In her recently published book, The Diamond in Your Pocket, the much loved and respected spiritual teacher Gangaji tells one of her own teacher Papaji's favourite stories, the story which, in fact, gives its name to her book. In this tale, a consummate diamond thief shadows a man who has just bought an exquisite diamond intending to pluck it from his pocket. For three days, the thief stalks the man, trying all the tricks of his trade to locate the priceless jewel and steal it from him, but to no avail. Eventually, dismayed that he has failed to find the gem, the thief blurts out his frustration to the man, and asks him how and where the diamond has been hidden. The man replies: "Well, I saw you watching me in the diamond district, and I suspected you were a pickpocket. So I hid the diamond where I thought you would be least likely to look for it - in your own pocket!" And there, sure enough, in the thief's pocket gleamed the precious jewel he had sought to steal, not knowing all along it was already on him.
Gangaji uses this story to point to the paradoxical truth that she as a teacher invites people to uncover - the radiant jewel, the priceless treasure for which we search high and low outside ourselves is already closer to us than we might imagine, waiting for us to discover it, in the last place we would think to look.
Call off the search
Gangaji is an American-born woman who was known before her awakening as Toni Varner. Prior to meeting her Indian spiritual teacher Papaji in 1990, she lived the life of an ordinary, bright, and sensitive middle class woman, seeking fulfilment and gratification in all the usual places - relationships, motherhood, work, activism, sensual enjoyment, spiritual experiences, and eventually the counterculture of California. Finally, she grew weary of the impermanence of the happiness she was finding and called out from her heart for a teacher. It's a well worn phrase now, so well worn that it borders on being a cliché, that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears". But so it was for Gangaji. Through the gentle machinations of "chance", she and her husband Eli Jaxon-Bear met Sri HWL Poonja, known also as Papaji, on the banks of the holy river Ganges (or Ganga) in India, and Gangaji recognised him as her prayed-for teacher. Papaji invited her to simply stop, to "call off the search", to still her mind for one moment and find what was revealed in that moment.
"I met my teacher after years of searching in many different ways - sensually, materialistically, spiritually - searching to find something that could touch the depth of relief and bliss and peace that had just come upon me at times uninvited in my childhood and youth. I kept trying to invite it, or define it, or get it back, and when I met my teacher he said the most extraordinary, simple thing to me. He said, 'Stop whatever you are doing', and it took a while for me to truly get that," she recalls.
"I thought I knew what 'Stop' meant, but what he was saying was much more profound and radical than what my definition of stop was. And when I really let that in, then surprisingly and thrillingly there was that same peace and that mysterious expansion of being I'd missed for 40 years. Papaji said to me: 'That's your Self, that's the truth of who you are. And all the definitions of who you are, all your sensory impressions and memories of who you are, disappear in this space, the whole world appears and disappears in that'. I just knew that what he had directed me to had revealed what I had been searching for all my life, without knowing I was searching for that.
"And that was the beginning of the deepest surrender, and in that surrender Papaji invited me to invite anyone who is interested, or who had something that had not been satisfied with the normal human searches, to take a moment and just stop and be still and be conscious of what's always already here. And so that's what I offer to people."
The divine ache
"Most of us have been conditioned to think that we are sinners, or we are unworthy or have to be forgiven or redeemed, or have to complete some task in order to get back into heaven. Most religions teach that we are basically wretched creatures, and we can understand that because we know we have wretched aspects - for instance, lust, envy, or deceitful thoughts - but we limit that knowledge to who we are, and then we begin searching because that limited, wretched self is intolerable," Gangaji says.
"And of course we want to get back somehow, back to the place of purity or innocence, and so the search begins. Because of our conditioning, we begin to look outward, and we look until we're just completely frustrated. Frustrated because, even though we find much beauty looking outward, it doesn't last. What's found is lost, eventually - it doesn't last as it was. And so we become more world weary or spiritually weary until we're finally disillusioned, and that's actually a great point, that's a point of possibility. If the disillusionment
doesn't take one into cynicism, it can take one into recognising that there's something that hasn't been discovered, and it's at that point that you can be pointed back into yourself - the last place you would think to look.
"I spent years and years trying to find happiness, and did find many happy moments and have many happy relationships. But that level of aching - the divine ache - really wasn't satisfied for long, it would recur."
While describing herself as "relatively speaking pretty successful", the "longing for something" was still there in her life. "And to me," Gangaji continues, "that's really the clue that nothing in this world - no relationship or acquisition or power - really can fulfil that, because it's of a different domain. It's really this exquisite aching for the truth of oneself. It is the divine ache, and so it won't be satisfied with anything except its own divinity recognising itself. That really is the end of the spiritual search.
