Service Brings Joy

 T W E N T Y

Service Brings Joy

In Sanskrit, service is called seva. Adding a spiritual element to our seva can make it more fulfilling.

‘The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.’

—Muhammad Ali

The hospital was noisy. Doctors in white coats walked around with a sense of confidence, and rightly so. Their actions could mean the difference between life and death, between grieving or happy homes, between dreams achieved or buried for good. They had the power to make a difference. Harry rushed to the reception. ‘How can I help?’ the receptionist smiled at Harry, immune to the urgency in his manner. She did a double take when she saw me, interested in my unusual apparel.

  ‘We need the room number for Lalita . . .’ Harry said, but was interrupted by the receptionist answering the phone.

  ‘Just a moment, sir . . . “Hospital, how can I help you?”’ The receptionist had tuned out to answer her phone. Harry groaned, clenched his teeth, tapped his fingers on the counter and gave the receptionist a deadly stare. He spoke louder, ‘I need the room number for Lalita . . .’ The receptionist took no notice of Harry’s demeanour. She swivelled her chair slightly and twirled the winding cord of the phone around her finger.

  ‘Iyer. Heart rate is stable, pyrexia, emesis since arrival,’ a young doctor said to an older one, as he followed him. The older doctor looked important and commanded the respect of ten, who seemed like students following him. They were captivated by every word he spoke. Harry overheard his surname and barged into the intimate circle of medical students with their tutor.

  ‘Did you say Iyer?’ Harry asked the student. The student looked at his tutor, unsure of how to reply.

  ‘We cannot reveal any confidential patient information to you, sir,’ the student said cautiously.

  ‘I am Harry Iyer, husband of Lalita Iyer. When you said Iyer, did you mean her? Lalita Iyer? Where is she?’ Harry said, ignoring the student and directing his question at their senior.

  ‘Mr Iyer?’ the tutor said. ‘Hello, my name is Dr Harshil Shah, we spoke on the phone earlier.’ Harry shook the doctor’s hand with both of his.

  ‘Where is Lalita? What is going on?’ he said, still holding the doctor’s hand, knowing well that Dr Shah was his lifeline to his wife.

  ‘Please follow me, sir. We are just running some tests,’ Dr Shah replied. He had not taken much notice of me yet. He sped away up some stairs, getting handed medical charts by nurses wearing white nursing caps along the way. Harry chased the doctor. The medical students chased Harry, excited as if they were now seeing something of value, and I chased the whole group knowing that I had to be there for my friend.

  Harry and I were both stationed in the first-floor waiting area by the doctor who said we may have to wait for some time before we could see Lalita. He confirmed that she was on this floor and then disappeared just as fast with his band of trainees. We did not have much idea of what was going on. Harry closed his eyes and put his hands together. It looked as though he was praying, but I was not sure. His face was solemn. One after another, the doctors were calling in people for either an appointment or to see their loved ones. It was only after thirty minutes had passed that Dr Shah called for Harry. ‘Harry Iyer, Lalita is now well enough to see you.’

  ‘What was the problem?’ Harry said whilst walking over to him. ‘Will she be okay? Where is she?’ He went down the corridor into a room where his wife was.

  As I sat in the waiting area, fearing the worst, I looked around, watching the doctors interacting with their patients—with love and compassion—and I thought about the instinct that drives a spiritualist to act. It is one of seva or selfless service. My mind went back in time to the start of February, to the hospital that our community runs on Mira Road, Mumbai, and the values that the doctors working there have been inspired by. Many of them were stationed in the sacred land of Barsana, giving their time, skills and hearts to serve those who needed it the most in their annual free Dental and Eye Camp. I remembered the stories one of my friends from London, Vinay Raniga, a dental student himself at the time, told me about the camp.

Devotion at the Dental Camp

The land of Barsana, two hours’ drive south of New Delhi, is sacred to those who practise bhakti yoga. It is home to people who have been brought up to make spirituality their life’s focus, to imbibe the qualities of selflessness and loving service. However, these very people do not have the best healthcare systems. Many of them need glasses as they cannot see, or need dental treatment as they cannot eat.

  The Barsana Dental and Eye Camp provides relief for thousands of villagers in the area at least once a year, and Vinay had come to help out at the dental camp.

