Who’s Asking the Questions Here?

The following is an excerpt from the book Papaji Interviews edited by David Godman

This interview by Wes Nisker

Papaji: Mind is nothing but thought. You can’t separate thought itself from the mind. So first you have to find out which is the first thought that arises from the mind. Which is the first thought?

Question: ‘I’

Papaji: Yes, ‘I’ is the first thought. This ‘I’ is ego. When we use the word ‘I’ there is ego. Then there is mind, then there is a body, then there are senses, then there are sense objects, and then all manifestation arises. 

Question: And then there is suffering.

Papaji: Of course. Where there is a separate being, there is suffering. Where there is oneness, then there is no suffering.

So understand where this ‘I’ arises from. The question is this: ‘Who am I?’ Keep alert and the you will know. Pay full attention and then wait for the answer. Keep quiet and wait for the answer. It only takes on instant of time. Question where the ‘I’ is rising from now. Previous notions and concepts will not help you. This is a question you have not yet asked yourself. You ask questions to others about something else, but not this question to your own  self.

Question: I think that in fact I have asked this question.

Papaji: “I think I have.’ Who thinks that ‘I have’? You have to solve this question in order to solve everything.

Question: I am using this term ‘I’ in a relative sense, just to …

Papaji: “I am using. I am using.’ Here is the ‘I’ again.

Question: You are telling me to ask ‘Who am I?’ And that is exactly what I have been doing in my Buddhist meditation practice to the past twenty years. I have been investigating ‘Who am I.”

Papaji: Yes ‘I have been investigating. I have been investigating.’ But you have not really investigated. Investigation means to go in.

Question: Now? You want me to do it now?

Papaji: Yes, now. Don’t run away from ‘now’. Just catch hold of this ‘now’. You can try to step out of this ‘now’, but it will follow you —behind, in front, this side, that side, up and down. So what do you see in this ‘now’?

Question: I see me.

Papaji: ‘I see me, I am me, I am now.’ What does it mean? Who is the seer, and who is the seeing? Tell me what you see? I see me.’ Is it an object, is it a subject? What is the form? What is the form of ‘I’?

Question: (Pause for some investigation) This ‘I’ I am referring to doesn’t seem to have a solid form.

Papaji: When a word has no solid form, then there is no more word. The previous ‘I’ you were using is no longer there. Now you have come to the real ‘I’. Now you are working from ‘now’. This previous ‘I’ was a fake ‘I’. That ‘I’ represented the body and was the egotistic ‘I’. But just now, when it went and jumped into the beyond, it was finished. And now this ‘now’ is finished. You have to start afresh all over again.

Question: Every moment I have to start over.

Papaji: To see the real ‘I’ means to see total consciousness, which in reality is representing emptiness. Before, the ‘I’ you were using was from the body, ego, mind and senses.. Between it is arising from emptiness, it is emptiness itself. And this is the fathomless ‘I’. When you see this ‘I’, then you will see everything as ‘I’. Then there will be love, then there will be wisdom, then you will see you own reflection in animals, in birds, in plants, in rocks.

Now what about the twenty years of your practice of investigation? What have you been doing for these twenty years?

Question: I’ve been looking in. I feel like I have experienced emptiness, and have dissolved into emptiness during meditation. I have seen the emptiness of all phenomena.

Papaji: That emptiness you have been seeing was full of egotism. That was not emptiness. That was only a word, a concept. The emptiness which I am speaking about is not even emptiness. Emptiness has got nothing to do with where I am taking you, but I am using the word. I don’t allow you to use the word emptiness even. Where did you learn this word emptiness? You must have learned it from some sutras.

Question: Many Mahayana sutras talk about emptiness.

Papaji: But that belongs to the past. It has nothing to do with this emptiness which I speak about. Now I tell you, don’t use the word emptiness either. This emptiness is the finger pointing to something else. You have to reject the finger to see the moon, Now, reject this word emptiness if you want to go beyond.

Question: So, do you think my twenty years of vipassana meditation practice was wasted effort?

Papaji: No, Those twenty years have brought you to me. (Laughs) And not only twenty years have you been doing this, but for thirty-five million years. But there’s no time wasted. In emptiness nothing at all exists. This is the ultimate experience. Emptiness is only a concept. To have this concept is just the pride of the mind. Once you touch the word ‘I’,  simultaneously time will arise and you will have past, present and future. When the ‘I’ ceases, ‘Nothing ever existed’ is the ultimate truth. It is something unspeakable and it will remain unspeakable. Buddha spent forty-nine years speaking, speaking, speaking. And I don’t think he touched the point. Why should he speak for fifty years after enlightenment?

Question: He taught in order to end suffering. To free people.

Papaji: He was trying to express that which he could not.

Question: We all try to say it in order to pass it on, That is why the Buddha gave our various practices.

Papaji: All practices involve the ego. In all practices you are working from the ego, You identify with the body and say, ‘I am so and so’, and you separate yourself from the ultimate truth, The absolute is something else altogether, and in any kind of practice you miss it.

Question: Would you say that all sadhanas or practices are a hindrance? And is this true for all people?

Papaji: Sadhana is not for freedom. It can remove some old habits, such as identification with the body. But sadhana is not for freedom, not for truth, not for the absolute. All the time you are doing sadhana, the truth is standing in front of you, smiling at you. The barrier in practice is your past concepts, such as the idea that you are bound, You say to yourself, ‘I am bound I am suffering’. Not for freedom. Freedom doesn’t want any practices. It is there as it is. And you are already free.

Question: Some Zen Buddhist Master one said, ‘Now that I’m enlightened, I’m as miserable as ever’. In other words, you get the understanding, you get enlightenment, and still you have to live in the world.

