Gangaji - The End of The Story
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: I’m just remembering when I first heard about you, several years ago. There is a friend of mine called Tosho - he’s dead now, he died of cancer several years ago - and he told me something very significant happened just in a meeting with you; it wasn’t even at a meeting - it was just meeting you. And what happened was that he’d heard about you and he was going to a satsang you were holding in Maui, Hawaii. It was pouring with rain, and he was a little confused, he wasn’t sure where to go. And he stopped his car to ask directions and the window wound down - actually it was probably electric, wasn’t it? He probably pushed a button - and it was you. And he was so taken aback he just started laughing in the rain...
Iain: ...and literally something changed in his life, and he was never the same again... I think the words he used were something like “The background became the foreground, and the foreground became the background”. And so, are you aware you have a catalystic function somehow? Is that...
Gangaji: Well, it’s certainly nothing I do. I’m not aware of it in the sense of having a power where I do anything. But I did have a similar experience with my teacher, when I first met him in Haridwar, India. When he opened the door he said, “Welcome - come in” - and there was just this hugeness and presence. I did know about him. I knew I was going to meet someone who was, I hoped, my real, final teacher. When I saw him there was such a welcome in his eyes that I just started laughing. I recognised, “This is it - this is where I’m supposed to be”. When I questioned him about it he’d say, “Well, that is the mystery: you are supposed to be here, and neither one of us is in charge of that”. So there was some kind of a synchronistic moment of coming together.
When you tell the story about Tosho, I can remember it, because it’s rare that somebody starts to ask you for directions and then bursts wide open [laughing]. I would say it was coming from him. It was a thrilling meeting; it went back and forth.
Iain: Yes, it was interesting, because I kind of lost contact with him. I used to see him socially and then he got... he had cancer and was very sick obviously, dying. He was in a hospice, and apparently… I didn’t visit him there, I wasn’t that close to him then… what happened in the hospice was that he... And obviously, you know you’re going to die, other people know you’re going to die, the nurses know you’re going to die. And he kept saying to the other guys there, “Isn’t this exciting! We’re all going to die! I wonder what happens next?” [laughing] And I just thought... Well, that touched me - I just thought that was brilliant.
Gangaji: How beautiful, what an attitude.
Gangaji: It’s curiosity. It is the willingness to not know and to be conscious in that. A death like that is a gift to everybody who is present. It seems like his life was like that too: open.
You mentioned that the background shifted to the foreground. When that happens what we’re usually protecting is in front of the protection. Then we can be who we are. As human beings we are naturally curious creatures. But we build up places we aren’t supposed to go or aren’t supposed to look into, and we suffer because of that. So this willingness to look into death is the willingness for the ultimate curiosity and openness.
Iain: In a way I guess it is... I haven’t thought about this myself a lot, but I guess that you don’t really know. People say... well, different religions say different things happen, and there could be past lives or there could be future lives, but we don’t really know, do we?
Gangaji: To me, those are mostly comfort stories. They are a way of not having to face death. I find it really useful to ask people to put all of those stories aside - at least temporarily - and to assume that, in the moment of death, everything you think you are no longer exists. It’s over. It’s finished. Your perceptions and your memories, your history, your attainments – finished. In that there is the possibility of meeting oneself as nothing, as ‘no thing’. That is freedom.
Everything that we are burdened by is some kind of attachment to who we are: I’m a man, I’m a woman, I’m enlightened, I’m unenlightened, I’m famous, I’m not famous, I’ve made it, I haven’t made it. In death it’s all over - you’re nothing. And that is freedom.
Iain: It is.
Gangaji: So that was that moment for Tosho, I think, when the window rolled down. There was just freedom with nothing happening. Then that becomes the foreground in your life.
Iain: Yes. So let’s just... let’s just spin back a little bit to when you were young. I know you had certain experiences that really impacted you at the time and were really important for you. Can we just talk about some of the significant ones?
