Sunday, July 08, 2007

Non Dual Masters - Papaji alias Poonja

H.W.L. Poonja was born on October 13, 1913 in the part of Punjab that now belongs to Pakistan. At the age of six he had his first direct experience of the Self. His mother, who was a devotee of God as Krishna, interpreted the blissful state her son was in, to be one of direct contact with her chosen deity. Thus, she encouraged him to also worship Krishna. Poonja followed this path for most of his life until 1944, when he met his master, Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Poonjaji was never fully satisfied with his mother's encouragement to worship Krishna, though out of earnestness, he did so. He eventually travelled all across India in search of a more satisfying explanation of the experience he had as a child. He was simply in search of God. Poonja was by now a second lieutenant in the Army. He would enter various ashrams wearing his army boots and directly address himself to the principal teacher, asking, "Have you seen God?" He never felt satisfied with the answer he generally received, which stated: "We have grown long grey beards in search for God, and you think you can just walk in here and see Him?"

When Poonja met Ramana Maharshi, and asked him, "Have you seen God?" Maharshi replied, "Anything that you see cannot be God. Whatever you see must be an object of your senses. God is not an object of your senses. God is the one through whom all things are seen, tasted, touched, heard and smelt, but He himself cannot be seen because He is the seer, not an object of sight." This meeting with Ramana Maharshi ultimately led him to the profound state of awakening, Self-realisation.

Ramana Maharshi explained to Poonja that worshipping of God as Krishna, through the repetition of his name 50,000 times a day was a path which brought you somewhere, like a train or car, and once you arrived at your destination you left it behind. The same applies to spiritual practices, which dissolve once they have brought the practitioner to his goal. Poonja listened with all his heart to his master's words. The silent gaze of Maharshi's cleansing presence pervaded his whole body and mind. It is then that he 'recognised' himself and understood that this was the experience he had at the age of six. His spiritual quest had ended.

When the Maharshi told him, "I am with you wherever you are," Poonjaji understood, "the deep significance of his remark. The 'I' which was my master's real nature was also my own inner reality. How could I ever be away from that 'I'? It was my own Self, and both my master and I knew that nothing else existed." Soon afterwards, Ramana sent Poonja back to his family, which he looked after right until his retirement, in 1966.

After retirement, he led a more recluse and simple life, sharing his experience and knowledge of the Self with those who found their way to him. Poonja would pour out his love on the seekers who met him, and answer all of their questions with great passion and earnestness. He would take them on long, tireless walks into the surrounding hills of Rishikesh and Haridwar, where he cooked rice and dhal [legumes] with them along the banks of the Ganges. Through simple actions and words he constantly reminded them of their own reality.

Speaking with a disciple named Kailas, Poonjaji said: "Human evolution has got nothing to do with Self-realisation. When you realize the Self you will know that there has never been any evolution, that there has never been any creation, that there are no Gods, no demons, no animals, and not even any people. All these things belong to the mind, to the ego. They are all ignorance. You think 'I am so and so, he is so and so.' This is just ignorance. It is a cycle that has no ending. But once you have true realisation, you know that you were never born. Some desire from the past has appeared in a physical form. It has manifested as this person called Kailas. But in reality, nothing has happened. This is the ultimate truth."

During the 1980s some of the Indian devotees gave him the name 'Papaji'. Many saw him as their spiritual father giving them boundless joy and love. At the request of devotees, he travelled to Europe, North America and South America until his health did not allow him further mobility. Since the early 1990s, he remained quite sedentary; first in Haridwar and then in Lucknow in Northern India. An informal community of devotees began to form itself around him in 1990. Unable to move about as easily as he had in the past, he invited people to spent time with him on a regular basis, in a house specially rented for this purpose. He called these meetings 'satsang', which literally means 'association with Reality'.

During his last two years, Poonja answered less questions and mostly read from texts such as Yoga Vasishta, Ribhu Gita, Bhagavad Gita and the Heart Sutra, to name a few. Even more recently, he had practically stopped speaking and left it to his more musically inclined disciples to express their artistic abilities during meetings.

Poonjaji passed away on September 6th, 1997 after complications resulting from bronchitis. He could not breathe and had to be put onto a respirator, which he at first refused. Shortly before he passed away, though his body was greatly weakened by illness and under heavy medication, he sat up in his bed and said very forcefully, "Where is Buddha, where is Buddha?" The disciples present did not know what to do. When they presented him with a photograph of Ramana Maharshi, he practically threw it on the floor and said, "Bring him in!" He then added, "You cannot know Buddha, bas [enough]!" He passed away not long after.

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