|The End of All Excuses by Gangaji
I can’t say that there was anything in my past that prepared me for the meeting of truth that occurred. I was not given a spiritual upbringing or any special religious training. I can remember only two particular events that I now see were of a spiritual nature, both occurring around the age of six.
The earliest of these experiences involved a perception of my body disappearing. There were moments when the body would appear to be needle-thin, and then suddenly disappear. At other times, it would become huge, filling the entire room, only to disappear again. These experiences were not something I enjoyed. They actually terrified me. My family was frightened as well and considered these episodes pathological. As a result, I was taken to a local psychiatrist and prescribed medication.
At still other times, I would perceive the body as having no real substance. What most people experienced as very solid, I saw as rather fluid. As soon as these perceptions would arise, I would take the prescribed medicine and normal perceptions would be restored.
The only other notable event from childhood occurred during part of a year that I spent at a Catholic school. My family was not Catholic; we were Episcopalian. Due to health reasons, however, I spent a short period attending a nearby Catholic school. Seemingly out of nowhere, I fell in love with the Catholic religion—the saints, the Christ, the Virgin Mary. I began building altars in my room to honor them. My heart overflowed with love. From my parents’ perspective this expression of devotion was not at all acceptable. I really didn’t understand it myself. It just seemed to have a life of its own.
Eventually, all of my altars were torn down, and I got the clear message that it was not acceptable to let this passion for God overflow; it was simply not done in our societal class. There was a point later in life, around the age of eleven or twelve, when I realized that if I gave in to this sense of devotion and surrender to Christ, my whole life would belong in service of God. This frightened me because what I thought I wanted was a very conventional life, an easy life, a life where I didn’t stand out, so I found myself working very hard to suppress these feelings of love and devotion.
In the Southern town where I lived, various evangelical groups would from time to time stage spiritual revivals, setting up their tents and carrying on with their particular services. If I allowed the surrender that my heart was asking for, I feared I might end up like these evangelists, traveling around the country in one of their troupes. My family did not respect this. That’s what poor people did. Poor Southern Baptists, not proud Episcopalians.
I feared being disliked, so I turned my back on these powerful feelings of love and rapture. I see now that this turning away was at the root of the suffering I experienced as a child. I was constantly trying to keep the natural expression of divine love within bounds. I can blame the dysfunction of my family for the suffering that I experienced, but the truth is that early on I saw the opportunity to actually let go of my life and offer it up to something much greater, yet out of fear I resisted this early calling of the heart.
The Questioning Begins
In 1960, I graduated from high school and began attending the University of Mississippi. It was during this time that I met my first husband. He was a proper young man from a good family, studying to become a doctor. In 1967, we were married, moved to Memphis, and gave birth to our daughter. By this time I had accomplished all the things that were conventionally thought to bring happiness and fulfillment. I was married to a wonderful man. He was a good friend, an excellent father, a bountiful provider. I had a child, precocious and bright, and still I yearned for something more. Despite all outward signs of fulfillment, inside, I was still miserable.
Over the next couple of years I began to see that all the energy I had put into living a so-called “normal life” had not truly paid off. It had not delivered what I thought it would. It was then that I realized I must turn my full attention to what it was I truly wanted. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew something had to shift.
In the later part of the 1960’s, my husband and I had become involved with some of the civil rights activities and anti-war movements of the times. I began to see that it was possible to live a life that fulfilled something unspoken inside me. My husband had a proclivity for art, and I convinced him to spend more time with his art and less time practicing as a doctor. We moved to San Francisco in the early 1970’s, where he attended the San Francisco Institute of Art.
The moment we arrived in San Francisco, I was struck by how natural it felt to be there. The minute I stepped out of the car, I knew I was in the right place. Things shifted quickly at that point. The relationship with my husband came to its natural end and we divorced. At this time, it finally became clear that what I was looking for was spiritual understanding, and I began to identify myself as a spiritual seeker. I knew there had to be more to life than the perfect husband, the right job, a beautiful child, or a respected social position.
