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Two Former Students Compare Memories of Their Guru, Papaji

Arjuna Ardagh and Andrew Cohen talk about their experiences with H.W.L. Poonja.
H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji)

Editor’s Note

We publish articles because we think they are interesting, not because we are endorsing the authors as teachers.

By Arjuna Ardagh and Andrew Cohen

Recently I had a recorded call with Andrew Cohen. We had the same teacher in India: H.W.L. Poonjaji. Here is the transcript of that conversation. —Arjuna

Arjuna Ardagh: I’m really excited about this Enlightenment Conference we’re going to be a part of in August [2012].

For more info see

Gurus Who Do Bad Things

Andrew Cohen: I think there’s going to be so many interesting perspectives on enlightenment, and also on how we’re going to create the future together. I think it’s going to prove to be a very valuable and thoughtful endeavor for all. Since we’re both teachers of enlightenment, the special thing about you and me is that we’ve both had the same teacher, the same guru.

Arjuna: Right, exactly. We’ve decided to talk together about, do you need a teacher? Is it helpful, or sometimes even a hindrance, to have a guru? We’ll maybe talk about it in the more traditional sense. The teacher we have in common is HWL Poonja, who many people know as Papaji. He has also been the teacher to Isaac Shapiro, Catherine Ingram, Gangaji and many others. Papaji really set off a satsang wave that took over in the 90s and early 2000s; that really was started very much from him.

Andrew: I was actually one of the original satsang teachers before I was no longer a satsang teacher.

Arjuna: Right, me too. I also was a satsang teacher, and also gave it up. Let’s go back to the man himself. Let’s share what our experience was. He was an intense teacher. I’ve never heard of any teacher with such powerful transmission, and such powerful transformative presence as him. What was your story with him?

Andrew: I met him at a point, really, when I had given up. I was a very committed seeker, and I was determined to experience a profound and irrevocable transformation in my life. I was a very determined fellow. But I had had many teachers by that point; I’d been a full-time seeker for around eight years, and I was kind of fed up with teachers. But when I heard about this remarkable disciple of the great 20th century master, Ramana Maharshi, I felt that I needed to meet him. But when I met him, I was very hesitant, because I really didn’t want to get involved with any teachers or any gurus; I didn’t want to get trapped in that kind of hierarchical relationship anymore.

Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen

So when I met him, this was before he was discovered and known, and he was living upstairs on the second floor in his son’s house. As many of our listeners may know, Master Poonja was a householder, so at that time I saw him just sitting on his bed. When I went into his room, I told him I had no expectations, and he said in a very loud voice, “That’s good!” Wow… that impressed me. He let me presume a position of independence.

What happened very quickly was, I think in his first meeting, I was asking him: how much effort do you have to make if you want to be free? He whispered, “You don’t have to make any effort to be free.” When he uttered those words, I saw in my mind’s eye a brook, or water running down the side of a hill. And I realized in that instant that that water was my own True Nature, and that I’d always been free, and that the illusion had been that I wasn’t free. I was stunned, that my True Nature was inherent freedom, that I’d always been free, and that the illusion had been that there was a block, a hindrance, that I was unfree. I had this moment of insight, just staring at the ground, and what I just described to you probably took about five seconds. Then he shouted, “That’s it!” I looked up, and I said, “How did you know?” And he burst out laughing. That was the beginning of my meeting with this extraordinary man.

Then I spent three weeks with him, and the second important thing that happened… we would go for walks together in the morning and afternoon, and I’d often each lunch with him and his family, then in afternoons I’d go back to my hotel and take a nap. I kept a diary at the time, and I was in and out of states, thinking that I was with probably the most extraordinary man I’d ever met, then I’d start wondering if he was just some crazy old lunatic and I had no idea what he was talking about. I was going in and out of doubt and great conviction.

So the second thing that happened was, I was very concerned, philosophically, at the time what was the ultimate nature of reality, what was the ultimate nature of God, of Truth? Was it fullness? In Vedanta, when they describe the nature of Brahman, the nature of absolute reality, there’s a quality of fullness.

I had to spend a lot of time doing Buddhist practice, as I was a seeker, and of course the Buddhists had the ultimate nature of reality as empty.

