By Rudra Shivananda
A poet, a writer, society spokesperson and fearless crusader are some of the images evoked by Maya Angelou, who recently passed away. I would also like to highlight her role as an evolved spiritual seeker who can give guidance to others seeking to rise above the waves of a turbulent life. Her tremendous child-hood adversity and trauma strengthened rather than weaken her resolve to improve herself – in spite of the fact that many poor souls have been destroyed by similar experiences.
What I admire about Maya most is her unblinking honesty and steadfast grasp of the truth, powered by her admirable courage. She has often highlighted the need for courage in life as the single most important virtue:
“One isn’t necessary born with courage but one is born with potential.
Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.
We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
In tantric yoga, it is said that in order to lead a spiritual life in a dark age, it is necessary to cultivate vira-bhava or courage. When one reads Maya’s autobiographical books, there is no denying that she exemplified the heroic virtue in her life.
In yoga, we teach that events happen to us and around us due to past actions or karma and that we are not usually able to change the environment, but we can act with our will towards a positive reaction instead and improve the situation rather than react negatively. In a similar vein, Maya has said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
We are always counseling spiritual seekers to be careful about what kind of experiences they attract – the music they listen to, the food they eat, the friends they associate with, the books they read and so forth, because these can affect their minds and cause new karmic affects. From her own hard-won life experiences, Maya counsels, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us and because of that, I try to make sure my experiences are positive.”
All the great saints and sages have lauded the virtue of love, whether in the highest abstract sense of in the grossest passionate sense, love conquers negativity and should be cultivated to the fullest extent. In Touched By An Angel, Maya has written:
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
It seems to me that Maya Angelou has shown that she has made use of her life, learned important lessons and is worthy to be a beacon of light to other seekers. I say this not because she was famous – that is a by-product of her courage and soul force, but by the fragrance of her life, a life well-lived. Death has not extinguished Maya Angelou’s light – she will continue to shine through her words to guide generations of troubled souls.