The post below was originally published on a blog about Zen, Advaita, and“seemingly related matters” I ran some years ago. I’ve revised it a bit and posted it here. This is a rare, and fascinating, example of a master of the “advaita vedanta” contemplative tradition of India commenting on a poem by a Chinese Zen (Ch’an) master. I was inspired to take another look at this while meditating at the Vancouver Zen Center the other day, where “Faith In Mind” is chanted during the morning sit. Here it is:
Below I’ve copied out a precious excerpt from David Godman’s The Fire of Freedom: Satsang With Papaji Vol. 1. It is Papaji’s oral commentary on the 3rd Zen Ancestor Sengcan’s Verses on Faith in Mind. What we have here, then, is a modern Vedantic Nondualist who was widely believed to be a gyani, an awakened sage, commenting on one of the core texts of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Interestingly, although Papaji read other works in satsang like Yoga Vasishtha and Silence of the Heart this is the only full commentary on a spiritual text I have found in print.
Papaji (HWL Poonja) was a disciple of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He lived in the world, was married and had a family, and worked for a living, including as a manager of mining company and in the army. From the 60s to the 90s he spent much of his time wondering India and abroad giving intense teachings to small bands of disciples who he seemed to connect with spontaneously. In the 90s he became ill and settled in Lucknow, where a large mass of disciples, mostly Westerners, gathered around him. His disciples included Gangaji, Mooji, Andrew Cohen and many others. A large group of controversial “neo-advaitins”, non dual teachers only loosely grounded in Vedantic tradition, have arisen from among his students.
Papaji himself was apparently a remarkable teacher. I have spoken to one intelligent and experienced student of his, now in his 60s and living in India, who lived with Papaji for several years and told me that he was confident that Papaji was a remarkably awakened human being who had an uncanny ability to introduce other people, often within a few minutes, to direct experiences of emptiness, the mind-ground, and the true nature of the self.
In many ways Papaji was an embodiment of the Indian mahasiddha of the likes of Tilopa or Naropa (or Simha, the teacher of Bodhidharma’s teacher Prajnatara). He stressed the transcendence of all concepts, the need to go beyond the mind, the illusory nature of reality, the lack of “small s” self in either the person or any phenomena. He often said that the highest reality could not be named, and the most direct and essential instruction was “just keep quiet.”
Papaji was a great admirer of the Buddha, and even dressed up as a Buddhist monk and gave impromptu sermons in the market place as a child. He was a great fan of the Platform Sutra. Although he had a great love for the sages and teachings of Vedanta and also possessed intense bhakti (devotion) for Krishna from adolescence onward, Papaji sometimes expressed that he felt Buddhist teachings expressed the truth in a more uncompromising way than Hindu teachings, an example of his own non-sectarian, non-dogmatic approach.
Below is the commentary. Enjoy, and thank you very much to David Godman for this wonderful transcript:
The following is excerpted from a satsang (group meeting with Papaji). The text is produced as Papaji read it, and the underlined portions are lines that he repeated for emphasis. Papaji’s comments are in bold.
Papaji: This mention of “dharma” reminds me. Where is that text that someone sent me? There is something in there about doubts.
The great way is not difficult
for those who are unattached to preferences.
When love and hate are both absent,
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth,
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear of themselves.
When you try to stop activity or to achieve passivity,
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other,
you will never know oneness.
Those who do not live in the single way
fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial.
To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality.
To assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
The more you talk and think about it,
the further you stray from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
To return to the root is to find the meaning,
but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance…
[Papaji, chuckling, exclaimed ‘Yes! Wonderful! before continuing with an emphatic repetition:]
At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
the changes that appear to occur in the empty world
we call real only because of our ignorance.
Do not search for the truth.
Only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the dualistic state.
Avoid such pursiots carefully.
If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong,
the mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the one,
do not be attached even to this one.
Papaji: [turning to the last questioner] You have to understand this line.
Question: That is quite difficult for me to understand.
Papaji: Yes, that’s why I stopped here. It says, ‘Do not be attached even to this one.’ I will explain this because he is not being completely clear here. When you have detached yourself from duality, that means that at one time you accepted duality as being valid. The accepting and the not accepting are both conclusions. When you have rejected duality, what remains is the one. That’s true, isn’t it? All dualities, all ideas of duality, come from the oneness, and when duality is discarded, what remains is the oneness. Then he says, ‘Do not be attached even to this one.’ Up to now you have obviously understood, but now I have to explain what this line means. He is telling you not to be attached to the one as a concept. ‘One’ and ‘two’ are two concepts that are related to each other. Is it possible to speak of two unless you have the concept of one? You can’t, can you?
Question: No, I can honestly say that I can’t.
Papaji: Two is one plus one. When you see it like this, the oneness has entered duality, at least in your concept of what is going on. Two always has a relationship with one when one is still a concept. But when duality is lost, where is the one? Where is it?
Question: In the two? Back in the two? I don’t really know.
Papaji: When you have lost the concept of duality, of two, oneness also goes.
Papaji: When you are one, when you are alone in the oneness, you don’t count yourself as ‘one’ because there is no two for you to be in relationship with. One can only exist as one if there is a two for it to be in relationship with. When two doesn’t exist at all, one cannot exist either.
What happens when we sleep? We reject everyone. Many people came to see you while you were awake. Perhaps you were at a wedding, your own wedding, while you were socializing with many friends and relatives. One by one everyone leaves and says ‘goodbye’. Now you are left with your bride. There are just the two of you left and it is time for you to go to sleep. You are both there, in the same bed, in the same room. The two goes when you say goodnight to your wife, and the moment you enter deep sleep, the one does as well. You enter a place where neither one nor two can exist. When the one goes, when it disappears, everything else goes with it. Ideas of one or to cannot rise or exist there.
