When a visitor comes to Radha Madhav Dham for the first time, I often wonder what it is it that they see. Without a doubt, the great beauty of the Texas Hill Country, the fields of wildflowers, the pastures and gentle rivers, are all among the first few impressions they have. Certainly, they see the shikar and the blue crystal atop it, the design and color of the temple itself. Unquestionably they are drawn to the hike up Barsana Hill, the butterflies, the smells of samosas in the oven at the snackstand.
So I suppose I should ask not what they see, but who they see. This Hindu temple, to an extent, speaks for itself, but would visitors know it was the largest ashram and temple complex in North America if someone didn’t tell them? So I have to ask, I have to ponder these things, when I think about my mandir. Who they see will, more than likely, be who they talk to. And there are so many possibilities at Radha Madhav Dham, so many devotees from so many different places, all with stories to share, information to give, jokes to make and advice to lend.
More often than not, the first person a visitor sees will be the person at the front desk, where they check in, learn a little about the temple, grab some handouts and press on into the prayer hall. It is these greeters who become their first reliable sources of information at the ashram, the people who explain why you have to leave your footwear outside, who Radha Rani is, what the word dham means. Inside the prayer hall itself, there are often devotees decorating the shrine, cleaning, or arranging pillows and chairs for satsang or events. These people can provide excellent knowledge of the ritual of the prayer hall: the chanting sheets, the musical instruments, the lectures, the donation boxes, the offering plates, where men and women are supposed to sit, and so on.
I think about these things because these people who give this information, who help the visitors at the temple, they’re the true leaders in real sense. As devotees are led by the guru, visitors and spiritual aspirants are led into the world of devotion, into bhakti, by devotees who put themselves in the public eye. It’s a very unique seva, working as this kind of leader, because a person who greets is also a teacher, and a flexible one at that. Students like these are coming from all over the world, from other temples, from other parts of India or the United States or anywhere. The message we share, the message of bhakti, is meant for everyone, but it takes a special person to be able to communicate it, to give a glimpse into that world.
So I ask you, devotees and visitors alike, to pay special attention to your leaders. Learn what they have to teach. Ask many questions. Spiritual aspiration means seeking the truth, seeking the way. Look to these leaders and find out what there is to be found out. They are the face of our devotional community, the window into our world. Let that inspire you.
(For those of you interested in such a seva, contact the next front desk member or greeter you find. It’s a really unique opportunity that can deepen your connection to the ashram, and Radha Madhav Dham is always glad to have more sevaks around. My mother works at the front desk, I used to do it, it’s a great service for old, young, male or female. Take the first step to develop leadership in yourself, in this seva for the dham.)
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