The Papaji Lineage

by L. Ron Gardner

A number of people, over the years, have asked my opinion of the late H.W. L. Poonja (1910-1997), commonly referred to as Papaji. In my opinion, Papaji, unlike his guru Ramana Maharshi, was not an Enlightened Heart Master. Moreover, none of Papaji’s disciples who became big-name gurus (Andrew Cohen, Gangaji, Mooji) impresses me.

Herewith, in order, are my Amazon reviews of Papaji’s “The Truth Is” (two stars), Andrew Cohen’s “Evolutionary Enlightenment” (two stars), Gangaji’s ‘Freedom and Resolve” two stars), and Mooji’s “Breath of the Absolute –Dialogues with Mooji” (two stars).

Adyashanti-Level Advaita Vedanta

I first read this book about ten years ago, and I recently received my copy, which had been in storage since before Barack Obama took office. Unlike the first time I read it--when I quickly motored through it because I thought it was mediocre--I decided this time I would really read it. Well, to make a long story short, it didn't happen, and it didn't happen because this time I found the late author-guru Sri H.W.L. Poonja (1910-1997), known as Papaji, to be an unstomachable read. Papaji's guru was the incomparable Sri Ramana Maharshi (whom I adore I and whose books I gave 5-stars in my Amazon reviews), but Papaji is a quantum leap beneath Ramana on the guru scale, and his inability to clearly and deeply communicate Dharma was more than I could stomach, so I simply skimmed through the 553-page text and just read the sections that interested me.

What I'll do now is quote some passages from the text and then provide commentary on them.

"There is no time or space. It is just a concept of the mind, which vanishes when it is transcended... Seeing everything as a mental construct is the best experience one could have. All is mental construction... When "I" rises thought rises, when thought rises senses arise and when senses rise they produce objects of their respective senses. Eye to see, nose to smell a flower, ears to hear music, tongue to taste and hands to touch. These are the objects that senses see, but senses and the objects are the same."

First off, time and space are not a concept of one's mind; they exist independently of one's mind. If someone excised your brain, time and space would still exist, but your mind wouldn't. All is not mental construction; the world exists independently of your mental constructs. Your mental constructs allow you to recognize phenomenal reality and identify facts pertaining to it. The idea that senses and objects are the same is beyond ludicrous. The great Tibetan guru Longchen Rabjam debunked this ridiculous notion, which is common among fogged-out, epistemologically ignorant Eastern mystics.

Papaji, along with Ramesh Balsekar, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj's translator, are probably the two gurus most responsible for spreading the spiritual "disease" of neo-Advaita Vedanta, which teaches that no effort is necessary to realize the Self. Although I wouldn't characterize Papaji as strictly neo-Advaita, he is definitely quasi-neo-Advaita, as the following passages indicate:

"Here I don't teach any meditation or any exercise. Just keep quiet for an instant and don't stir a thought in your mind... Just sit quiet and don't anything... The concept of effort and practice is bondage. Just keep Quiet. Wherever you are, just keep Quiet."

Simply put, the spiritual practice of effortlessness or keeping Quiet, in and of itself, will not yield En-Light-enment. That is why in Zen, Dzogchen, and Mahamudra, spiritual teachers do not teach just effortlessness, especially to neophytes. It took me decades to figure out why effortlessness, or just letting go, was not, by itself, an integral spiritual practice--and I elaborate on this in my writings.

Papaji also taught Self-enquiry (vichar), but his teaching of this method is muddled, mixed, and contradictory. For example, he says:

"Vichar is Quietness. Quietness is not moving the mind... Vichar is true meditation, concentration on Awareness ... Spend more time to find where the "I" arises from. Don't make any effort, you don't need any to locate the "I" and you don't need any thinking either. Just keep still and find out where the "I" rises from... Inquire until there is no one left to inquire. The habits of the mind are very hard to break, and so it must be continued. You have been ignorant for for years, so when you know the truth you must stay As Such for some time. What else is important? You have to be very strong. Question the mind unceasingly."

