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Copyright 2002 Realization.org.


H.W.L. Poonja

1910  — 1997

You are looking at a photograph of the man who is probably more responsible than anyone else for the current wave of interest in Advaita Vedanta in the West. His admirers call him "Papaji," and he was a devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi. There are at least three reasons for Papaji's remarkable influence. First, he was incredibly effective at making people wake up. Second, he emphasized the aspect of Advaita Vedanta that appeals most to Westerners: the idea that realization is available immediately without effort. And third, he authorized thousands of Westerners to teach in his name.


Hari Wench Lal Poonja was born into an upper-class Brahmin family on October 13, 1910 in Gujrunwala in western Punjab, a part of India that is now in Pakistan, and raised in nearby Lyalpur, now called Faisalabad. He was the nephew of Swami Rama Tirtha, a famous saint who died four years before Poonja's birth.

He was a spiritual seeker from a very young age. When he was a small boy he saw a picture of Buddha as a skeletal ascetic and began to starve himself. His father had to take him to a doctor to make him eat again.

His first samadhi occurred when he was eight or nine. Since he lived in a Moslem part of India, he was taken to the local mosque, where his trance was diagnosed as possession.

Poonja grew up in an Indian town (red dot) that is now in Pakistan.

The samadhi lasted several days. After it ended, in an effort to re-experience it, he followed his mother's example and became a devotee of Krishna, chanting mantras for hours each day. His mantra practice continued until he reached his mid-thirties.

At age twenty, his marriage was arranged to a Brahmin girl, and he entered the army as an officer. Within a few years the couple had two children, Surendra and Surendri.

While in the army, Poonja woke up at two a.m. to seek visions of Krishna. They often occurred, but the experiences weren't permanent, and he felt a painful sense of separation from God. He decided to leave the army so he could search for a guru who could help him stabilize permanently in a state of awareness of God.

Poonja's uncle, Swami Rama Tirtha, was a famous saint.

He moved his family into his father's house, resigned his commission, and left home to look for a guru. His search ended when he met Ramana Maharshi, who pointed out to him that visions of Krishna come and go, but the seer — the one who sees Krishna — is permanently present. "God cannot be an object that appears and disappears," said Sri Ramana, "so find out who the seer is."

As Poonja later recalled:


For the first time ever I heard, "Find out who the seer is."

With the master [Sri Ramana], I got the experience. This experience was already here. When we love God, we think he is an object. But he is the subject. So you have to surrender to the subject. The ego is the object.

  “God cannot be an object that appears and disappears, said Sri Ramana, so find out who the seer is.”


You merge into the subject so that no object is left behind. God will speak, God will walk, and God will see. I got this from my master. I saw the seer. I realized the seer through my master, and I prostrated before him.1

  1. Wake Up and Roar Vol. 1, p. 124

Poonja took a job in Madras for four years so he could visit Ramana's ashram on weekends. After Ramana died in 1950, Poonja worked for a mining company in southern India. After his retirement in 1965, he moved to Lucknow in northern India, where his wife and children had lived since 1947.

Even before his retirement he had begun to develop a reputation as a self-realized man and guru. In 1966 he began to travel in India, Europe, and North America, and his reputation grew.

Poonja's devotees called him "Papaji".

In the late 1980s, several prominent American meditation teachers visited him including Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein.

In 1990, Osho died and many of his followers began to visit Poonja instead. The number of visitors grew so large that a satsang hall had to be built near Poonja's house.

Just before he died in 1997, he asked the people in his hospital room, "Where is Buddha?" When he saw that they understood he was asking a rhetorical question as a teacher for their benefit, he said, "Bring him in, bring him in." These were his last words.


"Papaji Biography" by Arjuna Nick Ardagh on the LivingEssence website.

"About Sri Poonjaji" by Eli Jaxon-Bear in Wake Up and Roar Volume 2.



