Complete biography, including twenty-five years of japa, devotion, and visions of Krishna
Firstly, there must be a desire for God, a love for Him, or a desire for liberation. Without that, nothing is possible. In my own case, the experience I had had when I was eight awakened such a great desire for God within me that I spent a quarter of a century in an obsessive search for Him. This desire for God or realisation is like an inner flame. One must kindle it and then fan it until it becomes a raging fire which consumes all one’s other desires and interests. A single thought or a desire other than the thought ‘I want God’ or ‘I want Self-realisation’ is enough to prevent that realisation from taking place. If these thoughts arise, it means that the fire is not burning intensely enough. [In contrast, Ramana sometimes said that even the thought, "I am not realized," is an obstacle to realization.]
In the years I was an ecstatic Krishna bhakta I was fanning the flames of my desire for God, and in the process burning up all my other desires. If this inner fire rages for long enough, with sufficient intensity, it will finally consume that one, central, overwhelming desire for God or the Self. This is essential because realisation will not take place until even this last desire has gone. After this final desire disappears, there will be the silence of no thoughts. This is not the end, it is just a mental state in which thoughts and desires no longer arise. That is what happened to me in Madras after Rama appeared before me. All my thoughts and desires left me, so much so, I couldn’t take up any of my practices again.
Many people have had temporary glimpses of the Self. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, and it is not uncommon for it to happen in the presence of a realised Master.
After these temporary glimpses, the experience goes away because there are still thoughts and latent desires which have not been extinguished. The Self will only accept, consume and totally destroy a mind that is completely free of vasanas. That was the state of my mind for the few days I was in Madras. But realisation did not happen in those few days because the final ingredient was not present. I needed the grace of my Master; I needed to sit before him; I needed to have him tell me, ‘You have arrived,’ and I needed to believe him; and I needed to have him transmit his power and grace via his divine look. When the Maharshi’s gaze met my vasana-free mind, the Self reached out and destroyed it in such a way that it could never rise or function again. Only Self remained....
Then he looked at me intently. I could feel that my whole body and mind were being washed with waves of purity. They were being purified by his silent gaze. I could feel him looking intently into my Heart. Under that spell-binding gaze I felt every atom of my body being purified. It was as if a new body were being created for me. A process of transformation was going on—the old body was dying, atom by atom, and a new body was being created in its place. Then, suddenly, I understood. I knew that this man who had spoken to me was, in reality, what I already was, what I had always been. There was a sudden impact of recognition as I became aware of the Self.
I use the word ‘recognition’ deliberately, because as soon as the experience was revealed to me, I knew, unerringly, that this was the same state of peace and happiness that I had been immersed in as an eight-year-old boy in Lahore, on the occasion when I had refused to accept the mango drink. The silent gaze of the Maharshi re-established me in that primal state, but this time it was permanent. The ‘I’ which had for so long been looking for a God outside of itself, because it wanted to get back to that original childhood state, perished in the direct knowledge and experience of the Self which the Maharshi revealed to me. I cannot describe exactly what the experience was or is because the books are right when they say that words cannot convey it. I can only talk about peripheral things. I can say that every cell, every atom in my body leapt to attention as they all recognised and experienced the Self that animated and supported them, but the experience itself I cannot describe. I knew that my spiritual quest had definitely ended, but the source of that knowledge will always remain indescribable.
I got up and prostrated to the Maharshi in gratitude. I had finally understood what his teachings were and are. He had told me not to be attached to any personal God, because all forms are perishable. He could see that my chief impediments were God’s beautiful form and the love I felt towards Him. He had advised me to ignore the appearances of these ephemeral Gods and to enquire instead into the nature and source of the one who wanted to see them. He had tried to point me towards what was real and permanent, but stupidly and arrogantly I had paid no attention to his advice.
