By David Godman
Published 1998 by the Avadhuta Foundation
A MASSIVE (OVER 1,200 PAGES) biography of Papaji, a disciple of Ramana Maharshi and one of the most influential advaitic teachers of modern times. In addition to the biographical narrative that spans more than eighty years of his action-packed life, there are teaching dialogues, extensive extracts from Papaji’s diaries and letters, along with many accounts by devotees who were utterly transformed by him. This is the definitive account of Papaji’s life.
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The following dialogue, between myself and Papaji, has been taken from volume three of Nothing Ever Happened. It appeared in the chapter entitled 'Guru and Disciple'.
David: I want to ask you some questions about the power of your word. Gurus tell their disciples, ‘You are Brahman,’ and if there is sufficient power and authority in the words, the disciple actually becomes Brahman and experiences it directly. I believe that you have this power and this authority, and on a few occasions you have confirmed that this is so.
One thought has often occurred to me. When you tell people, ‘Keep quiet,’ I don’t think that you are asking people to practise being quiet. I think that you are giving a direct order to their minds. If the mind obeys the order, silence ensues. Is this a correct interpretation?
Papaji: Yes. This is the traditional way. The Sadguru tells his disciple, ‘You are Brahman’. If the disciple is pure in mind, he listens to this authoritative statement and at once becomes Brahman itself. Then he himself affirms, ‘Aham Brahmasmi,’ ‘I am Brahman’. The Sadguru has the authority and power to make this statement in such a way that the disciple immediately experiences the truth of it.
In satsang, when I say to a person, ‘Keep quiet,’ that person automatically becomes quiet. If the mind is pure, it obeys the order ‘Keep quiet!’ by stopping all its thought processes. As soon as the thought processes stop, one reaches the source of one’s thought and stays there. When I see that this has happened, I say, ‘Don’t make any effort,’ because any effort you make in this moment takes you away from this place. The mind always wants to be doing something. When it goes back to its origin and experiences the peace and silence that is always there, there is a tendency to think about it and evaluate it. It is such a nice state, people who are new to it want to make some effort to stabilise it and perpetuate it. This is a guaranteed way to make it go away because it covers up the experience with more thoughts. So, when I see that someone is trying to hold onto the experience in any way, I tell them, ‘Don’t give rise to any thought whatsoever. Don’t stir a single thought in your mind.’ This is not a state of mind that can be maintained by thinking about it. It is a state of no-mind that will only remain if you don’t think about it in any way. I have found that these three instructions work very well. That is why I use them all the time.
People have this experience of no-mind here, and then they go back to their families and friends in the West. All these people want to know, ‘What has happened to you in Lucknow?’ I tell people, before they leave Lucknow, that if anyone asks them questions like this, they should reply by keeping quiet. If they can stay in that no-mind state when people ask them what they have brought, then all those people will come to know what it is that has been brought back from Lucknow. This quietness can only be preserved and maintained by not thinking about it in any way. Only a few people have managed to keep this quietness that they experienced here because most people try to hold onto it with their thoughts.
For several months during the middle of 1995 Papaji read vedantic texts during his satsangs. Yoga Vasishta, Panchadasi, Advaita Bodha Deepika, Ashtavakra Gita, and Ribhu Gita were read in their entirety. For the most part, he read them without comment, even though many of the teachings on sadhana seemed to be directly opposed to his own ‘no method, no practice’ approach.
Most of the texts recommended the traditional advaitic sadhana of sravana, manana and nididhyasana. Sravana is hearing the words of truth from a qualified Guru; manana is reflecting on them and generating a conviction that they are true; in nididhyasana one experiences the truth of the words directly. The second stage, manana, is traditionally pursued by studying vedantic texts with the aim of convincing oneself that the mind, the body and the world are not real. I had heard Papaji say that the word of the Guru alone is enough to grant liberation and that thinking about his teachings is actually an impediment to having a direct experience of them. There are many examples in the previous chapters of devotees suddenly becoming aware of their true nature after hearing a few words from Papaji. No thinking or reflection was required.
David: Almost all the books you have been reading in the last few months have mentioned the traditional path of sravana, manana and nididhyasana. The author of the Ribhu Gita repeatedly asserts that sravana – hearing the truth from the Guru – is enough and that there is no need to think about it or convince oneself that it is true. Do you agree with him?
Papaji: Yes, I do agree with him, and I will tell you why. When you hear the word of truth directly from the mouth of a true Guru, that word will directly enter the Heart of the one who is hearing it. This word from the Guru will dissolve there and itself become the Heart of the listener.
