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Sri H. W. L. Poonja (Hariwansh Lal Poonja), * 13 October 1910 (or later; year of birth is in fact not certain) in Punjab, (now Pakistan, earlier British India); † 6 September 1997 in Lucknow, India; also known as "Poonjaji" or "Papaji". Although Poonjaji denied being part of any formal tradition, he is considered by many to be a yogi-saint of the Advaita Vedanta and Bhakti traditions.

H. W. L. Poonja.



H. W. L. Poonja was born in Gujranwalla, in western Punjab, which is now Pakistan, in a family of Saraswati Brahmans. His mother was the sister of Swami Rama Tirtha, one of the most famous saints of India. At the age of eight, he experienced a highly unusual state of consciousness. He was persuaded by his mother that he could reconnect to this unitary experience by practicing devotion to the Hindu God Krishna, and so he gave himself over to Krishna Bhakti (devotion) with vigor. He proved to be a prodigy of sorts and while still a boy he began to have visions of Krishna. This is known in the Vaisnava tradition as receiving the "Darsana" of God. Playfully interacting with his visions of Krishna while simultaneously experiencing the bliss of spiritual union, he spent his youth in intimate relationship with Krishna as his friend.

As an adult he led an apparently normal life, married, raised two children and even joined the British army, while secretly his love for Krishna (and his visions of Him) continued. Pursuing the life of a devotee he was not satisfied with having sporadic visions and was deeply troubled when Krishna did not appear. He became obsessed with a longing to have the experience of seeing God 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 God at will. After all his attempts had failed, he returned to his family in Lyalpur. A sadhu appeared at the door soon after that, and Poonjaji invited him in and 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?" To his surprise, the sadhu told him that there was a person, Ramana Maharshi, who could show him God. Further, the sadhu provided detailed instructions on how to find this Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai in southern India. At the soonest opportunity, Poonjaji traveled to Tiruvannamalai to meet the sage Ramana Maharshi. It was 1944, and Poonjaji was thirty-one years old. However upon meeting Ramana, rather than being given another vision of God Ramana pointed him in the direction of his own Self. He pointed out that gods who appear and then disappear are not continuous, only the One who was aware of those gods was continuous. He encouraged Poonjaji to find the One who had seen the visions of God because that One (Consciousness) does not come and go. He told Poonjaji to find out who the seer is. Poonjaji had a deeply profound experience when he heard this, and under Ramana's gaze he became aware of the spiritual Heart, which he felt open and bloom. This did not deter him from continuing with his japa of Krishna's name and he was not impressed with the advice as such.[1] At this point Poonjaji continued pursuing his devotional path, 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. This came to a head when he had a vision of Ramana telling him that Krishna devotion was the only truth. Poonja felt compelled to return to Sri Ramanasramam and ask Ramana if he had indeed appeared before him and conveyed the primacy of Krishna bhakti. 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 with such intense devotion for him that Poonja became convinced that Ramana was a secret bhakta himself. It was only later, when Poonjaji went through a devotional crisis, one which he trusted Ramana (the secret bhakta) could help him with, that he completely recognized the Self or Atman. Suddenly, after a lifetime of devotion, he found that he could no longer bring his mind to think of God, do japa or any other spiritual practice. Deeply concerned, he asked Ramana for help and was told that this was not a problem, that all his practice had carried him to this moment and it could be left behind now because it had served its purpose. On hearing this and bathing in the silent gaze of his guru, Poonjaji felt his body purified and remade atom by atom, transforming him as if he were being given a new body one atom at a time. It was then that he suddenly understood what he was and always already had been. After his transformation he stayed in southern India until 1947, when during the partition of India, despite Poonjaji's fierce longing to stay with his master, Ramana sent him to his old home in the Punjab (then in the new country of Pakistan) to bring his family to the safety of Lucknow, India. Ramana's last words to him were: “I am with you wherever you go.” In the following years, Poonjaji earned money to support his family. In 1966 he retired and spent a lot of time in the Himalayan foot-hills, where his first western disciple, Meera, later known as Ganga, found him in 1968. They traveled throughout India, Europe and the Americas, often together with their daughter, Mukti. Poonjaji later settled in Lucknow, where he received visitors from all around the world. He died on September 6, 1997.


Poonjaji refused to identify himself with any tradition and was considered decidedly radical in the directness of his teaching. During his satsang his teaching was consistent with that of his guru Ramana Maharshi, and similar to Advaita Vedanta, while his style and manner of teaching has been compared to the early Chan (Zen) masters. His message, like that of his teacher Sri Ramana, was always that the Self is already enlightened and free. He emphasized that there is ultimately no difference between guru and devotee, no teacher, no disciple and even no message. His teaching emphasizes again and again that words can only point to ultimate truth, but never are ultimate truth, and that intellectual understanding without directly realizing the truth through one's own investigation is not enough. Like Sri Ramana, he taught self-enquiry, which involved locating a person's sense of "I" and focusing on and investigating this directly. Poonja was quick to point out that devotional bhaktas such as Kabir, Ravidas, Sukdev and Mirabai were also awakened in the same state of freedom known as Sahaj Samadhi, which they called God. And like Sri Ramana, he stressed that teaching through silence was more important than teaching through words. Reportedly, a powerful transmission of awareness, presence, grace, love, bliss or shaktipat was experienced by many who met him, often dropping them directly into an experience of the Self. He also emphatically rejected any notion of transmission. It should be noted that Ganga is living quietly in South Portugal and keeps pointing relentlessly to the same everlasting, unspeakable truth of who we really are to the rare traveler finding their way to her.

See also


  1. ^ Nothing Ever Happened, Volume One, David Godman


  • Papaji: Interviews (A collection of Interviews with Poonja) by David Godman, published 1993 by Avadhuta Foundation
  • Papaji Interviews & Reflections (earlier Indian edition, essentially a different book), published 1992 by Pragati
  • Nothing Ever Happened (A three volume biography). by David Godman, published by Avadhuta Foundation
  • This: Prose and Poetry of Dancing Emptiness (the essence of Papaji's teachings) Edited by Prashanti, published by VidyaSagar Publications and
  • The Truth Is (the essence of Papaji's teachings with dialogues) Edited by Prashanti, published by VidyaSagar Publications and
  • Wake Up and Roar: Satsang With H. W. L. Poonja (two volumes), edited by Eli Jaxon-Bear
  • The Fire of Freedom: Satsang with Papaji by David Godman, published by Avadhuta Foundation
  • My Master is My Self, by Andrew Cohen and Murray Feldman, ( 1989 account of his relationship with H.W.L.Poonja before the schism)

External links


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