Kheper Home | Gurus Main Page | HWL Poonja (Papaji) | Topics Index | Search

HWL Poonja (Papaji)

H.W.L. Poonja
H.W.L. Poonja, Lucknow, 1994
From Le Site InnerQuest - Hommage à H.W.L. Poonja
Gurus/Spiritual Masters
HWL Poonja (Papaji)
current suggested assesment

back to alphabetical listing
Tradition Advaita Vedanta
Guru Ramana Maharshi
Category Nondual
Inspiration The Transcendent
Ambassadors (not disciples) external link Arjuna Ardagh, Andrew Cohen, external link Dasarath Davidson, external link Catherine Ingram, Gangaji, Wikipedia link Madhukar, external link Neelam, external link Isaac Shapiro, external link more Western


From Wikipedia link Wikipedia:

Sri H. W. L. Poonja (Hariwansh Lal Poonja), * 13 October 1910 in Punjab, (now Pakistan, early India); † 6 September 1997 in Lucknow, India; called "Papaji“ or "Lion of Lucknow“ was an Indian saint of the Advaita Vedanta.


H. W. L. Poonja was born in Gujrunwala, in western Punjab, which is now Pakistan. His mother was the sister of Swami Rama Tirtha, one of the most famous saints of India. At the age of eight, it is said, he experienced his first samadhi, an altered state of unitary consciousness He led a normal life, married, raised two children and joined the army. But his love to God was so immense, that he decided to search for him. In 1944 he met his master, Sri Ramana Maharshi and he realized his Self in the presence of the master. In 1947 he went back to Lucknow to join his family. Ramana Maharshi let him go with the words: “I am with you wherever you are.” In the following years, Papaji earned money to support his family and travelled in India, Europe and North America. In 1966 he retired and went again back to Lucknow, India, where he received visitors from around the world. He died on September 6, 1997.


In satsang he pointed only to ultimate truth of the Advaita Vedanta tradition, that one's own Self is already enlightened and free. He emphasized that there is no difference between guru and devotee, and even stated that there is 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.

His expression of this "truth" was that all there is emptiness, which is one's true Self, and that this is everlasting freedom.

He was also known for enjoying singing and dancing in satsang.


During satsang he told his devotees to go home and share their experience and the teachings with friends. He called them ambassadors and messengers. Thousands of people he sent back with this mission and many teachers or gurus in the west refer to him as their teacher, for example Gangaji, and Isaac Shapiro

The following, from Sarlo's Guru Listings (external link Advaita), seems to be a good synopsis:

"Realized the Truth when he was 8 years old. This Realization infinitely blossomed in his early 30’s when he met his Guru, Ramana." Just sitting and being and self-enquiry, is the teaching. Articulate master with "thousands of ways to stop your mind, to help you inquire into who you really are, etc." Inspires instant enlightenments, many since recanted. Some doubt about self-appointed successors but major influence. (Rated: 3 buddhas - the greats, helping many)

Ramana and Papaji

Ramana had many devotees, but no disciples (the same would apply to many true gurus and teachers. This is not to deny the existence of a transmission (via the Intermediate zone). Since I have experienced this first hand from Papaji's ambassador (not disciple) Gangaji I know that this is a real phenomenon.

The following posts from external link FACTNet Discussion Groups - A Question of Enlightenment concern the relationship between Ramana and Papaji.

Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 1:46 am:

Hello all.

Scribe and Kalamari – I am very pleased to have found your comments on Ascension and Sri Ramana. But, Scribe, if I may – you say: a teacher named Papaji, a student of Ramana Maharishi.

How is it that Papaji styled himself as a student of Sri Ramana since Ramana himself apparently accepted no students? People seem to have gravitated to Ramana’s side and he did help them directly but as far as I have been able to determine, he never once accepted anyone as a ‘student’, as a devotee yes but not as a student. I have all of Ramana’s published writings (in English) as well as 20 or more books written by his devotees but I do not see the name Papaji in any of them. Also I have visited with the Ashram in Tiruvanomali & I did not see any books in the bookshop associating with the name Papaji. Was Papaji truly a student of Ramana or did he just (as many did) ‘pass by the Ashram’? If the latter then there is not much point in extensively analysing Papaji’s teaching method in relation to Ramana.

Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 9:07 pm:

external link Reference to Pabaji & Sri Ramana - a description of Papaji’s visit with Sri Ramana – not quite the formal student though but still since he says that he learned something from Ramana but it is clear from the text that his ideas were clarified by Ramana’s presence rather than through any formal teaching relationship in 1944 or so. This appears to be somewhat different from the dawning of awareness that confirmed devotees apparently reported.

Posted on Wednesday, February 23, 2005 - 7:11 pm:

From: David Godman
Date: Sunday, 20 February 2005 7:10 p.m.