David: You often say that the truth is not something one should try to understand, and that the effort to comprehend is an impediment to having a direct experience of it. So, is the process of manana – reflecting on the Guru’s words and convincing oneself that they are true – an aid or an impediment?
Papaji: Understanding will not help you because truth cannot be understood. Whatever you can understand belongs to the past. If you understand something, what you understand cannot be the truth because the mind can never reach the truth. When it tries to reach it, it gets lost in the attempt. It merges into truth itself and becomes truth. This cannot be explained or understood by the mind because when this happens, the mind has already gone. When the mind is there, truth cannot be known. There is no truth in the mind. Mind has to go for truth to reveal itself.
Mind can only speak and think of the things it has enjoyed in the past. These things can never give true enjoyment, true bliss.
David: Why does the mere hearing of the truth work in a small percentage of cases, but not with the vast majority? You heard the truth from your Master and it immediately worked on you. But those same words, which he repeated every day, didn’t work in the same way on the other people there. Some of them sat there for forty years and never experienced what you did.
Papaji: Why does hearing the truth only work in a small percentage of cases? The simple answer to that is that only a small percentage of people are really interested in the truth. How many people even go to the Guru to listen to his words? There are six billion people in the world right now. A hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty, are sitting here listening to what I have to say. Most of the others don’t want to come here because they want to enjoy sense pleasures instead. Such pleasures are easy to find, and even though no permanent happiness is derived from them, everyone still runs after them.
Look what is happening here. There are many girls here who have recently got new husbands. That means the first husband did not provide permanent satisfaction. The same thing is happening with the men. Even in this satsang, the boys try out girl after girl, and the girls try out boy after boy. If you want true bliss you have to look towards your own Self, not towards other people. If you find it, you won’t want to exchange it for anything else because it will give you complete and permanent satisfaction.
You say that I heard the words of truth from my own Master and that they immediately worked on me, whereas others who had been sitting there for decades didn’t have this experience. You want to know why this is so. The Maharshi was available throughout the day. One could sit with him from early morning till lunch time, and from after lunch up till about 10 p.m. at night. The silent presence was available there all day for anyone who wanted it, but many people couldn’t stand the silence. They had desires to fulfil and they couldn’t sit there quietly without thinking about them. In the early morning, at a time when the Maharshi was freely available, many people would run off to the Arunachaleswara Temple with their coconuts to do a puja. And usually it would be a puja to fulfil some particular desire. The priests charged for these services, because that is their job, but the Maharshi never charged for his silence. If you have worldly desires that you want to fulfil, the Guru’s words will not work on you. And if you have these desires, running off to a temple to do a puja is not going to help you either. That is my experience.
In some of the big temples you can pay as much as Rs 1,100 just to have a darshan. I know a place in Vrindavan that charges this much. A long time ago I was friendly with the son of one of the priests who worked there. I heard from him what goes on in these places. This man was an engineer called Anand Alwar. During the period I lived and worked in Madras, he was one of my neighbours. He said the devotees would give all their offerings – fruit, money, etc. – to his father. The father would then draw a curtain across the shrine so that nobody could see what he was doing. He was supposed to be doing a puja to the deity so that all the devotees on the other side of the curtain could have their desires fulfilled. Instead, he would just sit there, smoking a beedi and having a rest. After about five minutes he would pull the curtain back and offer prasad. Everyone was happy because they all thought that he had performed some elaborate ceremony on their behalf. I don’t believe in temples and pujas as a means of fulfilling one’s desires. I know what goes on inside these places.
Your question is: why do the words of the Guru work in so few cases? It is because no one can stand the silence of the Guru. The mind or the body is always looking for an excuse to run away from it. Here too, no one can sit in silence. That’s why I ask some of the girls to dance and sing.
There was once a king who was looking for someone to take over his kingdom. He called his chief minister and said, ‘Make a proclamation. Tomorrow I am going to open the doors to my throne room. Make sure my throne is on display there. Anyone who wants to take over my kingdom can walk in and sit on the throne. All the people who come will be my guests, so make arrangements to look after them properly when they arrive.’
There were many courtyards in the king’s palace. During the night the ministers and the officials made extensive preparations for the guests they were expecting on the following day.
They thought, ‘These people are going to meet the king, and one of them may even become the king. We must make sure that they are clean, well dressed, well fed and happy before they go into the throne room.’
