4.2 Is the The Poonja (Papaji) Crowd Fraudulent?

4.2.1 What U.G. said

“Surrendering to a teacher is surrendering your self-reliance.
Not one of them has anything to give.”
~ U.G. Krishnamurti (paraphrased from memory)
“I haven’t learned anything from spiritual fruity bastards”
~ U.G. Krishnamurti
I agree with U.G. There are lots of people who think they are awake. How tragic - to be something instead of just being.

4.2.2 Ramana Maharshi

As a young boy Ramana Maharshi lay down on the ground, closed his eyes, and tried to imagine what it meant to die. What, he wondered, died. The body? Sure. Thoughts? Yes. Spirit? Probably - since he had never seen proof there was such a thing. But what about the sense “I am” did that die too? Well, hard to say. So he wondered, what about turning the question around. What am I before I die? The body? No, of course not. The mind? No, because when I am asleep and not dreaming there the mind is quiet, but I am not dead. Okay, so am I simple the sense “I am?”.
As he wondered about this last question, something happened. People around him called it “enlightenment”, but he did not. So we wont either. But something changed, and he was free. As he later said, it took another forty years for the fullness of this to occur, and free him utterly, forever.

4.2.3 Evangelical preachers

What happened to Ramana, U.G., R’abia, Rumi, Douglas Harding, Morihei Ueshiba, Brother Lawrence, and a handful of others through the centuries ... is a rarity.
Because for most “spiritual” teachers, going all the way to the end simply does not happen. Greed, fear, confusion, ... get in the way first. Instead there is a moment of insight usually combined with some sort of psychological release and voilà! they think they are awake. Friends notice they are different, happier, more quiet.
That the same thing happens when people fall in love, or have a painful boil removed, or when a long painful illness goes away seems not to occur to them. Because the psychological change, wherein they seem to be aware of their body “out there” but not part of them, where the world is magical but they are no longer “of” the world ... all of that seems to be what the sages talk about as enlightenment.
And you know what? It is the same. Because there is, nor ever has been, any such thing. What the so-called sages discuss in various sutras as being “enlightenment” or leading to “enlightenment”, has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to Ramana et al. What the “sages” and sutras discuss is just psychological mumbo jumbo surrounded by pretty flowers, clean whiter robes, and donation boxes at the door (an image: pls click to see it)

4.2.4 Poonja (Papaji)

Poonja saw visions of Hindu saints from a early age onward. He thought this made him special, and boasted of it one afternoon, to Ramana Maharshi. Who simply asked him if the visions were permanent, or if they came and went. Poonja said that the latter was the case, to which Ramana simply said “Well, what good are they if they are not permanent?”. Poonja understood, and stopped wasting his time with visions and such things from then on. Shortly before his death many years later, he said that he was still trying to go deeper. How sad.
Well, for various reasons Poonja had many followers. One of the main reasons was that legions of disabused and disillusioned Rajneesh followers flocked to him as a substitute for Rajneesh (aka Osho). Films taken by some of these former Rajneesh followers helped spread the word of Poonja as some sort of “enlightened sage”. So western hippies, meditation teachers, and others flocked to see him. Risking their health by eating food from local street vendors. Although Poonja frequently privately said he just wanted to get rid of these people, he did not.
He did however develop a technique for getting rid of some of them. He told them they were already awake, had understood the Truth, and should return to the West to teach others. This was a good trick, which served to get rid of the spectacularly silly - who now tour the world uttering platitudes, setting up donation boxes at all their events, and pretending to be in the “lineage” of Ramana Maharshi. Sigh. Some have made it big on the newage/guru circuit and travel in five star hotels or luxury homes. Some are sponsored by multimillionaire heiresses. Most however are small time, having only a few followers. These less well known “teachers” work at day jobs to keep themselves going. Dreaming perhaps of hitting the big time.