Dear (goldenage),

Papaji is a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. He came to see him in the 1940s and visited him regularly until 1947. In that year, just before partition, Bhagavan advised him to go back to the Punjab and make sure that his family was safe. He never had the opportunity of coming to Tiruvannamalai again. In the early 1940s he had been looking for a living guru, someone who, in his own words ‘could show him god’, when a sadhu appeared at his home in the Punjab and directed him to Tiruvannamalai. When Papaji reached Tiruvannamalai, he realised that the sadhu who visited him and Ramana were one and the same person, although Bhagavan had not physically left Tiruvannamalai for almost fifty years.

Papaji usually called himself a ‘disciple’ of Ramana Maharshi, although Ramana himself said on a few occasions that he was not a guru and did not have disciples. However, he did have disciples, and he did function as a guru.

‘Papaji’ is a title that was given to him by his own devotees in the 1990s. His original name was Hariwansh Lal Poonja, and he appears in Day by Day with Bhagavan as a Mr Poonja from the Punjab.

Best Wishes David Godman


When looking at HWL Poonja's photo (see photo at top of page, or Google search in google image search) one finds that although the bottom half of the face is heavy and very physical (so it makes sense that he was in the army), the eyes indicate love and sincerity. This indicates he is a genuine teacher, not a fake. He is a much more physical person than Ramana, but this is necessary if this message is to be given to the West, which is a much more materialistic culture than India. He has a great deal of power, and seems to be an advanced yogi of the intermediate zone.

Relationship with Westerners

HWL Poonja is highly regarded in the West, due to the large number of "ambassadors" or "messengers". external link Here is a first hand account that seems to have a sens eof authenticity about it.

external link Here's a discription by Steven Gilman who attended satsangs by HWL Poonja. He sounded like he spent the whole time in a state of intoxication.

Here are two posts to blogospherea blog thread highly critical of Poonja "messengers" Gangaji and Eli; discussion then moved to Papaji as well. The respective positions are revealing; the first persion has very little sensitivity or insight, although still makes some useful comments. The second has rather more discrimination.
Meeting Poonja once over two days was more than enough for me. I met him personally and was invited to the usual "tea" held at his home the following day. Upon entering, I saw about 20 or so people, in various states of awe and/or drooling, some staring at Poonja with adoration. I then looked at him and saw that he was watching television, a sports game, and having his (broken) arm massaged by some western woman who looked like a zombie. I sat there, watching these people idolize this old man watching TV, as if he was God, with him not paying the least attention to them, ignoring the fact that they were even in his living room. For me it was the height of bad manners, and totally ridiculous. There was some kind of "energy" in the room, caused by I don't know and don't care what. I only know that his followers appeared to be totally whacked out and I was not at all interested in Poonja's "enlightenment", with or without cricket and a tea party without a host...

Even after seeing Poonja, I did go once to see Gangaji and also once to Eli. I found them both shallow, needing to control the people in the group, and (Eli especially) really becoming angry and redfaced when asked cooly by a "bystander" in the audience if he had considered an alternative view of the point he was making vehemently to some poor crying lady who was there begging him for help.

Note how different this person's experiences are regarding Gangji to my own. I never saw Gangaji become angry either, at least not during those two "satsangs" I went to,. But Eli clearly is another matter, and I argue he is dragging Gangaji down.

The fact that Poonjaji likes watching sport on TV firts in with his physicality; e.g. he was originally in the military. The reference to "energy" in the room is uncannily like my experience of Swami Krishna. The adoring blissed out devotees are a common phenomenon and it alsll too easy to dismiss and mock such peoplke; I confess I have done the same. But by doing so one remains in a gross judgmental form of consciousness, with not possibility of understnading the reality the otherpoerson or people are experiencing.

There is no denying that Papaji had a great deal of power, and certainly he was transmitting on the level of the Intermediate zone. Whether that means that he himself was in the Intermediate zone or a genuinely liberated being is hard to tell. Nevertheless, while some of Papaji's western devotees would seem to be full of light, others became abusive gurus.

Let's look at what the second, more insightful, person has to say:

"Speaking as someone who spent some time with Poonjaji in the early days (early 1990's), it was my impression at the time that Poonjaji genuinely thought people could 'get it' (get 'enlightened' that is), and then be sent out to teach, and that was all the 'qualification' that was necessary.

I have no idea how he arrived at this conclusion, but I do think that he was really quite sincere in his desire to get the message out that 'freedom is everyone's birthright,' as he so often told us.

After sometime when Lucknow became a complete circus and hundreds of people had showed up with all sorts of motivations, and stories had begun to surface about Andrew Cohen, and when Papaji saw how the westerners behaved, I think that he became somewhat cynical, or perhaps he just saw things more clearly.

