H. W. L. Poonja was born in Gujranwalla, in western Punjab, now in Pakistan (13 October 1910 in Punjab, British India – 6 September 1997 in Lucknow, India) in a family of Saraswat Brahmins, known as Poonjaji or Papaji, was an Indian sage. His mother was the sister of Swami Rama Tirtha.
At the age of eight he experienced an unusual state of consciousness:
The experience was so overwhelming it had effectively paralyzed my ability to respond to any external stimuli. For about an hour they tried everything they could think of to bring me back to a normal state of consciousness, but all their attempts failed.
As an adult he led a normal life: he married, raised two children and joined the British army, while secretly his love for Krishna and his visions continued. He became obsessed with a longing to have the experience of seeing Krishna all the time. He continuously repeated Krishna’s name (japa) and traveled throughout India asking sages if they could deliver the ability to produce the darshan of Krishna at will.
After all his attempts had failed he returned to his family in Lyallpur. A sadhu appeared at the door soon after and Poonja asked him the question he had asked swamis throughout the country: “Can you show me God? If not, do you know of anyone who can?” The sadhu told him that there was a person, Ramana Maharshi, who could show him God and explained how to find Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai in southern India. At the earliest opportunity, Poonjaji traveled to Tiruvannamalai to meet the sage Ramana Maharshi at Ramanashramam at Arunachala. This happened in 1944 when Poonja was thirty-one.
However, rather than giving another vision of God, Ramana pointed him in the direction of his own self:
“I cannot show you God or enable you to see God because God is not an object that can be seen. God is the subject. He is the seer. Don’t concern yourself with objects that can be seen. Find out who the seer is.”
Poonja under Ramana’s gaze became aware of the spiritual Heart, which he felt was opening, though he was not impressed with the advice. Poonja continued his devotion, having many visions of Hindu Gods. He was not yet convinced of the value of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, which Ramana was known for, but was attracted to him nonetheless.
When he had a vision of Ramana telling him that Krishna devotion was the only truth, Poonja returned to Ramanasramam and asked Ramana if he had indeed appeared before him. Though Ramana would not respond to his question verbally, while Poonja was waiting for an answer, a group of devotees arrived and gave Ramana a picture of Krishna. Ramana, looking at Krishna, wept so that Poonja became convinced that Ramana was a secret bhakta himself.
Papaji's teaching emphasizes that words can only point to ultimate truth, but never are the ultimate truth, and that intellectual understanding without directly realizing the truth through one's own investigation is not enough. Like Sri Ramana, he stressed that teaching through silence was more important than teaching through words. Once, when a French seeker informed Poonja that he was learning Sanskrit to better understand ancient scriptural texts, Poonja replied:
“All your books, all the time lost in learning different languages! 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!”
According to Poonja, Self-realization is in itself liberating from karmic consequences and further rebirth. According to Poonja "karmic tendencies remained after enlightenment, but the enlightened person was no longer identified with them and, therefore, did not accrue further karmic consequences." According to Cohen, Poonja "insisted that the realization of the Self had nothing to do with worldly behavior, and he did not believe fully transcending the ego was possible."
For Poonja, ethical standards were based on a dualistic understanding of reality and the notion of an individual agent and therefore were not indicative of "nondual enlightenment: "For Poonja, the goal was the realization of the self; the illusory realm of relative reality was ultimately irrelevant.
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