Gangaji: Sure. Most of them were not very pleasant experiences. It’s only in retrospect that I can see they were important in forming some deep spiritual search for me. My parents were both alcoholics, and so, I was basically taken care of, but neglected, as a child. I was hypersensitive and I started having very weird experiences when I was about six. My body would start to disappear, but it was not a blissful disappearance [laughing].
Gangaji: It was horrific, you know – I was becoming non-existent. It was a nervous disorder. It wasn’t satori or enlightenment coming – it was deep stress in a little hypersensitive child.
Gangaji: Things would get very big and then they would get small and then I would disappear. I ran to my mother and she had no idea what I was talking about. So I ended up going to a psychiatrist at six years old, and he showed me some ink blots [laughing] and gave me some Phenobarbital. So every time this started to happen to me I took the barbiturates to calm myself down. And it wasn’t until I was nineteen or twenty and first began to meditate that I decided, “No more of that - let’s see what this is”.
Gangaji: Sure enough, in the first long meditation I ever did, of say an hour, it started to happen again. Rather than escape it with medication, or just jumping up and getting a glass of water, I sat with it. It was actually beautiful then, it was peaceful.
Iain: But it takes courage to sit with it, doesn’t it?
Gangaji: It took courage for me, because I didn’t have any support for sitting with it. It was a pathology, and so it needed to be fixed or healed. I can’t even say why, at that moment, there was a decision. I didn’t like the fact that I had to take a little pill when something started happening. I had the experience that - if you’re willing to just open to what is arising; to just suspend judgement for a moment, or the evaluation “This should or shouldn’t be happening”, and be with it fully and completely - then it’s beautiful.
I think this is true of people who are dying; it’s true of people who have fear arising in their lives; and it was certainly true for me, in that sense. And it did shift my life. It didn’t make me happy – there were many things that had to occur for that. But it gave me some inner courage to live life with a little more direct curiosity and adventure.
Iain: Yes, it’s interesting, because you’re triggering some memories for me, because I had similar experiences when I was a teenager. I thought I had no body and I’d be walking along the street and I thought I was just going to fall down because there was nothing to support me. And I’d forgotten this... that actually I got barbiturates as well...
Gangaji: Really? [laughing]
Iain: ...from the doctor, yes, and when I took them it relaxed me. And then I think I was still living at home and my mother hid the bottle and didn’t... There was never a discussion about why I had them, and that support structure went. Actually, I went to get some more from the doctor. Then what I discovered several years later was very interesting, and it took me a long time to integrate this, in so far as what that experience was… In a way, it was a very deep experience. But it was my fear of the experience that was the problem - it wasn’t the experience. And like you, in meditation and later in my experience in life, it would come up frequently. It frequently still does, but it doesn’t frighten me anymore.
Iain: And that is the thing that we... It seems that we get these experiences and they’re very deep. And it’s not knowing what they are, not knowing how to handle them, not knowing how to integrate them, that is the problem for many of us.
Gangaji: There is no support. There is no one to tell you, “This is fine! Just relax, just stay with this”. When it happened to me it actually freaked everyone out around me...
Gangaji: “...let’s get her to an authority [laughing], so we can fix it”. Yes, that is really beautiful.
Iain: It’s as if whatever we call it - being, true nature - it’s creeping through all the time, you know, and giving us little signs... And the fortunate thing, these days, is you can find out so quickly what the possibilities are through the internet, and so many more books are available. But when we were young, that wasn’t there, that information.
Gangaji: No, it was almost forbidden, especially if it seemed like it was mental illness [laughing]. If I look back on that experience as a spiritual experience, I would say it was evoked by stress. I think that often happens. There is some shock that happens in a person’s life – whether it’s near death, or losing someone, or even war – that, for a moment, just tears away concepts of reality and reveals reality, reveals this invisible force that is living this body but doesn’t need this body for its existence.
Iain: Explain that more: “It lives this reality, but doesn’t need the body”.
Gangaji: Well, it’s here, regardless of the body. Life exists, and then life forms appear in life – you and me and all life forms. But when these life forms die, life still is.