Firstly, Vichar is not Quietness or concentration on Awareness, and it does take an effort (which would also be the case if it were concentration on Awareness, since all concentration involves effort). Secondly, questioning the mind ceaselessly is work and takes effort. It is almost comical how Advaita Vedanta gurus preach effortlessness then "smuggle" effort into their teachings. Thirdly, Papaji is unable to clearly expound and articulate Ramana Maharshi's Self-enquiry. Here is my description of the practice/process:

One's thoughts must be traced to the root of the causal body (where the Bliss Sheath intersects one's soul, the root of one's psyche). This `place" is the Hridayam, the Heart (distinct from the Anahata Chakra). And in accordance with Ramana Maharshi, I say the Self cannot be realized via Self-enquiry unless one's spurious, ego-based `I' thoughts are traced to their Source in the Hridayam, the spiritual Heart-center, where they are obviated, or outshone, by the true, transcendental `I,' the radiant Self, whose locus, relative to one's body, is two digits to the right of the center of one's chest. One's thoughts, the products of one's samskaras (karmic seed tendencies), originate in the spiritual Heart and travel to the brain, where they crystallize as one's mind. A Jnani must practice Self-enquiry and thereby pull the mind into the spiritual Heart, where the false, or ego, `I' is spontaneously dissolved, and supplanted by the true, or transcendental `I,' the Self.

As soon as Papaji discusses anything esoteric, he reveals his limitations. For example, consider what he says about Kundalini:

"Kundalini Shakti, sexual Shakti, and Shiva Shakti are different names for the same thing. But it is not true experience. Sexual experience you will forget, but you can never forget True experience and you can never describe it. Anything you can describe is false and stupid. True experience has been had by very few and none of them can describe it, so you need to find a very expert teacher who can give you practical lessons on this."

First, unbeknownst to Papaji, sexual Shakti is not the same thing as Shiva-Shakti, which is equivalent to Sat and Chit-Ananda. Second, the taste of sugar can no more be described than the taste of the Divine, which, according to Papaji's "logic," makes it a True experience as opposed to an untrue one, such as that of of a book you've read. Third, whereas Papaji is unable to explain the relation between the Self and Kundalini, Ramana Maharshi has no such trouble. According to Ramana, the Kundalini-Shakti rises out of the Heart-center as a permanent force-current, or nadi, or pillar of Light-energy, which he calls Amrita Nadi (Immortal Nerve). Regarding this Hridaya Shakti rising out of the Heart, Ramana states: "The yogis call it Kundalini-Shakti. It is the same as the vritti of the form of God." "Kundalini is not different than the Heart [or Self]."

In summary, this book doesn't even begin to compare to "Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi" (avoid the dumbed-down, de-esotericized Inner Directions version). The questions are all softballs, and the answers aren't much better. In my first book, "Beyond the Power of Now," I didn't place this text on my recommended Spiritual Reading List, but I did state that Papaji, along with Jean Klein, and Adyashanti, was a guru whose writings those into Advaita Vedanta might benefit from. If I issue a second edition of this book, I will remove all reference to Papaji and Adyashanti, and add Jean Klein, whom I like, to my Spiritual Reading List.

Dumbed-Down Daism Meets Recycled Tony Robbins

Anyone with a deep and profound understanding of both spiritual and sociopolitical philosophy would classify Andrew Cohen's "Evolutionary Enlightenment" as Eastern mysticism New Age pabulum on about the Eckhart Tolle level. But if you dig Tolle's New Earth, NOW Age babble, you'll probably enjoy the superficial spiritual-sociocultural "licks" played by jazz musician-"guru" Andrew Cohen.

I'll begin my analysis of the book with Cohen's spiritual Dharma, which is essentially exoteric Daism (Adi Da's Teachings). Da's essential teaching is that the ego is the avoidance of relationship (or relatedness), and when this egoic activity is obviated, the always already Condition of Being-Consciousness is realized. Cohen's spiritual guru was Papaji, whose guru was Ramana Maharshi; but Cohen, perhaps due to the influence of his bud Pandit Ken Wilber, has opted to express his spiritual teachings in "Da-speak." There is nothing wrong with this--I do it in my own books--but Cohen, unlike Da or me, doesn't broach the esoteric dimension of spiritual awakening. There isn't a single word about the Heart, Amrita Nadi, Shatipat, etc., in this book. In other words, if you want to find out how "egoless relatedness" translates into full Heart (or Self)-awakening, read Adi Da, not Cohen's warmed-over version of his Dharma.

