Average: 3.6 (76 votes)
Fast Facts
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Birthname: Merle Antoinette Roberson, Toni, Antoinette Varner
Spiritual Teacher
Neo Advaita
Main Countries of Activity: 
USA, Germany, Europe, India
Date of Birth: 
Place of Birth: 
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Ancestor Gurus: 
Descendant Gurus: 


Gangaji is an American spiritual author, speaker, sometimes considered a lay or spiritual counselor, teacher or "guru". Since 1990, she has met with people in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, sometimes appearing with her husband Eli Jaxon-Bear, in what she calls an invitation to "discover the possibility of living your life in the freedom and joy of simply being." She and her husband live in Ashland, Oregon.

Gangaji, Antoinette Varner, was born in 1942 in Texas (USA) as Merle Antoinette ("Toni") Roberson and lived in the state of Mississippi until 1972, when she moved to San Francisco and started exploring her true being.

She did a stint of personal development training with a group called Arica which included "mantras, physical exercises, group processing of emotions" as well as dancing naked in an old mansion on a hill, took Bodhisattva vows and a Tibetan name of "White Tara, the female embodiment of wisdom and compassion", switched to Zen, practiced peer counseling, took Erhard Seminars Training, studied Chinese herbal medicine, took T'ai Chi lessons, leaned toward a Taoist understanding, took lessons in Chinese, taught dance, became disenchanted with Zen and everything Japanese, became interested in Vipassana and practiced sitting still but felt a dissatisfaction with one of her teachers, and came to peace with her mother as she was dying.

She marched for civil rights, protested the Vietnam war, met her current husband in Berkeley, tended chickens and a goat, got arrested for protesting at a nuclear power plant, spent ten days in jail, lived off the sales of marijuana crops, married her current husband in Hawaii twice - once in a church and again in a cave.

And after all that, she still identified herself as a sufferer and had a sense of something unresolved, something longed for.

Then in 1990, her second and current husband, Eli Jaxon-Bear, met Sri H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji) in Lucknow, India. Upon finding and meeting with this man, Eli experienced a spiritual awakening, and wrote to her encouraging her to come to India to meet Papaji. In April 1990, Eli returned to the U.S. to bring Toni to India to meet with Papaji. Upon meeting Papaji, Toni's quest for truth was fulfilled, and she realized the Self. Poonja gave her the name "Gangaji" after the river Ganga (Ganges), and then he asked her to go back to the West and share his message.

Gangaji is conducting Satsangs and retreats around the globe.

She is living nowadays in Ashland, Oregon.



Gangaji's philosophy is described as nondualism consistent with Advaita Vedanta.


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Books & Media

Recommended Books: 
Cover image

The Diamond in Your Pocket: Discovering Your True Radiance

by Gangaji


A master thief waited his whole life to acquire the most beautiful diamond in the world. When he heard it had been purchased, he spent three days trying to steal the rare jewel. He failed.

Finally, the thief walked right up to the owner and asked, “How did you hide this precious jewel from me?”

To which the owner replied, “I placed it where I knew you would never look―in your own pocket!”

This insightful tale opens the first major book release from Gangaji―an American-born teacher who has influenced the lives of thousands of people through her public events.

In The Diamond in Your Pocket, Gangaji describes our never-ending search as human beings to find fulfillment―which, paradoxically, already exists if only we will stop long enough to experience it. Readers join Gangaji to learn more about:

  • How to let go of your need to control, and activate instead the choice of where you put your mind’s attention
  • Cultivating the courage to be vulnerable, so you can meet―and deeply merge with―the unknown
  • How to unearth the roots of suffering―learn to stop replaying your life’s dramatic stories over and over, and much more

“As long as you are searching for it, it cannot be found, ” teaches Gangaji. Written as a series of short contemplations, The Diamond in Your Pocket shows you thought-by-thought how to stop the endless activity of your mind, and experience the brilliance and radiance of who you really are.

Recommended DVD & Video: 
Cover image

Still in Awareness (DVD)


"The most sublime truth of all has never been stated, or written, or sung. Not because it is far away and cannot be reached but because it is so intimately close. It is too close to be described, objectified, or known, yet it is yours already. It is alive and present as the stillness that is the core of your being."

One’s own awareness is so ordinary and all pervasive it goes continually overlooked, yet ironically it offers the very freedom that is longed for. When attention is turned toward the essential experience of simply being, it is possible to discover that one is not a body identified with thoughts and feelings, but rather the limitless awareness aware of it all. Here Gangaji offers the opportunity to be aware of awareness itself rather than the often conflicting factions of mind and emotion; to give the whole of oneself to this that is already effortlessly present, alive as the inherently free awareness that one is.