"The paradox is that you really have to seek enough to realise that there is nothing to seek, it is the diamond already in your pocket. It's so close that it can't be seen in the way that we normally see. So the search itself is necessary to bring you to the point of 'not searching'. How long the search is for each person, that I don't know; but it doesn't need to be long at all," says Gangaji.
Sometimes, according to this wise woman, we can get a bit hooked on the search. Being a spiritual seeker can become a kind of identity, maybe even a badge of superiority. Branding ourselves as a "seeker" or someone on "the spiritual path" can - ironically enough - be the ultimate way to avoid (or at the very least, postpone) awakening.
"It is really radical to be able to give up everything, give up your search, and your definitions of who you are and what you've attained, and just stop and be still. It's a simple invitation, but it is an extremely challenging invitation. Fear arises - I know it did arise for me, and I hear this all the time from people. There's a real terror of what will be lost. It is counterintuitive not to move towards anything to do with your survival, to just be in what an Australian friend of mine calls, 'the supreme yoga of rest' - consciously stopping, staying alert, but resting beyond any definition of what rest is. To stay innocent, awake, open and alert in 'not knowing'."
"You don't have to be extraordinarily good or intelligent or have led an extraordinarily disciplined life to take one moment, a particle of a moment, and just stop and see what's here. That's available for everyone," Gangaji says when I ask her what she means when she describes this point in history as a time of "the ordinary awakening". She means "ordinary" not in the sense that it is banal or unremarkable, but rather that awakening to the truth of one's self is not reserved for a small handful of rare and remarkable people, as might have been the case in the past.
"For so long we've had these beautiful mystics who were extraordinary human beings who really stood out in the crowd and often were persecuted. There have been enough of these mystics and sages for us to be able to say that these wise people who have gone before are pointing to what's true for everyone, not just what's true for them. I think there's a tendency to use the extraordinariness of people that we know historically as mystics and saints and sages as a kind of excuse, a postponement of facing what has to be faced to really awaken. I like to take that excuse away from people, because it's an unnecessary postponement," she explains.
Gangaji sees is as perfectly possible for the "ordinary" person living their day-to-day life to awaken and be established in that awakening - we don't have to live a life of renunciation as a hermit or a sadhu or a mystic or a monk to clear a space for the divine to reveal itself. "If you find yourself as a householder or a business person or a worker - 'in the marketplace', Papaji would call it - stop for a moment and discover what's closer than any profession or any renunciation, what's closer than any role you could play or any way that you could define yourself," she says.
"Once the core of spaciousness...is discovered, then even in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives, or in negative states, it's discovered to be here all the time. That flame of consciousness, the spaciousness and peace, isn't extinguished even in negative states. Certainly, it's important that people have places of calmness and rest and retreat where their defences can be relaxed. But it's also really important to discover that no matter what is going on internally or externally, there is this spacious presence of peace. Then there is the recognition that the totality of everything is arising from that - that's the ultimate release".
A beautiful contagion
I ask Gangaji about the perplexing 'guru issue" - do we need a guru, or teacher, for our awakening, and how would she describe a guru anyway? "I know some people don't need a guru. I've heard a definition of a guru as a revealer of the light. Someone also said the root of the word referred to a Sanskrit word which can be translated as 'one who blows your mind'. I like that one!" she laughs.
"I just needed a teacher. I spent so much of my life certain that I didn't need a patriarch or a matriarch; I was in rebellion against that. I got very arrogant and my mind needed to be humbled, and I was naturally humbled just by meeting my teacher. So for this person it was necessary, but I'm certain it's not necessary for everyone. Many people spontaneously awaken." Gangaji says we can 'catch' awakening from the person next to us, or from our teacher's eyes, or from being around others who are realising their true nature - it's like a beautiful contagion of truth.
"When someone has recognised the truth and is awakened, then that is a kind of light beam that connects with the light beam that's already awake in you," is her rather lyrical explanation. "So it's not that someone gives you that, but it's the transmission of course, and for transmission there have to be two. It's a receiving of your own self, which has been sending the signal 'Where am I? And what do I do to get my self?' And all of a sudden there's someone, or a group of people, or maybe it just happens spontaneously, where that signal is met with a 'Yes' or a look or a sense within oneself that I'm seen, I'm here, and then one can begin to actually enquire 'Who is this who is seen? Who am I?"'