Saturday, December 15, 2007

Poonja Swami

Here's an interesting recent experience:

Last week, on my 50th birthday, the "formal" beginning of this whole hermitage phase of my life, I woke up at about 5:00 AM from a very odd dream. In the dream, I was waiting for a table at a fancy seafood restaurant. Out in the lobby, there were aquariums filled with strange fish that were on the menu. My name was called to be seated at a table, but the hostess explained that before I could be seated, I had to disclose my religion. I told her that I didn't have a religion, but I did have a Guru. She asked me the name of my Guru, and I blurted out “Poonja Swami” before I could even think further. For a moment I felt some sense of guilt or uncertainty, that perhaps I should have said Ramana or Saradamma, but it seemed telling that my immediate response was Poonja Swami. I was asked to write his name on a slate, and I did, but I misspelled it as “Pooja Swami”.

On awakening, I felt into this dream, and something about it felt right to me. I have no real clue about my whole relationship to Gurus, and what any of that ultimately means. But there's some solid reason to feel a strong connection to Papaji. For one thing, he's the only one of these neo-Advaitin guys that I ever actually met in the flesh, back in 1974 in Saanen Switzerland when I was there to see J. Krishnamurti's talks for the summer. I was just 16, and I had no idea who Papaji was at the time. He was just this very impressive looking Indian dude hanging out in the tent where Krishnamurti gave his talks. They had a book stall in the back of the tent, and after Krishnamurti's talks I would linger there and look at the books. I noticed Papaji hanging there also, looking at the books. Something about him struck me as incredibly mature. He seemed to carry himself with such confidence and ease, without self-consciousness or ego, just a mature human being, and I thought to myself, damn, that's what it is to be a man. I wanted to sidle up to him and strike up a conversation, but I felt a bit nervous about this. I did stand next to him, and noticed that he was looking at the books in the Ramana Maharshi section, and I wanted to point out the “Talks with Ramana Maharshi” book to him and recommend it, but something stopped me. I just wasn't sure if I should impose myself on him. So I didn't. Regrets? Perhaps! Of course, it would have been rather hilarious to recommend Ramana's books to one of Ramana's primary disciples, but that's another story. In any case, I went home to my room in a local farmhouse, and began studying the same book of Talks, and while reading Ramana something extraordinary happened. I began to watch my mind speed up, as if it were a tape recorder playing at high speed, accelerating faster and faster, all my thought whipping around in a frenzy, and then suddenly the whole tape slid down the back of my head, through my neck, and into the right side of my heart. Suddenly my mind was empty, and a tremendous feeling of peace pervaded me, and the whole world. I stopped reading and simply sat in this peace, and it persisted for days on end. My mind slowly came back, but it was easy to simply sit without mind, to walk without mind, and to simply feel this pervasive peace in the midst of everything. Over the next few days I went on walks in the Swiss countryside, and on a couple of occasions I came across Poonja Swami and some of his friends walking also. I didn't say anything, and I didn't even connect the experience to him. But I realized that I had seen him several times before around town, in the tent, and even on leaving the train station on arriving in Saanen weeks before.

I didn't connect all of this to Poonja Swami until a couple of years ago when I read David Godman's autobiography of Poonja Swami, Nothing Ever Happened, in which he mentions that Poonja Swami actually went to Saanen and attended J. Krishnamurti's talks in 1974, the same year I was there. I then realized who the Indian fellow was in the tent, and the experience I had afterwards began to make sense, since Papaji was well known for traveling around the world and spontaneously giving experiences of the Self to people in the course of his travels, often without any formal meeting at all, just while walking around. So I figure I was one of those people. I was having all kinds of unusual spiritual experiences that summer, and though I didn't connect them to Papaji, it's interesting that I kept bumping into him there.

