You are already free. You are pure, uninterrupted consciousness. Somehow in the play of yourself, of consciousness itself, there has been a veiling of the inherent truth of freedom. Consciousness somehow hides from itself and pretends it is lost. In a certain moment of the play, there arises the desire to end the game of hiding and begin being eternally found. The desire to be found is the desire to awaken in the dream...
Adams: Many people spend their lives trying to create security for themselves. They have all kinds of insurance plans and retirement plans. Their understanding of creating a secure life often keeps them locked into jobs that they don't like and marriages where there is no communication and little love. What are the consequences of this obsession with security and how does it prevent people from understanding their true nature and freedom?
Gangaji: It is all based on a lie. The lie is that you can control the events of life. September 11 penetrated that lie here in the United States. Now we have to see that no matter how much we try to be secure even to the degree of selling our souls for security, living false, loveless lives for security in an unexpected instant it can all disappear.
If we are willing to face this inherent danger of life and the inevitable, unknowable disappearance of the forms of life in other words, if we are willing to face death then we can live freely. Not stupidly perhaps still with insurance plans, still with retirement plans but unbound from the false hope that any plan can ever truly ultimately protect us.
Adams: How did you become interested in the true meaning of freedom? And what process did you go through in shifting to that in your own being?
Gangaji: I first dealt with the concept of freedom by being involved in the civil rights movement. I grew up in Mississippi and was conditioned to believe that black people were subhuman. It was not until I had professors who taught me otherwise that I had my first awakening to freedom.
When I was 19, I realized that my family had been lying to me about the innate inhumanity of black people as past generations had lied to them through hundreds of years of self-perpetuating ignorance. I became involved in civil rights when I realized that black people were being denied the freedoms I had as a white person. That was in the mid-'sixties.
Then I recognized that our government was denying the Vietnamese people the power to choose their own destinies, and I became semi-active in the anti-Vietnam War protest. That was in the late '60s and early '70s. Later I was led into the women's movement, and I had to face how I myself was seen as a second-class citizen.
There was a lot of gratification in meeting these challenges. Still, there remained an underlying suffering that I couldn't put my finger on. I just felt myself to be unhappy, and I was searching for happiness. I can't say I was consciously searching for freedom first, I simply recognized my continued unhappiness.
In the mid-'sixties I married and had a child, and soon I blamed the marriage for my dissatisfaction. In the early '70s, I left the marriage. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and began experimenting with LSD, mescaline, and different mind-expanding substances of the era. During this time something popped open, and I saw the bondage of my self-centered life. Now I see that this bondage was based on my identification with being a person, a woman, even a free woman that was all part of the bondage. Although I had a good life, I was fighting myself.
Along with this, I did some meditation, and I was reading spiritual literature. I began to sense that real freedom was possible, and I could see that I was not free.
I began a spiritual search. Though I was still politically involved and participated in nonviolent protests, and even went to jail, I could also recognize in the political movement that we were bound by our self-righteousness. Now it was the PG&E representatives that were being made subhuman. This was sickening to me, and so I left the political movement. The struggle had become the idol.
I threw myself into spiritual searching through Tibetan Buddhism. Then I recognized that here, also, was that same kind of smugness: Those who were searching considered themselves better.
I was in a quandary. By this time I was married to my present husband, Eli, and I began to realize that Eli was devoted to serving the truth more than he was devoted to me. I was attracted to that in him, and I was attracted to that same devotion to truth in myself. I wanted truth even if the discovery led to the realization that freedom itself was an illusion. The truth was more important than myself, it was more important than happiness or even God.
My husband and I were involved in Tibetan Buddhism, then Zen Buddhism, and we also studied the Enneagram. We were interested in working on ourselves to get to our true nature; to see if freedom could be found.
We reached a point where we were stalled. We recognized that we had done as much as we could on our own. This was the mid-'80s by that time we were living in Mill Valley, and I was practicing acupuncture. We had a materialistic lifestyle, and the more we had material freedom, the more we felt burdened.
In earlier years, I was married to a doctor, and felt that I had to give up that marraige. It had been a leap for me to give that up. I had "married well," but I hadn't been happy because it was blocking my self-discovery. I'd had to take a leap and give up that secure life. Now, in the same way, Eli and I both realized that we had to give up the life we were living. It was eating us alive. We had a house, we both had practices we were living a good life, but it was soul-draining.
We sold our house and moved to Hawaii. We wanted to open a spiritual center. We wanted groups that we could support and be supported by in discovering truth. We wanted to know truth, and what truth has to do with freedom.