  The dental camp turns an ashram building a few minutes’ walk from the famous Sriji temple into a pop-up dental clinic for the week. Weeks before the camp, a few of the volunteers go around to the neighbouring villages, advertising the opportunity the villagers have to improve their health. The camp begins at eight in the morning, but by 4 a.m., there is already a queue of hundreds waiting for their chance to get their problems addressed.

  As the camp starts, a few dentists do a brief assessment of patients, giving them a signed sheet of the treatment they need. Patients are sent to departments accordingly. Some need fillings, others need teeth extracted and a few need a full set of upper and lower dentures.

  Vinay told me, ‘I was helping in the area that deals with making these dentures for elderly patients. After begging and convincing my professors in London, I had been given permission to take some time out from my course to attend the camp. Up until this point, I had never even made a denture, let alone the forty we were about to make in a week. I remember thinking that I wanted to match these colleagues, not just in the skill they had in dentistry, but the love they displayed to these materially poverty-stricken people who could give them nothing, but their heartfelt blessings.

  ‘I was guided by the qualified dentists on all the procedures, and was slightly embarrassed that I did not know the basic terms they were explaining. After a few practice sessions, I decided that I wanted to complete a set of dentures myself for a patient, working on all the stages from start to finish. That was when I met Nangu,’ Vinay continued.

  ‘Nangu was a seventy-two-year-old woman born and brought up in Barsana. She had never left the village, and lived a simple life tending to her cows and farm. Whenever she came to me she wore a modest purple sari, using a part of it to cover her head, and a tattered orange sweater. She lived in poverty, in a simple thatched house, which had few possessions, but it was obvious that she possessed a deeper wealth within her in the form of love for her goddess Srimati Radharani.

  ‘“I am a dental student from London,” I said to her in my broken Hindi. “I am here to make you a set of dentures. Would you like that?”

  ‘She nodded and spoke about her problems in having to eat without any teeth. You could see the appreciation in her eyes and what having teeth would mean to her. She was radiant and showered me with her grandmotherly love. Because we had lab technicians on site, a process that would normally take months was shortened to just three days. On the third day, it was time to hand the dentures over to Nangu.

   ‘As she walked back into the room, you could feel the anticipation within her. It was like a child excited to open their presents at Christmas or Diwali. I tried the upper denture in her mouth first and then the lower. I was heartbroken at what I saw. Her lower teeth were in front of her upper teeth. “What shall I do?” I pestered one of the other senior dentists who was more experienced than I.

  ‘She is posturing forward. You need to let her get used to it,’ he said calmly whilst treating his own patient. After years of not having teeth, Nangu had got used to pushing her lower jaw forward to eat, but that could be corrected by helping her practise putting it in the right place.

  Thank God! I thought. Although this was volunteering and service, and there was no monetary pressure involved, I still felt great commitment to make sure Nangu got a good set of teeth. All I could think was, this woman is like my very own grandmother!

  ‘After some time, her lower jaw fell into place and the dentures came together,’ Vinay said. ‘I held her hand to help her get up from the garden chair she was sitting on. Again, this was a makeshift dental clinic! I slowly helped her get to a mirror that was hanging in the open courtyard next to the room. I told her to close her eyes as we walked. As she stood in front of the mirror, I told her to open them. For the first time in fifteen years she was seeing shiny new teeth. She tapped her teeth together, cautiously trying to get used to her bite. Tears were streaming down her face as she moved closer to the mirror, wiping away some of the dust that covered it. I could not help but cry too. She sat on the stairs next to the mirror and I squatted down next to her. She stroked my hair with affection and I folded my hands to receive her blessings. “What does this mean to you?” I asked her. “It means that I can eat and chew properly. It means that my stomach can be filled at night,” she said as she smiled and her eyes glistened. It was a heart-touching moment for me, to know that my service had added some value to her life.’


So what is driving Vinay to serve? What is driving all the people who apply spirituality in their life to help others? When we connect to ourselves and with the divine, our understanding, values and paradigms transform. When we practise spirituality sincerely, we obtain a higher perspective of life. We understand that living for ourselves has the potential to satisfy the mind and senses, but not the deep core of our hearts.