Since leaving Adi Da several years ago, I have often wondered if I would ever have another Guru again. The only living Guru who I feel at all attracted to is Muthra Sri Saradamma, who lives in India and keeps a very private life. I've hoped to travel to India someday to see her, but for now that's not realistic. Ramana of course is a possibility, but I never actually met him in the flesh, and somehow that seems important to me. I did have an extraordinary spiritual “meeting” with him when I was 15, and have felt connected to him ever since, but it's always felt that he was pointing me to others, not to himself. And I don't know if it matters that Poonja Swami is no longer alive in the flesh himself. But this in some respects doesn't matter. My own situation is what it is. What interests me most is Poonja Swami's teachings, and I suppose this dreams suggests to me that I should pay special attention to these.

It happened that for a couple of days prior to this dream I had been reading some of Papaji's teachings for the first time in a few months. I thought this is what probably triggered the dream. I found a couple of talks online which were quite inspiring, such as this one. An excert from this talk stuck out in my mind:
When you exert effort or practice sadhana you will camouflage and cover the truth. You will have to remove this covering because it is you who put it there. This covering will be removed through your effort. And when all efforts are done away with - when all attempts, all intents and intentions, all ideas and notions are rejected - at that time ask yourself, "Who am I?" You will certainly find the answer.

This is how freedom is already attained: You are already free. If you can hear this once from a teacher you are free. If you cannot hear this, then practice. If you can listen to a teacher who is not a liar, who is speaking the truth, and if you are honestly longing for freedom then listen once and you are free.

If you are not honest and if the teacher is not authentic it will not work. You will have to take up a practice if something is false somewhere. What is that practice? At all times, walking, sleeping, dreaming, on waking, while standing, sitting, lying, go on chanting the mantra. I can recommend mantras also, as a second best. If you can repeat this mantra from now till your last breath I guarantee you will not appear again in a next birth; you will not fall into any womb. What is the mantra? "I AM FREE!" Take up this practice if you do not believe me.

If you can listen, if you long for freedom, and you feel that I am honest when I tell you that you are free, then accept it! Hear this only once and you are free.

If you do not accept what I am saying then I will give you a practice as a second best. You will have to continue practicing on every breath - every breath of the waking state, of the dream state, of the sleeping state up to the last breath.
This seemed to apply to me. I've of course practiced self-enquiry, but I haven't immediately awakened from the practice. No doubt few do. I seem to be one of those people who needs to continue doubting, or at least needs to slowly remove his doubts. My general stupidity and slowness in all these matters will undoubtedly become a theme in this blog, so it's best to just lay it out there. In any case, this recommendation form Poonja Swami certainly made some sense, and I wondered if this might be a good thing for me to practice.

The next day, I read this from another online talk by Poonja Swami:

The practice nearest to truth for those few who want to realize absolute Brahman is meditation only on attribute-less Brahman itself, without any object of concentration. When people start to mediate they do something, they hold some image in the mind or some word. That may be useful, but it is even better to think of attribute-less Brahman, to always keep aware of the attribute-less Brahman during meditation, knowing that, “I am Brahman.” without focusing on any object of the past, present, or future.

This is the nearest practice. If you want to do any practice, to meditate on attribute-less Brahman, immaculate Brahman, which is none other than your own Atman - your own fundamental nature. If you are not able to realize the truth instantly you can continue this practice for a while. Slowly you will see that the meditator and the meditated upon vanish. Neither attribute-less Brahman nor meditation upon attribute-less Brahman has anything to do with a meditator or something meditated upon.

So this constant exercise is advised, constant sadhana on attribute-less Brahman, thinking, “I am Brahman.” If you want to think something, why think, “I am the body?” The body does not last. Why think, “I am this.” or “I am that?” If you want to have a thought at all and you cannot live without thinking, then have this supreme thought: “I am Brahman.” This is the exercise which is nearest to your goal of Brahman itself. The meditator and the meditated upon will vanish. This is the goal that we started meditation for. No other sadhana or exercise is as near as this for one who wants to be free of this samsara, from this going again and again from death to birth and birth to death. This is how to break the cycle. There is only one way and this is this way. This can continue always wherever you are.
Being one of those lame fellows who doesn't “get it” the first time, who needs some kind of practice, this felt appealing. I have not been very big on the recitation of the Mahavakyas, the “Great truths” practice, but something about it seemed right and good and natural now. So I wondered if this too was worth practicing.

