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The Fire of Freedom, Satsang with Papaji (The Fire of Freedom, Volume 1) Paperback – June 1, 2007
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An inciteful and exciting series of edited talks (satsangs) given by the Advaita master and devotee of Ramana Maharshi, HWL POONJA, affectionately called PAPAJi, in his home and at Satsang Bhavan in Lucknow, India, in the early 1990's.
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In the early 1990s Papaji was just beginning to emerge from a long period of semi-obscurity. His life up till then had been long and eventful, but few outside the circle of serious advaita students had ever heard of him. He had been teaching for many years, but had always resisted the idea of having an ashram, or of settling down in any particular place. For much of his life his preferred method of dealing with people who wanted to spend time with him was to move from town to town, and later from country to country, meeting students in small groups. For many years he was a hard man to find since he rarely disclosed his whereabouts. He would inform his own students when he wanted to see them, and in the gaps between these visits very few people knew where he was. This gave him the freedom to have long extended periods of solitude, which he mostly spent wandering in the foothills of the Himalayas. All this changed around 1990 when a combination of old age and late-onset diabetes compelled him to settle down in one place. He ended up in Lucknow, the Indian city where he had taken his family after they all had to leave West Punjab just prior to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. In 1990 he moved to a new house in the Lucknow suburbs, and it was there that he lived until he passed away in 1997.
For the first two years that he lived there he gave satsang in his living room, mostly to westerners who had heard about him through word of mouth. About ten to fifteen people would usually show up, and the morning question-and-answer sessions would normally last about two hours. The dialogues that comprise this book come from the middle of 1991.
Papaji had been a devout Krishna bhakta for many years, and during that period his primary spiritual ambition was to have visions of Krishna as often as possible. In the 1930s and early 40s he travelled extensively in India, looking for a guru who had both seen God himself and who also had the ability to show God to others. His quest finally took him to Ramana Maharshi. In a series of intense spiritual encounters Ramana showed him the Self and established him in the state of Self-realization. He became an ardent devotee of the Maharshi, and when he began his own teaching career, he encouraged all the people who came to him to do self-inquiry, the practice advocated by Ramana himself, in order to find out the source of the individual `I'.
Ramana Maharshi had advocated doing self-inquiry as a long and continuous practice, but in the early 1990s Papaji tended to use it as a battering ram to break down the sense of individuality in the people who came to see him. Visitors would approach him one by one in satsang and ask their questions. He might humour them for a while by talking about whatever they were interested in, or he might tell stories about some of his adventures in the Himalayas, but sooner or later he would come back to the question `Who am I?' and make the person he was talking to try to find the answer to that question as he or she sat in front of him. This was no intellectual game. He would compel people to look inside themselves to the place where thought itself arose, and by doing so he would frequently give these people a glimpse of the permanent substratum that underlay their sense of personal identity.
Papaji was one of those rare beings who not only not only had the experience of the Self, he also had the power and the authority to give glimpses of that state to the people who came to see him. In this new collection of dialogues one can see him bearing down on his interlocutors, making them focus on their inner sense of `I', and dismissing everything else they had to say as superfluous intellectualization. The results were remarkable and outstanding: day after day he brought about awakenings in people who came to see him, some of whom had had little or no spiritual background. The experiences may not have lasted long, but he gave a whole generation of spiritual seekers a direct if transient awareness of the Self, something that most of them had failed to accomplish by themselves in years of intense practice.
Papaji has received something of a bad press in some quarters, mostly as a result of the various people who claim a lineage from him and who now tour the world, proclaiming his teachings. If you have been unimpressed or turned off by these people, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater: go back to the source and read what Papaji has to say for himself. There is a force and an authority in his words, even on the printed page. These conversations only took place a few years ago, but as one goes through these pages, there is a feeling of eavesdropping on one of the great and ancient Indian traditions: dialogues between a guru and his disciples in which questions result in direct experiences, not just verbal answers.
The book was printed in India fairly recently, and copies do not appear to have reached US bookstores yet. If you don't want to wait for the bookstores to stock it, there are a few online sellers who have it.
Many of Ramana's talks - at least in the manner that they were transcribed appear more academic, and in the context of Vedic scriptures and tradition. Most likely this is attributable to the selections of the transcribers and translators of Ramana. The talks of Ramana and Papaji could be looked upon as complimentary and neither neglected in favor of the other.