All posts by gangaji

About gangaji

Gangaji shares a simple message-This is an invitation to shift your allegiance from the activities of your mind to the eternal presence of your being. Born in Texas in 1942, Gangaji grew up in Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1964, she married and had a daughter. In 1972, she moved to San Francisco where she began exploring deeper levels of her being. She took Bodhisattva vows, practiced Zen and Vipassana meditation, helped run a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center, and had a career as an acupuncturist in the San Francisco Bay area. Despite her successes, Gangaji continued to experience a deep and persistent longing for fulfillment. She pursued many paths to change her life including relationship. Motherhood, political activism, career, and spiritual practice, but even the greatest of her successes ultimately came up short. In the wake of her disillusionment, she made a final prayer for true help. In 1990, the answer to her prayer came unexpectedly, taking her to India and to the meeting that would change everything. There on the banks of the river Ganga, she met Sri H.W.L. Poonja, also known as Papaji, who opened the floodgates of self-recognition. In this meeting, Gangaji’s personal story of suffering ended and the promise of a true life began to flower and unfold. Today, Gangaji travels the world speaking to seekers from all walks of life. A teacher and author, she shares her direct experience of the essential message she received from Papaji and offers it to all who want to discover a true and lasting fulfillment. Through her life and words, she powerfully articulates how it is really possible to discover the truth of who you are and to be true to that discovery. We invite you to read The End of All Excuses by Gangaji an in-depth article by Gangaji about her spiritual path and essential experiences.

I Am, Therefore I Think

The challenge of a human life is to live truly free. When you realize that you are not your name, you are not any function, you are not your gender, and in truth you are not anything you can think yourself to be, you recognize the spaciousness of who you truly are. You recognize this spacious consciousness to be already free, regardless of any thought that may appear in consciousness. I am — beingness — is primary spaciousness in form. In our human form I think follows being. To discover that by stopping thinking (while remaining conscious) for only a moment is to discover yourself independent of any thought of yourself.

Thinking is natural to human creatures. Thinking is wondrous and not the problem. The problem is the conviction that who we are is who we think we are. As long as we are attached to the belief that I am who I think I am, we are attached to something that is ephemeral and subject to change, that we can actually forget. If you are willing to not think yourself, who are you? What is left when you don’t believe the thought of who you are? What if you take this moment and actually not know who you are?

In not knowing, just for a moment, you can directly discover yourself. This discovery does not arrive by thought, but by your own immediate direct experience. What is here, before every thought, after every thought and during every thought?

That fresh aliveness — that consciousness — is already here, although it may be veiled by many layers of identification with thought. Consciousness can discover itself and know itself, without needing to think itself. Then false identity is cut, and you recognize yourself to be free.

The cognitive power to create identities is important. It is the way we make sense of reality as human beings. We collect identities based on the narratives we construct around our inward and outward experiences. These collections of identities form our story of who we think we are. Stories are wonderful. But in firm allegiance to our story we lose sight of spacious open mind, uncreated by any story.

By the time I met my teacher I had a well-developed story. I was an acupuncturist and a feminist. I thought of myself as an enlightened person who could see what was true and what was real. Underneath this story of success I hadn’t found the lasting happiness I was really seeking. And so my story continued to be a story seeking an identity that would give me permanent happiness. I was seeking a happy identity through different versions (stories) of myself.

In the willingness to consciously recognize my story and stop telling it for a moment of deep contemplation, I could see that this life force, this wonder of life, the simple joy of being that was present when I was a young child, was still present! It was available for discovery because it is always here. It is the silent core that all stories radiate from.

How can you make that same discovery? First there must be a willingness to overhear the ongoing narrative that defines you. We are aware of the end result of our narratives: I am a happy person, or I am a sad person; I am a success, or I am a failure. But often we are unaware that daily, hourly, we generate and live our own narrative. The narrative may seem simply like a commentary on reality. But actually it is an interpretation of reality, a version of reality. Without making that narrative right or wrong, we can discover what is closer than the narrative.

Before we are storytellers or thinkers we are conscious beings. We are aware that I am. And that awareness is underneath all stories.

In the discovery that life is aware of itself as consciousness, you are naked to yourself, not fooled by the cloaking devices of your narrative. You recognize the truth of yourself. Then, if it is appropriate that you act a certain way, or you repress or express a certain emotion, that is the play of life. You are not fooling yourself. In truth, you are naked, awake consciousness. You are. I am.

Gangaji’s newest book, Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011, and is now available in paperback. Gangaji has been awarded the 2012 Best in Print Award for Auto/Biographical Writing by COVR (the Coalition of Visionary Resources).