...It seems to me that most of those who were there in the early days were very sincere people who had done a lot of spiritual practice, and were perhaps more mature and prepared for Papaji's message than those who descended en mass afterwards.

Even so, I think that Papaji had very little understanding of the nature of the western psyche or tolerance for its failings...

When we were in Lucknow we often heard Papaji tell stories of the forty years he spent as a Krishna bhakta prior to realization. We often would wonder why, in light of his own efforts, he was telling us that sadhana was not necessary for us, or that we had already done enough.

Perhaps he was trying to tell us that it was not necessary to do sadhana in order to ‘achieve’ something which we already were, and for many of us that was probably a good message to hear at that time.

But mental stability and emotional maturity, which can be acquired through various methods, are very important, and that seems to be exactly what many of those who are teaching in his name lack.

Added to that, most do seem to be experience promoters. And since realization isn't a new experience to be gained, but rather a recognition of what is already present, then perhaps most of them don't even know what they are talking about in the first place...

People would often have apparently ecstatic 'experiences' around Papaji. (I don't even know what the experiences actually were). Then Papaji would congratulate them and make a big fuss over them. Usually this led to the person feeling very puffed up and special about themselves.

This is completely antithetical to actually seeing that who one is, is who one has always been. To take that understanding and then blow it up as if to make yourself special is nuts.

The realm of the mind is one thing. In that realm there are all sorts of differences, all sorts of mental and emotional variations, and a lot of work can be done in those realms.

But seeing that who you are is who you always have been, is not really such a big thing to crow about, as if you are now some sort of special individual. To take that understanding and apply it to the realm of difference doesn't make sense, and it also in no way, IMO, necssarily makes one qualified to be a teacher.

It can be argued that the Intermediate zone, not some sort of transcendent supreme egoless Enlightenment, is the experience that these Western devotees had. And even then the outer or only sublte level of the intermediate zone, equivalent to Da Free John's "Fifth Stage of Life". Andrew Cohen is an instructive case, He is one of a number of westerners who claimed to have receieved enliughtenment from HWL Poonja. In The Mother of God by Luna Tarlo (Cohen's mother), provides descriptions of what appear to have been some sort of subtle energy/kundalini experience that befell her son.

The transmission of subtle energy indicates that Poonja might be better described as a siddhi yogi rather than a sat guru. This is not to deny that he had a transcendent or nondual realisation, only that what he gave to westerners was on the subtlke level. Gangaji may be one of the very few who were able to carry it through to the nondual. Perhaps the second poster quoted above, who writes with a lot of discrimination, was another.

Papaji apparently told a lot of people they were enlightened. But offered no guidance or aftercare to them--like getting folks drunk or high and then abandoning them. See Tale of Two Teachers on the What Enlightenment? blog. For further commentary see Sarlo's essay external link The Advaita Disease: On the Tendency to Proliferation. No one seems to ever have considered that this was cruel.

Poonjaji later claimed in what seems to have been a rather peevish interview that many people came to him begging for enlightement: external link external link Discernment: between direct and indirect spiritual paths, sleeping and awakened spiritual teachers and the discovery of the strategies the I thought uses to preserve its imaginary existence (From Nothing Ever Happened - A Biography of Sri H.W.L. Poonja, compiled/edited by David Godman (1297 pages in 3 volumes)). As the second posetr says in the previous exerpt, this would be after Papaji realised that all these people who had come to him had learned nothing. And presumablly he would just put up with them in a long-suffering way, as the first poster describes. Probably he would have felt happier if he could have just been allowed to watch TV alone in peace, without these stupid westerners crowding around.

I need to read up more on Papaji; clearly there is much more to this intriguing and very important figure then meets the eye.

Web links Links Web links

Website Papaji's Home Page - Information on Self realized teacher HWL Poonjaji, affectionately known as "Papaji."

Website Papaji Sri H.W.L. Poonja Poonjaji -- Details of books and biographies, lots of photos, daily and other dialogues, anecdotes etc, together with information about and links to his disciples.

Website Papaji |Shri HWL Poonjaji - Extensive biography and pictures of Sri HWL Poonjaji 'Papaji' together with quotation and video of the week and numerous satsang extracts.

Website Papaji | HWL Poonja | Avadhuta Foundation - Established in 1993 to further the teachings of Sri HWL Poonja and to make available the archives of his talks in India.

Website H.W.L. Poonja - Who Are You? An Interview With Papaji

Wikipedia link H. W. L. Poonja - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kheper index page
Topics index page
Gurus Home

Kheper Home | Gurus Main Page | HWL Poonja (Papaji) | Topics Index | Search

images not loading? | error messages? | broken links? | suggestions? | criticism?

contact me

page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 20 November 2006, last modified 1 December