I don’t make the equation of life and death; it’s more birth and death. Birth and death occur in life. But life is present before birth and present after death. I wouldn’t say you, as this form, are present after death; that is gone, that is finished. But life, the animation of this form, is present.
When you recognise “That is who I am”, you are recognising it through a human brain, through human perception. But there is a recognition that is deeper than that. When the human brain has gone back to dust and this intellect is no longer, there is still life, and that is who I am. I won’t know myself as this one, but I know myself as life. There is such a profound relaxation and such joy in that. The truth of who I am is not dependent on this form, because we know our forms are doomed to extinction.
Iain: Unfortunately, they are [laughing].
Gangaji: They are. [laughing] And maybe it’s fortunate...
Gangaji: Then there is a way of appreciating the preciousness of this human capacity to reflect on what is deeper even than human. I believe that we, as humans, are at an extraordinary time. We are at a time where we can, both individually and collectively, reflect on what is the source of all life forms. Then we see it is the same source. It is life, and that is deeper than connection; that is oneself, one source.
Iain: It’s like the reference point changes; there is a realisation. It’s not really the reference point changes - it’s the realisation that the reference point is not Iain, it’s not Gangaji; the reference point is consciousness or being, whatever we call it.
Gangaji: That’s right. That’s what we start to see in each other. We see features of our differences and our likenesses, but we can also see deeper into that. Perhaps that is what Tosho saw when the window was rolled down; there was a moment of just life seeing life, consciousness seeing consciousness. You are seen and you see in the same instant.
Iain: There is something that I’m still kind of digesting myself, and this is... I have a fairly deep understanding, experiential to a degree as well, about the never-changing and the always changing, and I... I’m also aware there is something that is very ‘me-ness’. It’s not personality based - it’s just something that is ‘me’, as a something ‘you’ [directed at Gangaji] and something Krishna [cameraman] and everybody else. And that is obviously part of the ever-changing, but it also seems very substantive... It doesn’t necessarily feel permanent, but it feels very real. And I’m just interested in how you see that, in terms of that being an expression of being.
Gangaji: Well, I would call that the essence, maybe.
Iain: Personal essence?
Gangaji: We could call it the essence or the soul, if we are speaking in those terms. It’s the distillation of the personality. I believe ‘soul’ is a very good designation for that, because what you are referring to feels like something innocent and pure and solid and true. There is a refuge in that. When it fully investigates itself, it discovers itself to be the same as what is changeless.
That is really where the non-duality comes in. It is so important to discover what changes and, in that, to discover what is changeless. But finally, we have to discover they are of the same substance. It’s consciousness in changing form and consciousness in emptiness. It’s the same. That is the Heart Sutra: Emptiness is form - form is empty.
Gangaji: There is recognition that I am life, and I am, also, this particular life. It is not separate. The ‘I’ is both huge and it is very small, microscopic, and over in a brief moment.
Iain: You talk a lot in your book… you use the word ‘story’ a lot, which I like because that is something that is easy identifiable. When we think of story we usually think of a novel; and in a way life is a kind of novel.
Gangaji: [laughing] That’s right. It is fiction.
Iain: And are you kind of... When I say ‘you’, I mean Gangaji. I have to call you ‘you’ ...
Gangaji: This one.
Iain: ...this one sitting there, sitting in front of me here. Are you always aware of where the story tries to kick in, or are there times still that you think… maybe two minutes pass and you think “Oh, that is interesting! The story was back and got me for two minutes”?
Gangaji: There is a story, there are stories – the world story, the national story, the female story, the Gangaji story and my particular Enneagram fixation story. So there are multiple stories happening. They come and go. But what I am aware of is the awareness that is holding them. I don’t have a problem with stories.
I often invite people to disidentify with the story. But it doesn’t even mean a permanent disidentification. If you are willing to disidentify for a minute, an hour, an afternoon, then there is recognition, “I exist without my story”. And that is freedom. I don’t need my story to be better, or different, or to be the star, to be free, to be fulfilled. Then the story is just part of the genetic structure, as well as the conditioning, or, even, what I’ve eaten for breakfast. They are just phenomena that appear and disappear.
