Fire of Freedom

The Fire of Freedom

Edited by David Godman

291 pages with fifteen extra pages of color photos


Published by Avadhuta Foundation

ISBN 978-09638022-6-2


THIS IS A COMPLETELY NEW collection of teaching dialogues between Papaji and visitors who came to see him in Lucknow in the middle of 1991. At that time only about fifteen people would come each day, and all the satsangs were held in the living room of Papaji’s house.

In these conversations Papaji explains the practical teachings of his Master, Ramana Maharshi, in a simple and forceful way. As he engages his visitors in discussions about the nature of spiritual freedom and the means by which it can be discovered, he is always looking for an opportunity to take his questioners back to the source of their minds so that they can find out for themselves, by direct experience, what he is trying to show them.


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This is the first section from The Fire of Freedom, entitled ‘Who is thinking?’


Question: I’m not clear how to make the best use of you as my teacher. I want to make the best use of my time here, but I’m not clear how I should use my time. What should I be doing that I am not doing at home?

Papaji: Take care of the purpose for which you have come. First, clarify your purpose. A relationship is not really necessary. That we can look after later. Purpose is the foremost, the most important thing.

When you are thirsty, you go to the river. Your purpose is to quench your thirst. It is not to ask the river what kind of relationship you have with it. You don’t need a relationship; you only need a purpose.

You came here the day before yesterday and your purpose is to find out who you are. Find this out. Know who you are. If you first know who you are, then you will automatically know who I am. So, your first priority is the question ‘Who am I?’ Once you have discovered that, you will know the real nature of all the other things and people that you see. First start with this question ‘Who am I?’ We started on this question the day before yesterday. You need to recognise yourself. Now, what was that question I asked you to ask?

Question: Who?

Papaji: Yes, what was the full question?

Question: Who is thinking?

Papaji: Yes, this was the question I gave you. I told you to find the answer to this question. I asked you to return home to the Self through asking this question, and then to come back and tell me what you saw there.

Question: What do I see there?

Papaji: Yes, what do you see there? [There was a pause while Papaji wrote ‘who’ on a piece of paper and showed it to the questioner.] What do you see here?

Question: I see a word on a piece of paper.

Papaji: This simple word is your question.

Question: What do I see in here?

Papaji: Anywhere. Wherever the ‘who’ is. Your question is, ‘Who is thinking?’

Question: I can see the question.

Papaji: Can you see where the question comes from? Focus on this question and look to see where it arises from. Return back to the ‘who’. What do you see there?

Question: I see arising. I see things arising, one from another.

Papaji: Something arose that is the predicate. Now, what is the subject? Who is thinking? Return from this predicate of thinking and focus on the ‘who’. This is the finish. Now you are at the root, aren’t you? Find out who this ‘who’ is. What is its shape? What is the shape of this ‘who’? What is its form? How is it? What does it look like? [Long pause] What is happening?

Question: The question just arises out of nothing, out of emptiness, and disappears back into emptiness.

Papaji: That’s right. You say this question disappeared into the emptiness. The question was, ‘Who is thinking?’ For thinking you need a mind, don’t you? Now, the process of thinking has been arrested. It happened when you put the question, ‘Who is thinking?’ Now the process has been arrested. Then you said, very correctly, that the question disappears. That’s what you said. ‘There’s emptiness.’ What else do you say?

Question: It’s emptiness; just space.

Papaji: OK, it’s emptiness; it’s space. Emptiness is there; space is there. This is your inherent nature. You can call it presence or space or anything else. It is obstructed by desire and by thinking. It is always obstructed by desire. Emptiness is just the lack, the absence of thoughts and desires. When you have a burden on your shoulder, you are restless. Let us say that you are holding onto two hundred pounds and that you want to get rid of this trouble, this burden. When you drop it, you have not gained anything. You have not attained some new state that was never there before. You have simply thrown something away that was troubling you and returned to your inherent nature, the inherent state that was there before you loaded yourself up with this weight.

This thinking process, this burden, is a desire that we always carry with us. I am showing you how to drop this unwanted burden. When you ask the question, ‘Who is thinking?’ you arrest the process of thinking and return back to your true nature, your inherent nature, your spontaneous nature, the pure source that is empty. This is your own nature, and this is what you are always. The mind does not enter there. Time does not enter. Death does not enter. Fear does not enter. This is your inherent, eternal nature. If you stay there, there will be no fear. If you step out of it, you step into samsara, manifestation, and there you are in trouble all the time.