Gangaji’s new radio show, A Conversation with Gangaji, was launched on Oct. 12. Each month, for 30 minutes, Gangaji and radio show host Hillary Larson will address subjects like addiction, chronic pain, intimacy, depression, anxiety, enlightenment, integrity, death and many others, offering the possibility to listeners across the globe to find freedom in their everyday challenges, and live free and fulfilled lives.

photo by: Atilla1000

When We Are Ready to Be Free

At the dawning of spiritual maturity, as in biological maturity, a push or even a shock is often necessary to provide the catalyst for essential growth. The birth of true knowing follows the death of the previously known. What was previously known may have been true in its time, but when finished becomes false knowing or ignorance. We can meet what we falsely know about ourselves when we are ready to be free.

Before spiritual readiness we will hide from the worst or dramatize the worst with tragic melancholy. Or we may deny it altogether. The thinking process of our brain is filled with powers that allow us to decorate reality or dodge and cover whatever may threaten our version of reality. Finally we recognize that aspect of inner bondage that we most fear is who or what we really are. If we have been secretly frightened by our hidden inner self, and if we have been taught that our true nature must be tamed into submission because of its potential for selfish evil, we will keep our conscious attention separate from and be afraid of that naked core of ourselves.

Even if our upbringing has been more enlightened, and we are taught that we are essentially pure and good, the wild untamed parts of our personality are likely to frighten us enough that we keep them hidden in shamed secrecy. They show themselves in nightmares and in images of hell.

To be willing to turn toward the aspects of ourselves that we knowingly separate from our outward self-image is the mark of maturity. This maturity is inseparable from the readiness to be free. Not free of what we know to lurk in the core, but free to discover directly and unflinchingly what is there. When we are free of our conceptual definitions of ourselves, we are free to be fully whole. We then directly know ourselves as indefinable consciousness, freely being itself. When we are willing and ready, whatever we think is the worst of us turns into one of the most important teachers of freedom.

It is not always so easy to meet the beast we think lives inside us. We don’t often choose to leave a protected place, even if it is a prison. Although some ideas we have about ourselves are easily put aside or easily fall away on their own, transformational leaps take us, or throw us, into unknown territory with no reference points.

We may feel an internal pull toward what is calling us in this unknown realm and be terrified of it at the same time. We may find ourselves losing what we never considered could be lost: our perceived protection from our innermost selves. Desperately struggling with and fearing who we think we are, we finally find the courage to take a moment and directly inquire into this “thing” that has us by the throat.

When we can recognize that the soul matures naturally and sometimes with pain, we can be more willing to open to whatever we are feeling. We can stop our process of self-protection and instead self inquire. If we don’t resist whatever is being experienced, then the underlying sweetness of life is found even in the bitterest parts.

We can’t know beforehand that even in the worst the best can be discovered. But we can discover the truth of that. We can try to remember our discovery for whenever the next change occurs, and that memory may be somewhat useful. But to directly know what is here in this moment, all memory — even the most supportive — must be put aside. When your attention is fully present here, in this moment, regardless of what is appearing here, there is a great discovery. Every definition of yourself comes from references to the past and hopes or fears for the future. When your mind is freed from definitions of any kind, you can easily and directly discover what is really here rather than clinging to any definition of what is here. Falling into the core reveals the radiant spaciousness at the core.

This blog is adapted from Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011 and now available in paperback for the first time on Sept. 13, 2012.

In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.”

Gangaji will be a keynote speaker at the Wake Up Festival in Estes Park, Colo. on Aug. 24. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji’s upcoming events this fall, including her monthly webcast / conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

photo by: aussiegall

Freedom in Prison: Grace Is Here, Too

For more than 20 years, I have been speaking with people from all walks of life: good people, bad people, enlightened people, unenlightened people. I speak to people who have the privilege of freedom and relative control over their lives, and I speak to people in prison. One life is a kind of heaven and the other a kind of hell. And yet both in heaven and hell — the extremes of our experience — there are the same questions: Who am I? What are we here for? Where is grace?

I recall one particular visit to Folsom Prison several years ago. The men I spoke with had not lived privileged lives. Most often they had lived hard early lives and perpetuated that hardness into adulthood. In prison they had come to a place of disillusionment, where they were willing to look at something they had not understood before. Essentially, they were willing to stop living their lives the way they had lived them.

