In honor of our beloved Rama Jyoti Vernon

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Rama Jyoti Vernon painting

Rama is one of the names she was given by an Indian teacher. Rama is one of the mythological incarnations of the God Vishnu, The Preserver. He is the hero of the great epic The Ramayana. Rama alone is a powerful mantra, an utterance of surrender to God. “Hey Ram” were the last words on Mahatma Ghandi’s lips as he died of gunshot by a radical Hindu.

I remember talking about her to a Sanskrit colleague and he insisted her name should be pronounced Ramah, with the emphasis on the last “ah” sound. Sanskrit words are very sensitive to where emphasis is put, as the sound transfers the vibrational meaning. He said that was the correct feminine pronunciation, different than the male pronunciation with the emphasis on the first “a” sound.

I asked Rama about this and she laughed and said “oh no dear“. I don’t remember her correcting him to me, just deflecting the suggestion. I was entirely satisfied as if I had just witnessed her stand up to misogyny with the flick of her long dark hair.

Her other spiritual name was Jyoti, meaning light. She was a light. Most of us who knew her felt this light, saw this light, were literally inspired and illuminated by this light. She often told the story of the moth who immolated itself in the candle flame. It is a classic spiritual story about the tension of the lover for the beloved, the human for the divine. The lover of God is drawn to the light and ultimately allows the longing to be with God to overcome the fear of death. As sad as we are that Rama is gone, we know she longed for the full experience of the light and is now on her way.

None of us truly know what we are doing here. None of us truly know what will happen when we die, if there is anything else. Cultures and religions have formulated ideas and created rituals to help us shape our lives, as well as fathom our death. In the Yoga tradition there is the belief that the soul migrates. That we are born with a soul record and a particular heap of karma to live into and to potentially balance and resolve.

The spiritual practice of Yoga is considered a special means to balance, resolve, and dissolve karma. The Hindu Tradition, from which Yoga stems from and can be distinct from, understands human life to have 4 primary aims or interests: kama, artha, dharma, moksha. Respectively: the interest to seek pleasure and comfort, the interest to seek achievement and success, the interest to seek righteousness and contribute to society, and the interest to seek God and to be one with Divine.

It is said that we are all ultimately seeking moksha, but get caught up in the others. It is warned that we can even get caught up erroneously trying to seek moksha! It is taught that it may take many, many lifetimes to find moksha or liberation, to get it “right.”

Even Mahatma Ghandi knew his spiritual efforts to align with the great principles of truth and non-violence for the sake of the Indian people’s liberation to be inevitably flawed. Yet he devoted himself to the process nonetheless, like the moth to the flame.

Rama Jyoti Vernon was known to say “we can have our cake and eat it too,” in this case implying that we can honor all that life offers us: we can be comfortable, successful, of service, and in route to God.

Indeed, we loved Rama because she had it all. She was beautiful and joyous; she had accomplished so much without becoming a brand or institution; she did everything in the spirit of devotion and service to the highest principles; and she loved the saints and sages, gods and goddesses, she longed for and held to the oneness in all that she did.

Like any real person, she did not have it easy. She had many challenges and difficulties along the way, internally and externally. She did not hide herself yet she always put the power and positivity of the teachings first and foremost. She was clear she was not a guru but she was a truly charismatic woman and she had some of responsibilities of a guru put upon her.

As a true Yogi, she put her own practice to the test as often as she could. She did her upmost to bring unifying love and make peace all along her journey, to keep her eyes and ears attuned to the teachings she received and to transmit that fullness to others. She leaves a great legacy in what she was able to get down in writing, in her children and students, and the work that is still in motion.

The light of Yoga shines brightly in so many of us because of you Rama. You are forever with us and we celebrate your new freedom and bliss. Thank You for everything.

Om Tat Sat Om. Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

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