So, the next morning, when the first visitors arrived, they found that the outer courtyard had been converted into a beautiful bath house. Everyone was invited to bathe there and to cover his body with beautiful perfumes. The visitors could even have a massage if they wanted one. When the guests had been attended to there, they were invited to choose new clothes from the king’s own wardrobe. His courtiers had laid out hundreds of outfits that the king had ordered for himself and hardly ever worn. Many of the guests were so overwhelmed, they spent hours going through all the clothes, trying to make up their mind what they should wear when they entered the throne room. In the next courtyard tables had been laid with all the best foods that were available in the kingdom. Everyone was invited to eat as much as he wanted. At the end of the meal all the royal entertainers put on singing and dancing performances for the benefit of the guests.
One by one everyone forgot why he had come to the palace. The food, the clothes and the entertainment were so attractive, nobody felt like leaving to go into the throne room. At 8 p.m. the king, who had been waiting in the throne room for someone to walk in, called his chief minister and asked, ‘Where is everybody? Did you make the announcement that I was giving away my kingdom today? Didn’t anyone turn up to claim it?’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ said the minister, ‘but they all got side-tracked by the hospitality we provided for them.
Nobody was willing to give up the things they were enjoying to come here and see you.’
‘Very well,’ said the king, ‘since no one cares enough about the offer to walk straight in, I will withdraw it. Close the door. When they have all finished enjoying themselves, send them all home. If anyone had come here first, the whole kingdom would have been his. All the enjoyments would have been his for the rest of his life.’
This is how it is in satsang. People come here, thinking that they want freedom more than anything else. They even tell me that this is what they want, but they are not willing to give up all their other desires. The door to my throne room is always open, but no one walks in to claim the kingdom. Everyone is too busy following his wandering thoughts and desires.
If you want freedom, you must want it to the exclusion of everything else. You cannot keep your other desires pending while you try to win freedom. You must reject them completely. When the desire for freedom is strong enough, nothing will prevent you from walking into the Heart and claiming your kingdom. Imagine that your clothing has caught fire and you are about to burn to death. You know that there is a river nearby, so you race there with the intention of jumping straight in. On the way you meet an old friend who invites you in for a cup of coffee. Do you stop to chat to him? Do you accept his invitation? Further along the road you meet a beautiful woman who tries to entice you into her hut. Do you fall for her attractions, or do you carry on running towards the river? When your desire for freedom is burning like this fire, nothing slows you down or diverts you.
David: Sometimes you say that you trusted your Master and that is why you immediately accepted the truth of his words. But you weren’t very trusting on your first visit. You were annoyed that he had tricked you into coming to South India, and you were dissatisfied with him because he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of Krishna bhakti. With such a lack of trust, how did your Master’s words have such an immediate and lasting effect on you?
Papaji: This is a good question. I didn’t trust him on my first visit because he wasn’t showing any signs of Krishna bhakti. Afterwards, he appeared to me in Madras in the form of a vision and told me, ‘Krishna bhakti alone is true’.
I went back to see him and on that visit I saw him crying as he looked at a picture of Radha and Krishna. The tears of love and devotion that were flowing down his face trickled into my heart. I knew in that moment I had found a real Krishna bhakta who had just been hiding his devotion from me. From that day on I had absolute faith in him.
David: Occasionally you encourage people to cultivate the idea ‘I am free,’ or ‘I am freedom itself’. Sometimes you even tell people to repeat this phrase to themselves until they become convinced that this is the truth. This is classic manana – reflecting on the Guru’s words and generating a conviction that they are true. Since you also say that no effort and no practice can lead to liberation, how can the repetition of this phrase, or any other phrase such as ‘I am Brahman’, lead one to freedom?
Papaji: I tell people to repeat the phrase ‘I am free’ because everyone is saying, ‘I am suffering’. And because they say it, they believe it and suffer. It’s just a word or a thought, but because it is repeated again and again, it becomes the reality for the person who believes it. As you think, so you become. If you think, ‘I am bound, I am suffering,’ that becomes your experience.
So I tell people, ‘Try the opposite. Say to yourself, “I am not bound. I am not suffering. I am happy. I am free.”’
Say it with conviction. Start believing it and you will find that suffering disappears.
Two boys were once walking together. One of the boys put his hand in his pocket, took it out, brought it up to his mouth and then started chewing.
The other boy couldn’t see what he was eating so he asked, ‘What are you eating? Why don’t you offer me some?’
‘I am eating chick peas,’ he said, ‘but I’m not going to give you any.’
The second boy begged and begged until the first boy laughed and said, ‘I was just joking. I am not really eating anything. I was just putting my hand in my pocket and pretending to eat chick peas to see what your reaction would be. Look. There is nothing in my pocket at all.’
