An Interview with David Godman

By Rob Sacks

Page 5

Here’s a question from a reader which I pass along to you: “Papaji says that the only thing that needs to be done is to stop all effort. When this happens, there is quiet and a sense of egolessness. But in that state, it is possible to ask “Who am I?” and find an observer whose source is yet to be found. In other words, in that state, it seems that self-enquiry is still needed. Does this mean that Papaji is teaching something different from Ramana Maharshi? What is the connection between this effortless state and the state of abiding in the heart?”

When Papaji said in satsang, “Make no effort.” he was trying to put the person in front of him into a state of no-mind in which no effort is necessary or possible, since the “I” has temporarily gone. He was not trying to put the person in a halfway stage in which further effort is needed.

Here is a paradox for you. Ramana Maharshi realized the Self without any effort, without being interested in it, and without any practice, and then spent the rest of his life telling people that they must make continuous effort up till the moment of enlightenment. Papaji spent a quarter of a century doing japa and meditation prior to his climactic meetings with Ramana, but when he began teaching, he always insisted that no effort was necessary to realize the Self.

Papaji’s attitude to self-enquiry was, “Do it once and do it properly.” Ramana’s was, “Do it intensively and continuously until realization dawns.” Although you could never get Papaji to admit that there were differences between his teachings and those of his Guru, they clearly didn’t agree on the question of effort.

With regard to the question of the difference between the effortless state and the state of abiding in the Heart, I would refer to Lakshmana Swamy. He agrees with Ramana that hard, continuous effort is needed up till the moment of realization. He also says that by effort the mind can reach the effortless thought-free state, but no further. If that state has been achieved, and if one has the good fortune to be with a realized Guru, then the power of the Self will pull the mind into the Heart and destroy it. In the effortless state, mind is still there, but when one abides in the Heart it is gone.

Papaji conceded that meditation and effort had a limited use. He would sometimes say that intense meditation would earn the punyas or spiritual merit necessary to have the opportunity to sit with a realized being. Once that has happened, effort is no longer necessary. In fact, it is counter-productive. When one meets the Guru, the power of the Self that is present in an enlightened being’s satsang takes over and gives the results and experiences that the mind is ready for.

All this probably appears to be confusing and contradictory. The teachers I have written about disagree profoundly on the question of effort and its role in Self-realization, but they all agree that being in the presence of a realized being is the greatest aid to enlightenment. I can say from my own experience that when one is in the presence of such beings, mind drops away of its own accord.

In his book Relaxing Into Clear Seeing, Arjuna Nick Ardagh says, “In the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the ease with which Self-realization can occur. Indeed, a kind of ‘epidemic’ has begun in the West whereby the awakened view is becoming increasingly available.” It seems to me that Arjuna is referring here to glimpses, not Self-realization, and I wonder if they are any more common today than they have been in India for millennia. Perhaps the real difference is that Indians didn’t regard these glimpses as particularly unusual or worth noting.

I don’t think that there is an epidemic of Self-realization in the West or anywhere else. I think full realization is a rare phenomenon. There are certainly more people who think that they have realized the Self, but I think that they are deluding themselves.

According to some Western advaita teachers who claim to follow Sri Ramana’s teachings, Self-realization is a two-part process. First, there is an awakening, a temporary experience of non-duality and egolessness. The second step is to stabilize the experience of this awakening, or in other words, make it permanent.

But when I read about Mathru Sri Sarada in your book No Mind — I Am The Self, I seem to get a completely different picture. In her case, a permanent awakening experience may have been necessary, but by itself was not sufficient. For her, Self-realization happened only when her mind descended into her heart center and dissolved permanently. I get the impression that she could have remained in the “awakened state” indefinitely without this descent into the heart.

Would you comment on this?

When egolessness is there, there is no one left who can stabilize or lose the experience. These experiences come and go. They go because the vasanas of the mind reassert themselves. When they arise and take over, you resume the practice again. This is the classic prescription of the Gita, and it is also what Ramana taught. Stay awake, stay mindful, and whenever you catch the mind straying, take it back to its source.

As regards Mathru Sri Sarada, I think you are referring to the experience she had just before she realized the Self. She felt that her mind had died because she was temporarily abiding in the Heart, but her Guru, Lakshmana Swamy, could see that her “I” was not dead, which meant that this was a temporary experience. She was talking about her experiences and genuinely felt that her “I” was dead, but it was not a real, permanent awakening.

