Tales from the Path
Glimpses up-close, "mine eyes have seen . . ."
Inspiring visits with the greats from seekers.
This page is by Dhanya (
* )

Papaji

Papaji 1910-1997 

I met Papaji in Lucknow in February of 1991. After an eleven year hiatus from spiritual seeking during which time I had built up a business, gotten married, bought a house, and done most of the usual worldly things that people think will make them happy, I realized that I was completely miserable.

Having left off spiritual practice in the early 1980's as I felt it wasn't practical, I now decided to reexamine the dharma as the place to find true happiness. With that in mind, I went to sit a Vipassana course with S.N. Goenka at Goenka’s mediation center in Igatpuri, outside of Bombay. Goenkaji was an old teacher of mine from the 70’s in India, and I felt that of all the living teachers I knew, he was the best.

I had also made plans to revisit the ashrams of my guru (Neem Karoli Baba or Maharaji) up north after the course, and had therefore booked my return to fly out of Delhi.

After sitting the course, which was pretty rigorous, I thought, rather than go up north, I would prefer to go to a beach in southern India and relax. I tried to change my ticket home to fly out of Bombay rather than Delhi. Despite repeated trips to the airline office, and the fact that people all around me were changing their tickets, there seemed to be no way I could change mine.

“Alright,” I thought, “this started as a pilgrimage, and it will end as a pilgrimage.”

I flew up to Delhi and went to Maharaji’s ashram in Brindaban. I knew that many of my friends were staying there at the time. I walked into the ashram and was immediately told by the manager that I couldn’t stay. “What is this?” I thought.

All of my friends were in the bazaar, and when they returned, a heated argument began between them and the ashram manager. “What do you mean, she can’t stay?” they shouted in Hindi. “She is a very old devotee.” 

“I don’t know her,” he said.

“You don’t know this one that one or the other”, they said angrily, naming various old western devotees. “You’ve only been here 10 years.” 

The manager would not relent, and said I could stay next door, but not in the ashram, which meant in the evenings when the ashram was locked I would be all alone. 

I didn’t want to stay under those conditions, and having just come from a silent meditation retreat which ended by extending one’s loving kindness to all beings, the thought that I was the cause of this huge fracas in my guru’s ashram was very dismaying.

“Okay," I said, “I’ll stay tonight and go to Allahabad in the morning to see Dada and Didi.” They were very old devotees of Maharaji whom I had met on my first trip to India in 1973. I had eaten at their house everyday, and it was there that I had my first taste of Maharaji’s love.

A friend of mine, Govind, was also in Brindaban. He said, “ I’m going to Lucknow to visit my other guru, Poonjaji." He showed me a photo of Poonja, and he invited me to come with him to Lucknow. I looked at the photo and thought Poonja looked totally insane. I had heard of Poonja only vaguely from a friend in America who said that he was a teacher in India who was telling people not to meditate. 

As I had found meditation tremendously beneficial, I wasn’t that keen on meeting him. On the other hand, Lucknow was only a couple of hours from Allahabad. It would be convenient to travel with Govind, pay my respects to Poonja, and go on to Allahabad from there. A plan!

We arrived in Lucknow in the morning. My friend was very anxious that we get a move on as we were late for satsang. “What’s the big rush?” I thought. “I want my bath, my tea, my toast.” 

When we arrived at Poonjaji’s house satsang was going on. There were about 30 people in the room. I remember Poonjaji giving me a very quick, very piercing look before I sat down. I saw several friends of mine in the room. They were from IMS, the vipassana meditation center in Massachusetts (not affiliated with Goenka). I didn’t pay much attention to what Poonjaji was saying. Everyone seemed very nice. Poonjaji was polite. We were all given chai, and the satsang was over for the day.

I was staying in the same hotel as my friends. This was fortunate, as they were given a private satsang every afternoon, and I was invited to come along as well. I was sitting next to a friend at the satsangs, and I kept whispering questions to him. He encouraged me to speak to Poonjaji directly, so, although I felt a bit shy, I finally did. Not being sure how to address him, I asked if I could call him Papaji, as many others did. “I would be most honored,” he politely replied. 

After the satsang, I asked if I could speak to Papaji privately. I was told that would be a good idea, as I had been asking him questions.

I walked into his room and I introduced myself. “Hello, Durga!" he said to me in a booming voice, "Where is your tiger?" I didn’t know how to answer his question. It seemed confusing to me. I wasn't even sure he wanted an answer. 

So, I told him that I was a devotee of Neem Karoli Baba and had just come from a meditation course with Goenka. “Neem Karoli Baba devotees don’t need to meditate,” he said.

This was also confusing. I thought, “Well, what do they need to do?” because it seemed to me that they sure needed to do something.

By way of explanation, I said, “I was feeling a bit lost in America.” 

“Why don’t you put America inside the Self?” he asked.

Now, I was completely stumped

“No, no?” he said smiling and looking intently into my face. He patted me kindly on the back, as if to say, “Don’t worry.”

