Question: We have heard that the practice of bhakti consists of sevā, or service. To whom should this service be directed? What is the difference between serving man and serving God?
Śrīla Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja: According to the Garuḍa Purāṇa (Purva-khaṇḍa 231.3), “bhaja-dhātu sevāyāṁ—the real meaning of bhajana is sevā, or devotional service.”
Sevā, in the true sense of the term, is rendered only to the sevya-vastu, or a person worthy of receiving service, and not to a person who is in a state of misery.
To feel sympathy for a person in a pitiable state who prays sincerely for something is called ‘compassion,’ and to satisfy his desire by bestowing upon him the objective of his prayers is called ‘charity.’ When we see such desperate persons, feelings of compassion may arise in our heart that inspire us to give to them in charity.
These feelings and inspirations are absent, however, when we stand before a person who does not know scarcity, who does not wish to receive anything, and for whom many persons anxiously await an opportunity to serve. At that time, for our own welfare, we eagerly wait for the fortunate moment when that person will mercifully accept our humble offerings. Such offerings are called sevā.
A sevaka (servitor) considers himself subordinate to the object of his service, whom he considers far superior to himself. The act of giving in charity begets false pride and leads to the enjoyment of material objects within the fourteen planetary systems, whereas selfless service to Bhagavān and His devotees begets humility and leads to the attainment of kṛṣṇa-prema, the topmost attainment for the conditioned souls. Because śrī guru, Vaiṣṇavas and Bhagavān already possess everything, they are never the recipients of charity. With this in mind, one should render sevā to these personalities and obtain their mercy.