The Ideal Swayamsevak

The term ‘swayamsevak’ is commonly applied to anyone who attends shakha. Literally, however, it means ‘one who works selflessly’. This suggests that on a deeper level, the swayamsevak is not just any person we come across on the street, but someone fulfilling a specific role, for which certain qualities are required. I do not believe that there can be any one answer to the question, ‘What qualities are possessed by the ideal swayamsevak?’ since each person has a slightly different view on what exactly a swayamsevak is and what exactly he does. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on what qualities the ideal swayamsevak has, and how swayamsevaks can bring themselves closer to this ideal.

From the definition I have given above, we can infer that the ideal swayamsevak must be selfless. In its practical context, I believe that selflessness means acting in some way for the benefit of others without the intention of deriving any benefit for oneself. The idea that we should not be looking to our own benefit is what, in my view, distinguishes selfless service (sewa) from other voluntary and charitable work which can be done both selfishly and selflessly. How can this ‘sewa bhaav’ be practically achieved? I think it is something that comes through experience: our ‘sewa bhaav’ is developed through serving selflessly. This makes events such as Sewa Day and the upcoming Cycle 4 Sewa (C4S) important on a number of levels, in addition to acts of sewa that occur in our normal lives. It is in order to develop this vital ‘sewa bhaav’ that we have Prabandhak Varsh in Sangh Shiksha Varg every year (for my experiences of this, see Working Selflessly).

This urge to serve is considered something of a pre-requisite for any selfless worker by pioneering Sangh pracharak Eknathji Ranade in one of his lectures that have now been compiled into the inspiring book ‘Sadhana of Service’. There are three other areas of pre-requisites that he describes, all of which I think are essential for the ideal swayamsevak. The first area is physical prowess: he suggests that to become a fit instrument for service, one must be both physically fit and prepared to keep fit so that one can do hard work when necessary. The second is intellectual ability: from here, we can suppose that the ideal swayamsevak has excellent oral and written communication skills, the ability to plan and administer large events and a generally sharp intellect. The third, and possibly the most interesting area, is having a composed and well-controlled emotional state, which suggests that the ideal swayamsevak should be able to control his own excessive moods, such as anger or excitement. I have often been told that Hanumanji is a model for all swayamsevaks, since out of the many examples we have in our history and epics, Hanumanji comes the closest to meeting all of these four pre-requisites.

All I have done up to this point is expound on a utopian theory, rather as Plato does in The Republic (a very thought-provoking introduction to the way the ancients thought, but also flawed due its impracticality). Such theories are, in my opinion, of limited use unless we can find a way to actually implement them. Let’s start with meeting Eknathji’s physical standards: this one is fairly simple from a practical point of view, and essentially involves each person taking responsibility for themselves physically. Regular attendance at shakha and personal shareerik abhyas can also be part of this. Improving one’s intellectual abilities in order to come closer to the ideal swayamsevak is also quite achievable, particularly because it goes hand-in-hand with everything else that anyone in further or higher education does on a daily basis. In practice, this involves reading and reflecting to broaden one’s intellectual horizons. Aside from Sangh literature, I’d encourage everyone, particularly those who have just started Sixth Form, to read about areas of thought that are unfamiliar or not part of any area in which you might specialise. Seeing the world from different perspectives is key not only for the ideal swayamsevak, but for everyone.

Reflection whilst reading, especially when dealing with Sangh literature and other philosophical texts is vital from my experience, as it allows ideas about the text in question to develop, which opens one up to new ways of thinking; otherwise, the contents tend to go over one’s head, and the whole exercise becomes slightly wasted. The importance of reflection is something which I feel carries over into meeting the emotional profile of the ideal swayamsevak. Often we unconsciously react angrily to trying situations, or become over-excited about something, and sometimes this attitude can carry over into other things we do, possibly spoiling the work that is done. Reflecting on everything we do makes us consider whether we can react differently in particular situations, and from the point of view of remaining organised (another of the intellectual utopian ideas) provides an opportunity for the appraisal of the efficiency of our activities. Although we couldn’t be further from exam time in the UK’s educational calendar, reflecting on each day during the academic year is a good habit to develop, and I have found it to be particularly effective at times of great pressure.

I have mentioned meditation in a previous post as a method of avoiding pressure during exam time, which I feel should be practised together with reflection. Meditation helps to develop the composed mental attitude that is required by the ideal swayamsevak, and unfortunately is becoming something that we are simply not very good at. This one of many examples where something that we learn in shakha or at Sangh Shiksha Varg can help us in other areas too. The practice of sitting quietly and clearing one’s mind is essential. The suggested measures are by no means exhaustive, and I am sure that others will find other ways of coming closer to the ideal by implementing something they have learnt outside Sangh into a shakha environment. Administering to our personal development in this way is essential if Sangh is to move forwards in the future.

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