A few minutes later, with the help of her Guru, the “I” went back to its source and died forever. There was no fully awakened state prior to this experience. The final death of the “I” in the Heart was necessary to complete the realization process

Can you name any people who are teaching today who are Self-realized?

I could hide behind my earlier statement and say that I am not qualified to say who is enlightened and who is not. That is true, but I have absolute faith that Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma are in that state. I don’t want to make comments about anybody else.

What plans do you have for future books and other works?

I am working on a third volume of The Power of the Presence, and I hope to see it published in a few months. After that, I have a project to translate and publish some of Muruganar’s poetry from Tamil into English. He recorded many of Bhagavan’s teaching statements in short Tamil verses, and most of them have never been translated. This will be a major undertaking that may take a year or two. I also hope to get back to working on Papaji in the near future. I particularly want to edit the Lucknow satsang dialogues from the early 1990s. That’s a big job, though, and would probably take years.I recently volunteered to make a book of all of Sadhu Natanananda’s writings on Bhagavan for Ramanasramam. I will fit that in between all my other projects.

When I sit down in front of my screen in the morning I often have no idea what I will be working on ten minutes later. I might look at something I have edited recently, move on to something else, and then find another chapter of another book that suddenly grabs my attention and interest. Or I might switch the machine off and go outside and do some gardening instead.

I have come to the conclusion that Bhagavan brought me to Tiruvannamalai to write about him and his disciples. I have learned this the hard way. I went back to England twenty years ago, hoping to earn enough money to come back to India and not do any work here. Nobody was willing to hire me to do anything. I even flunked an interview for picking up litter in the London zoo. But as soon as I had the idea of writing a book about Bhagavan, everything fell into place. Though I had never written anything in my life, I was given a contract by a major publisher and sent back to India to write about him. That’s how Be As You Are came into existence.

A few years before that I gave up editing the Ramanasramam magazine and went to Andhra Pradesh to be with Lakshmana Swamy. My intention was just to meditate there. I had had enough of writing, but within a few weeks of my arrival he asked me to write No Mind — I am the Self.

Whenever I do work on Bhagavan or his disciples, everything goes well. Whenever I try to do something else, so many problems come up, nothing ever gets accomplished or completed.

Having learned this from experience, I have now surrendered to this destiny. I enjoy the work, and many, many people seem to appreciate the books. I asked Papaji years ago whether writing all these books on Bhagavan was a distraction for the mind.

He replied, “Any association with Bhagavan is a blessing.” I took that as an instruction to carry on with the work.

Thanks very much for this interview, David. I learned a lot from it, and you have been extraordinarily generous.

You’re welcome.

David Godman (b. 1953) is the author or editor of nearly twenty books about Sri Ramana Maharshi and his disciples.

Rob Sacks (b. 1953) is the editor and publisher of

Related pages on this site


Recommended books

David Godman, Be As You Are

Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Edited by David Godman

In our opinion this superb collection of extracts from Ramana Maharshi’s writings and dialogues is the best single-volume introduction to his teachings. This is the book we recommend to people who want to read about Sri Ramana for the first time. The editor, David Godman, is probably the foremost living expert on Sri Ramana’s teachings. David has gone through dozens of books by and about Sri Ramana and collected passages which most clearly state various points of his teaching. These extracts are organized thematically into chapters with higher teachings first and less important ones last. David has also provided informative introductions to each chapter and to the book as a whole as well as a glossary and notes.


See it on Amazon.

David Godman, Nothing Ever Happened

Nothing Ever Happened

By David Godman

This massive three-volume biography of H.W.L. Poonja, widely known as Papaji, is one of the most comprehensive attempts ever made to document the life and teachings of a self-realized person. Papaji was a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. He is largely responsible for the satsang movement in the West because he helped hundreds of Westerners attain glimpses of the Self and then sent them home to teach.


See it on Amazon.

David Godman, The Power of the Presence, Part One

The Power of the Presence, Part One

Edited by David Godman

In this book, eight people who knew Ramana Maharshi tell in their own words how their lives were transformed by him. David Godman compiled the accounts by searching through piles of old documents, some previously unpublished, others translated into English for the first time here. His sensitive editing allows the distinctive voice of each person to come through. The book includes testimony by Rangan, Sivaprakasam Pillai, Akhilandamma, Sadhu Natanananda, N.R. Krishnamurti Aiyer, Chalam and Souris, and Swami Madhavatirtha.


See it on Amazon.

This page was published on September 28, 2001 and last revised on May 28, 2017.


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