It's beyond the scope of this review for me to deconstruct all of Cohen's nonsense, so I'll just touch on some key points. On page 108, Cohen declares, "It's the ongoing revelation that anything is possible." Of course it is: Pigs will soon fly; and expect to see midgets dunking over Lebron James in the upcoming NBA play-offs. If Cohen were a little sharper, he'd understand that the Law of Causality limits possibility, meaning that no entity can act in a way that is contrary to its nature. But so-called "visionaries" like Cohen never let reality stand in the way of their fantasies.

Andrew Cohen envisions an "egoless culture" as the ultimate goal of "evolutionary enlightenment." I've been around numerous big-name spiritual gurus over the past forty years, and, in my opinion, not a single one of them was even close to egolessness, and I'm not about to wager on Cohen's being the first. The fact is, the ego is not going anywhere in humans, because it is a biological necessity. What's necessary is to en-Light-en the ego, so it becomes a positive and rational, rather than a negative and irrational, force in one's life and in society.

Cohen writes: "The shift of motive is the key to everything. It's amazing what profound transformations can occur when human beings awaken to a larger context and a higher motive than the fears and desires of their own egos. We are all capable of greatness when we feel directly connected to a higher purpose." Yes, I'm sure that's what Germans in Nazi Germany, Maoists in Communist China, and Marxists in Russia all felt, as they sought to achieve a higher socialist (really fascist) order. The common man sacrifices himself (and his ego) to the ever-nebulous "higher purpose" or "common good," which Cohen, like other Progressives, is incapable of clearly defining. But somehow the "greater good" these Progressive "visionaries" allude to always seems to ends up totalitarian, whether in the form of a hierarchical spiritual cult or a Big Brother Mafia State.

The key question to ask regarding any "evolutionary" spiritual-political order is: Where does it stand on the "poles" of capitalism vs. socialism and individualism vs. statism? Cohen never answers this all-important question. As an ex-Marxist long ago converted to Objectivist and libertarian thinking, I'm totally in favor of capitalism and individualism and utterly opposed to socialism and statism (which are euphemistic terms for Marxist fascism). But how can anyone jump on Cohen's "evolutionary bandwagon" without knowing which "poles" he favors and why? My guess is that Cohen is a left-wing New World Order globalist, like his buds Ken Wilber and Don Beck (author of Spiral Dynamics, who gives props to this book), but Cohen remains too lost in futuristic vagueness to let us know for sure. Like Eckhart Tolle, he knows that the less specific he is, the greater is his opportunity to recruit followers.

Cohen's Tenets of Evolutionary Enlightenment are old fodder, right out of a Tony Robbins personal growth course. The first one, Clarity of Intention, characterizes all achievers--including ones who "achieve" terrible things. Hitler's clear intentions led to his control of Germany and annihilation of six million Jews. Luckily, my father and his family escaped the Holocaust.

The second one, The Power of Volition, simply means the will to make one's intention, or dreams, a reality. But from a spiritual perspective this simply fuels becoming (samsara) and minimizes Being (Nirvana). Spirituality is about surrender to the Divine Power (or Will), not about imposing one's own will, or volitional intent, on the spontaneously arising Absolute.

Cohen, in his third Tenet, tells us to "Face Everything and Avoid Nothing." But he hardly takes his own advice. All he does is sidestep hard questions, one's with potentially polarizing answers. For example, a few years ago, I addressed his online website with a specific question asking where Cohen stood on the capitalism-socialism and individualism-statism "poles," and, predictably, I received no response. If Cohen wants to face everything, he should answer this question, because without an answer to it, any New Age cultural vision is flat.

The Process Perspective, Cohen's fourth Tenet, is about recontextualizing your outlook, so as to see the spiritual unfoldment process from a universal, rather than just personal, perspective. There is nothing new here, just a hyping, New Agey restatement of the impersonal life in cosmic "evolutionary" terms.