Yes, there are definitely stories going through: I am on my way to the airport; there will be a Heathrow story that will arise. That is part of the enjoyment of being a human being and a conscious life form.
Iain: The freedom is, I guess, the consciousness watching the story?
Iain: That is how...
Gangaji: Watching it and yet not separate from it.
Iain: That is interesting, watching it but still all one.
Gangaji: Yes. For me that was essential. When I first began meditating and hearing about the ‘witness consciousness’, I separated myself and watched. This is an important stage, I believe. But it took some effort, too. And then, “Oops!” - I was caught in the story. Then there is a shift where one recognises oneself as the source of the story. When you wake up from a dream you know the dream was a dream, but it was still of you. The characters were of you, even if they were scary or unfamiliar. They were of your substance.
As human beings we love stories. We communicate by stories, we pass on our teachings by stories. Stories are deeply valuable to us. But until we are willing to disengage, at least briefly, from the story, we are tyrannised by it. That is the problem, and that is the shift, if we can recognise the story as a novel. I love reading a good novel or going to a good movie. I love it, and I get totally identified with the characters, and I learn deeply from that. Then the novel is over (maybe I read it again), or the movie’s over, but I still am ‘I’ – enriched by the story, not tyrannised by the story.
Iain: That is a good distinction. So I was reading about your meeting, the first time you met Papaji, and you said that shortly after that your mind stopped, and that was a breakthrough. And I think he said to you... the first thing he said to you, “You’ve come to the right place to find freedom, to find truth”. And he said to you, “Do nothing” - and you didn’t understand that to start with.
Iain: Can you just talk me through that process?
Gangaji: Well, I was so thrilled to see him, because I really did recognise, “This is the one I’ve been praying for”, without knowing it would be an Indian man or guru. In fact, that was the opposite of what I thought it would be. I didn’t expect to find myself in this place. Yet it was so perfect and so true, that I really listened to him very carefully. I knew I was in the right place. So I wasn’t spending my time doubting him, checking him out (which it is natural to do with teachers, and I advise it).
But that happened very quickly for me, so I was paying very close attention. He said, “Just stop. Just do nothing”. I thought I understood what that meant, but I interpreted it the way I understood: “Stop - do nothing!” I was very still, ‘doing nothing.’ But that was actually doing something – I was holding myself in a rigid way, and I was ‘stopping’. What he was saying was deeper: “No, no! Really stop!” Finally, I let this sink in. And it was a profound relaxation; it was an opening.
In that way, ‘stop’ meant ‘open’. Just open. Don’t reach for anything, don’t reject anything. Just let your mind open. I don’t know when that had ever happened before. All my life I had either been rejecting and running from things or reaching, grasping, and running towards things. There was just this spaciousness and light and clarity and stillness. There was no thought. I didn’t know it was possible. I would have argued it was impossible because, when I would think back, all I could see were thoughts.
Our whole culture references our lives by thoughts. We link up thought to thought to thought. But there are actually many moments in every person’s life where there is no thought.
In that moment, Papaji basically said, “Stop thinking”. It was an invitation, and it was so easy, so natural. It was deep rest, and from that I could recognise “I am [laughing], and there is no story of me”. In that moment, I didn’t even know my name, where I was – just ‘life’, ‘I am’, ‘consciousness’. It cut something. It cuts our referencing to who we are, to whatever story is appearing in me, in being.
It was a huge moment - it was a moment of the dialogue stopping. So I actually turned my attention to deeper, deeper discovery, rather than just the constant loop of discussion, “What am I doing right, what am I doing wrong, am I getting it, is this stopping?” That was non-existent.
Iain: So what does that mean, turning the attention to deeper discovery? On a practical level, what did that mean for you?
Gangaji: Well, there was actually a huge fear there, if I didn’t have my story…
Iain: Like a void?
