Donna Quesada: So it’s a kind of a spaciousness, a distance to where you’re able to see all as passing clouds…
Gangaji: You know, I could even say that it’s more an intimacy. So, it’s so great, this is a great challenge. It’s all here. But what is…it’s all arising from what’s here, when it’s being experienced, or existing, and where it all returns to, is the truth. That’s always here, too. So I’m not even speaking in terms of choosing it, it’s just…I don’t know, a war stops. An individual war stops. And there may be skirmishes or battles or whatever, but the war itself is over. And so, there is then a deepening and peace of that. Which of course must allow for all kinds of differences, and dislikes, and emotional events. Yeah.
DONNA: Is that what you meant by intimacy, being intimate with something deeper and truer…and there’s a kind of comfort in knowing that that’s what it really is? The other stuff is fleeting?
GANGAJI: Well, intimacy you know, means…one way of finally. I mean, if you’re truly intimate with someone, or nature, or whatever you are, you’re not separate from that. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that there is comfort in that, it’s something deeper than comfort…that can be extreme discomfort. But there’s maybe divine knowledge, it’s our in, and you don’t have to believe it, or remember your experience of it. You know, you can check…in the worst moments, you can just stop and check, and… who am I? Well what is always here?And it’s is so clear. It was always here, and recognize, Oh yeah, that was always here but now it…As I said, “foregrounded,”so, it’s not a process to get to it.
Yes, I mean, this just came up with a whole supreme court thing, and all of it. Yeah, I have strong opinions about…and I had an emotional reaction to that…but am I going to add my personal suffering to that, or am I going to be able to experience the suffering that is present in that, and to have room for that without adding to it? I think that’s the practical aspect, when you were speaking of practicality. How are we in the world if we are activists or if we are just living a life, or in our special practices…what are we contributing? Are we contributing suffering and searching? Or are we contributing this recognition of, there is within all of it there is this mystery that is you?
DONNA: You know, that’s an interesting thing that you brought up. I would like to go a little further with it, if you don’t mind. What is the proper balance between one’s own spiritual practice and social activism, our role in the world? Because I think there’s this idea that spiritual practice takes you into the cave and you’re meditating…and the tendency is to say, “well, what good could that do?”And the monks have always said,“Well, but by not contributing one scrap of violence into the world, you know…is a kind of vibrational contagiousness of that, that is peaceful.”How are we to understand and what do we say to the naysayers,“What do you mean it starts with you?…you’re not doing anything of value?”
GANGAJI: Well I think there’s room for all of it and I don’t believe there’s a particular formula that has to be lived. it’s really, finally…how are you made? I’m naturally a pretty worldly person. I read the newspaper—online, of course…ecologically correct and I emotionally connect with certain events but I don’t think that’s required. And I also don’t think that it’s required to do that. It’s just discovering that we are unique forms of this one intimate consciousness and we find our way. We see what role we have to play in this drama.
So, Ramana, who was my teacher’s teacher, was a recluse and never left the mountain he got to. Never had relationships of intimacy with women, but that didn’t mean that that was the role model. That was what was right for him. But we do that with our teachers, whatever form our teachers had…to be the correct form. And then that becomes a kind of idealism which is all of a sudden, the new religion. And so, we shouldn’t have those thoughts, we shouldn’t do those activities, we shouldn’t go to a movie or we should forget about our practice and just be on the streets. I think the idealism really becomes a burden and is another excuse for warfare.
DONNA:: You mentioned Papaji. This is Poonja, H.W.L. Poonja. Tell us about your teacher…how did you find him and what was it about him that made you feel like you had come home? If we can I put it in those terms.
GANGAJI: Well, I had really…this is by 1990 when I met him…by that time, I was disillusioned with my practices…I was not a great practitioner. I figured that was the problem. I had had wonderful teachers and I received beautiful teachings and had been profoundly affected by them. And I would have great experiences of expansion, and clarity, and peace and oneness, but always this ground of suffering would reassert itself. My identity as the sufferer, who, if I worked really hard, I could fix that. But I got to a point where I knew I needed a teacher. I had been pretty anti-guru and I didn’t like the co-dependency that I’d seen, and the misuse of power. So I, with my husband, we both, individually and together, realized we needed a teacher. There’s something we don’t know, and we don’t know where to get it. And so, we both prayed for a teacher and we met one of Papaji’s, Poonjaji’s students, who was coming through Marin County. And so we heard of him. And miraculously, Eli happened to be going to India looking for some sufis, cause he’s really interested in the enneagram. And he was in this town and he said “I think that’s where that teacher is from.”So, he ended up looking him up in the phonebook, and he went to his house, and knocked on the door and he was let in and he spent like five days alone with him. And so he was writing me and I was getting these letters and he was saying, “you gotta come here! This is the real thing.”And these letters were just vibrating. And so, he came back…we were actually living in Hawaii then…he came back and got me. And I went to see him. And we went up to his door and knocked on it because he knew we were coming. And he opened the door and there is this welcome. He said,“Welcome!”
GANGAJI: And I felt it, and I saw it, and I fell in love! It was love at first sight! He was a beautiful man and just totally loose and free and open. And he said, “What do you want?”For me, in that moment, the word, “freedom”arose, “I want freedom.”