  When we live superficial lives, dedicated to serving ourselves, we are like surfers: riding the waves, but not seeing what is beneath them. We may satisfy our own needs and concerns by doing so, but we will never be truly fulfilled. However, when we practise spirituality, we become like divers: we submerge ourselves underneath the turbulent waves to find a pleasure much deeper, beyond hedonistic ideals. That profound joy is only possible when one feels love to serve others. And how is that love maintained? Through being connected to God through spirituality. Love for God is composed of three things: Right Action: We must express our love through the correct action. We must behave and act in a way that is in line with spiritual principles.

  • Right Intention: Our intentions must be selfless. When we want something for ourselves in return for our service, such as prestige or money, our intentions become tainted. Just as distilling water multiple times makes it cleaner, continuously checking our intentions makes them purer.
  • Right Mood: We must serve in a way that is favourable for our growth. Serving because ‘we have to’ or because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ is good, but it’s not the same as serving from the depths of our hearts.

When that love is within our hearts, it erupts and naturally wants to be given to others. I once heard a saint cite the example of a bumblebee.

  ‘Once a bumblebee was flying and saw an open jar of honey. Out of excitement, it decided to dive into the jar, completely covering itself with the delicious, sticky liquid. As it flew out of the jar, it rushed to tell all the other bumblebees what had happened, and in the process, a few drops of honey started flying out of its mouth at all the other bees. For all its friends, this was incredible. They were getting honey just because of the enthusiasm and actions of that one bee. Similarly, when we have deep love for God, it becomes natural for us to want to share that with everyone. That is because a person connected to God has a compassionate and empathetic heart. The true symptom of someone who is experiencing genuine love for God is that they experience compassion and the pain of the suffering that people go through in this world,’ the saint said.

  Likewise, Jesus Christ said in the Bible, ‘The highest commandment is to love thy God with all thy soul and all thy might and all thy heart.’ He then said that because of following the highest commandment of loving God we begin to ‘love thy neighbour as thy self’. This means when we become spiritually minded and experience the love of God, we feel compassion for the pain of others. In Sanskrit it is called para dukha dukhi, one who feels pain in the pain of others. In the modern world, people sometimes become para dukha sukhi,where they take pleasure in seeing the pain of others. However, true compassion stems from spirituality.

  I could understand the pain that Harry was feeling, but I was not at the level of para dukha dukhi, one who truly feels the pain others are going through. Still, I endeavoured to comfort him and give him words of solace all through this stressful time. Several tense minutes passed as I sat in the waiting area. I was thinking about the worst that could happen and prayed that my mind’s conjecture be incorrect.

  ‘Mr Das? Mr Gaur Gopal Das?’ Dr Shah said. ‘Harry and Lalita would like to see you in their room.’ I gulped, and wrapped my brown cotton shawl around myself, either to protect me from the heavy air-conditioning or subconsciously from the news I was about to hear. I walked down the gloomy corridor to room 116, knocked on the door and turned its handle slowly.

  Lalita was lying down on the bed and Harry was by her side, holding her hand whilst sitting on a small stool. The nurse in the room excused herself so that they could share their news. I stood awkwardly in front of them.

  ‘We have some news to share with you,’ Harry said. I was glad I was in a hospital, because my heart was pumping blood around my body faster than I could think. ‘But it’s not what you think.’

  He let Lalita take over. ‘Harry and I have been trying for a child for a long time, and today I got the news that the intense morning-sickness I was suffering from is actually a good sign. Harry and I are expecting a child!’

  I breathed a huge sigh of relief and joined Harry, his mother and Lalita, congratulating them profusely, as they smiled and laughed uncontrollably.

  The hospital, which had seemed dark and dreary just moments ago—a place of death and disease—was now transformed into a place which was offering new life.

  The flavour of the joy I tasted in the hospital room that day was out of this world. It was unmatchable—second, perhaps, only to one other: Lalita’s incredible sambar.


  • In Sanskrit, service is called seva. Adding a spiritual element to our seva can make it more fulfilling. Based on our connection to God, we utilize our skills and potential to serve others. We learnt about Vinay at the Barsana Dental Camp.
  • From spiritual practice comes seva: ‘The true symptom of someone who is experiencing genuine love for God is that they experience compassion and pain for the suffering that people go through in this world.’
  • We have to do the right action, with the right intention and in the right mood for it to be classed as spiritual.

