Reflections: Service at Baha’i House of Worship (Part 3)
Throughout my service I got the opportunity to meet and teach people from all walks of life i.e. doctors, engineers, scientists, army personnel’s, students, teachers, parents, children, farmers, villagers, people who were literate and illiterate. They all came to see what this place was, some knew its significance and some didn’t, some came to have that peace of mind they could not attain anywhere else. It was baffling to see the contrasts and it was even more astounding to see the sheer beauty in all. On a personal note, whilst serving at the Temple, it was simply the first time I was living in the ‘now’, the ‘present moment’. It was a feeling I had never felt before. There was no thinking of past and no thinking of the future. My attention was what was right in front of me and nothing else. To me this was the greatest high I could ever have. I loved it, embraced it and cherished every moment of it.
“There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer, man must live in a state of prayer.” – These words were spoken-out-aloud during the briefing to visitors and it was the pinnacle of service in temple. Work is service, service is worship and worship is prayer. Each day was a prayer, a deep meaningful prayer, and an enriching prayer where we discovered many beautiful aspects about ourselves. Prayer service would take place four times a day for all visitors. Each prayer service entailed writings and versus from different religious texts. Whether the prayers were chanted or spoken, visitors were deeply moved and full of gratitude. There was something very magical and mystical about having all people under the one roof. It was enigmatic but revealing in its nature.
I had the privilege of partaking and documenting a video on the 1st ever Junior Youth campaign that took place in temple grounds. Youth who ranged from the ages of 15 to 18 years that lived in close by communities took part in this 2-week campaign, which then culminated in them becoming Junior Youth animators. These animators then went back to their respective communities to enhance the quality of life by serving and forming their own Junior Youth group. The motto was, “The upliftment of society through the contribution of Youth”. I was able to witness the transformation in these youth, their attitudes towards life before and after, which was nothing short of remarkable. We are told that youth are agents of change and junior youth animators have the role to harness these energies and channel them towards a positive direction. What better way to do this, then to serve their own community!
The ample opportunities to teach at temple are of incalculable value. The temple itself acts as a silent teacher and it is prevalent in any Baha’i House of Worship; however no Baha’i gets a greater and infinite opportunity to teach then India, where visitors are coming in by the hundreds and thousands every hour. In many countries teaching the faith is a formidable task and opportunities are far and wide. Where as, in India volunteers are approached directly by visitors wanting to know more about the temple and Faith. The array of questions that are asked by visitors only strengthens and reaffirms a volunteer’s own understanding and knowledge of the faith.
There have been many episodes of my service where I have had long stimulated conversations with visitors who were of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian background. The receptivity and respect they all showed became apparent through meaningful dialogue. This process of healthy dialogue made my love and understanding for all religions grow to the point where I recognized all religions as one. There is no difference in faith to what I have, to what they have, as the spirit and essence is the same. Of course there were also some visitors who found it difficult to except or relate to such a faith with its vision so world embracing.
Abdu’l-baha shared that, “Of all the gifts of God the greatest is the gift of Teaching.” The bounty that is derived from teaching a person who is seeking truth is a unique and joyous experience. In many ways you are planting a seed in that person and nurturing it for life. That person will always remember you as their first encounter towards the faith. This in itself is very auspicious and makes you want to work that much harder. I recall on occasions just before temple closing, when visitors would gather around volunteers inquiring about the faith and questions would come from all directions. They were completely consumed when certain facets of the writings were revealed. Furthermore they were stunned to see such diversity of volunteers serving together from different parts of the world. Perhaps it was puzzling for an Indian visitor to be welcomed by a foreigner or perhaps it was the sense of unity and coherency manifested by all volunteers or perhaps it was the reverence of temple being exuded to all. Whatever it was, it brought forth a certain appeal and curiosity in the hearts of visitors.
My only regret is the missed opportunities to teach each and everyone. Sometimes what happens as volunteers is, we get so caught up in the moment that we forget. We can’t be blamed but we can realize that such moments are fleeting and with the passage of time will fade, thus each moment is a beautiful gift to share and treasure. This is why reflection is imperative each and everyday. To realize the distinction and potential we can create.
Early in the mornings, volunteers would get up to study Ruhi book 2 with everyone. Many were tired and exhausted from the night before however all the fatigue would fade away as spirits were refreshed and gladdened once the class was in motion. This was a wonderful way to start the day where they could develop their understanding of the writings and then put it into action by sharing it with visitors, a perfect example of reflection, action and consolidation.
During the nights after service and dinner complete, volunteers would sit on the famous dormitory steps. This area was a place of solace for many to share stories, play games and snap up as many photos. These were special moments where bonds of friendship were made to last the tests and times.
We would take pleasure in each other’s company and keep the atmosphere light and joyous for all. There was a time for everything in service. Before sleeping, I would have meaningful and elevated conversations with roommates. Stories relating to life and ones journey made me realize age was never a criterion for service. We discovered and learnt from one another, no one was better or superior we were all working towards helping each other.
Coming back to Australia I was fortunate enough to meet up with a few of the volunteers whom I served with in India. All volunteers seem to have this hidden, underlying understanding of each other when they make eye contact for the 2nd time. I think it’s due to the experience of service, which cannot be readily understood by an outsider. Only a volunteer can understand another volunteer due to the trials and tests both have gone through.
A friend who has served for 25 years in temple and someone, whom I dearly look up to, once told me that true friendship that lasts for life and onto the next world is the friendship that is made on spiritual basis. Nothing can destroy it, no doubt, no misunderstanding, no material possession, nothing! Another friend commented before leaving that there is an invisible thread that binds us together while serving and this can only happen if working for a unified cause. Another volunteer commented that service in temple is another world, another reality that cannot be compared to. He described temple service as a state of bliss, only when it is over do you realise the outpouring of love that was received.
Below are some quotations, which emanate the importance of service and selflessness. The deeper we reflect upon these the more we realise it is the duty of each individual to sacrifice some part of his or her time for the betterment of the world. This is the only way transformation will transpire in the world we live in.
“… Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The ‘Master Key’ to self-mastery is self-forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation.” 6 – Abdu’l-baha
“O My servant! Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.” 7 – Baha’u’llah
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” 8– Baha’u’llah
“Labor is needed, if we are to seek Him; ardor is needed, if we are to drink of the honey of reunion with Him; and if we taste of this cup, we shall cast away the world.” 9 – Baha’u’llah
“The mystery of sacrifice is that man should sacrifice all his conditions for the divine station of God. The station of God is mercy, kindness, forgiveness, sacrifice, favor, grace and giving life to the spirits and lighting the fire of His love in the hearts and arteries.” 10 – Abdu’l-Baha
“…nearness to God necessitates sacrifice of self, severance and the giving up of all to Him. Nearness is likeness.” 11 – Abdu’l-Bahá
There is a beautiful quote by Abdul’baha I would like to end on regarding service at any Baha’i House of Worship, which I hope inspires friends to serve in such a blessed place.
“Not only does the Mashirqu’l-Adhkar (Baha’i House of Worship) have an effect upon those who built it but upon the whole world… Whosoever arises for the service of this building shall be assisted with great power from His Supreme Kingdom, and upon him spiritual and heavenly blessing shall descent which shall fill his heart with wonderful consolation and enlighten his eyes by beholding the Glorious and Eternal God.”
(5) – From the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Bahá
(6) – Abdu’l-Bahá: Star of the West, Vol. XVII, p. 348
(7) – Baha’u’llah, The hidden Words p.36
(8) – Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh/CXVII
(9) – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 7
(10) – Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 65
(11) – Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 148
(12) – Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’í Year Book, Vol. 1, pp. 60-62