Gangaji: At first, there was this moment of exquisite grace, and then there was, “Uh-oh!” And the thought arose, “What now? What to do now?” But what Papaji was advising was not to follow that thought. “If it rises, just don’t follow it. Let it sink back down to where it came from”. So I could see the thought dissolve back into consciousness. I could investigate and open – like what we were speaking about earlier, when I had the nervous attacks as a child and my body disappeared. I could investigate this as energy without evaluating it or judging it. Then it was the same light, same consciousness.
This would go on for the whole meeting with him. But then I would go back to my little hotel room, and my husband Eli and I would go and have lunch or something, and my mind would kick back in. I would start the same loop of “Am I getting it, is this it, did I do it right, am I enlightened yet?” Then I would get back in Papaji’s presence and he would just say, “Stop”. He was emanating that too, so there would be this grace, peace, fulfilment, with nothing being done.
Then there was just a moment where that was recognised, “That is always here”. I felt he gave it to me, but that is not actually the truth. He was so established in that emanation from his being that there was permission for me to stop telling my story, stop defining myself. In that I could just be myself.
Iain: It takes a lot of courage, though, to stop telling your story.
Gangaji: I was ready for it, you know. I had told so many different versions of my story. I had created my reality, attracted prosperity and visualised happiness. I had a very good life, but there was still something fundamental that was dissatisfied. So I prayed deeply for a teacher, a true teacher, a final teacher. I’d had enough failures and enough successes to know that it wasn’t in what I did. Or, at least, I didn’t know what to do, so I was ready to pay attention. Maybe for me the courage was just going to him, just knocking on his door. After that, I couldn’t say it was courage, really - it was actually easy.
Who knows what steps we have to take or hurdles we have to leap to get to a certain point? And then it’s surrender. There may be things that come up - some of my Christian conditioning came up, some nervous agitation came up. It didn’t have to be judged. I believe the courage factor is there only when we’re judging, “This could lead to something horrible”, or “This could overtake me”, or “Oh my God, this shouldn’t be happening!” If we aren’t having that dialogue, it’s very natural just to experience what is here and, in that experience, what is deeper. So I have to say, I didn’t feel courageous.
Iain: It’s interesting when new reference points... well, when old reference points disappear, because I find for myself that it’s almost like... a nurturing... I know you’ve used the word ‘void’ at one point - not today, but I’ve read it in one of your books about the void and silence, not having the story. For me... I’m aware of a completely different reference point - I can feel it now… I call it ‘ground of being’. But it’s fragile and, in itself, it’s not… I understand it’s incredibly strong because it is... it’s a tangible substance, in a way...
Gangaji: That’s right.
Iain: ...but, in another way, it’s very covered. And it’s like the covering has been there a long time and it’s very strong, and there has to be... It’s almost as if I have... it’s not that I have a choice of where to put my attention - I have a choice of where to be aware. I don’t have to keep my attention somewhere.
Gangaji: That’s beautifully said.
Iain: And then it can come back and my attention is grounded in being...
Gangaji: That’s right.
Iain: ...but it’s a real in-and-out process [moving finger back and forth in front of head]… It goes on for a long time.
Gangaji: There is a tidal wave of conditioning. It’s the way we’ve been conditioned to live as human beings, to survive. That’s why I feel that this time of awakening on the planet is really important. We have such huge support from so many people who are experiencing this and saying, “Yes, you actually can choose in this moment to surrender, to open, to return to the ground of yourself, to the being of yourself”. That is growing.
I see that in meetings. Twenty years ago, it was much more of a struggle just to invite people to investigate, “Is there a ground of being? Is there a place of peace and fulfilment within you?” There would be a lot of conversations and, maybe, finally, someone would say, “Oh, it’s here!” But now it’s much faster, because there are more and more people who are saying, “Yes, this is the ground of being”.
If a story comes up a million times a day, so what? That story becomes the signal: “Aha! What’s still here, what’s always here, what’s the truth of myself?” Then the story is not the enemy; the fear is not the enemy – it’s an ally. It’s a signal to look deeper.