At that time in my life, this was kind of a life-and-death question for me, and no one had been able to answer this question; none of my teachers, no one that I’d asked. So one day I asked: What’s the ultimate nature of reality, of God? Is it fullness or emptiness? He said, these are two sides of the same coin. That really relieved me of an enormous amount of existential and philosophical tension.

Finally, Arjuna, what happened was that I had had a spontaneous awakening experience when I was 16, an experience of cosmic consciousness that was a powerful awakening to who and what I really am, and who we all are. It was an awakening to the unending, beginningless and endless nature of reality; it was an awakening to the absolute. It was the most powerful experience I’d ever had, and I told many of my former teachers about this experience, but they never knew what to make of it. Finally I told Papaji in great detail what happened to me all those years earlier, and he said, Andrew, you already know everything. Something along those lines.

This released, because of his great profound spiritual authority, and of course his powerful energetic transmission you spoke about; it somehow released something that, in a sense, had already happened inside me. This catalyzed an energetic process. Then I left him for three weeks, and he told me something very big was going to happen to me. When I left him, it catalyzed a powerful energetic process that lasted for around three weeks.

At the end of that process, I was no longer the same person. I suddenly found myself in the position of being a teacher that was having very powerful and profound effects on other people… more or less overnight. The last thing that happened was, I was in a hotel room in New Delhi by myself; I remember one morning I witnessed myself sitting up in bed and uttering the words, “I surrender my life to you, do with me what you will.” It wasn’t surrendering to his person as much as it was to this energetic presence that had been following me, and with me ever since I’d left his physical form.

When I uttered those words, I saw a whirlpool in the eye of my mind, and I knew that in that whirlpool was all of Andrew’s lives, intentions and karmas, and they were all falling away. I knew after that that I didn’t know what the future would bring. I remember I flew back to Lucknow to see him, and I fell at his feet. That’s the short version of the story.

Arjuna: Sweet! Thank you! I know we’ve got a lot to pack into this conversation, because we’re also going to talk about whether today, 21 years later, whether people still need to have that kind of relationship. But before we do that, I’d like to return the favor and tell you my story of my meeting with him.

Arjuna Ardagh

Arjuna Ardagh

Andrew: I’d love to hear it.

Arjuna: Great. There were many, many similarities. Just like you, I’d also been seeking for a long time. For me, the seeking really came out of suffering, more than any kind of dedication. I was born into a family where there was a lot of suffering, so I started to practice meditation when I was 14; because it was that, or suicide, really. So 20 years later when I was 34, I did a lot of Transcendental Meditation, and I was ten years with Bhagwan Rajneesh in India.

Arjuna is referring to My Master is My Self.
My Master is My Self by Andrew Cohen

What happened was, I read this book called “My Master is My Self,” the diary you wrote. I remember thinking, if there’s a 1% chance that what happened to Andrew Cohen could also happen to me, I’m going. So I flew there, just having read your book, not knowing anything more. I arrived at the Clarks Avadh Hotel, which was the Indian equivalent to a 5-star hotel, not knowing anybody, and I looked up Poonja in the phone book, and I found one and called, and this voice, obviously chewing pan, saying, “OK, I will come for you tomorrow at 11 o’clock.”

So at 11 o’clock in the morning, this guy shows up, about 50, on a little moped, tells me to get on the back, and we started weaving through the most terrifying journey of my life, weaving through traffic, intense pollution. It turned out that was Poonjaji’s son, and he took me to Poonjaji’s house. By this time he was no longer living with Surendra, his son, he was living in a suburb. I remember when I first walked in, there was about eight people around him sitting on the floor against the walls of the room. He was sitting on a slightly raised wooden platform. I can remember the instant I walked into the room, our eyes met, and something inside of me just said, “that’s it, I’m done.” I cannot survive this guy. As I looked in his eyes, I realized, this was an executioner of the highest order, and nobody escapes, you know?

I sat there and just listened, and he was actually talking a lot about fullness and emptiness and many other things. There was a tea break in the middle of the morning, and while everyone was having tea, he went off to chew tobacco in the back room. I was invited to go and meet him, one-on-one. I went back in there and he said gruffly, “What do you want?” I said, well, I feel like I’ve been seeking as long as I can remember, seeking, seeking, seeking. What is in the way of finding?

