I have always felt that the New Year is a time for reflection and a refreshed approach to life. For those who were there, Sangh Shiksha Varg 2015 was an important part of 2015 upon which we ought to reflect. It is all well and good applying what we learnt over the course of ten days in the immediate aftermath, but are we continuing to do so after almost six months? One concept that I picked up during those ten days was that of the 24/7 swayamsevak: we are not simply swayamsevaks at the time when we attend shakha or other Sangh karyakrams, but at all times, and so our attitudes and behaviour should aim to reflect that. In this post I’d like to consider what being a 24/7 swayamsevak means in practice, with reference to the model of Sangh Shiksha Varg. I will also look at how some of the ideas we inculcate within Sangh Shiksha Varg are being independently discussed and implemented across the world, before looking at the bigger picture of the 24/7 swayamsevak.
At the outset, it is necessary to remind ourselves of what a swayamsevak is. Literally, it means a ‘selfless worker’. In The Ideal Swayamsevak I suggested that the model swayamsevak will be physically capable, intelligent and able to communicate well with others, and will have a controlled emotional state. I also wish to put forward at this point the idea that being a 24/7 swayamsevak does not only equate to full-time Sangh work; being a 24/7 swayamsevak is instead about practising the characteristics of the model swayamsevak within our daily lives.
Sangh Shiksha Varg: a model
During Sangh Shiksha Varg more than any other time, we come closest to being a 24/7 swayamsevak. A picture of the 24/7 swayamsevak begins to develop with reference to the daily activities in which we participate. Our physical wellbeing is improved through shareerik activities, our intellectual prowess through bauddhik, charcha and karyashala. Serving others at mealtimes is a form of sewa, and sayam vandan sessions in the evenings help us to reflect on our day. This broadly corresponds to the qualities we look for in the ideal swayamsevak, as I have previously suggested. We are not simply swayamsevaks as a result of being at SSV; every minute of our time there can be considered as ‘practice’ at being a 24/7 swayamsevak.
Looking at the general way in which we live during SSV is also of benefit here. Ten days of living together with others as one large family without internet access or mobile phones not only resurrects the ‘lost art’ of conversation (noun: speaking words to others face-to-face) but also points at the possibility of living a simpler life. Is this something that we then go on to apply in our daily lives? I am not for a moment suggesting that we entirely abandon modern technology, but everyone (myself included) can take efforts to keep the machines at arm’s length when not needed. Throughout SSV, we attempt to inculcate other qualities too, such as discipline, through a daily timetable and keeping our mass of shoes in something resembling a straight line. What does this say about the 24/7 swayamsevak? I think he will strive to have the qualities of the ideal swayamsevak and a strong ‘sewa bhaav’. He will also be disciplined, and may look to lead a life free from some of the unnecessary intrusions that have become almost commonplace in the modern world.
A simple life?
The modern world has become increasingly stressful: more and more students find themselves worried about exams, and the separation between the workplace and the home has decreased as we have embraced technologies that ‘ping’ the latest emails to us regardless of whether or not we want to see them. Naturally, there has been a rush to find solutions: meditation and yoga are becoming increasingly popular across the world, and articles appear in newspapers about how we can restore balance to our lives. Giving our mobile phones and the internet a rest for a while is an important part of this, and is undoubtedly something that I’m guilty of not doing despite being fully aware of the benefits of doing so. I’d encourage both myself and others to try it; as long as you can maintain it, it’s something that you won’t regret.
It’s not just about technology though; I have felt for some time that our lives are becoming increasingly complicated. Social media means that the modern world is a very open environment; I might even go as far as saying that we have reacted to this by over-thinking and second-guessing in such a way that actually contributes to the complications in our lives. One thing I have found particularly instructive in the last couple of months is to remind myself of the bigger picture; it is one way in which we can refocus on our priorities in life and strip away that which we can do without.
The 24/7 swayamsevak
Let us now return to the matter of the 24/7 swayamsevak. SSV provides a model of sorts for the 24/7 swayamsevak, and the simpler life that I believe is characteristic of the 24/7 swayamsevak is something that much of the modern world is striving to achieve. This simplicity also links back to selflessness in my view: when we consider the needs of others before our own, our wants lose importance and are not acted upon; what we are left with is a simple life. I believe that this points to an idea of the 24/7 swayamsevak being one who can take the attitudes, behaviours and values of the ideal swayamsevak and apply them within his ordinary life, whether that be at school, university or in the workplace. On a broader level, this suggests that being a swayamsevak is not simply about our actions but may even be considered as a state of mind; attending shakha and other Sangh events is all well and good, but are we maintaining the attitude of being a swayamsevak at other times too? I think a starting point for all of us is to reflect on what our priorities are in life, what our shortcomings are, and where improvements can be made; there is no better time for this than the start of a new year. From these foundations, a great structure may be built.
Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success. – Swami Vivekananda