The Shift Inward
The early 1970’s, of course, were a very interesting time in California. Many were questioning their previous assumptions about true fulfillment and what a life should look like. A shift seemed to occur in which people were drawn inward in the quest for meaning. Spending time with so many like-minded people was wonderful and supportive. I will always feel tremendous gratitude for the grace and mystery that contributed to this shift in my life.
I ended up living in a small town on the coast just north of San Francisco, where I eventually fell in love with my present husband, Eli. I was deeply struck by Eli’s resolve toward freedom. He had had many spiritual experiences, and he was committed to the spiritual search. Our meeting was powerful, and in time we recognized each other as true spiritual companions, allies on the path.
We became interested in Eastern thought and took up a quite exotic and fascinating path. A Tibetan master, Kalu Rinpoche, came to our town and appointed Eli president of a small Buddhist center. We led an intense life, waking early and performing various practices in the Tibetan tradition. Yet despite glimpses into a larger awareness, still something was not being cut through. It was all too common for my attention to shift back into suffering and back into past patterns of relating to my experiences.
During this time I began an exploration into various forms of psychological systems in the hope of finally cutting through any and all obstructions to truth. Even though the psychological work provided great insight into my experiences, as well as assisted in a deeper process of self-discovery, it was the Chinese view on life that really grabbed my attention. I recognized something very profound in the ancient Chinese way of thinking. I became involved with Taoist Yoga and T’ai Chi. Eventually I went on to study Chinese medicine and became an acupuncturist.
The study of Chinese medicine was important as it helped to shift my Western, logical, linear worldview into something more energetic, more circular, and more interdependent. I became aware of the illusory nature of separateness and began to see an energetic connection between people and things that transcended the culturally conditioned reality I was so steeped in. I had a wonderful teacher who taught me an important lesson in terms of practicing acupuncture. He taught me to get out of the way. He encouraged me to learn the techniques, learn the laws of the five elements, learn the acupuncture points, and then finally, to get out of the way. I can see now how appropriate this teaching was and how it served as a preparation for events to come.
Exhausting the Conventional Life
During this time, my husband and I moved over to Mill Valley where we lived a fast-paced life. We were both successful. I had my practice in Chinese medicine and Eli was seeing clients in his practice involving Neurolinguistic Programming. We had a little clinic in San Francisco and were making what we considered a lot of money. After about five years of this, around 1988, we were both exhausted. We knew that something was not right; something had gone astray. We recognized that in our dissatisfaction with the spiritual and political groups we had encountered earlier on, we had simply shifted our devotion to a more materialistic lifestyle. We enjoyed the pleasures this type of life provided for a period of time, but we soon realized it could not provide what we were ultimately looking for.
I became disenchanted with my work. I began to notice how identified I had become with myself as a healer. Even though I loved practicing acupuncture, in my identification as “the healer,” I was still caught in a subtle self-righteousness. I also felt that I was still running from something. Though people were helped along the way, it no longer felt right. In fact, it had become a tremendous burden.
We decided to sell our house, leave our careers, and move to Maui. We had been to Hawaii previously and had enjoyed the simplicity of life there.
Also around this time we were introduced to the teachings of the Enneagram. I found this system to be both powerful and humbling in its revelations. It helped me to see that the various ways I had been attempting to define myself, from the most negative to the most positive, were not who I really was. Rather, they were simply patterns of underlying strategies to avoid a kind of emptiness, to avoid not-knowing, to avoid the death of egoic identification. As I began to see this, an essential disillusionment took place that revealed the limits of my mind’s ability to locate and define the truth of who one is.
Other than the Enneagram, which was a part of my life, and which Eli was using in his workshops, we ceased all spiritual and psychological practices as well as identification with groups of any kind, political, spiritual, therapeutic, or otherwise. At that point it became clear that I was stuck, and I really didn’t know where to turn.
