Integral Yoga Magazine: What is the essence of Papaji’s teachings?
David Godman: Papaji insisted that he was not a teacher and that he had no teachings. This was a somewhat perverse and paradoxical position for him to make because he spent decades of his life teaching people and giving them experiences of the Self.
Papaji liked a Tamil phrase that Ramana Maharshi often uttered: ‘Summa iru’, which means ‘Be quiet’, or ‘Be still’. He said that taking the mind back to its source and making it abide there, without a single thought, was the way to make the Self reveal itself. If he had a teaching at all, it was telling people to ‘Be quiet’. Most people attempt to accomplish this in their spiritual practices; Papaji actually had the ability to make it happen for you while you were sitting in front of him.
DG: Both Papaji and Sri Ramana advocated self-enquiry. Sri Ramana taught it as a continuous practice that slowly trained the mind to abide at its source. Papaji saw it more as a way of making people look inwards so that he could help them see the source of their minds for themselves. His attitude to self-enquiry was, ‘Do it once and do it properly’. He wanted visitors to look for the source of their ‘I’ while they were sitting with him. He would facilitate this search by emanating an enormous shakti that often caused the ‘I’ of the person in front of him to disappear, leaving the substratum of the Self as the sole remaining experience.
He had an extraordinary presence that could eradicate the individuality of people who sat with him. I saw it happen to many people, and when I began collecting information for his biography, I encountered literally hundreds of people who had had similar experiences with him. The experiences often didn’t last, but while they were there, those who were experiencing them would finally be having a taste of a state they had been pursuing and reading about for years.
IYM: Did this occur primarily with his more advanced or senior students?
DG: I once asked Papaji whether he accepted the distinction between mature devotees and immature devotees, meaning those who were advanced and ready for a direct experience and those who were not. After saying that he didn’t, he went on to say, ‘The only distinction I accept is between those who can listen attentively to what I say and those who cannot’. Papaji maintained that there was a power in the words of an enlightened being. If such a being says ‘You are consciousness’, or ‘You are Brahman’, and you hear that statement with a still, silent mind, there is a power in those words that makes you become consciousness, become Brahman. However, if you think about the words, analyse them or wonder how this Brahman can be attained, then these discursive thoughts cover up the experience he is trying to show you.
IYM: What has been your experience of this phenomenon since Papaji left the body?
DG: I firmly believe that this power is still there, just as it is with all the great sages who have left their bodies. If you listen to his words on a video, an audio recording or even in a book, the power to show you what he is talking about is still there. All you have to do is keep quiet and let the words of power do their work.
IYM: What other teachings or practices did he advocate?
DG: Papaji had an interesting notion. He said that if you meditate intensively enough, you will accumulate the punyas, the spiritual merits, which somehow earn you the right to sit in the presence of a realised being. Once you enter the presence of a realised being, though, he said that it is more productive to sit quietly and not make any effort at all. When you sit in the presence of such a being, it is the power of the Self coming through that person that makes you progress further, not anything you do there. I think Sri Ramana would agree with this. He once told one of his devotees, ‘Just keep quiet. Bhagavan will do the rest’.
IYM: There seems to be an interesting link between jnana yoga and bhakti yoga as reflected in the lives of Sri Ramana and Papaji. Does bhakti meet jnana somewhere?
DG: Sri Ramana was a great bhakta, as was Papaji. When Sri Ramana narrated stories of famous saints, tears would often form. Sometimes he would choke on his words. He once wondered aloud how professional story tellers could get through stories about saints without breaking down in the middle. He wrote devotional poetry in which he expressed his love for his own Guru, Arunachala, and he always maintained that self-surrender to God or the Guru was one of the two ways to get enlightened. The other, of course, being self-enquiry.
Papaji had been a
Papaji saw bhakti as a valid path, but in his later years, when most of his visitors were foreigners, he rarely spoke of it or advocated it. I think he felt that western minds had lost their innocence and were not temperamentally suited to successful bhakti. I do, though, know that he felt self-enquiry was a more direct route to enlightenment than devotion to a form of God. I once asked him if he knew a fairly well-known woman who had lived for years in Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh. I asked because she had had an experience of Brahman in Ramana Maharshi’s presence shortly before he passed away. She had spent her whole life seeking communion with her personal God, but in Sri Ramana’s presence the question, ‘Who am I?’ spontaneously appeared within her and, as a response, she became aware of the Self for the first time. Papaji paused for a long time before saying, ‘If I had asked myself, “Who am I?” when I was six years old [the age when
IYM: Do you have any other stories you could share that illuminate the central thrust of Papaji’s teachings on non-duality and self-enquiry?
DG: I think it is fair to say that Papaji wanted transactions with the people who came to see him, not relationships. He wanted his visitors to come, air their doubts, have all their questions resolved by a direct experience of the Self and then go home and get on with their lives. It didn’t often happen that way, but in a few rare cases it did. In part three of Nothing Ever Happened, there is a story of such a case. A Sikh woman with no particular interest in Papaji came to see him because her husband asked her to. In one brief encounter he put her in a state that she called ‘nothingness’, and she remained in that state for the rest of her life. I knew her many years later and talked to her about this incident. She was serene, calm and smiling, and still abiding in the state that Papaji had put her in on her first meeting. She continued to live with her family, but every week or so she would come and sit with him in his house for an hour or so.
When I collected information for his biography, I contacted all the people I could find who had met Papaji at various stages of his life. One man replied from