Prison is a very hard place to live. You might think it absurd to go into a place like Folsom Prison and talk to the men about vulnerability and opening, but that is what they hungered to hear. There were 45 men present that day. In a prison population of about 3,000 that is a small percentage. But this small percentage really wanted the truth, and they were absolutely capable of hearing the truth regardless of what they had done or how they had lived. Because of their willingness to deeply inquire, they could find the freedom and peace that had never left them. They could hear the call of their innocent hearts. They, like you, were not only capable of hearing the call of the heart, but of surrendering to it.

How has it affected their lives? I don’t know. I know for sure there were several who heard and experienced the living truth of conscious peace, at least for a moment. They saw themselves and were seen as who they truly are, not by what they had done or how they had identified themselves. That is profound relief. That is the taste of freedom. It is an experience of love.

We all experience certain kinds of prisons. Our prison may not be as materially rough as that of the men living in Folsom Prison, but given the nature of the human mind, there can be wrenching suffering even if you aren’t in a physical prison. Without demeaning or glorifying your own particular prison, you can inquire directly into the experience of suffering and discover freshly what lives in the core.

Maybe it is easier for those in prison than it is for many of us. It is so obvious to them that their lives have failed. However they thought they would succeed, they failed. However much you think you have failed, in significant ways your life has been a success. The very fact that you are free in this moment means that you have succeeded, and success itself can give rise to bondage. The trap of success is in identifying with privilege and entitlement.

In success, you can go to sleep and dream yourself to be special, or you can take advantage of your time and privilege and really inquire into the deepest part of yourself. You can open your mind to see what is here inside you, just as the men in Folsom Prison did.

The prisoners in Folsom hadn’t been taught what they would find in inquiry. They weren’t prejudiced. They didn’t know that they would find peace and love and oneness. They were innocently surprised and amazed. Several of them cried.

My dilemma in speaking to those who are not in prison is that often they already know too much. It is the trap of the spiritual adept — the successful seeker. So let us suspend what we know. Let us not know the correct answer. With a willingness to investigate in an open way, for the first time, we can freshly discover that grace is here.

We can each discover what lives freely, both inside and outside. We can recognize what is at peace, regardless of particular circumstances. We can find ourselves in all.

Gangaji recently recorded a CD, Questions from the Inside, which is being distributed freely to prisoners throughout the US. In conversation with interviewer Chris Mohr, Gangaji answers heartfelt questions from prisoners in county jails, state prisons, federal facilities and even those on death row. All proceeds from the CD support the Gangaji Foundation’s Prison Program.

Gangaji is currently offering retreats and weekends in Europe. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast, With Gangaji.

photo by: Jason Clapp

The Limitless Treasure of Who You Are

I can remember as a very young child recognizing, “I am,” and feeling both enormous wonder and fear. Before that moment my attention (in my memory, at least) was focused solely on survival: mother, breast, food. In that instant, attention was opened to consciousness, expanding beyond my known limits.

As I began to grow up, I attempted to define myself — this presence of “I” — through endlessly collecting information. I collected many definitions of who I was from family, teachers and subjects in school, from my religious beliefs, all my social interactions (every “other”), the cultural and social conditioning surrounding me, and much later from various alternative political, social, and spiritual movements. In this natural process of mental awareness inhabiting a body, I discovered a symphonic mandala of sometimes competing, sometimes complementing explanations. The sound and light of this mandala was in itself awesome and often evoked feelings of wonder. And yet somehow I never found a definition of “I am” that could fully reflect and sustain that initial innocent wonder.

When I met my teacher H.W.L Poonja (Papaji) he asked me to first tell the truth about what comes and goes, and second to discover what doesn’t come and go. He stopped me in my tracks; in that instant the outward search for a definition of myself was revealed to be the magic that “creates” a mirage. When I told the truth about the nature of everything (appearance, existence, disappearance), I could stop looking for permanence where there was none. I could stop looking for myself in anything whatsoever. In that return of my search to its origin, I overflowed in bliss and self-recognition.

With surprise, I discovered that the essential and undefiled truth of that initial wonder — the nature of recognizing oneself as being — was still present. I discovered that while all definitions appeared in the limitless presence of consciousness, and each explanation reflected some aspect of that, none could contain it. Certain unexamined definitions or explanations had the capacity to either cloud my consciousness or attempt to define it, but consciousness remained itself, free of all. In the willingness to stop defining, the wonder of life was freshly, uncontainedly revealed.

