An interview with author and teacher Gangaji.
Elizabeth Marglin interviewed five spiritual teachers who will change the way you think about spirituality. Here is her talk with author and teacher Gangaji.
Trust the yearning for truth to reveal truth.
How did you become involved on the spiritual path?
I was looking for happiness. I searched for 20 years practicing different meditations and attending different teachings. While I experienced many exquisite moments, my suffering always resurfaced as my true identity. I finally realized I needed a teacher and prayed that I might somehow find my teacher. I met Papaji in 1990 and knew he was the teacher I had been praying for. I paid very close attention to what he said.
On the spiritual path, there is much talk about the lover and the beloved, and the separation of the two as the cause of suffering. How do you define the beloved?
They are the same self finally finding itself. Beloved is lover; lover is beloved. All unnecessary suffering is the sickness of feeling incomplete. I don’t know if that sickness is there for everyone. But I can speak for myself and many people I’ve spoken to. There’s a sense that something is wrong, and it’s usually not that something’s wrong outside myself, but inside myself. The primary wrongness or fault is inside oneself. Speaking from my own experience, I wanted to make that right somehow. I felt I was wrong basically because I wasn’t whole, I was flawed. I tried to find something that would complete that, whether it was a man, a teaching, or a practice, a look, a style, a group. I tried so many things. I would have moments of feeling that completeness. We wouldn’t know it was incomplete if we didn’t experience the wholeness. It’s the yearning for something we’ve lost.
For those people who have that sense of incompleteness, that is the beginning of real spiritual inquiry. It’s the willingness to stop looking for completion, to open to the sense of lack, of fragmentation, whatever it may be, without indulging a narrative about it. This is actually the gateway to the beloved, to what we thought was not whole. It’s like a guardian at the gate, some kind of test. But many people who are not interested in satsang wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve covered it over, or its really not there for them. All spiritual searches have a sense of incompleteness. It feels bad, but it’s good news.
What is the main way you work with students?
I ask them to use inquiry in order to question all assumptions of the mental narrative of identity. The question “Who am I?” is the core question that pulls the mind deeper than the conditioned view.
In conversation, I share my experience of meeting Papaji and having my mind stop. I invite all to stop the internal narrative of who they think they are, what they think they need, what defines them, etc. And ask themselves questions: What do you want? What would getting that give you? If you stop searching for that (in this moment) what is here? What is always here?
I confirm all as being consciousness, inseparable from conscious awareness. I challenge all to stop conceptual knowledge of who they are and directly experience themselves. (at least for this moment).
What determines whether people will make this discovery or not is a mystery. It’s sort of a tragedy when it doesn’t get discovered. I could generate a lot of theories as to why it doesn’t: attachment to the narrative or immaturity of the soul. That’s why I say the same thing to people who, on the outside at least, seemed advanced, and to beginners. I have seen what I would have thought was an absolute beginner explode in realization very quickly, and likewise, I’ve seen someone who has done a lot of practice somehow miss it. I know if you truly desire the truth of your being, and you are not attached to the words or concepts that those words point to, it will be revealed. The surprise is when, or how.
What is your signature teaching style?
I would say, big sister. I do hold the hand of some people during our meetings. My aim is to always connect directly, heart to heart and mind to mind.
What is a practice you recommend the most?
Discover what is always here—regardless of emotion, mental narrative, or circumstances. Check and see for yourself.
What’s the biggest shift that’s taken place in your teaching? What’s the current edge in your work?
Infinite nature includes bliss but also includes everything else. It was all about bliss when I was with Papaji. When I came home from Papaji after that first visit, I had a horrific night, where there was such a mind attack. Misery and suffering and incompleteness. I thought I had made a horrible mistake—I left India and I shouldn’t have left. And somehow I remembered what Papaji said about what is always here, always present. I surrendered in the midst of that waking nightmare and I discovered that even in the midst of the opposite of bliss, if there’s a willingness to open there’s a realization that it’s truly all here. From that, it was natural to discover the same in all situations and circumstances.
Yes, there are aspects of my personality that arise but it takes care of itself. Work is necessary, but only up to a certain point. If I start “working” on a behavior, I’m avoiding surrendering to what’s underneath it. My personality has its same dysfunctions, but I’m not identified with myself as my personality. It may always be this way and it doesn’t torment me anymore. I used to work on myself quite a bit, because I had the assumption that it was myself that was the problem. If I could just do a little more work, I could be better or purer or more advanced. Then I would get it—and keep it. It was still me as an object getting some other object and maintaining it.
Right from the beginning I feel like I have been saying the same thing to people but hopefully I have gotten clearer.
What is the deepest lament/misunderstanding/distortion you see in spirituality today?
Using the concept of “spiritual bypass” to postpone immediate fulfillment is a good example of the tendency of our minds to generate dogma. Freedom is not limited to a psycho/spiritual goal of resolution. Resolution can be found immediately, without need of doing anything. The bypass reveals that which could take a lifetime to realize is, in truth, already here. Avoiding the spiritual bypass is grounded in the notion that until you fix yourself you cannot realize yourself. You are free to take the bypass just as you are free to work on your issues. One is not superior to the other. It has become heresy to question taking the long, arduous way home.
I’ve heard so much fear around the idea of spiritual bypass as something that will cause the seeker to lose ground or delude oneself. I think that is the delusion. For some people, this teaching seems terrifyingly easy. But I wouldn’t say easy—I would say simple. The challenge is you may not be as good a person as you think you could be if you continue on the long way home. It’s simpler than can be imagined.
But it’s a misnomer to conflate spiritual bypass with what I call a spiritual overlay. Bypass to me means when you are driving on the interstate, you bypass a little village so you can get to your destination more quickly. Spiritual overlay is adding a spiritual concept on top of something to avoid experiencing that. It’s just a logistical trick to avoid the simplicity of surrender.
My pet peeve is when people avoid spiritual bypass in order to justify postponement.
Can surrender be taught?
We make love and war, and hide from love and war. The strategies of moving toward, against, or away from a perceived threat are deeply conditioned by our desire to survive. When you are willing to lose everything (meet death) for a moment, free choice is revealed. Please note that these survival strategies are quite appropriate in many, many situations! But when your attention is being pulled into an inner dive, they are deterrents.
You can be taught to recognize how you avoid surrender by moving toward something (circumstance, person, thought, emotion, etc); or against something; or away from something. Then you have the choice to surrender, and that choice is free, not dictated by the habit of survival strategies.