Abhishiktananda Writes the First Account of Papaji’s Teachings

Abhishiktananda was the first person to publish an account of Papaji’s meeting with Ramana Maharshi in his French book, Souvenirs d’Arunachala, which later appeared in English as The Secret of Arunachala. The book also contains a long account of their first meeting. It is reproduced here in full since it is the earliest recorded teaching dialogue between Papaji and a seeker of truth.

The extract begins with Swami Abhishiktananda asking Papaji how he managed to locate him.

‘How did you manage to get here? Who can have told you about me? Who directed you to my cave?’

‘You called me,’ he [Papaji] replied, looking me straight in the eye; ‘and here I am.’
At this I gave a rather skeptical smile, but he continued in all seriousness: ‘Let me say it again: it was You who called me. The Self attracts the Self. What else do you expect?’

We spoke about the Maharshi, his teaching and his disciples, with all of which he was perfectly familiar.

Near me lay some books, including the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, from which I liked to quote to my visitors. This was because of my experience in the previous year of a brahmin pedant from Tanjore who only abandoned his lofty airs after I had recited in one breath the names of the principal Upanishads…

As our conversation passed from the subject of the Maharshi to that of the scriptures, I picked up one of my books to quote a text from it, for I did not possess an Indian’s memory which enables him to learn everything by heart. I added that I had begun to learn a little Sanskrit, so as to be better able to understand these texts.

‘And what is the use of all that?’ asked Harilal [Papaji] bluntly. ‘All your books, all the time lost in learning different languages! Which language do you use to converse with the atman? [Self]’
As I attempted to defend my point of view, he cut in again: ‘Forget about it! In fact, apart from the atman, what else is there? So your English, Sanskrit and the rest, how do they benefit you? Are they any use for conversing with the atman, with the Self, for speaking to yourself? None of that leads anywhere useful. The atman has nothing to do either with books, or with languages or with any scripture whatever. It is – and that’s all!’

‘I also,’ he continued, ‘was mad about reading once; but I never learnt anything from it. Now I read nothing, or so little as makes no difference. Not even the Gita, whose words in the old days were all the time ringing like music in my heart. I don’t meditate any more either – the atman is nothing to do with meditation. It is the same with japa, the repetition of divine names, with mantras, litanies, bhajans, every kind of devout prayer and lyric. At one time I quite naturally made use of all these – with great fervour! Of course, I used them with my children, and still do on occasion; but only for their sake, because at their age they need such things. It is rather like the way I join in their games; after all, is it not all just play, the lila [divine play] of the atman, the Self?’

I had certainly never before met an advaitin who was so sincere and authentic. There are indeed crowds of people in India who talk learnedly about advaita [non-duality], especially in the South and in ashram circles; but they are generally the first to run to the temples to offer pujas for the success of their ventures on the stock exchange or to obtain some promotion; not to mention the terrible ego-centredness which so often accompanies the intellectual profession of Vedanta. Even so, surely Harilal was going too far? Ought one not to take account of individual weaknesses; and so long as one has not yet realised the Self, it is unreasonable to act as if one had. I had discussed this one day with a well-known professor of philosophy at Madras, Dr. T. M. P. Mahadevan, himself a faithful disciple of the Maharshi, a man who was absolutely convinced at the rational level of the truth of advaita, and moreover one who had remained completely faithful to his ceremonial duties, often visited temples and offered in them the customary pujas. In his view one should not give up these outward rites until one has ceased to be aware of duality (between oneself and the Self). When I expressed surprise at this, and reminded him of the teaching of Sri Ramana, he was willing to go so far as to say that as the time of the ‘crossing over’ approached, when worship and prayer become somewhat artificial, and even unnatural, then – with the guru’s approval, of course – one might abstain. I therefore reacted pretty vigorously to Harilal’s remarks.

‘Who realises, or has realised the Self?’ he replied. ‘That is all a matter of words. The atman cannot be reached. Apart from the Self, what else is there? Who reaches the Self, except the Self? “Non-realisation” is simply an excuse that one gives for trying to escape from the Real and continuing to lead with a clear conscience a stunted life of prayers, devotions and even asceticism, all no doubt very satisfying to the little ego but in fact utterly useless. Has the sun really set, merely because I have closed the shutters? The fundamental obstacle to realisation is precisely the notion that this realisation is still awaited.

‘Of course,’ he conceded, ‘reading is not to be entirely rejected. It is better to read than to day-dream or gossip. And meditation is better than reading. However it is only in the ultimate silence that the atman is revealed, if one may so speak. But once again, we have to guard carefully against supposing that this silence has anything to do with either thinking about it or not thinking about it. For the atman cannot be reduced to anything capable of being said, thought or taught, or equally to the negation or absence of thought.’

Then I said: ‘What about all these peddlers of advaita who haunt the streets and public places of our country, and flood the libraries with their publications? They protest as loudly as possible against those who propagate Western religions, and yet they themselves are more narrow-minded than any of their opponents. They “possess” the truth, and anyone who does not accept their supposedly all-inclusive vedantic viewpoint is in their eyes merely a fool or fanatic.’

‘You are perfectly right,’ replied Harilal. ‘As soon as advaita is presented as a religion, it ceases to be advaita. The Truth has no “Church”. The Truth is the Truth, and it cannot be passed onto others by anyone at all. The Truth shines with its own light. He who claims to possess the Truth, or else says that he has received it or that he can hand it on, is either stupid or a charlatan.’
He went on questioning me about myself, my way of living, and how I understood the spiritual life….

[He said,] ‘There is only one thing you need, and that is to break the last bonds that are holding you back. You are quite ready for it. Leave off your prayers, your worship, your contemplation of this or that. Realise that you are. Tat tvam asi – you are That!