When Papaji gave me the assignment to find out what comes and goes, I saw that both good and bad experiences come and go. My experience of my body comes when I wake up in the morning and goes when I drop into sleep at night. Evaluations of my goodness or badness, my intelligence or my stupidity, come and go. In fact, all thoughts come and go. All emotions come and go. All events come and go. My various identities of myself (all my arrangements of definitions of myself), come and go. My definition or explanation of anything comes and goes.

But what doesn’t come and go is life. Whether I am aware of it or not, life is here. Even if I have a thought denying life, life is still here. When this particular form has no life left in it, life remains. It was here before this form was made. Life itself doesn’t need this particular individual life form for its beingness and presence.

When I turn my attention in the deepest, most intimate way toward discovering what this universal pronoun “I” points to, I discover life — life in a way that refuses to be limited by any definition and yet is inseparable from any definition, life that is unfragmented regardless of the various experiences of fragmentation, life that is unfazed by a formula defining it as limited to a carbon molecule. Life that is not contained by even the grandest of its names, including God, Self, no-self, truth, emptiness, or even the word life.

How thrilling is this time in history as scientific discoveries align with the oldest of spiritual wisdom! How liberating to hear about the scientific proofs that both time and space — our linch pins for definitions — do not truly exist as we have conceived them. Life is continually collapsing our mental constructs and showing itself to be both more ancient, more vast, and more here than can be imagined. The daily newspaper reveals that the universe is bigger than can be imagined and older than all previous estimates.

How thrilling to hear of scientific discoveries that demonstrate what we directly discover in opening our minds to the indefinable yet undeniable presence of life itself. As we recognize ourselves, as we become more and more conscious of ourselves, we discover no separation between life and the wonder of life. In attempting to find “I,” who we are is directly realized to be immeasurable and free of locality. Immeasurable yet undeniable.

The parameters of who we are collapse as we examine them, yet the undeniable perception of being remains. As we are unencumbered by our power to name and measure, we realize the unnameable. We directly know ourselves and realize directly “I is.” Wonder lives! Who we are is life.

What has appeared in life as a particular form that uses the pronoun I, with particular mind-body experiences, is only present because of life. When the attention of a particular form discovers life it discovers itself. Closer than a name, closer than a gender, bigger than any mood, bigger than any particular experience or explanation of that experience, whether that explanation be scientific or spiritual. Conscious life discovers itself as being.

The result of this discovery is also the discovery of what in Sanskrit is called ananda. We could call ananda joyous love. Joyous love naturally overflows in the recognition of oneself as ever present life. Wonder is freshly in love with itself as life, as beingness conscious of itself.

If you have given your attention to this mystery of yourself, this mystery of life itself, you know that wonder is here. I salute this wonder, I bow to it, and I encourage you to honor it. There are so many ways that we can overlook it in our mental sophistication. There are so many temptations to be entrapped by our capacity to explain or define. Yet at any moment we are free to stop. We are free to simply surrender to what does not come and go. It is here, it is alive, and it is conscious of itself as the limitless treasure of who you are.

This blog post was adapted from a talk given at the Science and Non-Duality Conference, October 2011. Gangaji is the author of Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, published by Tacher/Penguin. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.”

Gangaji will be offering a free open webcast on Sunday May 2o at 11 am pacific time. Following that you can join her for a silent retreat in May at Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

Harmony and Disruption Are Part of the Same Whole

The tremendous event of a human birth begins an epic story of both chaos and harmony, a profoundly familiar rhythm of life that we know and revisit on both physiological and emotional levels as long as we live. As soothing and essential as harmony is life demands disruption as well. Harmony is disrupted, and life-forms deepen in intelligence, evolve.

The word harmony evokes equilibrium and peace. When we idealize harmony we imagine the smooth melding of opposites. The music of life supporting us, internally and externally. The balm of a tropical breeze. Floating in the peaceful, friendly ocean of life.

Looked at closely, however, harmony reveals itself to be composed of both stress and rest in balanced relationship. Parts that on their own may be jarring can together form a harmonious whole. All of nature is a great mix of differences, and when the mix is harmonious, it nourishes us. We don’t usually dissect the opposing forces in a particular moment in a forest or a mountain top, but those opposites are there if we look closely. Individuals may be adrift and stressed on their own but harmonious in a couple, family, or community. Certain aspects of a person may be disconcerting, but when experienced as part of the whole contribute to the depth and lovability of that same person.

When experience is primarily harmonious, we have the sense of being held, either internally through our own equilibrium, or externally through the alignment of supportive outside forces. With too much rest, we lose the stimulation necessary for development. With too much stress, we lose the rest necessary for development. In harmony we have both.