The Prayer for a True Teacher
I had spent many years of my life searching for happiness by conventional means as well as non-conventional, so-called spiritual means. Being a Western woman, I had been determined to find a way out of the normal conditioning women faced, particularly in the South. It was important for me to break out of the suppression I had experienced within myself and seen around me. I wanted to be free.
From this thrust to be free, I had begun to define myself in ways I hoped would lead me to some power that could reveal the deepest truth. After more than twenty years of this kind of activity, I realized that certainly some crucial mistake was being made. A lie was still being hidden. Yet I couldn’t see exactly what that was. I simply recognized that I had been continuing a particular type of mind-spin. I had replaced an old definition of myself as a suppressed girl growing up in the South with a new definition of a liberated woman in California, free to do whatever I wished, free and yet still, in a fundamental way, miserable.
What I knew was that I felt a deep and true call within, and whenever I turned within, I would discover peace and relaxation. Yet somehow, given the momentum and the power of my mental conditioning, I would eventually turn away from the simplicity of this peace and begin the search all over again. In Eastern cosmology, this spin has been called reincarnation; in the West, it could be labeled depression or neurosis.
Over the years of searching, I had had many spiritual experiences, as well as the opportunity to spend time with many powerful teachers and teachings. I had glimpsed and reveled in instances of bliss and peace, yet I clearly was more identified with my basic neurosis than I was with the glimpses of pure and perfect being. I had yet to meet something or someone that would be able to fully cut through the misidentification and confusion I had been experiencing. I was frustrated. Glimpses of peace and truth seemed fleeting, and what remained was a ground of seeking and suffering. I recognized that I had gone as far as I could on my own. I knew I had to find a true teacher, a teacher that could penetrate the depths of my conditioning and lead me out of ignorance once and for all.
I went into retreat. I made an earnest and true prayer that somehow I know the truth. I prayed for some teacher, human or not human, that could somehow transmit that truth to me. Even if all that I had hoped for and believed was revealed to be false, even if the notion of freedom and peace was merely a myth to give people hope until they died, I wanted to know. Little did I know what was to come from this prayer.
Meeting the Ocean
By this time, Eli had left for India to join a Tibetan teacher he had previously met. After various delays with his visa and the typical Indian bureaucracy, he ended up in the town of Lucknow. Once there, he remembered that a certain spiritual teacher, a Sri H.W.L. Poonjaji, was supposedly living there. Eli managed to locate his residence and had the great fortune to spend some time alone with this extraordinary man. The letters he wrote to me during his stay moved me deeply. I knew he had found something true. Bliss and truth poured through his writing in such an explosive fashion that I knew I must leave at once to meet this man for myself.
I had never had any previous desire to go to India, and I certainly was not drawn to the Hindu path. I considered myself far too sophisticated for that kind of messy, devotional love. I had heard many stories about devotees and their teachers, and I had developed a negative view of the whole scene. I also found it very silly when people returned from another country with an exotic new name. Yet the transformation in Eli after being with this man, whom he had affectionately begun to call “Papaji,” and the silence that Eli transmitted when he returned, overcame all my preconceived perceptions of what or whom I needed as a teacher.
When I first met Papaji, he greeted me at his door with arms wide open and eyes flashing truth, power, and love. Immediately I saw in his eyes an enormous depth of realization and confidence that I had never seen before. I fell in love! Joy was apparent inside me and all around. When he saw my response, he said, “Excellent, very good. You are in the right place.” Because of his confidence and the force of his personality, I recognized that he was correct; I was in the right place. It was a very lucky recognition. It felt as if he had been calling me throughout this incarnation of suffering, and now he was appearing as the manifestation of a deep, heartfelt, evolutionary drive toward the resolution of my individual life.
I did not want to waste any time. I immediately said, “Papaji, tell me what to do. I’m ready to do it.” He heard the earnestness with which I spoke and he laughed, saying, “Excellent. Are you ready to do nothing?”
