A Tribute to Rama
When Rama passed into Maha Samadhi last November, I just was not ready to write out my thoughts into words, not comprehensible words at least. Like many others in the yoga world, I was extremely shocked by her passing. My sister just had dinner with her and Max last September, and I had just talked to her on Zoom during a Yoga Unify meeting. When Max left this world, I sent flowers to her and Myra. It did not occur to me that Rama was on her way to the other side as well. I wish I would have known. This tribute is a love letter to Rama and the cherished moments that I had the privilege to spend with her in the last 17 years. The time I spent with Rama was a miracle in many, many ways. It was a miracle that I stumbled upon her teachings at 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona.
Rama Jyoti Vernon's role in yoga will not be easily forgotten, and her presence as a world-renowned master of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is one that occurred through whole-hearted integration. Yes, others study Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and maybe academically understood the Sutras at some level, but Rama lived it at EVERY level. She was an everyday householder with multiple past husbands and left behind many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She worked in a household as a mother, washing dishes and vacuuming floors. She went through the trials and tribulations of staying up with children through sleepless nights, as many parents experience throughout the early years of parenting babies and toddlers.
In 2003, My first memory of Rama's was her beautiful voice and her chanting the mantra OM. She awakened something in me that is difficult to explain. Her voice was ancient and alive with WISDOM. I would find out that her wisdom was from her yoga practice and her experiences as a mother and teacher. Her voice awakened something in my bones, and I remember looking at her as a new student of mantra, thinking that the sounds could not possibly be coming from Rama. When I was supposed to be closing my eyes to follow the mantra, I could not help but open my eyes repeatedly to check if she was really chanting. Later I realized that her voice was the voice of every guru she ever studied with, and she studied with many of them. She studied with heart-filled curiosity and receptivity. Her stories about Mr. Iyengar, Satchidananda, and Baba Haridas were insights into the truth of yoga and the ancients.
Around 2005, I attended one of Rama's yoga retreats in New Mexico, where she spoke of her experiences at Yogananda's celebration of life with her mother. Rama's mother was very spiritual as well, and they attended together a celebration for Yogananda Paramahansa's Maha Samadhi. Rama was so devoted to her parents. I remember her talking about her father and mother with tenderness and beautiful caring. As she spoke of the majestic Paramahansa, the retreat attendees felt the presence of the guru in the room. She mentioned his presence with a bright, shining disposition, and the scent of roses became overwhelming. Rama said that you know when the gurus are present because they bring with them the scent of roses. Rama had a deep affection for the gurus and teachers of yoga. She talked about them like they were her family and friends because they were. I learned that she hosted many great teachers in her home in California when she invited them to teach in the United States. She loved them so much, and she cherished them. Even today, I can imagine Rama serving as a gracious host and listening whole-heartedly at the feet of the gurus.
There were moments in my life that I went to Rama for help, and she always made me feel heard. She always made me feel like I was the only person in her presence, even if there were fifteen people around us. She was a mother for me in so many ways, and there are innumerable stories about Rama that anyone close to her remembers with great fondness. Actually, I feel that there is enough for a whole book. (Maybe that is something yet to come.) Lastly, though, I want to mention the most profound impact Rama left on me.
She gave me a lasting impression of her dedication to peace for all people. Peace was of real importance to Rama, and her work in the Soviet Union changed the world. Her work during the Cold War era was brilliant and without-equal, and moreover, it unquestionably illustrated Rama's dedication to peace. Rama had such a clear sense of service in yoga. She committed her yoga practice to the peace of the world. Unlike many yoga practitioners today that treat yoga as the latest fitness trend, Rama knew that yoga was the "how" of the many questions about peace-making in today's society. Rama taught us that there must be a higher intention in our own yoga practice. If I am candid, I am scared that yoga in the United States has become too superficial and that the last great wisdom keeper, Rama Jyoti Vernon, was the only one that could truly teach to the DEPTH that yoga deserves. However, I know if I shared this fear with Rama, she would laugh at me with a gigantic grin and tell me to keep going on my yogic path with a sense of Alice's wonder (like in Alice in Wonderland.)
Dear Rama, there is so much love here for you. Thank you for everything that you gave to this world. Thank you for your relentless service in yoga. Thank you for all your LOVE and KINDNESS. When I smell the scent of roses, I will always think of you. In conclusion, I want to end with Rama's message to yoga teachers. I must have read this message at least 100 times, either as a yoga practitioner or yoga teacher trainer, but its message is different for me now. With my highly regarded teacher and friend in Maha Samadhi, I will hold this new posture with unswerving steadiness. Please read it and imagine Rama's voice.
"There are no teachers. We are all students bound together in infinite enthusiasm of growth and exploration. We are not teachers, and yet we shall teach, teaching not with an attitude of teacher or guru but as a servant, a fellow seeker joyously sharing with others the knowledge and training we ourselves have found.
We are all a part of the greater cosmic plan. Let us honor those that have walked before us and prepared the way. Insignificant as our part may seem, it is a contribution to the evolutionary scope of all humankind.
If you are led to the path of a teacher, then practice what you teach. Let go, and the Divine will work through you and the barriers to spiritual growth will drop away.
Teaching yoga is not a business, it is not even a profession. It is a privilege. Place heart and soul within your teaching wherever you are, whoever you're with. See the Divine within your students and let the teachings be the worship of this universal truth and beauty.
You are a humble servant and as a fellow seeker, joyously share with others the riches you yourself have found. We are all perennial students of yoga. There is always more to learn, more to know, more to realize and more to share.
'Whoever does the work to be done without resort to its fruits. S/he is the Sannyasin and the Yogin, not the man who lights the sacrificial fire and does not the work. '-Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 Verse 1.
To love is to go on teaching forever without growing weary. There may be times when you may cease to love, and groan beneath the burden of environmental obstacles and doubt.
When the first high tide of elation begins to ebb, and you see darkness filling the corners of light, hold your new posture with unswerving steadiness.
There will be periodic moments of wavering enthusiasm and disbelief. Fickleness cannot be prevented but it can be observed. Beware of Tamas. Embrace Satva and be patient in Rajas. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. "