I first heard about H.W.L.Poonja Ji around the sacred fire of Baba Amarnath. A new friend Murray remarked, “This Baba is the only saint I’ve met in india that reminds me of my own guru.”
Baba’s hut was in Badrinath, above 10,000 feet in the Himalaya. I would soon have to descend from there, and always welcomed the opportunity to meet a saint.
I arranged to meet Murry and Poonja Ji in Haridwar, just after the Ganga reaches the plains of India. The saga of waiting for Poonja Ji in Haridwar and Rishikesh for a few weeks is a separate tale with its own drama, but ultimately ended with former Muktananda Swami Satyananda and I getting Pooja ji to agree to meet with us in New Delhi. We engaged on a bed-bugged infested run to into the city to see him.
I had a convenient space to stay in Delhi’s Defense Colony where I had been studying Hindi. Poonja ji was staying with family in Lajpat Nagar at Sharma Studios. He would give us times when we could meet with him, either alone or together, and then send us off when time was up, according to his feeling or Schedule.
It was the last place (except maybe Lucknow) that I wanted to meet a guru. My Himalayan Baba was more my style, but reality comes as it is.
Reality comes ironically.
In the beginning of my path, my Guru was Swami Muktananda, who always had hundreds or thousands of devotees attached. There was no personal time with Muktananda. I had always wished for personal access to a great being like that.
And here I had it, a realized man, disciple of the great Ramana Maharishi, all to myself for hours.
But somehow all my questions had been answered already in the journey of getting me to that point of having his undivided attention. I had little to ask him.
The great majority of our time was spent gazing into each other’s eye in silence…endlessly.
My mind was silenced in this such that after leaving his presence my brain ached to think again, as if gasping for breath.
Other times we shared very mundane time together, I remember watching a soccer game upstairs and the family served us Mushroom curry. I asked him “Papa ji, it is true Mushrooms are Tamasic (Deadening gross category of food)?
He answered “Yes, delicious, aren’t they?”
One time at dinner he chastised me for lagging too far behind in the eating my rice. “You are eating the rice all wrong, you should shovel it in! Not chew it all up over and over!”
Our best meeting places were the park at Lajpat Nagar where we could commune on park benches with a feeling of a bit of nature. Nearby we would often weave through the busy bazaar marketplace adjacent to the park. He would remark that he was testing me to see how I reacted to navigating the chaos with equanimity. One time staring at him in the park a kind of vision of Ramana Maharshi aligned with Poonja and I felt it a particular moment of Grace.
I got to ask him delicate questions such as his opinion of LSD. He said “I just know the hippies took it and came to India, and they left the world and never went back, so I think it must be a good thing.”
Once he told me a story about his last previous life where he was a master yogi who left the body consciously. I asked him why he returned to another body on this planet. He said he came back for sex. I appreciate Poonja Ji was a very honest guy.
Poonja Ji had a lot of very miraculous stories of things he witnessed or that happened in his presence. Some I will share elsewhere. Notably, he said those things never happened during his visits to the Western Countries because the collective mind there was too rigid and it constrained reality to the rigidity.
It’s worth noting that people rarely recognize the gravity of a realized being unless they are told where to look, whom to listen to. Poonja ji didn’t have a long beard, nor any pretenses, even his family didn’t seem to recognize his high status.
I felt it though and was blessed with that amazing opportunity thereby.
My time with him changed everything and nothing.
Through his teachings I had just received a powerful key: My “soul’ was never going to be the object of my experience, like the kundalini ecstasy and powers I had projected as goals. (and experienced as well). Experiences were expansionary but the source of my consciousness was always the eternal subject, I could only “Be” myself, never “see” it. I had only to abide in my true nature and let concepts and goals of attainment fall away.
And that was it, a change of perspective that banished a crucial illusion. There was also certainly changes that couldn’t be observed with the mind, deeper within. When you are going the wrong direction, the exercise may very well make you stronger but you’ll miss where you need to be.
Which is at the very core of your Being, not some celestial trip.
I realized I had been deeply inhabiting this space of being as my center within ever since my awakening experience in college. Everyone with such realization also recognizes that, of course, our whole awareness is sourced in our true nature, and we have glimpses of great peace and love at times when our minds subside during divine moments throughout our lives.
Our true self illumines our entire experience. Abiding in your essence widens the window the light of yourself radiates into your experience.