Cohen's fifth and final Tenet is Cosmic Conscience. In this Tenet, Cohen simply restates the Bodhisattava ideal. He says your motive as a practitioner of evolutionary enlightenment becomes: "I want to be free not for my own sake but for the sake of the whole." Wonderful, but, unfortunately, meaningless. If Cohen can point to a single follower of his who has totally transcended his ego and is utterly free of craving, I'll likely die from shock. Even if one embraces the Bodhisattva ideal (and many spiritual gurus do not, labeling it peripheral and distracting), Cohen's restatement of it can hardly be classified as "A New Path to Spiritual Awakening"; it's simply a recycled New Agey version of the Mahayana Buddhist vow to work to liberate all sentient beings from samsara before you yourself take the "leap" into Nirvana.

To summarize, Andrew Cohen has unearthed no new or deep ground in this book, and his arguments lack coherence and specifics. I still have no idea what kind of "evolutionary" socioeconomic (capitalist or socialist) or political (libertarian or statist) system he favors. My college degree is in sociology, and as a sociologist, Cohen is laughable. And as a spiritual guru, Cohen is unoriginal and exoteric. I wish I could find a single reason to recommend "Evolutionary Enlightenment," but I can't.

A Skimpy, Recycled Advaita Vedanta Text

A fan of my Amazon reviews sent me this 73-page book to review, and I zipped through it in less than half an hour.

What has been said about Cleveland--there is no there there--can be said about this book. In other words, I have no idea why it was even written, because what Gangaji says can be summarized in a few sentences: You are the Self (awareness, consciousness, stillness, silence, Truth); you should vigilantly surrender to that Truth, and you should inquire, "Who Am I?" to realize you are that Truth. She doesn't elaborate on these statements, and beyond them has nothing substantive or insightful to say. She's read Ramana Maharshi, but clearly has not gone beneath the surface of his teachings.

Anyone who has already read books on Advaita Vedanta will find nothing new, interesting, or deep in this skimpy text, which is bereft of an esoteric dimension. And even newbies will be better off starting with other Advaita Vedanta texts.

I've been studying and practicing Advaita Vedanta for forty years. If you want to find out what books I recommend and why, you might want to check out my Amazon reviews: Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (5 stars), Sri Ramana Gita (5 stars), Sat Darshana Bhashya (5 stars), I Am That (4 stars), Silence of the Heart (4 stars), Be Who You Are, and Who Am I?, by Jean Klein (4 stars), The Transparency of Things (3 stars), Emptiness Dancing (3 stars), Standing as Awareness (2 stars), Evolutionary Enlightenment (2 stars), The End of your World (2 stars), I Am That I Am (2 stars), Radically Condensed Instructions on How to Attain Enlightenment (2 stars), and How to Attain Enlightenment (1 star).

Papaji-Level Advaita Vedanta

If you've read Papaji (see my two-star review of "The Truth Is") you don't need to read this book--it's just more of the same. Just as Papaji's two other noteworthy disciples, Gangaji (see my two-star review of "Freedom and Resolve: The Living Edge of Surrender") and Andrew Cohen (see my two-star review of "Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening") have failed to produce an impressive Dharma book, Mooji likewise has not produced one. All he seems capable of "writing" are warmed-over transcriptions of his talks, wherein every question is a "softball" from a totally clueless disciple, and every answer is a surface-level Advaita Vedantan response.

When you read Ramana Maharshi--especially "Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi" (see my five-star review), "Sri Ramana Gita" (see my five-star review) and "Sat Darshana Bhashya" (see my five-star review), you get the "real deal"--esoteric spiritual philosophy from a truly Self-realized Master. When you read Mooji, you get dumbed-down, psychologized pseudo-philosophy from a Guru wannabe.

Reading this book reminded me of reading Gangaji's "Freedom and Resolve"-- Advaita Vedanta reduced to an almost neo-Advaita Vedanta level. Here are a few examples of Mooji's "insights," with my response in parentheses:

"Can you see that everything is thought?" (That's exactly what Papaji says, and it's nonsense. The computer you're reading this on is not thought; it's a real object that exists independently of your mind.)