He looked up at me like it was the most stupid question he’d ever heard anybody ask. Ever. He said, “What is in the way of finding? Well, seeking, of course!” It completely flipped my world around. I realized that all this effort of trying to become enlightened, and all this effort I’d been making of practice, that was the biggest obstacle to freedom. That was the greatest barrier to what was right under my nose.

Then like you, I stayed there with him, going in the mornings to meet him, and then going back to the hotel in the afternoon. The moment of “flip-flip” really came not with him, but in the hotel room. It was the sixth night of visiting him, and I went to bed that night, really intent upon, “we’ve got to get this thing finished.” I felt like it was taking a long time; I’d been raised on instant gratification, so it was taking a long time.

What he’d said to me was, if you want to be free, bring me the one who is bound, and I will set it free. He said that. Bring me the one who is bound; bring me the ego that is bound, and I will set it free. I thought, that’s a great deal; I’ve just got to give him my ego, and he’ll make it free.

So one night I went to bed, and I wrote him a letter saying, I wanted to be free, or something, or please release me from the ego, or the mind, or something. I folded up the letter, and I went to lay down. I wasn’t sleeping very good at the time, I was so churned up by everything that was going on. So I laid down in the bed, not really sleeping, and about 6 o’clock in the morning, after a fitful night, I kind of came-to again, and the first thought that was in my head was, there’s something very important I have to do today, oh yeah, that’s right, I have to find the ego and give it to Poonjaji. That’s my task today: find my ego and give it to Poonjaji. So in that kind of half-sleep, when you’re very innocent, it was like the attention reached out to find the ego, to find the entity, to find the thing that was separate. That attention just reached out, and reached out, and reached out, into infinity. And suddenly, my body was convulsed in laughter for about 20 or 30 minutes, I was sitting on the bed with peals of laughter going through my body, realizing that I’d spent my whole life trying to get rid of, or to improve, an entity that doesn’t actually exist.

So just like you, it was not in his physical presence that this flip happened.

I then stayed and lived with him for about a year, and then at his rather indirect and tongue-in-cheek request, I ended up becoming a satsang teacher, and passing this on to other people. So a lot of similarities in our experience.

Andrew: One of his great gifts was to get people to let go of the conviction of the belief that what they were looking for existed apart from or outside of who they already are.

Arjuna: Exactly.

Andrew: That was his great gift, was being that mirror to reflect beyond the mind to the Self, that you are already there. And not just at the level of words; he would say it, but he would be able to give people a powerful glimpse of that truth, and some people who were ready to accept it were permanently transformed by it. And for many others, they had a powerful glimpse into their True Nature.

Arjuna: Totally. Now later on, I think something happened between you and him that you were no longer so aligned. What was that all about, Andrew?

Andrew: Probably part of a longer discussion than would be appropriate for this short call, but I think I philosophically came to the conclusion that his teaching, while powerful in catalyzing the kinds of awakenings that you and I just briefly described, was insufficient, I felt, to catalyze a deeper and ongoing transformational process. In the way he taught, he said that if you’re seeking for timelessness, then you have to let go of time. All forms of practice that are done in and through time, to take you beyond time, from his point of view, were keeping you separate from the very thing you were looking for. The only way to realize timelessness is to give up time right now; to drop it. Then you’re already there.

While that was true, and it worked for me, and obviously true and worked for you, and while I was teaching that way myself, and many people were having very powerful glimpses and realizations, I came to understand that higher psychological and emotional and philosophical and moral development does require, in most people, time, practice, introspection… it’s a very deep and complex learning process that for most people requires more than a flash of the infinite.

When I was with him, Arjuna, he thought he was going to die. He was not physically well, and was fairly convinced he was going to be dying soon. His message to me, when he told me he wanted me to teach was: you’re the one I’ve been waiting for, and I want you to accept responsibility for this work. And he also said unequivocally to me: I do not want you to rely on me for anything. I’ve already revealed and given to you everything I have to teach. You are on your own from now on, and I do not want you to rely on me for anything. He was very explicit about it. So I took him at his word. When I came to the conclusion, in my own teaching work, that a flash of enlightenment was a powerful catalyst, really, to initiate the process of transformation, there was a lot of work that most people really were going to have to do.

