A spiritual instructor and author chronicles his journey from student and community organizer to lawbreaker and organic farmer in this autobiography.
Born Elliot Zeldow, Jaxon-Bear (Wake Up and Roar, 2017, etc.) grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, alternating between urban, mixed-ethnic schools and more exclusive ones with upwardly mobile Jews. He was a tough kid with street smarts who attended the University of Pittsburgh (in “a backwater steel town with a mediocre college”), where he was involved with the debate team. As a student, he traveled to Alabama to participate in civil rights marches, beginning a long involvement with social issues that continued intermittently after his graduation. Following brief stints as a steelworker, professional activist, and Ph.D. candidate—along with a short marriage to a Pittsburgh girl—Jaxon-Bear upped his involvement with drugs and crossed to the wrong side of the law on several occasions. Relying on his gift for gab and obfuscation, he avoided serious jail time on numerous occasions, setting off on spiritual journeys with more drugs than cash. He eventually met his life partner, Toni, and with their mystical and emotional connections—along with some fortuitous investments—the author achieved a respected position in his chosen field of spiritual development. With his discovery of Papaji (his guru, Zen master, and other “self”), Jaxon-Bear fully realized his spiritual odyssey. The author’s uninhibited, honest account of his life—with all of his flaws on full display—is refreshing. His early life emerges as surprisingly captivating, although readers may suspect his spiritual voyage is what he really wants to share. At times, his self-destructive, selfish behavior is wearing, particularly his firm belief in his youth (before he met Toni) that he should be exempt from monogamy because it did not suit him. Quotes and contemporary song lyrics before each chapter help set the scene for the subsequent narrative, but the book would have benefited from more introspection on Jaxon-Bear’s part. Too often it seems that he was just swept along with the times, without giving thought to what he was doing.
An intriguing and candid memoir that should appeal to readers interested in ’60s movements.
A series of spiritual conversations led by a teacher of enlightenment.
Sri Harilal W. Poonja was born in 1910 in Gujrawala, India. His mother was the sister of Hindu Swami Ram Tirtha, a celebrated religious figure. A spiritually precocious child, Poonja eventually grew to become a disciple of the Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi. Author Jaxon-Bear (Sudden Awakening, 2012, etc.) met Poonja, commonly known as “Papaji,” in Lucknow, India, in 1990 and was entranced by the depth of his teachings. The bulk of this book is an assemblage of transcripts of Poonja’s satsangs—group conversations led by a spiritual teacher, reminiscent of Socratic dialogues. These discussions took place over more than a year, from January 1990 to April 1991, in Poonja’s home and covered a remarkable swath of philosophical ground, discussing such things as the nature of true freedom and enlightenment, the distinction between nirvana and samsara, meditation, love, and death. The thematic twine that holds it all together, though, is the goal of emptiness—a transcendence of dualistic conceptualizations that create the illusion of the separation of the self: “The Self contains everything,” said Poonja. “There is nothing apart from it. This is why you can call it emptiness. There is nothing beyond emptiness. All is empty. Nothing ever exists.” Jaxon-Bear ably provides context for readers to understand these discussions as well as a concise biography of Poonja. The conversations aren’t always easy to digest and may prove esoteric to those unfamiliar with Eastern spirituality. However, Poonja is shown to be a truly gifted and charming teacher, and the dialogues repay careful attention. There are also some engaging departures from traditional Buddhist doctrines; for example, Poonja rejects the notion of cosmic karma and criticizes the Dalai Lama’s teachings regarding the nature of morality, or “right action.” The whole book is a fount of provocative wisdom.
A succinct introduction to an intriguing set of spiritual teachings.