Author’s Note

On 9 May 2017, I received a call from Ms Vaishali Mathur, the executive editor and head of rights and language publishing at Penguin Random House India. She had seen a couple of my videos online and wanted to explore the possibility of me writing a book with them. It sounded exciting to me! I had always believed in trying to make a difference in the lives of people by helping them to redefine their thinking. I had been trying to do that through my speaking and lecturing for over two decades, and now here was a golden opportunity to take my purpose to the next level.

Naturally, I wanted to say yes straight away, but there was something within me holding me back. I gave her a typical answer, ‘Let’s see. I’ll get back to you soon,’ which, in hindsight, must have been frustrating for her. My reservation came from the fact that I am not a writer. Apart from a couple of articles and poems I had written years ago, the pen was used for signing managerial documents and the keyboard for my diary and records.

A few days later, after the excitement settled and I began to give the offer some serious thought, I received a call from an old friend in London, Sruti Dharma Das. He had been my well-wisher long before my online presence grew.

Out of the blue, he was now calling me to remind me that I needed to write a book. ‘That is the next step for you,’ he said. ‘A speaker should have a book to complement his talks, because that will truly benefit his listeners. They can then take your talk home with them! And writing should not be too hard for someone who regularly speaks, anyway.’ I felt flattered by his kind words.

A lack of experience in writing wasn’t the only issue for me. I travel extensively to speak around the world. I knew that writing a book would need focused time, grounding me in one location to think deeply about what I wanted to offer to the world. However, this would mean cancelling a lot of speaking engagements, letting many people down. It was then, as I scrolled online, that I came across a quote by Sir Richard Branson, ‘If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, and you are not sure you can do it, say YES, then learn how to do it later.’ That was a sign; I couldn’t delay my response any further. I called Ms Mathur to confirm her offer: I was going to try and be an author.

As you will find out from this book, I can wake up in one city and go to sleep in another. Travelling to share my purpose has become a part of who I am. As summer turned to autumn and the monsoons began to settle, the nagging thought of writing the book became stronger. It was in December of that year that I took the month off to meditate and look deeper into the lessons I had learnt throughout my life.

In doing so, many stories and principles I learnt over the years were put on paper. But how to connect them, I wondered. I decided to weave my interactions with so many different individuals together into one story with two characters, Harry and Lalita Iyer. Their modern journey is the journey of many, put into one.

Life is a journey. However, if we can learn from the mistakes and best practices of others, we can make our journey worthwhile and joyful. In the course of writing, I realized that it is much harder than giving a talk, but I have also come to terms with the fact that if I can contribute some meaning to the life of another, I am willing to take on the challenge. My only prayer is that this book be blessed by God to bring a positive change in the lives of the readers.

A P P E N D I X 1

Forgiveness Worksheet

1. Identify the cause

Think of a person you want to forgive, and what you want to forgive them for.

Now sit back and relax. Breathe in, hold your breath for a few seconds, and breathe out. This exercise may release a lot of emotion—let it all come naturally.

Write it down in the space below.

For example

‘I want to forgive Sam for raising his voice at me in front of all our friends.’

2. Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to think about the situation and understand why they may have treated you in this way. It is important to understand the intention of the person and why they may have acted in the way they did towards you. When we understand the reason why the person may have acted in that way, it may make it easier for us to forgive.


‘Sam seemed stressed that day. I think he may have been having some family issues. That could be the reason he spoke to me in an unusual manner.’

3. Confirm the other person’s thoughts

To confirm what the person’s thoughts were when they acted towards you in a certain way, you may do one of the following things.

a) Approach the person directly. Use tact to understand their thought process. A normal conversation may help reveal why they acted the way they did. Note: You do not want to go into this meeting with an accusatory attitude, as it may backfire if things get emotional.

b) Talk to someone who can help you understand that person’s current situation; this could be a family member or close friend of that person.

c) If A and B are not possible, then wait until more unfolds. Let time reveal more.

4. Foresee difficulties that may arise, but also try to see the benefits of forgiving this person

When trying to forgive someone, there may be situations and emotions that may replay in your mind and make it difficult to completely let go.

You may be feeling hurt, anger, injustice, whatever it is, write it down below.

Counteract the feelings of hurt, with the benefits of letting that feeling go.