Papaji: Maybe the Zen Master said that because he suddenly realized that he had suffered needlessly for thirty-five million years, when all that time he had actually been free. (Laughs)

Question: So then, how would you define enlightenment? I think a lot of people believe that they can achieve a steady state of realization, always living in ‘now’, always in emptiness. Is that how you would define enlightenment, or does it come and go?

Papaji: Whatever you do and whatever you don’t do, it is all empty. Every day I see people who have had many different teachers and have done all kinds of practices, and they say, ‘We are here seeing you because you don’t give us any practices. Now we don’t have anything to do. We just laugh.’ [Laughs]

Question: Maybe they laugh just from being around you. After all, some people say that realization comes through the grace of a teacher. Would you say that it depends on the grace of the Guru?

Papaji: It depends on the grace of grace itself. The teacher himself will draw you when you have a desire. First of all, you have to grace your own self.

Question: Are we free to do that?

Papaji: Your next-door neighbor did not come here and sit next to me to ask this question. So you do have grace.

Question: I may have grace, but did I choose to have that grace? Was I free to have grace?

Papaji: Grace and freedom are the same thing, Where does grace come from? The grace comes from within. But you do not understand the language of that grace. The grace makes you feel, ‘I want to be free.’ You said you have been doing meditation practice for twenty years. What was it that was driving you? Your neighbor did not feel this need. Why have you been picked out? Why have you been chosen? It is the grace from within. And this grace takes you to a person who will apprise you of the truth and speak to you in your own tongue. This person will only tell you that you are already free. Anybody who tells you to do this or that should not be regarded as as teacher. He should rather be called a butcher. The teacher relieves you from all activity, from all concepts, all precepts. You have done enough. For thirty-rive million years you have been doing, doing, doing. When you come to a true teacher, he will not tell you to do anything more.

Question: You tell us to enquire within. Isn’t that doing something? 

Papaji: Going within just means listening to your own Guru. And this Guru is your own Self. You don’t know him, you don’t recognize him, you don’t understand his language of silence. The real Guru will introduce you to the Guru within and ask ‘you’ to keep quiet. This is your own grace. It comes from within you. No one else can give you this grace.

Question: Who gets this grace? Who is graced with this grace?

Papaji: Everybody.

Question: Everybody has it?

Papaji: Yes, everybody has it.

Question: Then why did is few people hear it? Why are so many people living in delusion?

Papaji: Everybody is already free, but there is a wall hiding the truth from them and that wall is desire.

Question: That’s exactly what the Buddha said. Desire is what clouds the eyes.

Papaji: Yes. But you can very simply just throw away this desire. You don’t have to do anything. All desires belong to the past. When you don’t have any desires from the past, your eyes are open. Try now. Do it yourself and tell me. Don’t let any desire stand between you freedom. Remove this wall just for one second and tell me.

Question: Now?

Papaji: Yes, now.

Question: [Long pause] There’s nothing much here…

Papaji: Then you have seen. The wall was desire,

Question: When I came here, I had a desire for a good interview.

Papaji: Any desire is a wall. Even the desire for freedom.

Question: Poonjaji, many people seem to be in a devotional relationship with you, in the tradition of bhakti, Do some people arrive at truth more easily through devotion than through enquiry?

Papaji: The most direct method — only meant for a very few, very sharp people — is enquiry. Nothing more is needed, You can be instantly enlightened through it. You can be free. All practices will bring you ultimately to this. Maybe in this life, or maybe after several other lives. You will eventually have to come to the place of absolute freedom. In devotion there is duality between the devotee and the Guru, or the devotee and the divine,. Ultimately, the devotee has to surrender completely, but very few actually do this. Too often devotion is only ritual.

Question: But if one surrenders totally to the Guru?

Papaji: If the devotee truly surrenders then he is finished. No more karma will be accumulated. From then on the divine will look after him. It is a love, a romance which always continues, a romance you can’t forget. It is really a love affair with your own Self. Enquiry means you have to investigate, ‘Who am I? Where is the ego arising from?’ It’s really the same thing, surrender or enquiry. There are hundreds of other paths, such as yoga and tantra, but I don’t think they lead to the ultimate. Enquiry is the true practice. It is a short-cut method.

Question: We all want a short cut.

Papaji: The shortest. A real teacher can finish his student’s work with one word.

Question: You tell people to just be themselves. It sounds like the Zen masters who say, ‘Just be ordinary’.

Papaji: Be ordinary. Yes, just remove the doubt the says you are not awake or not enlightened. Because you are, and it’s that simple.

Question: Why then do so many people live in delusion? Is this just the leela, the play of the gods?

Papaji: Yes.

Question: Unfortunately there is a lot of suffering in this play of the gods.

Papaji: Because people take it as reality. Therefore they suffer.

Question: Poonjaji, finally, would you give me some advice on how to open my heart and love the world more.

Papaji: To love the world more you have to first learn how to love your own Self. If you love your Self then you love the whole world, because your Self includes everything. Also, if you know your own Self, you know everything, there is to know. So, know your own Self. And this knowing is being. That’s all you need to know. Knowing is being.

Wes “Scoop” Nisker is a Buddhist meditation teacher, author and performer. His books include the newly edited version of his national bestseller, Essential Crazy Wisdom and Buddha’s Nature (Random House), The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom (Harper SanFrancisco). His most recent book from Soft Skull Press is an anthology entitled You Are Not Your Fault. Mr. Nisker was also the co-founder and co-editor of the international Buddhist journal “Inquiring Mind.”

This interview was conducted in Lucknow in February 1992.