‘You call yourself a Christian; but that is meaningless at the stage you have reached. Look here, listen to this – It is I who am the Christian, and you are the Hindu. For anyone who has seen the Real, there is neither Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. There is only the atman, and nothing can either bind or limit or qualify the atman.

‘Now tell me about your spiritual experience.’

Once again I attempted a smile to hide my emotion, as I asked: ‘How do you want me to tell you this?’

But he was not smiling: ‘At all costs I must know. Tell me how you like, with words or without, but you must tell me.’

We were sitting on the stone seat with legs crossed, facing each other. I made no reply. As the silence deepened, I closed my eyes, as he also did, and we remained like that for a long time. Then again I opened my eyes and he opened his, and for some seconds we gazed at each other. Once more our eyes closed, and when finally I looked again, I saw that his eyes were wide open, but as if unseeing.

‘You are a lover of silence,’ he said.

‘It was you who suggested my using it for answering your question. That is why I did.’

“You have done so remarkably well. Now I understand everything. You are quite ready. What are you waiting for?’

‘Ready for what? Alas, I feel myself so feeble when before God I recall what I ought to be.’

‘Enough of this nonsense! Stop talking about differences. There are no differences anywhere. There is only the atman. God is the atman, the Self of all that is. I am the atman. You are the atman. Only the Self exists, in itself and in all.’

‘But how do you know that I am ready?’

‘When a woman is ready to give birth, of course she is aware of it. And every woman who has already been a mother knows the signs without a shadow of doubt. It is the same with those who are near to the awakening, or rather, whose “I” is on the point of disappearing in the light of the essential and unique I. I saw it in your eyes this morning when we passed each other in the bazaar without noticing; that is when you called me.’

‘You are speaking as if you have been sent here expressly to give me this news.’
‘Whether I was sent or not, I had to say this to you. Now it is done. If you do not believe me, that’s your affair. But you can’t get out of it. If necessary, we shall meet again for the final decision. Or perhaps someone else will intervene, someone you will be unable to resist.’
‘But if, as you say, I am so near to the awakening, why do you not go ahead and awaken me?’
‘There is no question of awakening anyone at all. Who indeed is the sleeper? How could one awaken that which does not sleep and has never fallen asleep? Sleeping, dreaming, being awoken, all that is a matter of the body and senses which are located in the body, including, of course, thoughts, desires and will. Are you this body? Are you this thought which you have of being or existing within the limits of this body? When you are in deep sleep, do you still have any thought or awareness that you are? But still, even then, you exist, you are. You are in truth neither this body which sleeps or alternatively keeps awake, nor this thinking mind, sometimes clear and sometimes confused, which wanders about, constantly picking up impressions on every side, nor are you even the awareness which vanishes in deep sleep, in coma and at the dissolution of the body.

‘It is through you that that is seen and heard, that it is thought and willed. You are what remains when nothing is any more seen or thought, willed or heard. That is the atman, the Self; it is what you are yourself in reality and beyond all outward appearances which change and pass away. Tat tvam asi – You are That! What prevents you from realising this?

‘Can you remember the time when you were born? Can you discover in your memory some moment which would have been the first moment of your existence? Have you any awareness of beginning to exist? Did you not exist already, well before the time when you can remember that you existed? If your being is tied to the memory that you have of it, then what happened to you in the times of which you have no recollection? What happens to you at the moment when consciousness goes to sleep?

‘Let me tell you again, there is only one thing that you lack. Enter into the guha, the cave of your heart, and there realise that you are!’

‘The cave of my heart!’ I cried. ‘I indeed try to remain there as much as I can. And to be living in a cave on this Mountain is for me a most valuable help in that attempt. In this cave where I am living – and still more, in the further cave where there is no light at all, where I withdraw for meditation – I have been given an indescribable peace and joy.’

‘Your rock cave is a dead thing. How can it give you peace and happiness? It has nothing to do with the joy which you say that you feel when you withdraw into it. Rather it is you, you in your own depths, who are the supreme peace and joy. It is you who fill your cave with that peace and joy which you yourself essentially are, in the cave of your heart. The bliss, ananda, of which you experience a kind of echo – are you really so simple-minded as to think that it is the rock that bestows it so generously upon you? How can you indulge in such dreams and refuse to see? In fact, you neither give nor receive anything whatever, least of all this peace (shanti) and this joy (ananda). You are ananda, pure ananda; and this ananda cannot even be called ananda any longer, for it cannot either be seen, or conceived, or named. It simply is.”

“As I led Harilal towards the path which led down from the Mountain, I pointed out to him the magnificent landscape which was spread out before us – near at hand, the town of Tiruvannamalai with its Temple; and in the distance, the countryside with rocky hillocks jutting up among the fields and stretches of moorland. Just at that moment the sun was setting. I was telling him something about the splendour of its rising each morning, immediately facing my cave.

‘I have no doubt that it is a glorious sight,’ he replied, ‘but can it be compared to the dawn of the Self, to the rising of Being?’

Later on I often met Harilal. We understood each other so well and were so deeply in agreement that we could not fail to use every occasion that was offered of being together and speaking of those things which were central in our lives, specially as we both found that there were so few people with whom we were able to discuss them.

Even so, Harilal found it very difficult to understand why I should still feel myself bound by the ritual and other obligations of my Christian faith. ‘The atman, the Self, is bound by nothing,’ he often said.

This advice given out by Papaji more than forty years ago, and the manner in which it was given, indicate that his basic message and his teaching style have not changed or evolved over the years. Both then and now, when he deals with seekers, he is direct, challenging and confrontational in his approach. He will tell everyone who is willing to listen that no practice is necessary to understand or know what one already is, and that any effort to find the Self is counterproductive since it takes attention away from what one already is.

Excerpt From Nothing Ever Happened Volume One, pages 188-194
By David Godman