Like in your own case, for example, you had been seeking for many years, and you’d done a lot of tapas and a lot of practice by then. I also had been a very intense seeker, and done a lot of tapas, a lot of practice, a lot of thinking, a lot of introspection, a lot of discernment, a lot of consideration. I realized that a big part of the transformational process, only the individual can do for him- or herself. So at a certain point I realized that, and started bringing that into my teaching. When he heard that I was “giving people things to do,” he felt, of course, that it was the very antithesis of his message, which is “stop doing anything, and you’re already there.” While I appreciated the truth of it; I felt, in reality, that he was absolutely right. But also, in reality, most people needed more than that. It was fundamentally a philosophical disagreement. It became personal, but it really was philosophical more than anything.

Arjuna: So 21 years later, I’ve pretty much come to the same conclusions. I don’t know so much how you work with people, but I put a huge emphasis with people on having that direct experience. I teach a method called Awakening Coaching, which we can talk a little bit about the role of a teacher, 21 years later, now. I put a huge amount of emphasis that that experience of transcendence is primary. Then it does need some practice for it to fully integrate, so that your realization and your life are not at odds with one another. But still, I don’t think we can emphasize enough how important a true experience of Infinity is; and silence, and being love itself, and being non-separate. To me, that’s the rocket fuel on which evolution rides. What do you think about that?

Andrew: I wholeheartedly agree with you, because what we’re speaking about… I came up with an interesting little phrase which I’m sure you’ll like. What we need here is what I call “spiritual self-confidence.” Spiritual self-confidence is the result of a deep and profound conviction that is born from, and is the result of, deep, transformative, transrational experience, that convinces one, beyond any doubt, about the ultimate nature of reality and existence and the self. The idea is that the experience has to be so deep, that we are convinced, beyond our mind’s capacity to create doubt and confusion.

I remember when I left India, I came back a few months later to visit Master Poonja, and he was sitting down in a chair, and when I walked into the room he said, “Andrew, I’m so glad you found a friend you’ll never be able to see.” I’m so glad you found a friend you’ll never be able to see.

Arjuna: [laughing] What a gloriously enigmatic statement that is.

Andrew: Because the ultimate nature of Brahman is unknowable by the mind, is unknowable by the psychological self; so of course, the question, “Is someone enlightened or not?”, is to what degree do they have absolute faith and conviction in that which they cannot see or grasp with the mind.

Arjuna: Beautiful. Before we move on to talking about how this has evolved for us over 21 years, there’s one last confession I want to make. See how this is for you. Because there is the whole philosophical thing about effort/no effort, absolute realization/relative embodiment, there’s all of that. But really, under all of that, what I want to confess is, there’s another aspect to what happened to me with Poonjaji, which is a very human aspect. The picture would be very incomplete without mentioning this.

Definitely, I have never experienced ANYTHING close to as much love as I felt with him. I’d never loved a human being as passionately and deeply, as fiercely, as unshakably as I loved him. As I still love him now; his picture is looking at me in my office. I just look at him, and oh my god, I can’t imagine loving anybody more than I loved him. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt as loved by anybody as I did by him. Including when he was sometimes very rough. Sometimes he would throw me out, or not talk to me. Once I went to visit him, and for six weeks he didn’t speak to me the whole time! But I also felt loved.

So transcending, or maybe on another dimension than the philosophical teachings, or even the transmission of this awakening,there was this incredibly passionate love. That’s what I’m left with. The teachings, the opening to Infinity, is available in many ways. I’ve been guided into that, and I’ve guided many other people into that, from many traditions. But that love that I had with him, I can’t duplicate. And that, for me, is what makes him my teacher, my beloved, for this life. Rather like the relationship between Rumi and Hafiz. I’m wondering how that piece of it is for you? Do you feel that same kind of passionate love with him left over, all these years later?