"Use your Heart, not your head... Show me your Heart." (One cannot "use" one's "Heart." The Heart is the Self, but never in this book does Mooji talk about the Heart as the Self. Moreover, never does he talk about anything deep relative to Self-realization. Nothing about Shakti, Kundalini, samskaras, Amrita Nadi, gunas, etc.

"Emptiness, your very own Self." (The Self is NOT Emptiness; it is Consciousness-Energy, or Siva-Shakti. Papaji, infected by the Madhyamika virus, talked about the Self as Emptiness, and this is where Mooji got this mistaken concept.)

The "I Am" is the subtle body." (No, it isn't. The subtle body is the pranayama sheath, one of the "coverings" of the Soul, or immanent Self.)

In the final chapter of the book, Mooji describes his "Enlightenment":

"For twenty or so steps I was still immersed in the agitated state of feeling lost. Then the next step! It was as if a dark, heavy cloud lifted, taking with it everything inside my head. There was nothing... There was only Emptiness."

Maybe Mooji and I have more in common than I thought--because when I read this book, I find... only emptiness.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody May 19, 2017 at 6:53 pm

I feel like I’ve arrived in heaven! Great stuff, L.R. I love encountering this kind of clarity in the ocean of folk theory that is nonduality spirituality.


L. Ron Gardner May 19, 2017 at 7:51 pm

Thanks Jody, I always appreciate positive feedback for my work. And you’ll see that I post comments that are critical of my writings. The only comments I don’t post are rude ad hominem ones that attack me rather than my work.


David Gan July 20, 2017 at 8:16 am

Hello Ron,

With due respect all I want to point out is you have not really understood the teaching of Papaji. It is actually no different to what Ramana Maharshi had taught. But if you analyse it with mind alone you may not fully capture the real essence. It has to be understood with also the heart and with deep inquiry. Alternatively you can also study the teachings of Rupert Spira, Ekhart Tolle, Krishnamurti, Peter Dziuban, Nisargadatta or Hanh Thich Nhat just to name a few then together with deep self inquiry you can probably piece together this ‘ultimate’ Puzzle. You will find that what is being conveyed is what you truly experience and the teachings all point to the same direction. I hope this helps you and sincerely wish the best for your search.



L. Ron Gardner July 20, 2017 at 4:30 pm

I stand by my critique of Papaji’s teachings.


Sam Hardman October 3, 2017 at 8:27 pm

Mooji’s disciples pull out the “can’t you see that’s just a thought?” card for just about anything. Any non-partyline interpretation of anything is undermined. He’s really running a cult. Ironically when they get upset with you for saying so, telling them that it’s just a thought doesn’t work.


L. Ron Gardner October 4, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Mooji is about as Enlightened as Andrew Cohen and Gangaji.


Sam Hardman October 17, 2017 at 1:41 am
You're an image November 8, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Haha. Saying a phenomenal object is ‘more’ or ‘less’ enlightened than another reflects that you really don’t get the crux at all my friend. You shoulve took all the effort in writing this into the woods of your un-knowing. Cuz you’re hanging on waaaayyyyy tightly. I’m afraid you won’t have a glimpse until you stop taking name and form so seriously, my friend,…and especially those you think ‘belong’ to you. You are a release buddy…lose-a-grip



L. Ron Gardner November 8, 2017 at 4:13 pm

In Maya, the plane of phenomenal reality, some beings are more en-Light-ened than others — and rarely does a fully En-light-ened being, such as Buddha or Ramana Maharshi, appear. If you want to consider Papaji and the “gurus” in his lineage fully Enlightened, be my guest, but I’m not about to agree with you.


You're an image November 8, 2017 at 2:19 pm

And of course you ‘stand by your critique of Papaji’s teachings.’ Can’t you see that’s why you entirely miss the Heart? Lie down. The blade of grass that stands up is chopped down…you know. Critique’


Terry November 26, 2017 at 11:15 am

“I’ve been studying and practicing Advaita Vedanta for forty years. If you want to find out what books I recommend and why” For somebody who has allegedly spent 40 years studying the subject you don’t seem to have grasped it at all. I am not quite sure why you think anybody would be interested in the views of someone so limited as yourself. You just come across as bitter and jealous.


L. Ron Gardner November 26, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Plenty of people are interested in my views. Apparently they find them worth considering.


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