We moved to Maui in 1989, and we both prayed for a teacher, since we had reached the end of what we could do on our own. We were unconsciously spinning in a mental wheel. We each asked for a teacher and synchronistically heard of a teacher in India, through one of his students. Eli went to India and met with Papaji, H.W.L. Poonja, in 1990. While there, Eli would write me letters, and these letters were filled with transcendence and joy. We felt this was the teacher we had been praying for.
In April, 1990, I met Papaji in India. I saw in his eyes something huge. He asked me what we wanted. I told him freedom. He laughed and laughed and said that we were in the right place. This was the defining moment of my life, as I recognized him as my true teacher and placed my spiritual questions in his hands. And Papaji asked me to stop my search for freedom.
It took me some time to understand what it meant to stop. I had feared that if I stopped my search I would lose what I had gained. I guess there was either a desperation, a maturity, or a grace so that I could finally just hear him. He asked me to stop following the stories of my mind; the thoughts and concepts of my mind. He was asking me not to follow any concepts of who I am as a person, as a woman, as a spiritual seeker, as someone who is free or not free: He invited me to just stop and to recognize the truth "I am."
Adams: Can you describe this moment of stopping?
Gangaji: The power of stopping in the presence of someone who has stopped is indescribable. There's no concept of anything in that moment of stopping. Yet there's consciousness. Consciousness without concept is naturally and inherently free. In an instant, it is self-evident.
We are so trained to follow our concepts. We even believe that consciousness is a concept. When we talk of either being aware or not being aware, we are actually speaking of a particular state of awareness rather than of awareness itself.
In this timeless instant of recognizing that consciousness exists without any need of concept, identity with concept falls away. This is not the end, but this is the essential experience. What follows is the deepening recognition that consciousness is free regardless of concept. First, consciousness is free with no concept, then consciousness is always free regardless of concept or no concept. Nothing touches freedom. This is true freedom.
A concept of myself as a woman doesn't touch the truth of myself as consciousness.
Adams: Can this shift in recognizing the truth of our existence, of embracing our freedom, create great problems in terms of navigating the practical demands of daily life?
Gangaji: Let me answer that with a story from my own life.
When I was six years old, there was an internal event where I recognized that my body was empty. It was a terrifying experience. My mother took me to a doctor and I was given Phenobarbital for it!
Later, in meditation, that same experience arose. But because it arose this time during Buddhist meditation, there was a welcoming context that allowed me to sit with the terror.
So I would say, yes, terror is part of this essential shift, because the shift threatens the known structure of life. Terror can have many different disguises, including anger, numbness, and despair. This existential terror is like the gargoyle at the gate. It can keep you away from the revelation of the unknown.
The messages from great masters encourage us to meet the terror of dissolution of our individuality. The result is paradoxical: The individual is dissolved, and yet becomes more individuated. The uniqueness of consciousness is consciousness knowing itself through form your particular form and knowing itself as the animating force of everything.
There is a point where there is a willingness to give up individuality. In that willingness to surrender, what is actually released is conditioned individuality. What is revealed is consciousness that is unified with all consciousness. There has to be the willingness to lose everything, which is perceived to be the individual self. Terror comes with the fear of the loss. The reality of this loss is not what can be imagined. When the loss comes, it is only, really, good news. The individual identify is the husk that covers the sweet Truth of self-realization.
Part of the realization is that what remains of this body is conditioned. It is genetically, environmentally, and karmically bound. It may be relatively free, but it is subject to pain, disease, and death. Apparently free moments like lovemaking, dancing, running will all come to an end.
Adams: I know that you regularly meet with groups of prisoners; and about the transformation of John, one of the prisoners that you met with. I think it's a remarkable story, how John was sentenced to thirty years for robbing banks and organizing bombings and, three and a half years after meeting with you, was released on parole, and is now sharing his experiences of freedom in satsang [spiritual meetings].
Can you speak about the meetings that you have with prisoners and what they are learning about the nature of freedom.
Gangaji: I love going into prisons, because when we talk about freedom in prison, the men who have realized freedom know that freedom is not about the body. Out of three thousand men, fifteen or twenty will come to the meetings. As with our population at large, only a small segment of the prison population is interested in true freedom.
The freedom that prisoners realize in meeting their imprisonment reveals clearly to them why they failed in their search for freedom of the body. Many people are in prison for doing what they wanted to do regardless of the law. In recognizing the fallacy of that, and meeting the terror and despair of that, there's a discovery of what is truly, uncontrollably free. Their day-to-day lives are not free yet freedom is there.