Whether our early lives were hard or easy, they were the “nature” for our emerging sense of self. As you grew in age your awareness of yourself as a somebody grew. Maybe you had the great good luck and grace to be nourished in love and tenderness, and your sense of yourself developed easily and naturally. Many of us have had less than ideal sheltering, and that too has its own kind of surprising grace, a grace that is discovered when we are willing to meet the result of our less-than-ideal sheltering.

When our early nourishment has been less than ideal, the edge of uneasiness that accompanies our growing identity leaves the sense that there is a hole where there should be wholeness. We feel essentially unprotected, vulnerable. In search of protection and strength we attempt to fill this hole with any number of temporary plugs. We learn to be more lovable, or to know more, or to be tougher, or to need less, or to pretend that all is fine.

The perceived holes in our cocoons insist to us that something is needed, something is missing. We hope that others will give us back what we seem to inherently lack. And in harmonious phases, we do feel whole again, but the return of the sensed lack within us keeps proving that nothing and no one can permanently fill it.

When we are willing to stop avoiding the pain of this absence, to stop making war against this absence, to stop dramatizing it and stop filling it with pleasurable objects, the absence turns out to be the gateway to the living presence of wholeness. The inner incompleteness we experience calls us deeper into ourselves through pure inquiry. Pure inquiry reveals the insubstantiality of the perceived “me” that needs protection and completion. The hole itself, when experienced directly, is the window into revealed self-completion.

At the end of our first cocooning, after our time in whatever kind of womb we inhabited, the placenta burst. The onslaught of the hormonal sea at puberty ended whatever kind of childhood we lived in, the realities of adulthood disrupted our idealizations nourished in adolescence. Aging or disease of the body ends the sense of physical self as indestructible.

Do we learn? Mostly we haven’t, although wisdom does assert itself in bits and pieces along the way. Mostly we have fought every disruption as we have longed for what is lost. Mostly we have been surprised and even offended when disruption has appeared. Can we learn? Certainly, and it is time. Disruptions can be fully met. Rather than longing for what has passed, we can assess what we have lost and be open to what is next, bearing whatever pain any transition may bring.

This is not a recommendation for simple-mindedness or new age naïveté. Global disruptions demand attention of the highest order, and many of our personal disruptions do too. There is the possibility of all that is good being lost in any disruption, from the ending of our time in the womb to the ending of an era. The point is to realize that disruption and harmony are part of the same whole.

When we no longer simply mourn whatever has disappeared or fight whatever has appeared, we can discover what is not lost in disruption. In this discovery, a deeper, inner harmony is revealed. It is absolute. With awareness of the essential, undisrupted integrity of oneself, clarity of action and courage of inaction are natural and appropriate. We live without the need to search for fulfillment. We find it in who we are.

This blog is adapted from “Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.”

Gangaji will be offering a silent retreat in May at Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

photo by: Steve-h

Two Faces of Grace

The experience of the gift of life, of the grace of life, is a mysterious blessing we celebrate and bow to. Grace is the answer to our prayers, and yet it is free of our bidding. How joyous to bask in even an instant of surprising good fortune. How sweetly humbling to be delivered from misfortune.

We most easily and delightedly recognize grace in its form of deliverance. Yet it has another, equally humbling, equally mysterious face. The horrific face of grace can fill us with dread and fear when it appears, but if we are willing to welcome it — as we welcome the good news of the grace of bounty — it too brings us home. In whatever form it presents itself, grace reveals home as free and at peace. Grace is the messenger of the silent core of us, regardless of any tumult on the surface.

Who can truly comprehend what we each have to experience in our lives? We know of horrible experiences, diseases, wars, loss and degradation that many have to go through. And we also hear from many of the surprising grace present with the loss and pain: grace’s horrific face.

This is not the face of grace that we want. We want grace that is easy and beautiful and flowing. We usually — at least initially — resist grace that is ugly and painful. You must have experienced certain events, however they have shown up, as unwanted. If you are still resisting some unwanted event in your life and are willing to open to it now, you can find the grace in that very moment.

Grace does not require you to want something that you do not want. What is required is that you tell the truth about what simply and irrevocably is. What is required is that you stop fighting and hiding from what is. When these utterly simple and deeply challenging requirements are met, the innate grace of your own consciousness naturally reveals who you are and what you can bear.

We have many ideas about what we can bear. These ideas are the reflections of our fear. We doubt our capacity to meet what life and the changes in life give us. But when the willingness to tell the truth in open stillness comes, capacity is discovered.