Iain: I know you have talked about it before: it’s the time of the ordinary awakening. Whereas, before, what we were led to believe, anyway, was that you had to go away in a cave, or you had to be with a master for thirty years or something, and then move on to another master. Now it’s the man in the street, woman in the street, who can awaken. And that is... that is quite a thought, isn’t it? It’s quite an idea. Very fundamental idea.
Gangaji: It’s extraordinary. It’s like a code has been broken. Something that has held us imprisoned in our own thoughts, or others’ thoughts, has been broken. There is an openness that’s possible. Maybe it’s evolutionary, I don’t really know. We could use the metaphor of how long it used to take to get from London to New York, and how long it takes now. It’s like that. You don’t have to go the old way.
What is possible is immediate awakening. And then you see what is needed after that, but you know the way home and you know it’s right here [hand on heart]. Then the rest is really your choice: what do you want, what do you love, and what do you choose to be true to?
Iain: You just mentioned the word ‘prison’, and that reminds me you were actually in prison, weren’t you, for ten days when you were...
Gangaji: I would say jail. I think prison is a heavier thing.
Iain: Jail, yes.
Gangaji: I was part of an anti-nuclear protest.
Iain: Yes, but still pretty scary. You were behind... you were behind bars.
Gangaji: It was interesting. It was very educational. We were jailed in a prison. We knew we were getting out in two weeks, so it was like a play, in a way.
Iain: It was a story.
Gangaji: Yes, it was a story, like a role-play, but we were there with other women who were actually in prison. They had mixed emotions about us, of course, as middle-class women coming in. But there was a connection there. I saw these women who had made bad mistakes or maybe had no choice; and there was something that was awakened in me in recognising that I could be there, any of us could be there. We don’t have to let those bars separate us. Something started there that has been fulfilled in the prison work of the Gangaji Foundation and Kenny Johnson and John Sherman, who you’ve been in contact with.
Iain: Yes, I was going to ask you more about your prison work. That really interests me, and I found out because I am in email contact with John Sherman - we haven’t talked in a while... And, of course, he was in prison for many years. And he had quite an extraordinary experience when you were going to a meeting in the prison. He wasn’t even at the meeting - he was on the way to the meeting, and something happened to him [laughing]. So tell us a bit more about how the prison work is for you.
Gangaji: It was scary going into an all men’s prison the first time, just because of the deep conditioning. You go into a door, and it slams closed. Then you give up all your possessions and your IDs, and you go into another door, and it slams closed. Then you are in a very overcrowded prison – maybe three thousand inmates that should have been fifteen hundred. Finally, we made our way back to a little chapel and, out of a prison population of three thousand, twenty or thirty men were in this little chapel.
It was profound and beautiful. These were men who had made horrible choices in their lives, who had failed. And they knew it. In that, there was a kind of facing death. They were living a death – their lives had ended; their stories had not turned out the way they had planned. And they realised that, and realised there was, possibly, something that that could serve. So, there was a readiness and an attention, and an appreciation for someone coming in to not exclude them, but to recognise them as the same self. So I deeply benefited from it.
I was having a series of meetings in Boulder, Colorado, which was near this particular prison. When I went back and told the people I was meeting with, they were thrilled. A kind of connection was made between inside and outside, between what we would have thought of as hardened, scary guys and these pampered free spirits [laughing]. It was the same self.
We want the same thing, and that is to be free – to be free whether we are in prison or whether we are living outside the prison. I would say, both prisoners and non-prisoners benefit from that connection. I know I have.
Iain: Well, we live in a different kind of prison now until we wake up.
Gangaji: That’s right. That’s right, exactly.
Iain: You know... I met Bo Lozoff once - I don’t know if you know Bo Lozoff...
Gangaji: Yes, we’ve met.
Iain: ... he is, of course, very active in working in prisons in America...
Gangaji: Oh, he’s inspirational.
Iain: ...and I read his first book, We’re All Doing Time. It’s such a moving book.