4.2.5 No scholars allowed

Interestingly unlike say, Wei Wu Wei, Douglas Harding, etc., there are no scholars that I know of in this group. Amongst most of the pseudo-Advaita crowed (spawned largely from those whom Poonja told to “go teach”), it is as if deep learning and deep scholarship are somehow unclean and unholy. But ignorance is not a synonymous with enlightenment.
This shunning of knowledge and learning can sometimes result in a reluctance to truly question either their understanding and supposed insights. Scholars tend to ask embarrasing questions. Such as, why are you resorting to brainwashing techniques, such as the same induction techniques so common to cult leaders, successful politicians, PR people, and fundamentalist preachers.

4.2.6 Brainwashing and other induction techniques

I know of several in this line of work, some claiming to be in the Ramana-Poonja “lineage” who use these techniques at every prayer meeting satsang. Some of what I have seen being very deliberately used:
  • leading and pacing,
  • hypnotic speech patterns,
  • unblinking eye contact,
  • deep pattern embedding,
  • gesture pacing,
  • anchoring,
  • induction via slow speech rhythm and tonality,
  • cathartic induction,
... and so on - all of which are clearly reminiscent of Dr. Erickson’s and Bandler’s brilliant work (albeit since debased by widespread misuse). Some of the well known Poonja teachers are known to have received training in these techniques, as have some of the better known Christian fundamentalist preachers. And well known politicians.

4.2.7 Therapy

What the Poonja crowd and similar “spiritual teachers” preach can sound quite nice in its way. Yet to my ear most of it is newage psychobabble. And short-term therapy. But the therapy seems to be as much for the would be teacher, as for members of the blissed out satsang audience.
To me most of these teachers look to their devoted audiences for stimulation, entertaining stories, and a balm for their own life problems.
Talk to a few of these teachers privately you might be surprised at the extent of their own difficulties, and the amount that being with adoring fans helps them face their troubled thoughts. There are many satsang teachers who are desperate to be loved, and it shows.
It does not seem to me that many of these folk speak from the spontaneous outpouring which can arise from deep resting in stillness. But rather from the belief system of a preacher who has imbued the flavour without the understanding. Just my opinion of course(an image: pls click to see it)
“It is natural for the mind to believe, and for the will to love; so that, for want of true objects, they must attach themselves to false”
~ Blasise Pascal, 17th CE mathematician

4.2.8 The Guru Business

Finally, it is might be useful to remember that the guru business is a business. I do not mean it is necessarily a money making business of course. But a business none the less - wherein a product (the teacher and the so-called “teachings”) is proffered in return for adulation - love, reinforcement of the belief “I understand” or “I am awake”. And of course, a little ego stroking for the “teacher”.
For the big names amongst the satsang-giving crowd, it is also money making business. Free travel all over the world, staying in very nice homes, luxury retreat resorts, tax free havens through their “foundations”, and oh, quite a bit more. For some in the Poonja crowd, the neo-Advaita Are Advaita and Nondualism Junk Religion?) franchise also means they can avoid working at a real job.
“Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool”
~ Mark Twain
Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with expressing one’s inner heart in love as best one can. It is laudable in fact. And if that results in chatting with others in a so-called ’satsang’ setting, well why not? It can be very enjoyable to meet with like minded people, whether arguing the strong Goldbach conjecture over dinner, or singing a song of praise at a prayer meeting. Great fun. But what has it to do with awakening? Nothing.

4.2.9 Truly awake

Poonja said that in his long life he had met only two awakened people - Ramana Maharshi and a hermit he met by accident.
As U.G. Krishnamurti said, almost no one has the courage to go to the end. Certainly the growing legions of satsang givers who say they are following in Ramana Maharshi’s “lineage” ... are not awake in any sense of that term.
As the Buddha warned, it is difficult to keep to Truth when the devils come, but much more so when there are angelic temptations such as the illusion of being “enlightened”. Lots of these folks its seems to me, have mistaken these angelic temptations for something else entirely.
As always in any spiritual pursuit, use your inherent intelligence to find out for yourself Do you need a spiritual teacher? .
These people may look like gold and they may glitter like gold,
but they have no real value.
There are many people who can put on a show
and fool other people into believing they are enlightened.
– Poonja (interviewed by David Godman)