Part of the horrific grace of being a human being is the knowledge that non-existence is at the end of the arc of our lifetime. We avoid death — other’s or our own — but when death comes close, the possibility is just as close for the discovery of great horrific grace. We don’t want to die. It may sometimes seems dying would be easier than meeting the challenge of living, but you wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t chosen life. And yet death will come.

In the horrific knowledge that what we don’t want (death, loss) will come regardless of our desires, there is an indescribable grace that is available. The fact that you have the gift of a human life with reflective consciousness allows you to open your consciousness, rather than to engage in the usual habitual strategies of denial.

The Tibetans speak about this precious human life. I used to doubt the preciousness of a human life because it seemed that the cows, in their unconsciousness of inevitable death might actually have a better life. But what are the cows doing in the pasture? They are waiting for the slaughterhouse. Even the lilies of the field, though not doing anything, simply living and being beautiful, are dead soon enough. We too are headed for the slaughterhouse, we too will be dead soon enough. And because of the horrific grace of consciousness we can meet that inevitability.

If we stop at the horror, if we try to find something to cover it or fix it or distract ourselves from it, we deny ourselves the grace of it. When there is enough willingness to face what has been avoided, the preciousness of every moment of every limited life form is celebrated and welcomed. Facing the horror of changes and endings allows us to fully participate in both what is inherently transitory and what is changeless.

Precious human life. Precious life form. Precious moment of every life — the cow’s life until it is slaughtered or the lily’s life until it wilts — how precious it is to be conscious of being and not being.

This blog is adapted from a talk given by Gangaji at Kripalu Center, MA in September 2011. Gangaji’s new book Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, was published in September 2011 by Tacher/Penguin. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” In April Gangaji will be offering meetings and weekends in Mill Valley and San Diego, CA, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. She will be holding a Silent Retreat at Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe, CA, beginning May 29. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

photo by: shashish

The Point of Authentic Inquiry

spirituality-philadelphia-synergybyjasmineThere is a point that appears in a lifetime, regardless of chronological age, when healthy, true doubt appears. We doubt what we have been taught, and we doubt what others insist we must believe. This is the point at which true spiritual inquiry can begin.

Too often there is little support for the deep examination that this spiritually-healthy doubt demands. In my Episcopal confirmation classes — taken with other rowdy 12 year olds — the questions that we could ask with approval had little interest for us. The ones we were interested in, “What exactly is the devil? Where is hell?” were considered disruptive and impertinent. Although the point of the classes was to bring us into the church in a more mature phase, for most of us it was the beginning of the end of our churchgoing days. Something essential in us was denied. I have heard countless variations of this story from others who felt their right to sincerely question had no place in their religious upbringing.

We have sometimes found that we have to rebel against all we have known, since those who “know” are unwilling to allow inquiry to be an essential part of spiritual development. In our rebellions, we absorb new anti-beliefs, and when we dare to doubt them too, we again are branded as heretics. How many converted Buddhists scoff at the naive Christians who believe literal interpretations of the Bible while easily taking on the belief of reincarnation? How many fundamentalist Christians brand New Age visualization as the work of the devil and revile Hindus with their nirvana and multiple faces of God, while having personal conversations with their deity and continuing their own magical thinking about their version of God. Even proponents of inquiry often state what inquiry should reveal. In the “religion” of self inquiry, the concept of non duality takes the place of direct discovery.

Authentic spiritual inquiry reveals the joy of fresh insights and revelation, just as artistic or scientific inquiry does, but if we cling to the latest insight as a thing we know, that thing grows stale.

To be of real spiritual value, inquiry must be alive and fresh. Regardless of what we remember or have discovered from the past, each time we truly inquire, we return to not knowing what the outcome will or should be. No doctrine is needed for discovery. No concepts of multiplicity, duality, or non-duality are needed. In fact, we must put aside all of our doctrines and concepts for our inquiry. All that is needed is the willingness to be unattached to the outcome, conscious, and truthful.

Deep inquiry is not for the fainthearted or weak-minded. It is for those who are ready and willing, regardless of fears and discomforts. It is the challenge and invitation to mature. It is the invitation to give up past reliance on others’ discoveries while allowing those discoveries to encourage and even push us into our own inquiry.

Inquiry is not a coping mechanism. It is not present in human consciousness to provide certainty or comfort, except the sublime certainty that one has the capacity to discover truth for oneself. It is a stretching mechanism. It calls on the mind to stretch beyond its known frontiers, and in this way inquiry is support for maturing and evolving the soul. It frees us from the need to define ourselves to experience being ourselves. It is both humbling and a source of profound joy, but it does not provide a neat package of new definitions and stories.

