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.