With hindsight I could now see that the question ‘Who am I?’ was the one question which I should have asked myself years before. I had had a direct experience of the Self when I was eight and had spent the rest of my life trying to return to it. My mother had convinced me that devotion to Krishna would bring it back and had somehow brainwashed me into undertaking a quest for an external God whom she said could supply me with that one experience which I desired so much. In a lifetime of spiritual seeking I had met hundreds of sadhus, swamis and gurus, but none of them had told me the simple truth the way the Maharshi had done. None of them had said, ‘God is within you. He is not apart from you. You alone are God. If you find the source of the mind by asking yourself “Who am I?” you will experience Him in your Heart as the Self.’ If I had met the Maharshi earlier in my life, listened to his teachings and put them into practice, I could probably have saved myself years of fruitless external searching.
I must make one other comment about the greatness of the Maharshi. In the days that followed my vision of Rama I went all over Madras, looking for advice on how to start my sadhana again. The swamis I saw there gave me pious platitudes because they could not see into my Heart and mind the way the Maharshi could. Several days later, when I came and sat in front of the Maharshi, he didn’t tell me to keep on trying because he could see that I had reached a state in which my sadhana could never be resumed again. ‘You have arrived,’ he said. He knew I was ready for realisation and through his divine look he established me in his own state.
The real Master looks into your mind and Heart, sees what state you are in, and gives out advice which is always appropriate and relevant. Other people, who are not established in the Self, can only give out advice which is based on either their own limited experience or on what they have heard or read. This advice is often foolish. The true teacher will never mislead you with bad advice because he always knows what you need, and he always knows what state you are in.....
How, can this freedom be won? Close association with a saint is quite enough; you will resolve your doubts and your mind will be purified to receive. If your mind is not pure, even if God gives you instruction, you will not be able to get it. You have first to purify your mind. Your mind must be purified. Not in one janma, many janmas, you have to be born, reborn, and then the mind will be purified. So in the last janma, in the last incarnation, there will be the desire to be free and this is going to work. You will be asking, you will be wanting the company of a holy person. Somehow you will be led to him, you will be led to him, somehow you will reach him and stay with him. That is on your part, you have fulfilled your part. The rest depends upon your teacher. [Ramana advised some people not to stay with him for long, that "ashram life was for beginners," and that both self-effort and grace were necessary for realization. This difference has led many who went to Papaji to think they could just "get it" as an experience, and that this was the end. Moreover, the assumption that such a glimpse or even abiding realization implies a last or final janma, or incarnation, does not necessarily follow. It may be, however, the last incarnation in bondage.]
There is one final episode I must tell before I complete the story of my association with my Master.
Many years later, sitting on the banks of the Ganga, I had an extraordinary vision of myself, the self that had been H.W.L. Poonja, in all its various incarnations through time. I watched the self move from body to body, from form to form. It went through plants, through animals, through birds, through human bodies, each in a different place in a different time. The sequence was extraordinarily long. Thousands and thousands of incarnations, spanning millions of years, appeared before me. My own body finally appeared as the last one of the sequence, followed shortly afterwards by the radiant form of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The vision then ended. The appearance of the Maharshi had ended that seemingly endless sequence of births and rebirths. After his intervention in my life, the self that finally took the form of Poonja could incarnate no more. The Maharshi destroyed it by a single look.
As I watched the endless incarnations roll by, I also experienced time progressing at its normal speed. That is to say, it really felt as if millions of years were elapsing. Yet when my normal consciousness returned, I realised that the whole vision had occupied but an instant of time. One may dream a whole lifetime but when one wakes up one knows that the time which elapsed in the dream was not real, that the person in the dream was not real, and that the world which that person inhabited was not real. All this is recognised instantly at the moment of waking. Similarly, when one wakes up to the Self, one knows instantly that time, the world, and the life one appeared to live in it are all unreal.
That vision by the Ganga brought home this truth to me very vividly. I knew that all my lifetimes in samsara were unreal, that the Maharshi had woken me up from this wholly imaginary nightmare by showing me the Self that I really am. Now, freed from that ridiculous samsara, and speaking from the standpoint of the Self, the only reality, I can say, ‘Nothing has ever come into existence; nothing has ever happened; the unchanging, formless Self alone exists’. That is my experience, and that is the experience of everyone who has realised the Self. [This can be misinterpreted to exclude the World from Realization. True non-duality includes both dualism and non-dualism].
- from above on-line biography of Papaji, chapters "The Process" and "The Master Remains".