Iain: It’s basically, as you would know, an exchange of letters between him and prisoners. And some of these prisoners are really like... they are mass murderers, they’ve done terrible things...
Gangaji: That’s right.
Iain: ...and they have been in prison a long time, albeit all their life. And the letters, as they start to open up… it is just so moving...
Gangaji: It’s profound.
Iain: ...it’s so extraordinary.
Iain: And I suppose being in a real prison as opposed to our own mind prison: you’re in a double prison, aren’t you? You’ve got your mind in prison and you’re physically imprisoned.
Gangaji: That’s right.
Iain: And you’ve got no option but to look here [pointing to heart].
Gangaji: That’s right. Your choices are very limited, and so your choices become inner choices. The ones who make those inner choices go very deep, as you know from that book, and I know from the letters and people I’ve met.
Kenny Johnson is someone who was at those early meetings. He had been in and out of prison since he was fifteen years old. He was a hardened guy, and he opened up. Now he has formed his own prison programme and goes into prisons and speaks with juveniles.
The news for us is we have no excuse. That is very good news, because we tend to make excuses to postpone things. “I’m not good enough”, or “I don’t meditate enough”, or “I still have negative thoughts”. We use that to keep ourselves in prison, rather than just opening up to what is innocent, pure and free right now.
Iain: I think the interesting thing is that, these days, deep openings are happening to people who have done nothing before in their life, and they’re coming in such... They’re not coming in a subtle way - they’re coming in such a dramatic way that they have to look. Either they have to look, or they’ll be in the mental hospital - one or the other, there is no half-way house with them. And I guess that is an extension of what we were talking about earlier. It is about the ordinary awakening. It is here, and it’s coming, and somehow consciousness is just “Wham!” [moving hand in a downward motion] It’s random, isn’t it?
Gangaji: Yes, it seems random to me. We could call it grace or love, but it’s definitely beyond any notion of practice or karma, good or bad. It’s a spark that’s as quick to spread as prairie fire.
Iain: So, my process with you is interesting, because I haven’t really looked at my notes. I have a few questions and I’m just waiting for the next question to arise, and one hasn’t arisen this time. So I have to tell you that I haven’t got a question at the moment.
Gangaji: That’s nice [laughing].
Iain: I’m looking at the clock. We’ve got about eight minutes left so we’re not there yet… [silence] And I realise it’s powerful, looking at you… And I can hear there is a train somewhere in the background… And I’m realising it’s also a television programme, so it would be good to... to get something to move… that we can talk about.
Gangaji: I remember when that happened on radio. There was a moment of silence and, at first, the interviewer on the radio said, “Oh, we’re not allowed to have any dead space”. So we discussed whether it was dead space or, in fact, live space. Actually, it was a very full space. On television, it’s extraordinary and revolutionary to have moments of nothing happening but life.
Iain: [laughing] Yes. [silence] I know you do... I just sneaked a little look at my notes there...
Iain: ...it says... it is actually good to bring this up now, because you had at one point desperation to escape the void.
Gangaji: Did I say that [laughing]?
Iain: [reading] “Empty of the desperation to escape the void, empty of hope and life and spirit, that I secretly fear was my true face”. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
Gangaji: Oh, I can relate to it. I don’t remember writing that, but I had many moments of feeling that. If I looked inwards, it was really bad news. So I would have a facade of happiness. I knew how to look right and friendly but, if I was by myself, alone, and really exposed myself to myself, I sensed this murky area of ‘lostness’ and damage, like a wound. It felt like a soul wound. It felt like something was deeply wrong with me. And, of course, like most people, I thought it was just me; that everybody else was healthy. If they looked inward, they would find the light; but when I looked inward, I found what was dark.
So, maybe, that is where the moment of courage really came - just a willingness to go all the way into that. Because it felt like it was endless. It felt like this is really the truth of myself. So it took the willingness to say, “Well, if this is the truth of myself, then I want to know that, and to go all the way into that”. Really, it is consciousness which has somehow separated. There is this object of darkness and ‘unknowability’ - consciousness remerges with that and shines a light into it.