‘I think forgiving Sam will be hard because I know I did nothing wrong in this situation. Overlooking the fact that I was right and forgiving him will be difficult for me. However, it will help our relationship grow, so it is the right thing to do.’

5. Remember all the good things that person has done for youRecalling all the good things the person has done for you will help you on your journey in forgiving them.

For example:

‘I want to forgive Sam because it will mean that when I speak to him, I will no longer feel uneasy and replay the incident in my mind. I am so grateful for everything that Sam has done for me over the years.’

6. Think of how you want to live after forgiving Forgive and forget. (Therefore trust the person again.) Forgive, monitor and then trust. (Look to see if the person has improved their behaviour before trusting them again.)

Forgive and not trust. (You can forgive the person but decide to no longer have a trusting relationship with them.)

Forgive and take action. (You may forgive the person and need to take action, either legal or practical. Example: you may forgive your spouse for cheating on you, but you may still decide to live separate lives.) In the space below, write how you want to live after forgiving the person and why you want to live in this way.


‘I am going to forgive and forget about how James spoke to me the other day, because this was a rare occurrence in which James was not his usual, polite self.’

7. Look at your Forgiveness affirmation.

You should have noted:

The person you want to forgive, and what you want to forgive them for.

The situation from the other person’s perspective (in your opinion).

Confirm the other person’s intention towards you.

Any difficulties that may arise in trying to forgive the person.

All the good things that the person has done for you.

Whether you want to forgive and forget; forgive and not trust; forgive, monitor and then trust; or forgive and take action.

A P P E N D I X 2

Ikigai Worksheet

Identifying Purpose

1. Write down a job/skill that you love doing and that you are good at.

What you love: When you love doing something, it may give you excitement even if you’re not getting paid to do it. Reflect on the times in your life when you’ve felt like this. Do these memories have a common thread running through them?

What you’re good at: To understand if you are good at something, get honest feedback from the people around you. For example, if you think you are good at public speaking, do the people around you feel that you are good at speaking?

Are the people giving you advice experts in their field to be giving you such advice?

2. Can you make a living from your passions?

Some people do not want to get paid for doing what they love. That is okay!

However, many are working dead-end jobs whilst they dream about a life in which they are fully dedicated to their purpose. But full dedication also takes into account the practicalities of life! Many of you may have children whose tuition fees need to be paid; or mortgages that wait for no one. Please use the space below to briefly state how you could get paid to do what you love.

3. Can you turn your passions into purpose?

The happiest people are those helping others. Does this passion help you contribute to the world? Your passion is for you, but once you figure out how to use it to serve others, it becomes your purpose.

You can turn your passion into your purpose by using one of the three R’s: Relevance: Is your passion directly relevant to helping others? For example, being a teacher can be a rewarding profession: you can earn a living, whilst simultaneously enriching young minds.

Resources: Does your situation allow you to use its benefits to help others? This could be your status to influence change, your money to help with philanthropy or your network to change hearts.

Remainder of your time: Your situation may give you flexibility, to have the time to carry out what you’re passionate about outside of your day-to-day work.

There are many people who work all day at the office, but come alive serving the homeless afterwards.

I should stress that purpose does not mean a grand statement to ‘change the world’. It could mean having grand intentions to change the world in a small way. That small contribution may feed into a larger network of people working together to help. For example, if you want to help the homeless, can you connect with an organization or group that resonates with you?

Using the space below, please identify how you are willing to use your passion to serve others.

Common struggles that hold you back from finding your ikigai: My current job pays well, I cannot give it up.

I do not know where to begin.

I don’t know if I am good enough to get paid at what I love.

I do not have the support of my family.

These are common reasons why people fail to find their ikigai.

Write down what you feel your struggles may be, and identify ways to overcome these.

Initially, you may not be able to do the job you love full-time. However, you can start by working on it in your spare time.

Confirming Your Ikigai

Now that you have found your ikigai, confirm it with someone who is your friend, who is an expert in that field, and who has your best interests at heart.

Not everyone is friends with an ‘expert’, you may argue. But be wary of asking people who have no understanding of the subjects that interest you. A doctor cannot tell you what is wrong with your car, and a mechanic cannot tell you why you have a cough.

Note what the people you have asked have said about your ikigai findings.




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