Recommended Audio: 
Cover image

Who Are You?

by Gangaji

(Audio CD)

In the search for truth, there is only one question that needs to be answered: Who am I? This inquiry into the self is the core of advaita vedanta (radical non-dualism) a timeless teaching for breaking free of mental bonds and reclaiming your true identity: the Infinite that is beyond death.On Who Are You? American-born spiritual teacher Gangaji spells out the bedrock principles of self-inquiry a cluster of no-nonsense concepts that reveal how to effortlessly step outside limited psychological conditioning and mental constructs into the freedom, expansiveness, and peace of your own true nature.

Pro Opinions


Xan's picture

Gangaji is an authentic clear compassionate master of discovering the essential truth of ourselves.

Con Opinions

Don't take my word for it

Floweringsoul's picture

There is no proof that Papaji ever named or told this woman to teach. She is not of his or Ramana's lineage as has been stated.

Gilana's picture

So What?

Thanks for the links.

Gilana | Tue, 04/27/2010 - 16:25
marsia's picture

she brings messy joyful humanness into the satsang

Well, your links to how Gangaji's husband cheated on her show how she handled a difficult situation with grace. The other links are broken, and I really don't care to see them anyway. I just started listening to her online, and I love, love, love her. She is REAL and herself, no pretenses, no pomp, very accepting, and she does not take herself seriously. Beyond that, she gets right to the heart of the matter, with a joyful heart and an invitation to join her. She is very refreshing to me. I very much benefit from listening to her.

I went to a transpersonal psychology master's degree program and so many people there were trying to fit in, trying to seem peaceful and happy, but were not themselves. So I am sensitive to people who are going to be in positions of authority (we were all studying to be therapists and teachers) who are not true to themselves or who blindly follow tradition and try to fit themselves into that. Gangaji is saying BE Yourself! Find out what that is. Don't imitate. She comes from a counter-cultural background and saw the traps in that, and now teaches loving what is, what really is. So I do not agree with your dismissal of her on moral grounds. A person's past and circumstances are not the person. Respectfully, M.

marsia | Fri, 03/29/2013 - 17:18
Floweringsoul's picture

Watch out for the kool aid!

Thanks for letting me know about the broken links. Only the 1st link was broken but it leads to a guys webpage that has great info on how to choose a guru. You say that Gangaji is real and tells people to be themselves? Yet she dyes her hair and has had plastic surgery! She uses her devotees $ to NOT be real! and to stay in 5 star hotels! How is SHE 'loving what is' when she's spending her devotees $ to have 'what is' nipped and tucked and dyed!?? If you want to spend your $ and your time with her to be 'awakened' that is your decision. I haven't drank that kool aid and won't! We are ALL already awakened! We do NOT need fixing, nipping, tucking or dying and anyone who tells you different or charges you to have them tell you different is a part of the problem, not the solution.

Floweringsoul | Fri, 03/29/2013 - 22:30
Gilana's picture

Goody! Are there cupcakes, too?

I love a good party. Lets have cupcakes,too. And dancing. I love her hair, maybe ill dye mine the same color! Are you in? Well do it together. Lets be happy together, because as you well know joy and love and sangha are as close to god and enlightenment as you can get. Even when times are rough, we have each other to stay warm and happy together. And in the end it won't matter what color our hair is or how we spent the money we are given because we will have spent a lifetime of love and joy together. Just as every life is measured by the love and joy and silence it has felt and has inspired in others.

Gilana | Fri, 03/29/2013 - 22:55
kaput's picture

Dismissing indications such

Dismissing indications such as a guru who dyes her her or lavish spanding habbits of others' money or, i assume, anything else that would have brought up, is not serious and not honest and a bit ignorant as to the nature of a guru and enlightenment. You would not submit yourself to an open heart surgery by a doctor that you know that doesn't wash his hands or eat an egg withna strange smell but when it comes to spirituality, oh well, it is just spirituality, nothing matters, the outer of the guru is completely disconnected from the inner.

And btw, being happy together as a coverup for seeing things as they are and being genuine and honest with ourselves doesn't yield anything but explsion at the end, the same as positive thinking and other artificial forced attitudes. Genuine happiness and joy come naturally as a result, not at our distorted will.

kaput | Sat, 03/30/2013 - 08:10
marsia's picture

belittling to get a point across

I don't see why you would want to be insulting in making your point. I know that righteous indignation and anger are in vogue in the society now, but I do not agree with putting people down as a way to show that you are right. If you successfully put someone down, does that really mean that your perspective is better than theirs?

marsia | Sat, 03/30/2013 - 16:48
Gilana's picture


Your kindness is showing. I am learning the lesson you teach. Thanks -

Gilana | Sat, 03/30/2013 - 20:03
Gilana's picture

How can a pirate be less forthright?

