What is a Sanctuary?

sanctuary, woods


Our world is fraught. We understand this at a very core level, even if we don’t see it as a bad thing. And we’re right: it’s not bad in and of itself. Our lives are filled with family and friends, plentiful food and entertainment on demand. ‘Fraught’ is not, as a rule, a negative word, but it conjures up all sorts of negative images, and those images do come from a place in our world. Our environment is becoming rapidly inhospitable. Our days are clogged with endless chores, tasks, duties and demands. Social unrest and political instability seem just around the corner, no matter where you are in the world.

At times like these, people are obsessed with this notion of getting away from their problems. Many seek the answer in travel, only to discover that all over the world, people are struggling in the same vein, more or less. Our ultimate answer, of course, is sanctuary, a place or places where one is not removed from the world, but placed at a remove from it. In such a setting, a person hopes to find something other than what he knows, to experience something different from his fearful reality.


There are, to be sure, many different kinds of sanctuaries. For some, sanctuary means the absence of electronic devices, where man is put in nature with no resources but the simplest of tools. For others, sanctuary is a reprieve from other people, to be alone but not lonely, making peace in silence. Sadly, so few of us have such concrete notions of what constitutes sanctuary for us, on a personal level. We cling to abstract notions of peaceful environs, natural settings, fewer people and fewer distractions, regardless of our capacity to enjoy any or all of those remedies. It’s why you see the same vacation listings for every travel website: sunny beaches, glowing cityscapes, and people lounging in comfortable chairs, seemingly unconcerned with the world. Whatever it may be, sanctuary is a very marketable concept. None of us have a very good idea of what we’re looking for in a sanctuary, but we can almost always agree on a few nice things we’d like to have in a sanctuary.


But let’s return to the original meaning of the word. Shed the relaxation imagery, the beaches, the visions of peace and productivity undisturbed by the modern world, and we find that sanctuaries are sacred places. The Latin root of the word meant a container for holy people, objects or places, generally in reference to a safe space to conduct worship. When it was said to want sanctuary, people took it to mean a person wanted God. Somehow, that stopped being enough for people, and our perspectives on sanctuary changed. Suddenly, we wanted other things, things that we knew made us feel good, relaxed, happy. Sanctuaries became of the world, and the sacred places of the world became reclusive, harder to find.


There is one place I know to go to when I am in need of sanctuary. In that place, I know I am safe, happy, relaxed and connected to the Divine. In my sanctuary, I find prayer comes easier than my worries and cares, and I let myself connect to a community of faith, an experience larger than my own. Radha Madhav Dham is such a place, a temple of spiritual aspirants, seekers, those who are looking for something more. It is a sanctuary, in the truest sense of the word.


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