Andrew: When I was with him once, alone with him in his daughter’s house in new Delhi, he told me that his daughter has had darshan of Ramana Maharshi himself, and he said to me [and for everyone listening to this recording, you have to remember that the great master Poonja, even though he was a master of Advaita Vedanta before he met Ramana Maharshi, he was a ferocious bhakta. There was a very powerful devotional nature to his personality, which often stood in contrast to his fierce capacity to cut the mind off]. So when I was sitting with him and his daughter, he whispered, “ask her about the Master… just ask her.” So I asked his daughter, “Can you please tell me about your time with Ramana?” She was chopping vegetables, and she couldn’t look at me, she just burst into tears. Then he burst into tears; they both burst into tears.

When I left him for those first three weeks, the energetic process that he catalyzed in the depths of my being and my soul was the experience of kind of an impersonal, absolute love that was physically excruciating, and personally completely and perfectly overwhelming. So the absolute dimension of reality itself that he revealed to me, I experienced that as absolute love. And I loved him very much.

But what Poonjaji represents to me now is the immediacy of enlightened awareness. That it’s always already here. I can tell you that, I think about three years ago, Arjuna, on the anniversary of my awakening, the anniversary of my meeting him, I was walking down to my office, when suddenly an image of his physical form completely unexpectedly appeared in my mind; I think it was more in my subtle body than in my mind. And he was floating, literally, in a sea of radiance, and I was overcome with the very love that you’re describing and that I experienced with him, and it was completely unexpected. I can’t remember if I burst into tears, but if I didn’t, I was on the verge of it. So that memory of him is very much embedded beyond time, and really beyond memory, in my being, and that experience was proof of it. That is there, and that is true, and that’s always true beyond my mind, and beyond anything that happened between us “in time.” For me, what he represents is the immediacy of enlightened awareness.

Arjuna: What an unbelievable good fortune you and I both had, back in the early 90s, as men in our mid-30s, to meet this lion of awakening. Can you imagine…

Andrew: No. I met him when I was 30 and I know that several things had happened before I entered into his presence. My relationship with my prior teacher had fallen apart, my relationship with my partner at the time had fallen apart. I literally ended up on his doorstep completely empty-handed, which could not have been a more perfect state in which to meet such a great being, such a great master, such a great teacher.

Arjuna: It’s really delightful for me to share with you in this way. It really makes us brothers, almost closer than blood brothers, to have been blessed by the same teacher in the same way. It’s perhaps the deepest form of brotherhood. In India, they call it “gurubai,” brothers under the same lineage…

Andrew: Exactly. It’s a very unique kind of bond that is very difficult to understand, unless it is one that you share with someone.

Arjuna: And you and I, not only do we have that gurubai bond, but we have both also become aware of the need for embodiment, and the evolutionary nature of awakening, and all these things. We’re almost clones of each other, actually; it’s a kind of scary thought.

Andrew: [laughing] Yes, I think so. And you wanted to bring up the question, is a teacher necessary today?

Arjuna: Yes. Here we are in 2012; would we, today, recommend to people to go off and try to duplicate what happened to us, in the same way? Or has the nature of the student/teacher relationship actually dramatically evolved in the last 20‒30 years?

Andrew: My feeling about it, Arjuna, is very simple. The journey of higher human development, spiritual development, is a journey from the gross to the subtle, and from the subtle to the more subtle, and the more subtle to the more subtle. So if we think we’re interested in higher development, this is something that is very difficult, verging to almost impossible to do on one’s own. Because we have no idea where we’re going; and if this is something we’re seriously interested in, seeking the guidance of individuals who have gone farther than us, and who know much, much more about this territory than we do, I feel is invaluable.

The problem is, culturally we live in a pluralistic culture that doesn’t like hierarchy. So the idea that anybody would know anything more than we do about anything, might be a problem [laughing]. But the funny thing is, it’s OK to have a sports guru… no one’s going to find that challenging. Or if you say, I have a financial guru, no one’s going to find that challenging. But if you have a spiritual guru, someone’s going to go “Ahhh!” [laughing] You’ve given up your autonomy, and sold your soul.