It took less than a second. Then it was just open and free. Whereas, most of my life, it had been there as something to haunt me. I didn’t often go into it. Maybe this is what precipitated those early experiences of being six years old and trying to avoid it and so leaving my body, in a certain sense. But in the willingness to meet it, there is a communion and integration with all aspects of myself. Then that darkness is not there [laughing].
It was an illusion, a wound illusion; it was only real when I wasn’t looking at it. It only had a power when I wasn’t willing to go into the core of it. Of course, I had a story to support it: I had proof of why I was wounded, and the results of the wounding. But when I actually met it as energy, it was liberated, it was released.
Iain: Do you think people need a teacher still? When you met Papaji, you were kind of... you were praying to meet a teacher, and you were so happy to meet him and that was so fundamental for you. Do you think that is still the case for people?
Gangaji: I don’t know. I know it was for me. And I know there are plenty of teachers who say it’s not necessary. So, I would say for some people it must not be necessary; and for some people it is necessary. If you wake up on your own, you don’t need a teacher [laughing], if you’re able to be true to that. I needed a teacher.
Iain: Yes. But isn’t also... I think from my own experience, integration is so important. An experience happens that comes out the blue, throws me, and I can either dismiss it (which I can only do on a temporary basis), or I can try to understand it to a degree. And then there is somehow an integration. It isn’t necessarily me integrating - it’s an integration. Something’s happened to my humanness and something changes in my life. And so the experience is always the boss, if you like, but it’s that process. And I guess a teaching or a teacher is very helpful in that integration.
Gangaji: Well, for me it was essential, because there was a way I was doing that integration, or I was processing things. My teacher said, “Stop! Stop all that doing - just stop. Just be as you are”. And that was profound. My teacher is still alive in me. I’d say he is still my teacher, and he was an extraordinary teacher. He did not teach a creed and he didn’t teach a practice. He was a free being. I feel blessed to have had a real teacher. In that, I didn’t have to be a certain way, and we could disagree. We definitely disagreed politically and in other ways, but I needed him.
When I was with him, I started to play out my normal roles – even coming from these profound experiences. I fell in love with my teacher, so at first he was my ‘daddy’, and I was trying to be a good little girl. He wasn’t interested. Then I thought, “Oh, I’ll be this beautiful princess in his court” - and he wasn’t interested [laughing]. Every act of my life came up to be played against him, to be bounced against him. And he just wasn’t interested. Then I was just myself with him. So the relationship itself was necessary for me, maybe because I’d always been able to be in control of relationships, and I wasn’t in control here. I had to surrender.
Iain: He just wouldn’t support your story at any level at all?
Gangaji: He just wouldn’t support it at any level. He was actually disgusted by it [laughing].
Gangaji: Yes, that was very useful for me, because there was a regression that happened. I became very awkward around him, like a nine- or a ten-year-old, saying inappropriate things. It was something that had to play itself out. Sometimes I was just appalled at how clumsy I was or how stupid I was [laughing]. But it was held in there, somehow.
I didn’t spend that much time with him either: it was six weeks the first time and a couple of weeks for the next five years, and then I didn’t see him anymore. I knew I didn’t need to see him, but he was still my teacher. He is still my teacher. It’s just a holy relationship for me, and it is a kind of old-fashioned relationship. Maybe people don’t need to have husbands or wives or parents anymore; maybe all of that will be outdated. But for me it was essential, and I really honour it.
Iain: Gangaji, thank you very much for coming along. I’ve got a lot from this.
Gangaji: Thank you. Me too.
Iain: Thank you. And, of course, Gangaji has some books out, many books out, actually. Here are two of them [holding up books] which are currently available. There is one, Just like You, which is a biography, which I found very, very interesting. And You Are That, which is a book of transcriptions from satsangs. And there is also what I’ve been listening to in the car, The Diamond in Your Pocket, which is great, too.
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