GANGAJI: And I could’ve said anything else, but that’s what came out. And he said, “Good, you’re in the right place.”And I knew that was right. So I said, after we were having our tea and sitting a little bit…I said,“So tell me what to do. I really…I’m open…tell me what to do.”He said, “stop doing everything.”So, I’d been a Zen student, I’ve done some vipassana, I’d done a lot of Tibetan practices. So I stopped doing everything. I just —breathe in and breathe out. And he said, “No, no, no, no, no stop that.”And he penetrated something. It was quite clear that my practice was actually doing something to get my enlightenment, doing something to get free, doing something to get truth. And he said, “Stop doing anything to get…stop your searching at least for a moment.”And it was terrifying to me in the moment because I really felt that if I stopped, I would fall back, I would regress, into this person, this state, that I had climbed up out of and I was frightened. And he said, “Just be still…don’t do anything.”So for me, the way I tell that…I don’t know if you would ever use those words…I actually met that fear and met that terror, really. Which is similar to the terror of death. I thought I would lose my good life that I had and I would end up in that hell realm that I had climbed up out of and he…Basically I invited everything and stayed conscious…didn’t fall asleep but, eventually then, I discovered what we’re looking for, what we’re searching for, while working so hard for, is already here. And that was his message, and that was Ramana’s message: you are already free – what gets liberated is your idea of yourself. Or your preoccupation with yourself as some idea.
So it was beautiful. We got to spend time together, and he greeted me so openly. He loved me. It was so beautiful. I was his pet and then the next time we saw him he didn’t even look at me. He wasn’t interested in me. I wasn’t his favorite anymore. And there was a point where, oh no! Wait! I could see it. I could just go back again into this identity of aww he doesn’t love me anymore, aww my father has turned from me and —I could just stop. And it was quite beautiful, he’s not looking at me, he’s seeing someone else…is saying the same words to them, “Come in…you’re welcome.”I saw I wasn’t special in the way that I thought that specialness would give me what I wanted. And that…
DONNA: …that was attachment…he really was setting you free.
GANGAJI: Yeah! Yeah! Just by being himself. He really didn’t want to talk to me. It wasn’t like he was setting it up as a test, he was just natural. And he wasn’t psychologically burdened, as we can be in the west, with the way we should act, or what an enlightened person would do or say. He was himself as a human, as well of…this recognition of most profound sort.
DONNA: And you mentioned, Ramana. Ramana Maharshi…that was his teacher.
GANGAJI: Yes, he spent time with him. He spent five or seven years with him. And yeah, Ramana stopped him in his tracks.
DONNA: I have a quote here that he told you, or invited you to, “Shift your allegiance from the activities of your mind to the eternal presence of your being.”
DONNA: And that really struck me as being so beautiful. And it really isn’t different from the Zen message to get out of your head and come here, right here.
GANGAJI: That’s right, he called me his Zen daughter!
DONNA: I love that!
GANGAJI: Yeah, me too!
DONNA: Is that the message of all traditions, or are they all just different boats or vessels that take us to the same place?
GANGAJI: Mmm, sometimes it seems like that’s so. That the core of all spiritual movement or religions there is this explosion or this recognition of unity, the mystic unity of oneself with the totality. But then other times, I hear what’s being said and how it gets translated through particular teachers or particular traditions…seems to veer off that, and it becomes, for me…the Tibetan tradition is beautiful and I profoundly respect it —but for me, it became about power, about accumulating power. That was the thrust of what I was getting from that and it was not healthy for me at that time. Because you know, we could have supernatural things happening, and it was all this manifestation of a medicine buddha or whichever buddha we were working with then, and it was a distraction actually, for me. It felt good. But I needed something so simple. What Papaji was speaking…so simple, that it was radical. But I don’t know what other people need. It’s different for different people.
DONNA: How did the simplicity of it revolutionize your practice so much?
GANGAJI: Well it destroyed my practice, in truth.
DONNA: Like breaking down the edifice or the ideas…
GANGAJI: Oh well, you know, I had a practice of suffering…my practice was. And so, I did an overlay on that practice of whatever my particular meditative practice was. But really, the willingness to stop searching at any moment. And it’s a face…the abyss, of really what our whole conditioned or egoic structure is built on top of. To face that, and to meet that, and to discover that the abyss…it’s not an abyss. It’s alive, vibrant consciousness. There was a reduction, rather than adding to it. He really was inviting me to lose everything, to lose all my practices, all of it and see what was left, what really couldn’t be practiced. Because that would be…of course, my practice was to continue suffering, which is really the example I was given, when all of a sudden, I wasn’t his favorite one…it was a cue for the suffering identity to come in, or to practice my spiritual self. Just something more simple, more immediate. And you can’t practice it because you are it.
DONNA: Is that where the question, “Who am I?”comes into play?
GANGAJI: Mmm, well that’s really Ramana’s great gift. Yes, Who am I? Everything is there.
DONNA: Is that what gyan yoga is built on? That question, Who am I?
GANGAJI: Well, I think…yeah, they say that. There is bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga, and that’s…But it’s more than a mental question. It’s really turning the mind, the attention, if we are calling attention to our mind’s capacity for focused awareness, turning that back to this primary identity, I. “Who am I?”And really, usually, we’re going out from that. I’m getting enough… I’m not getting enough. I am this person, I am this gender, I am this belief. So, it’s returning the attention back to this source. And it often happens immediately for people, for just even asking this question. There is just this flood, this expansion, and clarity. But it can very easily become a mental question. You know, I am not the body, I am…it can be a recitation, a practice. But if it’s used as really, an inquiry…which is really turning your attention to that point and then discovering that point is the spaciousness of the universe.
DONNA: So we have to look at that simplicity, knocking down the walls again, the persona, the guises that we wear…I’m a teacher, I’m a student, I’m this, I’m that…
GANGAJI: Yes, yes, so…freeing! Papaji used to say, “give up your enlightenment.”And give up your unenlightenment too! Give them both up. Those states don’t define you. They are useful for conversation, but they have no power to really define who you are.
Read and Watch Part I Here: Awaken Interviews Gangaji – The Practical Ramifications Of Awakening
Read and watch Part III Here: Find Where You Love, Find Where Love Is Awakened