The thing is, there’s a difference between a teacher and a spiritual master and a guru. This is in some of the distinctions in the way I teach. A teacher is someone who knows about the territory; they’ve had deep experiences, and they know how to teach other people techniques and methodologies, and also are able to give teachings. But they’re not yet themselves firmly established on the “yonder shore,” so to speak.

A guru or spiritual master is someone who is firmly established on the other side, and therefore they are able, to different and varying degrees, depending on the profundity of their attainment, to speak directly from the other side. Through their voice, and to differing degrees through their very being, the non-relative or absolute dimension of reality itself becomes animated through their personality. Such an individual has a capacity to directly transmit their own understanding and their own realizations in a way that someone who is a teacher does not. I think both are valuable. But I think it’s just like anything else… if you want to learn about something that you’ve just read about, but you don’t have any direct experience of it, it makes sense that one would need the help and guidance of someone who either knows a lot more about it than you do, or even more importantly, is firmly established on the other side.

Arjuna: Interesting. I’m going to add a third word to the vocabulary. You’ve used “teacher” and “guru.” I’m going to add a third word which I’ve really fallen in love with over the last many years, which is the emergence of the science and art of “coaching.” Which has actually happened at the same time as the whole emergence of satsang. Coaching, of course, used to be a sports relationship, but it was Thomas J. Leonard in the early 90s who saw the possibility of Life Coaching, of actually taking that same coaching relationship that belongs in sports, and applying it to life.

What I’ve done, and this is probably my thimbleful of contribution to our collective evolution, is I’ve applied the coaching metaphor to spirituality. There’s something very beautiful about the coaching relationship, because it’s non-hierarchical. So it means, for example, you and I could get together for a weekend, we could recognize that we both have great wisdom and awakening, but we also recognize that we might have blind spots that are different. I might have great blind spots in one area that you’re very clear in, and you might have blind spots in an area that I’m clear in. So we could actually help each other, and it could be a cross-coaching relationship without the need for any kind of hierarchy. That’s really what my whole work is about.

I train people to be Awakening Coaches, and what I tell people is – and this may be a slightly controversial statement – you don’t have to be supremely enlightened to help people to have awakening, you just have to be humble, and willing to step out of the way and ask the right questions. And if you’re willing to hold presence in that way, you don’t have to be somehow at the end of your own process in order to help somebody else in theirs.

Andrew: That makes perfect sense to me, and I think it’s a great idea. One thing I’d like to add to that, though, is in the pre-modern Traditional worldview in both East and West, but let’s speak about the East because that’s what I have more experience with, there’s the whole notion of being fully illumined, fully enlightened. That means you’re fully cooked, you’re at the end of the developmental process, based on a cyclical worldview. Because the idea was that time goes in cycles or circles, that it doesn’t go in a straight line. The idea is, you’re going around and around like on a merry-go-round. That’s why when the Buddha realized he was on a merry-go-round, he said, I want out of here.

So in Buddhism they have the whole notion of being able to get off the wheel of becoming. The idea in the traditional Eastern model is that when you let go of desire, when you let go of wanting, which is synonymous with letting go of ego and letting go of the small self, all the fetters that are tying you to the earth, that are tying you to the body, ultimately fall away. An ultimately fully-realized master, someone like the historical Buddha, or recently the great Ramana Maharshi himself would be an example, they say that you’ve come to the end of the incarnational cycle.

The thing is, that when we embrace an evolutionary worldview, when we realize that, in fact, time doesn’t go in cycles or in circles, that in fact it’s a linear that had a beginning in time 14 billion years ago, the universe was created 14 billion years ago; the earth was created 5 billion years ago; life about 4 billion years ago; human culture around 250,000 years ago. You realize that when we look at everything you and I have been talking about, in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution, from that perspective, there is no end to becoming, and there’s also no end to higher evolution and higher development. So in relationship to everything that you were just saying, because I consider myself to be an evolutionary, because I’ve embraced an evolutionary worldview in a deep and profound way, I don’t think it’s possible for any human being to come to the end of their own potential to evolve or develop. There’s always much farther to go.