The second boy looked and saw that what he said was true.
When he had convinced himself that the first boy really had nothing to offer him, he said, ‘But why were you pretending to eat chick peas? If you are going to pretend like this, why don’t you pretend to eat something tasty, such as almonds?’
Similarly I tell people, ‘If you are going to pretend, why pretend that you are suffering? Why not pretend instead that you are free? It doesn’t cost you anything extra.’
It doesn’t even cost you Rs 10 to say, ‘I am free,’ but if you start saying that instead of ‘I am bound,’ what a difference it will make to your life. ‘I am free’ is an idea, and ‘I am bound’ is an idea. But if the former idea makes you happier, why not believe in it?
You are saying, ‘This is classic manana, reflecting on the Guru’s words and generating a conviction that they are true’. And you are also asking me, ‘How can this work since I also say that no effort and no practice can lead to liberation?’
The simple answer is, ‘It doesn’t work’. No amount of effort or practice can lead one to liberation. I tell people, ‘Don’t waste your time making efforts to get enlightenment. You are already free.’
Neither your effort nor your lack of effort will make any difference to this fundamental truth. I don’t advise people to waste their time trying to get enlightened because the results of such efforts can never be enlightenment. Anything you gain by your practice will be something that you have attained by mental or physical effort. You can attain mental and physical states by mental and physical activity, but you cannot attain enlightenment this way because it is not a physical or mental state. It cannot be attained or discovered by the mind, the body or the senses.
So I simply tell people, ‘Don’t make any effort. Don’t practise, and keep quiet just for one second.’ That’s all you have to do. You can try it now. For one second keep absolutely quiet and tell me what you find? Who are you in that moment? I offer a challenge to everybody here today: be absolutely silent for one second. Then, if in that moment you don’t see who you really are, come and tell me, ‘I did it, but it didn’t work’.
In that one second you have to discard everything that belongs to the past. Every thought you have ever had belongs to the past. And don’t think about the future. Don’t sit there thinking, ‘If I sit here quietly, I will find out who I am’. That is a thought about the future. The expectation of any result is a thought, and while that thought is there, you are not being truly quiet. And don’t think that you are sitting in front of me, trying to find out who you are. That is also a thought. Your perceptions are all thoughts. If you are aware of your body or the world, these are perceptions, and all perceptions are thoughts. In that one second of true silence you must have no perceptions at all. Whatever you can see, think, taste, comprehend or experience is not the truth because the truth cannot be registered or experienced by any bodily or mental faculty.
No one has ever tasted truth. No one has ever experienced it. Tastes and experiences are all thoughts that belong to the past, and what I am speaking of is absolutely fresh, absolutely untainted by thought or by anything that belongs to the past. In that moment of silence, the one who wants to taste truth disappears. In fact, in that moment, he becomes the tasted, not the taster.
The fate of those who become the tasted was brought out in an entertaining exchange in one of his 1995 Lucknow satsangs:
Question: Yesterday I was reading the chapter about your life in the Papaji Interviews book. I got to the part about your wanting to taste the chocolate instead of being the chocolate. That’s where I am now. What should I do next?
Papaji: First you tasted the chocolate. It was very sweet, very good, very delicious. Then you thought, ‘Why not become it?’ If you accomplish this, you can let others enjoy. Chocolate is for others. They will enjoy you.
Question: What do I do next?
Papaji: [laughing] There is no next for chocolates. They just get licked and tasted by other people.
Though Papaji happily concedes that a few people get a direct experience in the Guru’s presence while the others do not, he is not willing to admit that the ones who get it are in any way more qualified for enlightenment.
David: Do you accept that there are mature seekers who attain freedom on hearing the truth once and immature ones who need a period of manana, of practice? Usually you reject such distinctions, but you still encourage those who have not had a direct experience of the Self to generate the conviction ‘I am free’ until the conviction matures into direct knowledge.
Papaji: I don’t accept that some are mature seekers and some are not. There are those who can listen attentively to the Guru’s words and there are those who can’t pay full attention to what he is saying. That is the only difference I accept. When the teacher speaks, your whole attention should be on his words.
In a class at school the teacher may be talking, but nobody is really listening to him. Some students are daydreaming, some are gossiping and some are thinking about the football match they are going to play after school. If you don’t listen to the words of the teacher, his words will not benefit you.
