"Hello Murali? DC here."
Those are words I've heard almost weekly on the phone for over three years now. It's become ingrained so much that I almost mouth the words every time DC Rao calls me.
Rao, whom I (and the rest of my colleagues at HAF) affectionately call Dr. Rao, has been the guru behind the Hindu American Foundation's "Hinduism 101" program and a longstanding leader in the Hindu American community. But it's the way he has lived his life that makes him a true inspiration to so many people. He's about to quietly start his second retirement, which is why recognizing what he has done is so important to understanding our community's progress.
Dr. Rao retired from the World Bank over 20 years to pursue a greater study of Hindu philosophy, while also helping to increase the Hindu voice in interfaith dialogue in the Washington, D.C. area. He served as president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, where he not only brought the Hindu voice into focus, but forged strong ties with leaders in the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, and Jain communities. His knowledge of yoga developed through the deep study of the Yoga Sutra and practice at the Himalayan Institute. He also became a trustee of the Washington regional center of the Chinmaya Mission, leading study groups that drew both the young and young at heart.
About 10 years ago, Dr. Rao began getting invitations to speak to teachers. His ability to explain Hinduism clearly and succinctly made him an in-demand speaker throughout the region, and he selflessly traveled from district to district. When I met him in 2013, he was working on a series of brief essays explaining Hindu concepts to lay audiences. From our first conversation at his home, Dr. Rao and I developed a partnership based on a shared vision of how Hinduism should be better taught. Both of us wanted to develop a program that respected the "teach, don't preach" approach when teaching about religion in public schools. And so, Hinduism 101 was born. The essays he started working on also turned into a very popular e-book.
Since then, more than 2,000 teachers from 34 states and the District of Columbia have been trained on better approaches to teaching about Hinduism. Dr. Rao volunteered his time and energies to traveling to a number of locations around the country to train teachers. Last year, we also helped to start a training program for members of our greater Hindu American community. Dubbed "Dharma Ambassadors," the program has energized community members to become more engaged on issues such as education, interfaith dialogue, and better representing Hinduism in the public sphere.
What makes Dr. Rao's contribution to a more culturally competent understanding about Hinduism so remarkable is his unwillingness to take any credit for what he has done. He shies away from praise and the spotlight, living out the principle that any action should be done without expectation of reward. I've been inspired by his focus, his inner peace, and his willingness to patiently teach my HAF colleagues and me a more nuanced way of talking about Hinduism. As one teacher recently gushed, "Dr. Rao creates a disarming environment in which the participant is drawn in to Hinduism in a very special way. He simply has a way about him that is both patient and wise."
Even as Dr. Rao's impact can now be felt across the country, he is now moving onto the next stage of his life. He is retiring from public engagement, channeling his energies towards deep study of scriptures, and a journey inwards.
While I know Dr. Rao will move into private study and away from the public eye, I'll still relish hearing his voice from time to time, if only to remind me that he's still around and as prescient as ever. "Hello Murali? DC here."
Yes, Dr. Rao, and here with us you'll always be.