I'm so happy right now - it's usually me who is too blunt perhaps what people would call insulting. Yay! No worries. And I do understand your point.

Nevertheless, it is serious, honest and not at all ignorant as to the nature of a guru and enlightenment. I have certainly submitted myself to spiritual open heart surgery by a doctor that I knew didn't wash his hands.

A false guru is as good as a true one - because nobody can tell the difference between them and anybody who says they can is a fool. Love enough and you see that anybody who disturbs you is a guru and the guy who knows what will do it and does it knowingly is your guru.

My experience is: Evil (unloving intent to harm), terror (the fear of horror) and horror (the experience of terror) exist but they don't have to matter.

I am saying "Let's dance and be happy together, consciously and with courage."

Discriminate what is right for you, yourself if you wish, but don't judge what is right and wrong for others. Because we are all little, incomplete parts of the whole - bound to be wrong and misjudge, not because we have limited access to the whole, but because our eyes are not constructed to be able to take the "whole" in. Our minds are not constructed to be able to conceive of it. But we can experience it - and in my experience that is done by love, joy and companionship. It's only when we use our limited abilities of mind that we experience limitation. When we rely on our judgments, we waste our lives and the grace that comes to us.

Don't live afraid - I would miss you terribly.

Gilana | Sat, 03/30/2013 - 19:32
Gilana's picture

Please excuse

Only meant to speak from my own truth - please excuse any offense, error, misunderstanding or anything that appears as lecture. Best wishes for love and happiness are extended.

Gilana | Sat, 03/30/2013 - 19:55
marsia's picture

I think I'm more of an imperfectionist than you

My spiritual teacher is a lot less ostentatious than Gangaji, and is rather spartan in his looks. But he would treat someone who dyes their hair and makes a lot of money in the same way he would treat anyone else. So would I. I do mean to say that Gangaji is real. She doesn't edit herself, she lives in the way that she sees fit, and she encourages others to do the same. I do find what she says helpful. That does not mean that I give my authority over to her. I don't give that over to my spiritual teacher either. You don't seem taken with her, and I can respect that. Everyone is different and finds different approaches more or less helpful.

marsia | Sat, 03/30/2013 - 04:06
Floweringsoul's picture


The comments here are from people who obviously did not read my post or are from people who can't comprehend what was written? I titled it 'Don't take my word for it' for a reason. I'm not judging Gangaji? or telling you who your guru should be? I am just saying that I choose not to give $ to a woman who tells me to be real, to be myself and then spends that $ to alter herself into something that is not REAL. Real being the body you were born with. Not the fake one you paid $ to alter. I would treat someone who dyes their hair and had cosmetic surgery the same as I would treat someone who is real but I wouldn't give my $ to them and ask them for spiritual guidance when they obviously aren't happy in the body God gave them and they feel is is OK to spend other people's $ to alter it! But if you choose to call Gangaji a worthy guru then by all means give her your $ and take her advice. I wish you and her well. It's all good/God!

Floweringsoul | Sun, 03/31/2013 - 16:52
marsia's picture

people are turned off by different things

I did read your post, and I do see your point. I didn't realize that plastic surgery for you equals "not real". The outer package is not that important to me - it's like making a beautiful sand castle at the beach - if you get upset when the waves knock it down, you are attached to form, and you suffer. So if Gangaji is attached to a youthful body, she chooses suffering. From listening to her, I can't tell if she is attached or not, nor do I care as much as you do. I find her words clear and useful, and from my experience, what she says makes sense to me. I like her because she is especially good at seeing traps of the ego and talking about that eloquently.

I don't go in for retreats and expensive stuff like that, so the money issue doesn't really affect me. I go to short talks by my teacher (he, like you, does not like outer trappings), and I buy a lot of books and listen to a lot of online videos. I do my own retreats at home in between raising a young child. I did attend an expensive afternoon talk by Eckhardt Tolle once. His energy is so incredible. He reminds me of the way very accomplished Tibetan teachers can feel energetically. So powerful, yet calming and gentle. To me it was worth the money to see him in person. It was a powerful transmission. Does it bug me that he charges a fortune? Not that much. He does not seem attached to the money. Though how would I really know?

I do see your point though - can gurus who are raking in money stay unattached? I am sure some fall into the traps of wealth or vanity or power. Why tempt fate? Why not steer clear of profiting from teaching? Why alter your body? Why wear special clothes? Why sit above a crowd on a stage and sit in a special chair? Why give yourself a special name or accept a title of respect? But then again, if you are not attached to wealth, vanity, or power would those things be an issue for you at all? Would there be a reason to steer clear of them?

Anyway, we do not see eye to eye, and I do not mind that at all. Best to you. -M

marsia | Sun, 03/31/2013 - 23:48