At first, I didn’t understand what he meant. I said, “Well, yes, I’m ready to do nothing, but now what do I do?” He said, “No, I mean do nothing.”
Still I pleaded with him, “Okay, I understand do nothing, but what do I do?” Again he laughed, patting me sweetly on the cheek, and he said, “I am telling you to stop everything. Stop all your techniques to get anything. Recognize all your strategies for achieving something, and stop them.”
Of course when I first heard this, I heard it on a relatively superficial level. I thought he meant that if I felt like eating something, not to eat; if I felt like smiling at somebody, not to smile. When he once again quickly saw through my limited understanding, I finally realized, No, this has nothing to do with eating, smiling, sleeping, walking, or talking. It is much deeper.
The Grasping Mind is Cut
I soon began to realize that many of my life’s activities had been strategic attempts to uncover the truth of who I was. The common thread throughout it all was that I had continued to look for the answer outside myself. If I could relate well with somebody, that meant I was someone “good,” who was “relational.” If my relationships were not going well, that meant I was someone “bad,” who “failed” at relationships. If my spiritual practices were going well, then I was a “success” spiritually; if they were going poorly, then once again I was a “failure.”
In those first few days with him, I was shown how much of my thought activity during a day, even during an hour, revolved around the constant search for some reference point for who and how I was. Ironically, even when I received positive feedback that I was a good person, a true person, or a spiritual person, I was still left unsatisfied. In response I searched even more earnestly, and developed even more refined and sophisticated strategies.
Now Papaji was telling me to stop everything, and telling me in such a way that I could actually hear him. I experienced the truth emanating from his being on a deeper level than I experienced the validity of my strategies and the constant following of my thoughts. By his profound grace, by the mystery of grace itself, I was finally able to relax and simply be still. As the mental activity began to dissipate, what remained was deep peace. Whenever I had experienced such peace in the past, I had always thought it was because some strategy had worked. In the moment of giving up all strategies, I saw the absurdity of ever thinking that anything I had ever done could reveal this profound peace. I realized, in fact, that the glimpses of peace I had experienced in the past had only arisen because the incessant searching and habits of acquisition had ceased for a moment. In any such moment, the indefinable, inexpressible bliss of being has the possibility of revealing itself.
Early in our meeting, Papaji had said, “You are already free. You have just come to me for confirmation.” At the time, I had no idea what he meant. I felt this simply could not be true. He had understood my confusion and said, “Stop. See who you are. Has that ever been asleep? Have you ever been asleep? If not, you need not worry about awakening.”
I had spent so much of my lifetime going places to acquire something, to get more knowledge, more understanding, anything I thought might mend the tear I felt in my soul. At last I was being told to stop all attempts to get anything. Only in meeting Papaji was I able to finally realize that everything I had been trying to get, I was, and I always had been.
For the next few weeks, I came and simply met with him. We would take occasional walks around town together, and I would revel in the bliss of beingness. All the while, I was falling more deeply in love with this big Indian man. Once, as I was sitting by the banks of the Ganga, he suddenly appeared beside me. I had not seen him coming up from behind, and I was surprised and thrilled to see him. Yet somehow he could tell by the look in my eyes that I was becoming sentimentally attached. He never had a problem receiving any outpouring of love because he knew that the love was from Self to Self. However, the sentimental attachment he saw on my face was something else altogether. Perhaps it was the beginnings of another strategy to try to keep or to hold. He smiled at me and said, “Look inside and tell me who you are. Who are you?” Like a thunderbolt, I was hit by the recognition, I am that which I love, that which is loving, and I am beyond that. What a moment!
Burning Through the Old Definitions
Soon after, I came down with what appeared to be malaria, including a very high fever. He came to visit me and said, “Don’t cure the fever with medicines just yet. Let it burn. There is something for it to burn through.” In that 24-hour period, many delusional and/or visionary experiences occurred in which I experienced what seemed like many lifetimes. I experienced myself as an insect. I experienced myself as a great, powerful meditator. I experienced myself as the cosmic Big Bang itself.