In my own case, I’m constantly learning, constantly growing, constantly evolving. I feel that I will be continuing to develop for eternity. But in relationship to specifically what we’re speaking about, what’s important is, there’s a different measure of degree for each individual for how much they have really let go of the small self or the false self. And to what degree are they truly no longer identifying with the fears and desires of the small self. And to what degree are they now, really, spontaneously, pre-thought-identified with what I call the energy and intelligence that created the universe and is creating the universe. Or Spirit as the Creator, or in the case of a more traditional orientation, to Being itself. That is what is significant here.

When there’s a switch in identification; when we cross what I call the 50% point, we really are identifying less with the small psychological self, with our culturally conditioned self, and are really more identified with Spirit itself. That is a profound thing. That’s what I mean by “we’re on the other side.” Even if we’re 51%, we’re now more identified with Spirit than with the psychological self, we still have a long way to go. And we’re all works in progress.

Arjuna: Beautiful. It’s been delightful to spend this time with you.

Andrew: I’ve totally enjoyed speaking with you Arjuna my friend.

Arjuna: It’s very sweet to exchange these stories of our time with Poonjaji; it really touches me deeply. So I’m looking forward tremendously to this conference [in 2012]. These kinds of questions, like: Do we need a teacher? What is enlightenment? How is enlightenment itself evolving? All these kinds of questions are going to be part of this amazing conference. It’s going to be very cool. Thank you so much Andrew.

Andrew: My pleasure. Lots of love, my friend.

Text copyright © 2012 Arjuna Ardagh, Andrew Cohen. Reprinted from Arjuna Ardagh’s website where it appeared as ‘Do We Need a Guru? A Conversation with Andrew Cohen.'

Photo of Poonja courtesy Eli Jaxon-Bear.

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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.


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The Last Laugh: A Novel by Arjuna Ardagh

The Last Laugh: A Novel

By Arjuna Ardagh

Morgine, an Amazon reviewer writes:

“I rarely read fiction, I must admit. Only because I love this man, his classes and his prior books, was I willing to pick this up and take a peek. Well I was Not disappointed!! In fact, I could barely put it down, staying up the second night to finish reading it! Arjuna is truly a wordsmith carefully coloring the pages with details so vibrant, the characters almost danced off the pages and into my life! One man’s journey from darkness into the light, filled with both laughter and those moments which rock our soul with a truth, so real, it might as well be tattooed onto our forehead for all to see! There were so many times I was looking into the same mirror with the main character, remembering my own sobering moments in which I woke up to yet another truth about myself!

“It is filled with many deep insights and awakening moments for many of us, reminders of the kind of life we so desire to live every day. Yet Arjuna found a way to make it lively, interesting and entertaining at the same time! I never had a dull moment in reading the entire book, and that is a credit to his writing artistry! Highly recommended! I was certainly not the same person when I got up the next day and have been putting these things to use in my own life, in every precious MOMENT since then, which is all there is in life… THIS Precious Moment!! Thanks Arjuna for another masterpiece!”

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The Last Laugh: A Novel by Arjuna Ardagh

Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening

By Andrew Cohen

Ken Wilber writes:

“In Evolutionary Enlightenment, Andrew Cohen has given us a compellingly new, important, even profound work on the nature of spiritual enlightenment in today’s world. More than an intellectual discussion, this is a book of practice, of actually how to realize this new Evolutionary Enlightenment. It is truly one of the most significant books on spirituality written in the postmodern world.”

Deepak Chopra writes:

“I have admired Andrew Cohen for many years. He is a pioneer in the field of consciousness. Andrew has brought together ancient wisdom traditions, modern cosmology, and a knowledge of evolution to give us a contemporary understanding of the nature of enlightenment. I think he is one of the most important teachers of our time.”

L. Ron Gardner, an Amazon reviewer, writes:

“Anyone with a deep and profound understanding of both spiritual and sociopolitical philosophy would classify Andrew Cohen’s Evolutionary Enlightenment as Eastern mysticism-New Age pabulum on about the Eckhart Tolle level. But if you dig Tolle’s New Earth, NOW Age babble, you'll probably enjoy the superficial spiritual-sociocultural ‘licks’ played by jazz musician-‘guru’ Andrew Cohen.”

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This page was published on June 6, 2017 and last revised on May 11, 2019.


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