I liked Papaji. I liked him a lot, although, what he said didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t sound at all like the usual spiritual teachings I had heard, but his language and examples were very poetic and devotional, using illustrations culled from the great Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana, and I loved it. 

I ended up staying with Papaji for the rest of my visit in India. I never did go on to Allahabad. I loved being there with him. I felt I could stay forever.

One day in satsang Papaji told us, "Happiness is your true nature." Strange as it may seem, I had not known that before.

The people coming to see Papaji seemed to be from every possible country and every possible spiritual background. Many of them had done years and years of sadhana. They appeared to be very mature spiritual seekers. They would speak to him briefly, ask a few questions, a shift would happen, and he would say to them, “Now, you know who you are. You can go home.”

Generally it was all so subtle and understated that it is only now, in retrospect, I see what may have occurred. I don’t know if any of these people actually woke up in his presence. I never saw or heard of any of them again. As far as I know, they just faded away from view. 

There was a young man there named, Kishor. He was very likeable, but a bit neurotic, and was the butt of many of Papaji’s good natured jokes and illustrations. Kishor used to endlessly engage Papaji with various neurotic ramblings about the past. 

One day Papaji said to him, “Listen, do you know about the graveyard? When a person likes to visit the graveyard, they go in and pick up a bone. ‘Oh, this looks tasty,’ they say, and they gnaw on it for a while.”

One day as I was relating some past events to him, Papaji asked me, "Do you like to visit Kishor's graveyard?"

Another day as I was going on about something, he interrupted me to say, “Why are you playing with dolls? The Mother is calling you for lunch.” This made me very silent.

Finally, one day he asked me, “Who are you?”

“I’m me,” I said, pointing to my body.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

I thought I was sure, but maybe I wasn’t....

In satsang one day Papaji said that in order to be liberated one must be totally free of desires. As he had repeatedly praised the "desire to be free", I said to him, "But Papaji, the desire to be free is a desire."

He replied, "The desire to be free is the final desire, which consumes all other desires, and finally consumes itself."

A woman was speaking to Papaji in satsang one day. She was going on at great length about the guru/disciple relationship. At one point, she said, "When the Master takes you to the top of the mountain and tells you to jump, you jump.

Papaji, who did not appear to have been paying much attention to what she had been saying up to this point, sat straight up, and said, "What? No! A true Master takes away the mountain."

One day as I was expressing some of my doubts to him, he said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you think it can happen to you? It can happen to you.” 

The metaphor I had as a timetable for enlightenment was the time it would take a bird flying over a mountain with a scarf in it’s mouth to wear away the mountain. It had not occurred to me that my mountain had even been touched.

I said sadly, “I used to think it could happen. But it’s taken so long, and I haven’t seen it happen to anyone I know.”

“It can happen to you,” he said quietly, “Don’t you want it to happen to you?” 

"What did this mean?" I silently wondered. "What would I have to give up?" Then, as a drowning man sees his life flash before him, I saw my life’s desires parade before my eyes. 

Papaji must have seen what was going on because he said, “Come on now. This is not the bazaar. No haggling here.”

“Yes!” I said

“Good!” said he, slapping his leg.

The bargain had been struck.

One day after satsang, I went to use the toilet at Papaji’s house. This was a pretty dirty place, as most Indian toilets are. There was a little water tap inside the room. It was used to fill a bucket. The water from this bucket was then used to flush the toilet.

I was feeling kind of thirsty and I thought, “Well, I could just drink the water from this bucket. After all this is Papaji’s house. Everything here is his prasad.” 

The next moment I was taken aback. What was I thinking? This was a very dirty place. I could get really sick if I did something like that.

Because I was actually very worried, I spoke to Papaji privately about what I had almost done.

Instead of sharing my concern, he was delighted. He thumped me on the back enthusiastically. “That’s wonderful,” he said. “Only great saints have these thoughts, Mirabai, Ravi Dass.”

“Great saints and crazy people,” I thought. I didn’t know which category I would fit into, but I was pretty sure it would not be the first, so I decided that it was time to leave.

Even though I had made the decision to go, and my husband and other pressing matters were waiting for my return, I felt reluctant to leave Papaji. 

In those days, Papaji did not get directly involved in the decisions people made about their lives. His advice was used always and only as a pointer to the truth. Even so, I decided to ask him directly what I should do, hoping he would tell me to stay.

Instead he told me, “Those who must leave early, leave early.” 

I expressed my concern about what would happen to me in America.

He replied, “That which brought you here will also take care of you.”

I paid my respects and I left.

Although I went back to Lucknow two times after that, it was never the same as that first visit. What I had needed to hear, I heard then. I will always be thankful to Papaji, for it was from him that I first heard the truth of who I am, and that, in this very life, that truth could be known. 

Tales Index

* – This is an expandable set of pages. If you've been to see any of my listees and would like to tell your story, send it in (Feedback) and i'll be happy to put it up. Pages can be attributed or not, according to the author's wishes, though i will want to have some sense personally of where s/he is coming from.
See also Satsang Reports, a related series of impressions of satsang providers on tour, ie in a more "formal" setting.

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