The next day, he returned to me and said, “Good. Now take the malaria medicine, get rid of the fever, and tell me what remains.” This was a huge teaching for me, because throughout all my searching I had been looking for something extraordinary. Whenever I would experience a moment of expansion, a moment of truth, I would try desperately to hold on to it. During the fever, I had had many extraordinary experiences. After the fever, all of the experiences had vanished. They were simply echoes in memory. I could recall them, but they were essentially gone. I was being forced to look deeper than I ever had at what remains unchanged throughout any experience. I began to see that in all my years of identifying with suffering, as well as in all my precious moments of great bliss, still a continuous presence had remained, eternally untouched by it all. That essence of being was/is unborn and undying, whole and complete, and forever who I am. Regardless of any experience that may arise, there is a ground of existence that is utterly unmoved and unaffected. This was what my teacher had been pointing me to.
The Ganga Flows to the West
When he saw that I had seen this, he was very happy. The next day he said, “I dreamed of you last night, and I saw that your name is ‘Ganga.’” Of course I was very happy to hear this because so many precious gifts of awakening had occurred on the banks of the river Ganga. He said, “Now you know what the Ganga stands for—the purification of truth, that which floods the land with self-recognition is your own consciousness.” Some days later he said, “I want you to go back to the West and share your experiences.”
I felt anxious at the thought of going out into the world and speaking to people. I said to him, “How do I do that? I don’t believe I am ready. I don’t believe it is time.”
“You don’t need to know how,” he replied. “Simply speak from your realization.”
When I think of that exchange now, I am deeply grateful for his ruthlessness in not allowing my thoughts to diminish the power of the realization. I have found it to be true that realization speaks for itself. True realization is much bigger than me or anything I may feel, think, or believe.
Soon after this exchange it was time to leave India. On the morning I was scheduled to depart, I rushed over to his residence and barged in, breaking all the rules.
“Papaji, I can’t go,” I said. “I cannot leave you. I have finally found the one who points me directly, ruthlessly, undeniably into the core of truth, and I cannot leave.”
He looked at me for a while and said, “Well, that’s right. You are correct. You cannot leave.” He then showed me the timetable for the train. “Okay, you’re taking such and such train, then you will get on this plane, then you will end up in Hawaii. From there, you let me know, were you able to truly leave?”
In my mind, I understood that he meant we were never separate, but my heart said, No. I cannot go. It’s not possible to leave no matter what my mind is saying about elevated truths. Still he said, “Go. Go and then tell me, where are you, really?”
Finally, I went. I ended up back on Maui, in paradise, and it felt like a hellhole to me. Just the memory of India threw me back into paradise. I was yearning to be back in the grace of his enormous presence and the flood of beauty and deepening that had occurred there. At times, in the middle of the night, I felt as if I was being thrown against the walls of the room, distraught and confused. What should I do? I thought. Shall I get on the next plane back to India? Should I have never gone to India in the first place? My thoughts were frantic, my mind, endlessly spinning.
This continued until one night, by some mysterious grace, rather than assuming I had left him, I actually stopped to see. Have I gone anywhere? Has this presence called Poonjaji gone anywhere? In telling the truth, I could see, No. I am here. It is here. All is here. In surrender to that undeniable presence, sublime peace and unending fulfillment were blessedly revealed.
A Thunderbolt of Realization
The most powerful event after returning from India took place some time after that. One night in California, I was speaking with Eli, when out of nowhere I was struck with what could only be called realization. I remember it quite well. It was a very big event, as if a thunderbolt had struck, as if the planet had suddenly been hit by a giant meteorite and reality undeniably shifted. It lasted less than a second, but it destroyed the world as I had known it. In that moment, everything was revealed to be in its perfect place. I realized without a shadow of doubt that the truth of who I am, the truth of who everyone is, is the totality of existence. I, you, it, them, existence itself—all of the same substance. The particular mind-stream that I had been calling “myself” was seen simply to be an object appearing in life, existing for a brief time, and finally disappearing back into the totality of life itself, just as a wave in the ocean rises up, exists for a moment, and sinks back in, fundamentally never separate from the ocean itself.