When I woke from this restaurant dream I couldn't help thinking about Poonja Swami and these teachings of his, and after a while something seemed to click. I of course thought about Self-enquiry, and how it relates to these other “mantras”. It seemed that there's a complimentary relationship between them, that Self-enquiry is not really different from them in its basic emphasis on feeling into the sense of self, of “I”, and what is beyond the “I”. So I began to practice Self-enquiry, and then practice these matras, saying “I am Brahman” and “I am free”. Or using a more English translation, saying “I am Infinite Consciousness” or “I am the Supreme Being”, or even the Sanskrit 'Aham Brahmasmi”. All this seemed fine. After a little while, it seemed as if there were a natural progression of sort here, that I could begin by asking “Who am I?”, then after a pause (short or long) say the invocation “I am Brahman” (or one of its correlates), and then say, “I am free”. This seemed to have a very positive effect altogether, bringing a deeper sense of peace and freedom and relaxation.

So I've been trying to practice in this format since then:

1)Who am I?

2)I am Brahman

3)I am free

I don't feel any need to be strict about the order. I still feel that enquiry is primary, and of course Self-enquiry doesn't require the verbal question “Who am I?”. It merely requires a feeling investigation of the self-sense, the feeling of “I”, of identity. When this feeling of identity becomes strong and prominent, it then feels appropriate to say “I am Brahman,” and “I am free”. And sometimes I just practice the Mahavakya “I am Brahman”. For now it is all just experimental in any case, but it feels already like a good experiment.


no more booda data said...

I like this idea of wondering who your true guru might be. And of only finding out years later. Reminds me of my own guru story. In my case I didn’t even catch his name, our meeting was so brief. But he has stuck with me like no one else could. It’s kind of an odd story, and not much of one, but here it is:

It wasn't for twelve years after I met my "guru" that I was even able to tell anyone about it. Strangely, every day, nearly every time I looked into a mirror, I was reminded of him, sensed his presence, and recalled our brief encounter during my trip to Nepal in the fall of 1984. And for twelve years after our meeting I had a powerful mental block preventing me from telling anyone about it. I could not even remember the event myself unless I was standing in front of a mirror, especially the bathroom mirror in whatever place I was staying. At other times of the day the whole subject was simply blocked from my awareness. Once the mental block finally dissolved (after my second trip to Nepal, during which I did not go to look for him) I could not, and still can't, get him out of my mind.

I met him on a hill at the north end of Pokhara, at the Binde Basini Temple, only a few other people around. He was unremarkable looking as far as Hindu sadhu-types go. Not young, not old. No heavy spiritual vibe. No indication at all that this could become for me some kind of a meaningful experience. He acknowledged me as I strolled up, but if we spoke at all, and I'm not sure we did, it was only a few words. Our eyes met, and he shared with me a few draws of hashish from his chillum. I probably thanked him as I left. I don't remember even sitting down, our meeting was so brief, but he was seated on the ledge of his little open-fronted stone shelter. He appeared to have nothing in the world but a rag robe and that chillum. And every day since that day feels to me like the very same day. Distance and time just don’t apply. I guess this is what’s called a sat guru, realized as one’s own deepest identity. Not to be confused with mere teachers along the way, although I see no reason why they couldn’t be one and the same if that’s the way it happens. That’s the story.

Anonymous said...


I'm not too sure as to whether you may have read this, but below is the link for my own Guru story.

I too am still praciticing Self Enquiry and as such, look forward to your reports.