested in his name being embossed as having been charitable, having made such and such contribution. Attitude is very important.

Prayer should not come from the lips; it should come from the heart. Service also has to flow from feelings arising from the heart. Therefore a sense of devotion becomes essential. Prayer is for the unmanifested. Service is for the manifested God.

Service gives you a direct response. When you render service, you find out whether the person is happy or not. A smile is the reward you get for service. Service provided with the right attitude is service to God. That is what I would like to say.

Chitta Shuddhi – Purifying Your Heart

Prof. GV: What the Professor is saying now is closely related to what our learned speaker said as Kshara and Akshara. Now we enter into round 3. I have a general question to all members of the panel:

We say we are interested in doing service. We are interested in motivating our students into doing service, not only here but in the future as well. Let us remember we didn’t invent service. Today there are hundreds of organizations performing service, we cannot discount it, they have good intentions, they are doing it with noble motives. Under the circumstances, is there any distinguishing feature between the services rendered by others and the service that we want our students and ourselves to do? If there is a difference, please tell us what it is.


Sri Sanjay Sahani: The fundamental difference between the service rendered by Sai students or Sai Organizations and the service rendered by others is the spiritual attitude. You may be familiar with the story of the stonecutters. A question was posed to one stonecutter, “Why are you cutting stones?” He said “I am earning my livelihood.” The same question was posed to another. He said, “I am cutting stones; I want to be the best stonecutter around.” He wanted professional excellence. When the third person was asked, he said, “I am building a church for my God.” See, that is a spiritual attitude.

Why is spiritual attitude important in service? When you do service, let us not labor under the illusion that there will not be difficulties, there will not be hardships, and there will not be obstacles. There will be difficulties. If you do not have a spiritual attitude it is very easy to lose one’s moorings, to lose interest, or to meander into pride and power. In this context, I am reminded of a dialogue from Dr. Fanibunda, a dentist from Bombay and ardent devotee of Bhagavan. He posed this question to Bhagavan:

“Swami, what is the role of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization in Your mission?”

To his utter amazement, Bhagavan said, “Nothing.”

It was so startling!

Dr. Fanibunda continued, “Swami…nothing?”

Swami confirmed, “Yes…nothing.”

Dr Fanibunda couldn’t help but ask this question: “Swami, then why is there such a huge organization setup?”

Swami explained, “It is only for your chitta shuddhi – purifying your heart.”

If we keep this in mind, we will never lose our moorings when we take up service activities, we will always remain on track on reaching the goal. This is the important and distinguishing feature.

Prof. GV: This is a very important factor. Someone asked Baba: “Swami, no matter how much we do, the problems of the world still remain.” Swami replied, “You are not serving in order to solve the problems, you are serving in order to make an offering to God and to improve yourself.” That is the sum and substance of what Sanjay said. We are not the NGOs, doing service with an attempt to provide relief and support and trying to solve a problem. We are not involved in problem solving. We do try to offer relief, and we have a higher spiritual objective.

I now request Prof. Anil Kumar, who has a distinguished track record in Andhra Pradesh in doing tremendous service. Drawing from your own experience, why don’t you tell us something unique about Sai seva?

Prof. Kumar: Kindly remember these points.

Point 1: You should have strong desire, intense desire to do service. That is called karma jignasa. You should know that this karma [service] is your dharma [duty]. Service is a duty. It is not an obligation; it is not anything remunerative, not for any selfish interest.

The next one is dharma jignasa. You should have the feeling that service is your duty. Karma jignasa, interested in the field of service. Dharma jignasa, accept it as a part of your duty and then it takes you to Brahman the divine, Brahma jignasa. Karma jignasa takes you to dharma jignasa. From dharma jignasa, the finale happens to be Brahma jignasa.

Point 2: We should know the modus operandi. How do we go about service, how do we do it? It is the marma [secret]. So karma, dharma, marma, Brahma, are the four steps. Marma means the technical aspects of the service. Like one cannot serve fruits to a diabetic patient. “I am serving you; I cannot give you mango fruits.” You are doing disservice. I cannot carry a packet of Pulla Reddy Sweets to a diabetic patient. I am not supposed to do it.

Doing Narayan seva, a sevadal volunteer was carrying a basket of sweets. He went on shouting “Laddu, laddu” [sweet]. He did not give a single laddu to a single person. There is no marma, there is no secret. He doesn’t know the procedural aspect of it, that is the next point. This karma, the service, what is its aim, what is its purpose? For chitta shuddhi – the purity of the heart.


Service elsewhere is for statistics, for data, for publicity, propaganda, advertisement, for enrolling more and more people, or for recognition. But here, karma is absolutely spiritual, for your own purification. Chitta shuddhi, the purity. Because this chitta shuddi gives you gnana shuddhi at the final stage. That is the third point.

Service is an Opportunity

The next point is this: we begin our service with a prayer as Sanjay said in the beginning. Grama seva started with a prayer at every center of its activity. To quote Bhagavan here, “Thasmai namaha karmane.” – “I bow down to my own actions.”

Service is not a duty, service is an opportunity. Service is a blessing, service is a benediction. Service to fellowmen is service unto myself. Thank you, sir.

Prof. GV: Prof. Ramamurthy, do you have anything to add?

Prof. Ramamurthy: When you talk of serving with a sense of duty, there is a limitation about it, there is an obligation to do the service. Service is beyond that. Service is done absolutely freely, voluntarily, unconditionally. Swami has also explained that desire for the result of action or expecting a return when you provide service amounts to rajoguna. Because there is no faida [result], let us desist from taking the action that is tamoguna. Engaging in seva without looking at the outcome, totally in a detached sense, is satvaguna. This distinction will also have to be combined.

Prof. GV: Thank you, Prof. Ramamurthy. I recall one thing that emerged from Prof. Anil Kumar, that service must be rendered as a duty, service must be seen as a dharma. Before I go to a related point about dharma, which is important, I would like to briefly narrate a story you may have heard.

Mother Theresa in Calcutta was saving a dying man from a gutter. A tourist was passing by and said, “Jeez, I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars. How come you’re doing it?”

Mother Theresa smiled and said, “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars either.”

The tourist said, “What? You won’t do it for a million dollars?”

Mother Theresa smiled and said, “No, I won’t do it for two million dollars.”

“But you are doing it!”

“It is different. I am doing it for God,” she said.


This conveys the point that Prof. Anil Kumar made. We see service as a duty. And when we do the duty, we are not doing it for someone else; we are doing it for God.

Dear Reader, is this presentation inspiring? In the next issue of H2H, we will have the second part of this presentation where the panelists will discuss issues like – Can we serve wherever we are and whatever we do? What is the best kind of service? Why should one part with one's hard earned money to help others? What is the ultimate aim of service? What does Swami say is the best approach to service? For answers to all these questions and more, look up this section in the next issue. Thank You.

– Heart2Heart Team

source: sairadio

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