Question: I think I have a desire to make a much bigger deal of it.

Papaji: What?

Question: I think I had expectations that it would be some big, great experience, but actually the experience of it is very ordinary. It just feels very clear, very ordinary, and very empty.

Papaji: Yes, from emptiness everything arises. From emptiness all this cosmos has arisen, all this manifestation comprising millions of planets and solar systems. All of these millions of planets hanging in space arose from just one thought that arose from this particle of emptiness. This can happen without affecting the emptiness at all.

Question: Should I try to stay in the emptiness? Thoughts arise in the emptiness. Some of them are attractive; some make me afraid; and some of them are repugnant. I find myself latching onto thoughts and identifying with them. I become those thoughts. I lose sight of the emptiness and the presence until I can remind myself again.

Papaji: If you remind yourself at that time, all is over, all is gone. The best position to take is that of not forgetting. Just play your role, but don’t forget that it is all just a drama on the stage.

Imagine a drama company is putting on a play. The person who has to play the servant of the king falls sick at the last moment and cannot come. No other actors are available, so the proprietor of the company steps in to play the role. In the play the king, who is one of the employees of the proprietor, orders the servant around: ‘Fetch my shoes. I want to go for a walk.’ The proprietor meekly obeys and carries out the orders, but does he ever forget that he is the owner of the company? He is happy to act the role of the servant because all the time that this role is being portrayed he knows that he is really the proprietor.

If you live like this, knowing that you are the Self, you can act anywhere. If you know this, all your activities will be very beautiful, and you will never suffer. Once you have had a glimpse, a knowledge of this emptiness, you will be happy all the time because you will know that all manifestation, all samsara, is your own projection.

Where does all this manifestation rise from? When you are asleep, there is nothing there, is there?

Question: There’s another kind of dreaming then.

Papaji: I am not speaking of dreaming. We can talk about that state later. For now, I’m talking about slumber, deep sleep.

A few years ago I met a team in Rishikesh. Twenty-five people had come from all over the world: psychologists, physiologists, even parapsychologists. They had a very original proposition that they were trying to test: that there are only two states, waking and dreaming. They said that man is either awake or dreaming and that there was really no such state as sleep.

One of them told me, ‘That is what we are discovering in the West. When we put an EEG on a sleeping person’s brain we find that dreaming is going on all the time, even during what appears to be deep sleep.’

In India we say that there are five states: waking, dreaming, sleeping, turiya, and turiyatita.

Question: What is that last one?


Papaji: Turiyatita. Waking, dreaming and sleeping are states you understand. After this there is turiya, the fourth state. This is the state in which the previous three appear and disappear. Beyond that is turiyatita, which means ‘beyond the fourth’.

These scientists were going from ashram to ashram, looking for swamis to test with their equipment. Some of the scientists were part of an astronaut-training programme. Apparently, astronauts were not sleeping well in space, so research was going on, looking for ways to improve their sleeping. There was a theory that some kind of meditation or yoga might improve their sleeping patterns.

These scientists were looking for swamis to test. They wanted to put electrodes on their heads while they were meditating to see what happened to the brain waves during meditation. They tried many people and eventually ended up with a man called Swami Rama. When they arrived he was gardening in his ashram. I was not there at the time, so I got this story second-hand.

They approached him very respectfully and explained their purpose. Then they asked him if he would sit or lie down and meditate while they checked out his brain waves.

He replied, ‘You can attach your wires while I am watering my garden. I don’t need to sit down to meditate.’

The scientists put wires on his head and discovered that, as the swami had said, his mind was not working while he was engaged in his daily gardening chores. They were so impressed, they took him off for further tests.

If you are knowingly established in the substratum, any amount of activities can go on, and you won’t need the mind to do them. The Self will take care of all these things and you will remain in peace at all times.

Let us go back to the three states — waking, dreaming and sleeping — and the underlying fourth state of emptiness. The three states are projected onto that substratum, that background in which sleeping comes and goes, dreaming comes and goes, and waking comes and goes. There is some substratum, some basic foundation on which they all revolve. That foundation, that presence, that space is always there, but while you are preoccupied with outside things, you forget it.