The challenge in inquiry is to be willing to directly discover what exists with no reference points. Inquiry is no small challenge, for it requires facing the death of the inner and outer worlds as they have been constructed with no knowledge of what will take their place. We have the experience of releasing our constructed world when we fall into sleep, and we cherish and need this experience for our well-being on all levels. The challenge of inquiry appears in releasing the constructed world while remaining conscious.

This blog is adapted from Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” In February and March Gangaji will be offering Retreats in Maui, HI. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Synergy by Jasmine

Going Inside: Direct Experience Is Like a True Kiss

To inquire into something is to open to it, to meet it, and to discover its meaning — or lack of meaning — from the inside of it.

Inquiry is generally recognized to mean investigating, and that definition serves the purpose well. However, in the sense in which I use Inquiry, it is not information that is provided by this investigation, but direct experience. To directly experience anything we first have to leave behind all preconceptions of that thing.

No matter how often we are told about a thing it is only when we experience that thing directly that we truly know it. We know the meaning of heat and pain and fire from the direct experience of coming into contact with fire. We can be taught that it is good to love and holy to show compassion, but those concepts will never have true meaning until they are real — our direct experience. We know a true kiss or surrender to an embrace when we directly experience them. We may practice or imitate kissing and embracing for some time, just as we may practice or imitate love and compassion before we have the direct experience.

In imitation or mimicry we remember what we should do or feel, and then we think ourselves through the act. “Now I press my lips, now I put my arms around…” In directly experiencing there is no thought. While thought processing is extremely important, in many acts of a day — giving or following directions, remembering the time of a meeting, checking a grocery list, studying complicated issues as well as the thousands of other sophisticated ways we think — consciously surrendering to any act or any moment requires the suspension of all thought.

We surrender thought spontaneously in moments of awe or shock. Usually our most prized memories are the moments where we are directly in an experience. Moments of extreme focus and moments of complete open-mindedness are both without thought. In truth, thoughts stop many times within a day, but since our conditioned reference points are located in our thoughts, we generally overlook these moments of pure spaciousness of mind. We “think” ourselves from thought to thought.

To consciously choose to be without thought is the gateway to direct experience. If we are bound to our thinking process for our reference points of reality, we will ask only those questions guaranteed to keep attention on analysis, cause and effect and conceptual evaluation. While recognizing the value and power of thinking we can also recognize the power of actually choosing thought-free, direct experience.

People often fear being without thought as if it were the corollary to ignorance. Understandably, ignorance is feared. There is never a need to deny the harm that ignorance can cause, and use of the term thoughtless usually refers to some action taken without thoughtful consideration. What is overlooked in this corollary is the harm caused by being bound to thoughts. When we are bound to thoughts, our minds are already possessed by what we have been taught, by our latest conclusions, by beliefs of all kinds and by our fear of having no thoughts.

The invitation to inquire into what is present requires that we have no preconception of what that is. Since we have spent most of our lives being taught to accumulate concepts categorizing what we perceive, this invitation is also a challenge. We are ready for this challenge when we recognize that conceptual thinking is limited. We are ready when we want more, and when we realize we aren’t finding more in what we already know. This readiness, coupled with the willingness to explore, allows us to face the fear that naturally arises when we no longer rely on knowledge.

If we don’t rely on the knowledge we have for our experience of the world and ourselves, what is left? When we don’t rely on our naming and defining particular emotions or particular states of mind, what is here?

This blog is adapted from Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” In February and March Gangaji will be offereing Retreats in Maui, HI. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

PHOTO (cc) Flickr / W J (Bill) Harrison

Telling the Truth About What Is Here

One of the most powerful phrases in human language is “I am here.” It is powerful because it is utterly simple and profoundly true. Anything that is said or thought afterward is just an addition to this basic, unfaltering truth. In fact I and am and here are all pointing to the same essential truth, pointing to that which needs no foundation for its support, because it is the foundational truth.

Even “I am not here,” comes from the truth of being here. Denial of presence can only be stated here, where you are. The power to deny yourself comes from the truth of yourself.

In recognizing that basic truth, I am here, you have the opportunity to be welcomed here, to welcome yourself here, and to welcome what else has appeared here, in whatever state you find present in yourself.

I am inviting you to tell the truth, as completely as possible, about what is here. You probably have particular feelings that are here. Can you welcome them? When feelings change, you are still here. Feelings will change, which may be a good thing or a bad thing, but you remain. Here remains. Here doesn’t change. Things that appear here change.