What made this particular experience so profound and so different from previous experiences was that it did not refer back to a personal sense of “me.” It had nothing to do with me as an individual separate from consciousness itself. Who I experienced myself to be was not separate from you, Poonjaji, Buddha, Christ, insect, tree, or any other form of life. It occurred outside the realm of the personal. I don’t mean that it was impersonal, in the sense that it was blank or flat. It was, and is, alive and vibrating with life. What was missing was the involvement of the personal. Even though there was and still is a personality associated with this body, and a sense of a “person” in my experience, it is continually revealed to be nothing in the face of truth. It was as if my mind had been split open and the possibility of lasting self-doubt totally annihilated.
Realization does not begin or end in such a moment. What is realized in a perfect moment is what has always been present. It’s the great cosmic joke! That which one has been desperately, furiously, relentlessly searching for has always been present, exactly where one is.
The Ordinariness of Awakening
Today I live a very ordinary life. I like to walk, I enjoy a good movie, I like a good meal, I love being in nature, and I often enjoy the activity of the world. Before I met Poonjaji, every activity in my life was a search for some kind of self-fulfillment or self-definition. Whether it was searching in the peace of nature, or in the excitement of relationship, or in the mundane thrill of acquisition, it was always a search for who I was, most of the time looking for a positive answer and running from a negative one.
I am not searching now. I know and I continuously realize deeper every day that no thing can define me. However great the joy is of spending time in a in nature, however harmonious my relationships are, however delightful the experiences of the world, that from which it all arises, that omnipresent field of pure consciousness, is so much greater, so much more profound, blissful, and sublime.
On the outside, much of my life looks the same. Eli is still my husband, Sarah is still my daughter, and I know some of the same people. What’s different is that I am not looking to any one or any thing to give me what I want. I know what I want, and luckily what I want is what is already here. It has always been here, because it is who I am.
Many people have asked how it was possible to integrate these realizations into my day-to-day life. My response has always been the same. It is not possible to integrate truth into anything else because truth already exists as everything and it always has. You cannot take vastness or infinity and integrate it into some object in life, such as a day or a workspace. What you can recognize is that your life is already inside that; it is already a part of that integral whole. Then every situation in life is an opportunity to recognize the ground of beingness that holds it all.
The End of All Excuses
I am pointing you where my teacher pointed me, which is to stop doing. Take this moment to stop doing. If you are graced enough to be able to truly hear this profound message, even for an instant, you can recognize that everything is already done. Any thought of separation, however much suffering follows it, still is only a thought. Separation must be maintained, it must be thought, it must be proved, and it must be practiced to exist. Without this maintenance, the experience of separation vanishes.
However your daily life presents itself, whether it is a life devoted to monastic duties or a life in the midst of the world, every moment is an opportunity to realize who you are. True investigation reveals that whatever prior limitations you feel keep you from who you are, however grand or lowly, they are nothing but concepts, concepts that when not maintained by mind activity cannot cause suffering. These concepts can be liberated so that you, as you are, can shine fully. This is the invitation extended to you.
This is not a path that leads you anywhere. It is a path where you recognize that the tendency to go somewhere is the tendency to follow thought. It is the path that stops you in your tracks so that you can directly discover who you are.
Finally, there are no more excuses. Just like you, I am a creature from this planet. I did not have an auspicious birth, under the right stars. I was certainly not raised by spiritually advanced parents or in an enlightened society. I’ve married. I’ve had a child. I’ve lived a very normal life.
I spent the majority of this life searching for happiness in all the ways I knew, until I met a gigantic force that said, “Stop! Give it up!” By some grace I said, “Okay.” This is your grace. It is no different. Give it all up and you will see immediately what can never be lost. Then you will know where true home is, and you can truly rest.