Here in satsang you have to listen to my words with full attention and full devotion. If you do, they will work, and if you don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple as that. As you listen to my words, you have to keep your Heart open, not your ears. When the word is uttered it must enter your Heart, not your mind. I will tell you a story about a saint who lived in Maharashtra a few hundred years ago. Those of you who have come from Pune have probably heard of the place. There is a town called Panchgani near Mahabaleshwar, and near it there is a small village where this saint lived. Many people used to go in him to listen to his talks. About 500 people used to attend his satsangs between five and seven in the morning. His devotees were keeping a record of what he was saying by writing it down. Many people were coming but the teacher knew that none of them was really listening to what he was saying. He decided to play a trick in order to show them what real attention is. He scattered the pages of his book all over the floor and then announced during the satsang the following morning that the wind blowing in the window during the night had disarranged the papers.
‘I want them all to be arranged in the order they were yesterday,’ he said. ‘That is the order in which I said these words, so it should be easy for you to remember. You all come here every day, so all you have to do is remember which set of teachings came first, second, and so on.’
Many learned people had been attending the talks, but none of them could remember the exact order. Most of them couldn’t even remember what had been said the previous day. The words had been washed away in less than a day. If you hear something really important, those words leave an indelible mark in you. You remember them for the rest of your life.
Finally the teacher, whose name was Ramdas, said, ‘There is only one person left in the ashram who has not been consulted. Kalyan, that man who cleans out the cowshed. Call that man and see if he knows the correct order.’
One of the disciples said, ‘It’s a waste of time calling him. He never attends the satsangs. He is illiterate, and he spends all day carrying cow dung. How can he remember what has been happening here if he has not even been in the room?’
Ramdas replied, ‘He is the only person left who has not been asked. Bring him in and see what he has to say.’
Kalyan was brought in and the situation was explained to him. Much to everyone’s surprise Kalyan said, ‘Yes, I can help you. I know the exact order of all the pages. I will dictate the whole book to you.’
It was no idle boast. He began at the beginning of page one and recited the whole book from beginning to end. As he was speaking, the pandits sorted out the papers and put them in the proper order. Everyone was astonished. They all wanted to know how an illiterate man who had not attended a single satsang could recite the whole book from beginning to end. Kalyan told them the secret.
‘I cannot attend satsang because of my duties in the cowshed, but I can hear his words by keeping my ears close to his Heart. I don’t need to be near him for this to happen. Whenever a word comes from his lips, by his grace it directly enters my Heart and stays there. All his teachings are stored there because I listen to them with my Heart.’
This is the correct way to attend satsang. This is the correct way to listen to the Guru’s words. Sitting close to the teacher is not good enough. You have to listen in such a way that his words enter your Heart and become your own reality. This is called ‘attending with the Heart’.
David: A couple of months ago a boy came up to you in satsang to tell you about an experience of emptiness he had had when he was ten years old. The experience later wore off. Later that morning, as you were reading the Panchadasi, you read out a verse that stated that one should do sravana, manana and nididhyasana if one wanted to become stabilised in the truth.
You stopped and said to the boy, ‘You should have done this when you were ten. If you had done this, the experience would not have left you.’
Papaji: When you get this kind of experience, you should not reactivate the mind by thinking about the truth. If you want it to stick, you should go to a true teacher who has established himself in the truth. Such a teacher will not tell you to do anything else or anything new.
He will tell you, ‘You don’t have to hear anything from anyone else. There is nothing more you need to do. Stay where you are and be as you are.’
This boy didn’t know what the experience was, nor did he have a competent teacher who could evaluate it for him. The same thing happened to me when I was six years old. I had a direct experience, but no one there was able to tell me, ‘This is the truth. You don’t need anything else.’
Instead, everyone told me, ‘The peace you enjoyed in that state came because of Krishna. If you start worshipping him, he will appear before you and make you happy.’
I was already happy but somehow, these uninformed people made me do sadhana because they thought that I needed new experiences. Because I had no one who could say with authority, ‘You need nothing else. Stay as you are,’ I ended up spending years looking for external gods.
There has been no change in my understanding, my experience and my conviction since I was six years old. From the age of six till now, when I am over eighty years old, there has been no change, but this truth, this understanding, was not fully revealed to me till I met the Maharshi. That is the role of the true teacher: to show you and tell you that you are already That, and to do it in such an authoritative way that you never doubt his words. Over the last few months I have been reading out books by some of the great teachers of the past. Again and again they say, ‘You are That. You are Brahman. This alone is the truth.’
All the teachers are saying this because they want their students to have the firm conviction that this is the truth, that this is who they truly are. This is the function of the true teacher: to remove your doubt that you are not Brahman and by doing so to allow you to see who you really are.