Note from Web Editor: I met Elizabeth Roberts after coming to work for Jivamukti in April of 2012. She was going to be a blogger on this site once it launched. In the time that passed between now and then, she struggled with cancer, and yesterday - November 10, 2012 - left her body. I hardly new her myself, but in working in the office at the Jivamukti Yoga School in NYC I have been deeply moved by the lives she has influenced here, and the stories of how she kept her sweet and positive spirit even when she knew that her time was drawing near. One of the quotes from the Bhagavad Gita that has been in my mind lately:
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grhnati naro'parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany anyani samyati navani dehi
~Bhagavad Gita 2:22
Translation: "Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on new ones, so the embodied soul casting off worn-out bodies enters into ones that are new."
To me, in hearing of Liz's positive spirit in the face of her illness, I know she had a deep faith in the teachings of yoga and the transmigration of the soul. The sadness is with those who carry on in this world missing her. In that sadness is a reflection of the beauty and blessings she brought into the world in this incarnation.
While Liz never had the chance to contribute to this new Jivamukti web site for the community she loved so much, she did write the following blog for her own web site in 2010, under the category Jivamukti Yoga, and so I feel it is a fitting tribute to offer it here for you in her remembrance.
my love to all of you who were touched by her, Pashupa
ity aham vasudevasya
parthasya ca mahatmanah
samvadam imam asrausam
This is the dialogue I heard between Krishna, the son of Vasudeva, and Arjuna, the great-hearted son of Pritha. The wonder of it makes my hair stand on end!
Bhagavad Gita, 18:74
Translation by Eknath Easwaran
When desperate, most people cry out to God. But the wise take God’s Word in.
The Bhagavad Gita, literally “the Song of God,” is a foundational text for Yogis and Hindus, just like The Holy Bible is for Jews and Christians. In the Gita, Krishna is telling his friend, Arjuna, about the many paths that lead to God. Krishna is God (actually, an incarnation of Vishnu, maintainer of the Universe). Krishna is God made flesh. (Like when Christ says, “I and my Father are One.”)
Arjuna and Krishna are standing on a battlefield, and Arjuna is supposed to march his army into war. Thing is, his ‘enemy’ is made up of cousins and family friends. Krishna’s goal is to get to Arjuna to engage, to act. But Arjuna is terrified of the consequences.
Just a good story in a moldy sacred text?
In the 20th Century, a profound love of the Bhagavad Gita served Mahatma Gandhi during his prison fasts protesting British rule in India. As Gandhi lay close to death, he poured over the Gita. Later he said that everything he’d done, even his development of satyagraha, non-violent resistance (“the Force which is born of Truth and Love”), came from his reading of the Gita. His daily scripture practice deepened his faith, his shraddha. In turn, Gandhi inspired the Indian people, also fluent in the Gita, to non-violently throw off British rule. The British were then freed from the nightmare of maintaining their Raj.
Not so bad for a moldy sacred text!
Despite the inner strength and clarity it might bring, many of us don’t have relationship to a holy text… and it may seem forced to cultivate one. But there could be other kinds of texts that make our hair stand on end with awe and profound gratitude. Music, poetry, or great oratory. For me there are speeches in American history, ‘political scripture,’ that have great resonance. For instance, I can’t read Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech without my eyes brimming with tears.
Here’s a playful analogy to take the ‘foreign-ness’ out of the Bhagavad Gita. (Well, at least for those with a little bit of American history and some knowledge of our popular culture!)
Imagine three thousand years from now that a beloved scripture comes into being. Called The Song of God, it will be an amalgam of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (you know, the romance novel set during the American Civil War…the one with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler), the life of Abraham Lincoln (president of the United States during the Civil War, the “Great Emancipator” who ended slavery), and the American Civil Rights movement (the mid-20th Century fight for equal rights for African Americans—the unfinished work of the Civil War, really of the American Revolution).
Okay. Here’s an excerpt from this future Song of God:
LEADING THE CONFEDERATE FORCES, FIGHTING FOR THE CONTINUATION OF SLAVERY, IS SCARLETT O’HARA—WEARING A BELLE DRESS CUT FROM A CONFEDERATE FLAG. ACROSS THE FIELD, HEADING THE UNION ARMY, FIGHTING FOR EMANCIPATION, IS ROSA PARKS. SHE DRIVES A MONTGOMERY ALABAMA BUS. IN CENTER FIELD, ABE LINCOLN SITS IN HIS SMOKED-GLASS, BULLET PROOF, PRESIDENTIAL HUMVEE. AND HIS DRIVER, HIS DEAR FRIEND, WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE GOD, IS MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. IT’S THE MORNING OF THE FIRST DAY OF THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG.
Wait! That’s a mix of fiction, fact and one hundred years of history. It was Lincoln who was willing to fight for the Union, King who preached non-violence. Rosa Parks is real, but Scarlett O’Hara?!
Ah…but the Gita is like that: a weave of myth, remote historical event, and poetic license all in service of true Union, or Yoga.
ABE LOOKS OUT AT ‘THE ENEMY.’ IT HITS HIM THAT NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF KILLING HIS COUSINS AND TEACHERS. THE BLOODBATH WILL LEAD TO GENERATIONS OF HATRED. THE UNION CAN’T BE PRESERVED BY WAR. “LET THE SOUTH HAVE WHAT IT WANTS: A SOVEREIGN STATE BASED ON SLAVERY!” MARTIN SHAKES HIS HEAD AND SAYS, “BUT ABE…”
I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream… that one day…the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is hair-raising prophecy. King uses scripture (The Bible’s Isaiah 40:4) to invoke a future, post-Jim Crow America. After decades of steeping himself in Christ’s teachings and Gandhi’s satyagraha, derived from Krishna’s council in the Gita, both incarnations speak through him. As yoga sage Patanjali would say, Īśvara pranidhanad va, “By giving your life and identity to God, you attain the Identity of God.” Speaking Truth and Love, King inspires his fellow citizens—all people everywhere—to throw off their chains by seeing one another as God does, as One.
Maybe we can all engage the enemy of our own cynicism, cultivate our faith. How? Find a spiritual text that makes your hair stand on end, embrace it, embody it, and let it speak to and through you.
(Elizabeth left her body on November 10, 2012. She is dearly missed by the Jivamukti community.)
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