Now, there are three classes of people. In the first category there are those who never ever forget. Under all circumstances they know that everything is taking place in this substratum. These people are the jivanmuktas, which means that they are fully liberated while they are still alive in their bodies. The second category get themselves into trouble because sometimes they remember and sometimes they forget. Awareness of emptiness may be there for a while, but then the memory of a friend who has died may rise up and suddenly they are in grief. They have lost the awareness of that emptiness by attaching themselves to a thought. This kind of emptiness is not abiding; it depends on the whims of mental activities. The people in the third category are suffering all the time. They never have even a glimpse of that original space, that emptiness, and so they suffer endlessly. For them, samsara never ends or even stops briefly.

If you are a member of the very exclusive number one club, you know that whatever manifests is an appearance in your own Self. When you wake up, manifestation arises, but you know that it is all a projection. When you sleep, no manifestation is present, but you, your Self, will still remain. Something will still be there while you sleep, and that something is your own Self.

Question: I am not aware of that presence while I am asleep.

Papaji: Yes, it is because ‘you’ are not present. It is the ‘you’ that you live through that decides these matters. For ‘you’ presence is only felt when there is some obstruction to the awareness of the presence.

Question: ‘When there’s obstruction, I can feel presence, but when there isn’t, I can’t.’ This sounds very paradoxical.

Papaji: Your sense of being a person is the obstruction. Everything, all your experiences, or the lack of them, are mediated through this idea of individuality. This obstruction rises from the presence and you either feel the presence through it, or you are aware of its absence. The presence is there all the time, but you don’t feel it in your deep-sleep state because this mediator, this ‘I’, is not there. You don’t know how to be aware of anything when this ‘I’ is absent, so you declare, ‘Presence is not there when I sleep’.

You use this obstruction to validate all your experiences but it has no inherent validity of its own. Shanti, peace, was there before the obstruction arose, and when the obstruction subsides, shanti still prevails. Your inherent nature is this shanti. It is there both when the experiencer is there and when the experiencer is absent.

Question: Yes, it’s obvious. A fish swims in water all its life, but it doesn’t know anything about water. If you want to teach it about water, you take it out of the water, and immediately it understands what water is and how important it is. What you are saying is that if there is nothing to interfere with the presence, there’s nothing to contrast the presence to. And that means there is no means to know the presence.


Papaji: Here we speak of the fish that is still in the river and which cries, ‘I am thirsty!’ It is ignorance of the underlying substratum that creates the idea of suffering. That space, that emptiness, is your inherent nature. It is always there.

Question: [begins to laugh uncontrollably]

Papaji: He’s a doctor of... [Papaji also starts to laugh]

Question: What a relief! [Everyone in the room laughs] I can’t believe it’s so simple. Hmm. Thank you. Thank you very much. I seem to remember now.

Question: [new questioner, addressing the laughing man] Did you forget? I watch myself and I ask myself questions such as ‘Who is getting upset?’ but I forget all the time.

Papaji: When you say, ‘I have forgotten,’ you are not forgetting, you are suddenly remembering. Every time the thought ‘I have forgotten’ arises, that is remembrance.

Question: But there is also a point when you are not even aware that you have forgotten. You just get angry, for example, with no thought of forgetfulness or remembrance.

Papaji: You have a relationship with this entity that is forgetting or remembering. There must be a person who is forgetting. There is a person who is the same whether she has forgotten or remembered. So, the person remains the same throughout the process of remembering and forgetting. Find out the ‘I’ who has the forgetfulness and you will discover the ‘I’ that never forgets. That real ‘I’ is consciousness itself. It will not forget anything. It is presence itself. In that presence you don’t forget anything. If light is everywhere, nothing can be hidden because there is no area of darkness where things are not clear. When you return to consciousness, everything will be very clear. Nothing will be forgotten or hidden.

There is the sleep state in which you have dreams, and there is the waking state. These are known to you. But there is something beyond them, and that is consciousness. This is your true nature. You don’t have to acquire it, gain it, attain it, achieve it, or aspire for it. Since you have never lost it, you don’t have to run after it to get it back. It is here now, and it will always be here. It can’t be lost. If it is not here now, what is the use of trying to get it? Whatever you newly acquire you will one day lose.

So look for that which is never lost, which is permanent, abiding, natural and always there, here and now. Look into ‘now’. Look into presence. Look into space. Look into your own emptiness. Everything is there in this one particle of emptiness. The whole cosmos is there, the whole cosmos. It emerges from there. Return there and see the source of all this phenomenon. Then, enjoy life.