They realize that freedom is not about being inside or outside the prison, and they become great instructors for those who are relatively physically free. It is infantile to think, "If I could get to a point where I could do what I wanted to do then I could be free." That is a lie. For those who are willing to meet the lie, and the disillusionment of the lie, what is always free, regardless of the limitations of the body, can be realized.
Adams: Why is it important to let go of our life story in order to access freedom?
Gangaji: In order to discover reality, there has to be a willingness to let go of the concept of reality. Reality can't even be compared to your concepts. Reality is beyond vast. Even to know another person, you have to meet that person in the Unknown. Whenever you really investigate something, you must let go of everything preconceived to meet what is really here.
Adams: Many people are talking about how we are losing freedoms in exchange for national security. Many of the freedoms guaranteed to us in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution are being canceled due to "national emergency." What should we do to preserve these freedoms?
Gangaji: I don't have a formula. If you are drawn to protest and march and write letters, you should do that. And if you are drawn to be still, you should trust what you are called to do.
We live in an experimental state, and our freedoms are fragile. I happen to be the kind of person who reads the newspapers, but I wouldn't say that another person should do the same thing. If you are wired to speak, you should speak the truth. I never dreamed I would end up speaking to hundreds or thousands of people after I came back from being with my teacher in India. But I knew I had to share what I had realized.
Tell the truth about what you want. What is your life-form essentially about? It is deeper than a hunger for food and a procreative longing to couple. What is the longing of your heart and soul? Is it a longing for freedom and truth? If so, then you have an opportunity to surrender your concepts even to surrender your concept of freedom and truth. There's no ABC formula. It's a sublime alchemy. It's all really about the individual mind trusting the deeper unity of consciousness, which is free already.
Adams: What causes suffering?
Gangaji: Suffering happens when your concepts of happiness, truth, and freedom are seen as separate from you. I'm not speaking of the compassionate suffering you experience when you see the suffering of the world. There is appropriate suffering, where you recognize the hurt that is part of life. Suffering may be a necessary part of life. There is also unnecessary suffering where one is wrapped up in replaying one's own dramas that is neurosis.
Adams: Why do some people give up their freedom to teachers and gurus?
Gangaji: This question can be dangerous.
There has to be a recognition of a core of integrity. Papaji said, If God himself comes down and tells you that you are not free, then turn your back on God. You have to recognize the truth of who you are so that this truth cannot be coerced or manipulated. The danger is in the inflation of that the inflation of ego. Megalomania is all around us. And there is the complementary, deflated belief that only the guru can give us freedom.
With both inflation and deflation, everything can be corrupted by the ego, either the student's ego or the teacher's. Ego is the concept of who we are. It's the ego, the concept of who we are, that keeps us from recognizing our true freedom.
Adams: Ramana said that self-realization can be found through self-inquiry by asking the question, "Who am I?" Could you comment on the importance of asking this question?
Gangaji: If you just take a moment, this moment, to simply for an instant let everything go the search, the denial, the rejection, the clinging let them all go and just for a moment rest in the truth of your being, then you can know you are that! Whatever comes after that comes in the context of who you truly are.
An exquisite and important moment in a lifestream occurs when one recognizes the disgusting habits, the addictions, the horror, the violence, and the filth that one has called oneself. It is a great shock, a great shaking. And it is very important. Otherwise, the horror and filth just continue to accumulate in the name and the exultation of "me" and "my story." This recognition is a spiritual shock, and there can be, and usually is, a great trembling and then a desire to find what is true, what is real, what is pure, what is holy, what is free.
is an American-born teacher and author. She travels the world speaking to thousands of people from all walks of life, responding to the deepest spiritual questions of our time. A teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother, she is the author of You Are THAT!,
volumes I and II, Freedom and Resolve,
and Who Are You? The Path of Self-Inquiry.
In a time when so many are seeking new ways to discover peace through spirituality, Gangaji brings a timeless message in a contemporary form. Her words resonate with the most ancient of truths and confirm what we already know in the core of our being true peace is already here. What we truly want is what we truly have.
If you will tell the truth, you will see that the answer is alive in you.
For information about meetings with Gangaji, retreats, books, and tapes, visit her website at gangaji.org
or call the Gangaji Foundation at 800-267-9205.
The above interview was conducted on April 13, 2002
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