Poonja's teaching was similar to that of his guru, Ramana Maharshi, but the emphasis was different. Poonja stressed the idea that the seeker is already self-realized, so no effort needs to be made. If the seeker can drop all efforts for just a moment, the ego stops and the Self is revealed.

Here's a short excerpt from a satsang that captures the gist of this:


Student: You are telling us to let go, but it is very difficult.

Poonja: That's because you have the idea that letting go is something that you have to do. To move from one place to another may be difficult if the journey is long and hard. But if you don't have to move at all, how can you say that it is difficult? Just give up the idea that you have to do something or reach somewhere. That's all you have to do.

“Just give up the idea that you have to do something or reach somewhere. That's all you have to do.”


During satsangs, Poonja often told students to "go home now and share this with your friends." He sometimes referred to such people as his "ambassadors." He is said to have deputized thousands in this fashion. As a result, a large number of people with connections to Poonja are now teaching in the West. For a partial list, see below under Links.


Nothing Ever Happened Volume 1
This excerpt from David Godman's famous biography of Poonja describes how Poonja met Ramana Maharshi for the first time.

Who Are You? An Interview With Papaji
Papaji explains how to meditate and find the Self in this long interview by the American writer Jeff Greenwald.

Ramana Maharshi
Our main page on Poonja's guru. Includes a biography and many links to articles and websites.


A large website devoted to Poonja, with numerous links and articles, is here.

Many Westerners with connections to Poonja hold themselves out as teachers. Some of them publish websites with information about Poonja. The list includes Arjuna Nick Ardagh, Gangaji, Vartman, Isaac Shapiro, Catherine Ingram, Neelam, Hanuman, Yudishtara, Mira, Dasarath (David Davidson), Eli Jaxon-Bear, Prasad, and Madhukar.


Nothing Ever Happened
By David Godman
· · · · · · · · · · · ·
This massive three-volume biography of H.W.L. Poonja, widely known as Papaji, is probably the most informative account ever written of the life and teachings of a self-realized person. Papaji is largely responsible for the recent surge of interest in applied Advaita in the West because he helped hundreds of Westerners attain glimpses of the Self and then sent them home to teach.
Where to order it
In North America:
Avadhuta, Blue Dove, Kalpataru.
In Europe:

· · · · · · · · · · · ·
3 volumes.
1297 pages.
Published 1988 by the Avadhuta Foundation.
ISBN 0963802259.

Papaji: Interviews
Edited by David Godman
· · · · · · · · · · · ·
This book consists literally of interviews. Ten people sat down with Papaji and asked him questions, and the resulting conversations were transcribed. The questioners include Catherine Ingram, Wes Nisker, Shanti Devi, Chokyi Nyima Rimpoche, and Godman himself. The book also includes a 62-page biography of Papaji by Godman.
Where to order it
In North America:
Avadhuta, Blue Dove, Kalpataru.
In Europe:

· · · · · · · · · · · ·
304 pages.
Published 1993 by the Avadhuta Foundation.
ISBN 0963802208

Wake Up And Roar
By H.W.L. Poonja
· · · · · · · · · · · ·
This two-volume series contains transcriptions of satsangs given by H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji) between 1990 and 1992. Volume 1 includes a wonderful foreword by the editor, Eli Jaxon-Bear, describing how his spiritual quest ended when he met Papaji.

Be aware that each of the two volumes is slender and printed in big type; the contents of both would have fit easily into a single book. Some readers may feel that this makes the series overpriced.

Where to order it
· · · · · · · · · · · ·

Wake Up And Roar: Satsang With H.W.L. Poonja
Edited by Eli Jaxon-Bear
· · · · · · · · · · · · Paperback.
Published by The Gangaji Foundation
· · · · · · · · · · · ·
Volume 1

171 pages.
ISBN 0963219413

· · · · · · · · · · · ·
175 pages.
ISBN 0963219421

This page was published on March 1, 2001 and
last revised on October 25, 2001.

Copyright 2002 Realization.org