Tomorrow comes here, yesterday was here. The sun comes here, clouds come here. Limitless beingness, here, discovers itself as I. The ground of the ground, the beingness of your being.

In this very moment you can tell this basic truth, I am here, and meet whatever is evoked by that truth telling. You can rest your mind in this truth. Your thinking mind can be embraced by this truth.

As an investigation, just in this moment, can you find a beginning or an end to here?

Has here ever been absent from your life?

Can you find a time in your life when you ever were not?

You can also turn your attention to the pronoun that everyone uses, I. If you do not limit I to a particular story about I, or a particular definition, or a particular gender, or a particular body, can you recognize it here as consciousness? Deeper and closer than any thought, and yet informing every thought.

In recognizing the particular thoughts that attempt to define I, and attempt to define being, and attempt to define here, in any moment we can simply return to the fundamental truth that needs no definition for its truthfulness.

I am here.

Then we can ask ourselves, “Is it enough?” If full attention is turned to I am here, is anything lacking?

There is no correct answer. It is a discovery.

This blog is adapted from a talk given by Gangaji at Hollyhock, Cortes Island, BC in September 2011. Gangaji’s new book Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, was published in September by Tacher/Penguin. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / rosemary*

What Is Your Life Story?

All creatures are born inescapably defined by their stories, yet if we remain limited by those definitions we live a life of inner bondage. When we recognize the stories that generate our definitions of ourselves, we are closer to the discovery of what is indefinable within us. That discovery reveals inner freedom and lasting fulfillment.

Each life form has a beginning, an arc of a life story, and then an ending. Most of our internal and external attention and communication circle around the particulars of how we define ourselves as collective life and how we define ourselves, or others, as particular life. Other animals, trees, flowers, butterflies, spiders, rocks, planets and solar systems also have their stories, and the broadcasting of their stories is both our greatest entertainment and our inevitable humbling. We can find ourselves, or parts of ourselves, in all stories and we can separate ourselves through our stories.

We all come from life-giving energy, are infused and animated by life energy to become a particular life-form, and we all end in returning to formless life. Along the way there are small and great dramas, crossroads of destiny and surprises both wondrous and horrific. Some life stories end very quickly and some go on and on. There are countless dramas within this bigger, incomprehensible universal story. Stories are sung, put into sacred books, memorized, dramatized and consulted generation after generation. Our collective cosmic story is a teeming theater of lifeforms appearing and disappearing. Forms are born, live through many stories and then die. Before any form appears, life is here. During the lifetime of any form, life is animating that form. After any particular form dies, life — while withdrawn from that form — remains here. Life is true. It is always here.

Most of my life was spent at war with the characters — including the lead, me — in my story. They weren’t good enough, or smart enough, or deep enough. At one point in the story of me, none of us were rich enough. At another point, when material possessions were disdained, none of us were poor enough. It was never right. It could always be better. Sometime in the future, I could make my story turn out to fit my latest idealization, or so I hoped. For four decades I worked at building a story that would fulfill me. Periods of happiness and peace came and went. Lasting happiness remained out of my grasp. It took some time to realize that the lasting fulfillment I was seeking couldn’t be captured by any story I told about myself. The fulfillment I was seeking in my many attempts to tell a story of victory couldn’t be captured because it is free. It took more time to realize that my story was mysteriously appearing in that which is already fulfilled. It was a beautiful and wonderful shock to discover that freedom and fulfillment were never absent whatever the latest rendition of my story. My story was an individual display of the search for the living free consciousness already inhabiting each character. When I recognized the silent fulfilled core in all versions of myself — and all the others in my story — I could rest. In the spaciousness of rest, I could begin to live my life from fulfillment, rather than continuing to search for it.

What is your story? You discover your story by noticing what you are telling yourself over and over. Notice what you tell yourself about your past, your present and your future. In order to have any lasting impact, our stories have to be told and retold. All stories have a narrative. Your narrative is what you tell yourself through thoughts and images with accompanying emotions. What is your narrative? You can check right now. It is bound to be familiar. It is natural as human animals with developed cognitive abilities to generate and follow the narrative of our stories. It certainly is not wrong to do so. But it is limiting. It limits attention to events that are forever changing. To discover how your attention is being spent, discover what you habitually say to yourself. Listen to your narrative while suspending belief in it.

All definitions and stories arise from the silent core, and in surrender all are then pointers to where they come from and where they return at their end. In surrender all is transparent from the luminosity of your naked self.

This blog is adapted from Gangaji’s new book, Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.

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