You can’t even think of one unless you speak and think of something that is other than one. When you return to the Self, duality goes, and then the one goes along with it. The Self is not something that can be counted in units of one or two. Neither one nor two is there. This is what this Zen master is trying to tell you. You have to reject the idea of one as well as two.
Although all dualities come from the one,
do not be attached even to this one.
I told you earlier that you had to go on rejecting everything that could be rejected. This one is one of the things you have to reject. Reject everything as ‘not me’: ‘I am not the many; I am not my parents; I am not my brothers; I am not my son.’ Then you are reduced to the possibility of your being the one. Reject that as well. When you say to yourself, “I am not the mind, not the body, not the ego, not the intellect’, and so on, add “I am not the one.’ Reject that as well and the rest in the quietness of what remains and see what reveals itself to you.
When the mind exists undisturbed in this way,
nothing in the world can offend.
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.
‘It ceases to exist in the old way.’ The mountain will be a different mountain. The tree will be a different tree. The man will be a different man. Things will be the same, but the way you view them will be different.
When no discriminating thoughts arise,
the old mind ceases to exist.
When thought objects vanish,
the thinking subject vanishes,
as when the mind vanishes, object vanish.
‘When thought objects vanish’. This is where you start your enquiry. with objects of thought. When you say, ‘I am the body’, the body is your thought object. Start from that place. ‘I am Tim’. When this thought vanishes, the ‘I’ who thought he was Tim also vanishes. When the mind that has objects of thought vanishes, the objects themselves vanish. Consider what happens when you go to sleep. Mind vanishes, and all the objects it was previously perceiving vanish.
Things are objects because of the subject [mind].
The mind [subject] is such because of things [objects].
Things are only objects because of the subject that perceives them. Mind is what it is because of the things that it perceives. The mind is the subject because of the objects it sees. They both appear and disappear together. Neither can exist without the other.
Understand the relativity of these two
and the basic reality, the unity of emptiness.
In this emptiness the two are indistinguishable,
and each contains in itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine,
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.
To live in the great way is neither easy or difficult,
but those with limited views are fearful and irresolute.
the faster they hurry, the slower they go,
and clinging [attachment] cannot be limited.
Even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.
Ah ha! very nice! ‘Even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.’ [Laughs for some time.] We were speaking earlier of meditation and ideas and decisions. This is the dharma! This is the dharma!
Just let things be in their own way
and there will be neither coming nor going.
Obey the nature of things, your own nature,
and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
When thought is in bondage, the truth is hidden,
for everything is murky and unclear,
and the burdensome practice of judging
brings annoyance and weariness.
What benefit can be derived from distinctions and separations?
If you wish to move in the one way
do not dislike even the world of sense and ideas.
Indeed, to accept them fully
is identical with true enlightenment.
the wise man strives to no goals,
but the foolish man fetters himself.
There’s one dharma, norm many.
Distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant.
To seek mind with the mind is the greatest of of all mistakes.
Rest and unrest derive from illusion.
With enlightenment there is no liking or disliking.
All dualities come from ignorant interference.
They are like dreams or flowers in the air:
foolish to try to grasp them.
Gain and loss, right and wrong,
such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.
If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease.
If the mind makes no discriminations,
the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.
To understand the mystery of this one-essence
is to be erased from all entanglements.
When things are seen equally,
the timeless self-essence is reached.
No comparisons or analogies are possible
in this causeless, relations less state.
[Papaji laughed before repeating the last statement:] No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state.
Consider movement stationary and the stationary in motion.
Both movement and rest disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist…
Oho! This is the thing I was talking about. I was trying to explain it to you, but he explains it himself in the next line.
When such dualities cease to exist,
oneness itself cannot exist.
He did it! He explained this himself. I thought he was not going to say this, so I explained it myself earlier. This is very good, very nice. I am reading this for the first time. If I had known he was going to say this himself, I wouldn’t have stopped earlier.
Question: Really! You have never come across these words before? They are quite famous.
Papaji: Yes, I’m reading them for the first time, thinking about them without any support from anything or anywhere else. It’s very nice. No, better than that: it’s excellent!
To this ultimate finality no law or description applies.
No laws operate in this place, no revelation is valid. Nothing applies there. What is this situation? This is what you have to know and experience.
For the unified mind in accord with the way
all self-centred driving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish,
and life in true faith is possible.
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage.
Nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with noe exertion of the mind’s power.
Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value.
In this world of suchness
there is neither self not other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just simply say when doubts arise, ‘Not two.’
In this ‘not two’ nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded.
No matter when or where,
enlightenment means entering this truth,
and this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space.
In it a single thought is ten thousand years.
[Laughing again] This is what we talk about here. this is space we speak of here. ‘A single thought is ten thousand years.’
Emptiness here, emptiness there,
but the infinite universe stands
always before your eyes,
infinitely large and infinitely small:
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
So too with being and non-being.
Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with enlightenment.
[The Richard Clarke translation that Papaji was reading from actually says ‘nothing to do with this’ but Papaji somehow read it as ‘enlightenment’ and then repeated the two line again, with the same final word.]
One things, all things:
move among and intermingle
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.
To live in this faith is the road to non-duality
because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
The way is beyond language,
for in it there is
Papaji: Did you like this?
Question: Yes, it was very beautiful.
Papaji: Yes, very beautiful. What a teaching! You won’t hear a better teaching than this. As you listen to this, you can’t cling to anything. That’s the beauty of it. You can’t cling to any sentence, any word, any teaching to give you freedom.