The Mahabharata is one of the two great epic poems of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. The main story of the Mahabharata revolves around two branches of a family, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who wage battle against each other for the throne of Hastinapura. Lord Krishna ends up on the side of the Pandavas who, eventually, win the war. It is a terrible war in which almost all humans die. The victors, the Pandavas, find in it a hollow victory, as Dharma seems to have been destroyed in the process, even though the Dharma is what had been fought for by the Pandavas. It is left in doubt whether Dharma will prevail in the next epoch of human life on the planet, still yet to come.
The Mahabharata is a very complex story, with so many characters and with so many twists, turns, nuances and strange occurances, that if anyone were to take a look at any six minute video segment from almost any part of the story, it would lead to confusion and an inabilty to understand what was going on. The same sort of nuanced complexity was at play in the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference incident. I report the story as an eye witness and as one who was invited to be a part of the Opening Ceremony, as one of the three luminaries to be honored at the conference.
This is my personal story, written in an effort to bring clarity to the occurrences of the night of February 22nd 2018, as only with a clear picture can the true process of healing begin. Although I have taught yoga for 43 years, it was early on in my yoga life that I decided to not attend any of the yoga conferences that were popping up all over the place, from the 1980s on. I showed up at the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference because I had been named as one of the three Luminaries for the conference. I was invited by the conference head, Melissa Hagedorn, to be one of the keynote speakers, along with the other two luminaries.
Please visualize this: I walk into the situation at the Washington State Conference Center in downtown Seattle, having never been to any of the Northwest Yoga Conferences of the previous years; having never met the organizer of the event (Melissa Hagedorn); having never met most of the presenters; having no investment into whether the Northwest Yoga Conference was going to happen next year or not; and yet arriving with a commitment to serve the dharma, the cosmic law of truth. It so happened that after 43 years of teaching yoga, at the very first yoga conference I ever attended, the unthinkable occurred.
Within minutes of arriving at the conference the head of the conference (Melissa) asked if I was in the audience and, if so, would I please come up to receive the first Luminary award. As I arrived on stage Melissa asked if I had anything to say. I asked her if this was the time for me to give my short prepared talk. She said, “no”, that this would come later, at the end. I politely accepted the small mandala art piece and said a few insignificant words to the audience and sat back down. Savitri was called up next.
It should be explained that there was a timekeeper in the audience who was showing time to all presenters. Those scheduled to speak at the opening ceremony received an email a few days before the conference that clearly outlined the timings: it was written that there would be an allotment of 10 minutes total for introductions for all three luminaries.
Savitri got up to receive the second award and began to speak. It was with a great deal of confidence that Savitri spoke. After a few minutes, Melissa politely asked her to please finish up and step down. Savitri kept speaking, with no let up. Savitri was asked by Melissa on three more occasions, less polite each time, to wrap it up and please sit down. Savitri refused each time and continued to give her story. And then, to the surprise of all who were there, Melissa got very angry, and Savitri also got very angry and a verbal shouting match occurred between the two of them over who had control over the microphone. Melissa finally demanded that Savitri leave. Savitri shoved the award back into Melissa’s hands and angrily shouted out to the crowd that this was not a yoga conference that had any merit to it and that all should boycott the conference and follow her out of the hall and out of the conference. Savitri, her entourage, and approximately 1/3rd of the audience left the hall. Those remaining were completely stunned by the events that had just occurred. The opening ceremony went on, but barely. The next three days of the Northwest Yoga Conference went on as scheduled, but not without heavy hearts and a lot of drama.
Aadil Palkhivala and Savitri left the conference. I have no details regarding their conference table being taken down and was not a part of any of the decisions made regarding their classes. The Aadil – Savitri team immediately hit social media with a video that showed only part of the confrontation, with accusations of racial discrimination as being the main issue that was behind the whole thing. Let me put my own two cents worth into this. I know that I, also, would have been booted out if I had acted anything at all like Savitri acted. This is my truth.
Huge pressure was immediately put upon the northwest yoga community by the Aadil – Savitri camp to boycott the Northwest Yoga Conference. Picketers stood outside the entry doors to the conference for the next three days. A threatening letter and petition were put out by the Aadil and Savitri social media team asking all to leave the conference on their behalf. It threatened, to any and all who did not sign the petition letter, a boycott of these non signed teachers classes, wherever these teachers might be teaching. There was a war on, but who was the war being waged against?
In my opinion, that the Aadil and Savitri social media camp turned the mishap into a racial discrimination issue is a travesty upon the truth. It appears that the racial accusations made by Aadil and Savitri were meant to play on tensions that already existed around the issue of race, white privilege and dynamics of power. The discussion on these issues needs to take place, as these are real issues that require much needed attention. There are old wounds in the Seattle yoga community, and similarly, there are old wounds in yoga communities across the continent. It is true we must examine these issues in the very communities we live in and we must work together in moving toward an all-inclusive yoga, an integral yoga that invites all to participate equally.
However, framing the incident as racially motivated clouds the reality that the Palkhivala’s abused their own significant power at the ceremony and after this a social media war was started as the community, presentors and vendors were harassed; all this predicated on something that was not true – that the incident itself was racially motivated. To shed light on this particular manipulative action is exactly the reason this article is appearing before you, as this nontruth can only be classified as an adharmic action.
Certainly, it was an extremely uncomfortable situation for all of us who witnessed it, whether in person at the event, or by watching a video of the edited escalated moments of it. What do we do next? How can we grow and evolve from the experience? How can we heal from this?
The war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the Mahabharata is a symbolic story of humanities need to uphold the dharma. The message that Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna in the epic tale is that, sometimes, the dharma must be defended because, sometimes, the adharmic forces have become so strong that they threaten freedom’s movement.
It is said that agreements for mediation have begun and we can only hope and pray for a speedy resolution between the involved parties; and yet, from the sounds of it, it is also quite possible that there will not be be an immediate resolution.
Yoga teaches us that the physical plane reality, inherently, is a reflection of the inner realms and realities, from which the outer forms of life sping. We practice yoga with the certainty that limited consciousness can be upgraded by opening up to higher guidance, and that the living light of Divine Consciousness can take root in the very cells and nature of our being; eventually to guide our every thought, move and action. This is what the great sages of yoga have relayed to us in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Mahabharata. Because of this there is something very tangible that each and every one of us can do right now, as it is always the right time for the forces of light, truth and understanding to look into the forces of darkness and ignorance and conquer them. We turn inward to find the peace, clarity and power that is completely present within our soul, and then we shine this out through consciousness and with the force of the Divine Shakti behind our actions.
I believe that each of us is meant to heal from any and all wounds of separation. Even though this may take our entire life to achieve, or it may take many lifetimes to achieve, nonetheless, our sadhana must always be to look inside and to reconcile the irreconcililables of life. There is a purification going on here that demands our full attention. Reconciliation really is the sadhana we must pursue. We can evolve out of this, individually and collectively, if we bring the living Light of Truth to bear witness upon it. The Dharma, the cosmic law, must be protected and preserved. May the living light of The Divine help us to heal and evolve in this process.
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Latest posts by Bob Smith (see all)
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- Bob Smith’s Perspective on the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference Incident - Mar 18, 2018