But everything about me had changed for me most powerfully once I was touched by Grace back in College. It was hard for any Guru to compare to that. So while many people fall deeply in love and devotion to Gurus who catalyze their awakening, I never had that. I loved and appreciated the masters I met, and considered them to be profound portals of the divine from which I received grace beyond words, but who was really behind my real awakening? Perhaps someone from anoher lifetime. I’ve felt a bit like a spiritual orphan as a result but also free as a result. Ironically I was adopted at birth, and while the parents who raised me were beyond caring and wonderful, the connection to a reflection of yourself is not there in the same way.
This realization from Poonja ji didn’t change my center, but it turned my mind around about myself and the path radically. I am forever grateful.
As a Guru I think I presented a dilemma for Papaji because Grace and knowledge didn’t come at the same time for me, so I wasn’t deeply moved by this realization as someone waking up to themselves might be. I wouldn’t value it as strongly in the same way, and I didn’t, but it didn’t matter because my eyes were clarified and path straightened. My path was now truly within and so far within that even the mind is on the outside.
At some point Papa Ji declared me “enlightened” and we took “enlightenment” pictures together. It occurred to me that while true “Self-Realization” occurred under his teachings, that he felt I needed a event in order for me to own it. Ironically, I don’t remember the date this happened. I do remember Papa ji cried when he felt I was enlightened. Such was his wonderful heart. He gave me his time, never asking for money. I donated, but it wasn’t much, I was unemployed, just out of college on a fellowship from UC Berkeley to study Hindi.
Papa ji authorized me to teach at that time, the second of such authorizations he had given up until then. To clarify what that might have meant, he offered no guidance whatsoever in what or how to teach. Others have tried to clarify what his teaching blessings were supposed to mean or not mean, but I’m confident at the time he didn’t even think of such things.
He knew I loved him and would teach from the truth I realized. Simple, it might seem.
Poonja ji’s later falling out with his first “ambassador” Andrew Cohen complicated things.
I returned the United States. Poonja Ji was coming to New York and was also talking about visiting me in my cabin within Yosemite National Park. The visit to this tiny one-bedroom cabin didn’t happen, mostly because arranging for his proper meals couldn’t be managed.
I did get to Visit Papaji in New York City! He was staying in a Manhattan currency Traders apartment who was his disciple. We were shocked at the $5k a month rent (in late 1980s money)
I would come up on public transit from the University where I stayed with a friend getting his PHD. It was a quite a culture shock for me, a California guy living in the woods, to experience New York City with an Indian Guru. We would walk down to the Hudson River like it was the Ganga. He would expound upon how India was the true spiritual place as we stepped past condoms discarded in the streets. He informed me about a new teacher of his, “Ganga Ji” and noted her good work in Hawaii. His Indian New York disciple and I meditated in the living room of his Manhattan flat.
Poonja ji had preferences, opinions and quirks while at once transcendent and conveying a priceless truth in his words and presence. The Guru is a human and also a portal to the divine.
With Andrew Cohen and other scandal ridden holy men as cautionary tales, I decided to let my realization ferment in the mountains of Yosemite rather than proclaim myself one of his teachers. I kept in touch, exchanging letters at times. Papa ji had a policy of showing you the way until you “Got it” and then sending you off. I took that to heart, and I see how he was blessed by it too.
He told me of numerous offers to build an ashram around him which he denied. He said, “Anytime there is an institution, there is bound to be corruption, as it would necessarily reflect all the human beings in that institution. Later I heard someone brought such comments up to him after a large group of followers had collected around him after Osho died; He, quite honestly, said. “Yeah, we will just do the best we can”
I never went to his place in Lucknow on the few trips I made back to India while Poonja Ji was still alive. I felt I got what I needed from him and frankly really disliked the idea of visiting a dirty Indian city in the plains when I could go to the glorious Ganga River and the Himalayas. I was also still attached to Baba Amarnath there. While I probably missed a lot of spiritual fun and drama transpiring around him, but it is what it is. After his death I began to meet some of his later disciples. His light and smile was glowing from so many. I met some of his teachers along the way, wonderful Ganga ji and Ganga Mira, and Mooji Baba who has a vast heart and professorial exposition of Truth, and transmission of it as well. I honor them all.
I bow down to Poonja Ji, and everyone he touched. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.