When Amido and I were in Thailand on Koh Phayam in 2004 we met a New Zealand couple named Ross and Karyn. They had a bungalow next to ours. I don’t think we had spoken until after the tsunami. That seemed to bring a lot of people together. I found that there was a strange sense of oneness with everyone who was experiencing this huge swell that went all around the Indian Ocean. You could literally feel and see the interconnectedness. We struck up a friendship and found that we had many common interests, and one of them was U.G. Krishnamurti. None of us had spent any time with him but were all interested in doing so. I was particularly concerned with seeing him before he died.
A year later we ran into Ross again in Bangkok and they and we were on our way to India. We talked about Goa and keeping in touch to communicate if we found a spot that we really liked. A couple of emails later and they were in Arambol in Goa and were recommending the place, so we made plans to meet up with them there.
On our arrival in Arambol, we were walking into the village with our backpacks and wondering how we would find them when from the other direction Ross was approaching on his way to some shop or something. We spent a couple of breakfasts sharing information and stories over very large bowls of fruit muesli at the Buddha’s Smile restaurant.
They had met an English guy who had visited every guru he could learn about in India and kept a very well documented address book. He had told Ross and Karyn that of everyone he had seen the two that really affected him were U.G. and a 90 year old sage named Ajja. They related to us the story that this guy had related to them.
It went like this: He spent quite some time at his ashram that was in Karnataka near Mangalore and kept wanting to speak with Ajja. He was continually told to go to the mediation hall. Finally he said that he was sitting in the hall and got tremendously angry and just couldn’t handle the experience anymore, so he grabbed his bag and walked down the drive to leave. He looked at Ajja as he was leaving and saw that Ajja was watching. And that was the end of his time there. But this experience somehow really affected him.
When I heard the story I knew right away that I wanted to meet this man, Ajja. Karyn also shared with us an interview that Andrew Cohen had conducted with Ajja. Ross also shared with us that he was told that U.G. was going to be in Bangalore in February. This fellow had given them the contact information, but they were sworn to secrecy, so didn’t feel comfortable sharing the information that had come from him. They said that once they got there they would contact us and that way it would be from their information and not this other fellow’s.
We didn’t stick around very long in Arambol, as nice as it was, because we wanted to go straight away to Ajja’s ashram.
We phoned the ashram from Mangalore about an hour and a half by bus from the ashram to ask if we could come. The woman on the phone told us to come right away and we would be in time for lunch. When we arrived Ajja was meeting with some Indians on his porch and we were told to hurry up and we could meet him. So we took off our hiking boots and dropped our packs as quickly as we could and had just enough time for a Namaste and then were told we could meet with him later. Lunch was being served in the dining hall. The food that was served at the ashram was really wonderful.
After lunch we were given rooms. But because there were a few visitors, Amido and I needed to be separated. Amido was going to share a room with a lovely Swedish woman named Ingrid and I would be sharing with an Indian who would be arriving later.
Besides Ingrid there were a couple of other foreigners. There was a German named Hans who had been coming regularly for a couple of years. And there was an Israeli named Giri who was together with a lovely English woman named Thea. In addition Giri’s brother was visiting along with a friend and his wife and daughter.
Later in the afternoon, an Indian doctor (Satish) who was taking care of organizing darshans with Ajja paid us a visit. He wanted to get some background and learn why we were there. He wanted us to get clear if we had any questions so that we could better make use of our time with Ajja. He said that he would talk with Ajja and let us know when it was time to see him.
In the meantime both Amido and I made use of the meditation hall and participated in the chanting and other activities. I found that Dr. Satish’s question about whether I had any question a particularly powerful engine for my inquiry. The question was – did I have a question? This whole process of seeing Ajja seemed to be one of the primary teaching devices for westerners. We heard many stories of westerners wanting to see Ajja and were told to go to the meditation hall. To most it seemed like some kind of punishment. I think for Amido and I, we, from the very beginning enjoyed our time spent there and really used the opportunity to explore deeply.
In the afternoon at tea time, the doctor came and told Amido and I that there were some Indians coming to visit Ajja later and we could try and tag along. He wasn’t sure if Ajja would go along or not. It seemed that it wasn’t something that he could just ask Ajja. When the doctor informed us of the event you could see the lights go on in the minds of all the other westerners; this would be a good opportunity.
When the time came all of us foreigners filed on to the porch for darshan with Ajja. Ajja came and sat down and immediately said you, you, you, etc. to all the foreigners, go to the mediation hall. Amido and I went right away and used that opportunity to explore all the feelings that were aroused. We were joined by Ingrid and Hans also but the others didn’t come.
So again it was an opportunity to explore the question about a question. And when I sat with that for some time I found that I did have a question. I was aware of a sense of awareness which somehow I could physically relate to the area of the back of my head. And I was also aware of an energy, a sense of being that I would say somehow related to the area around my heart. My question became – what is the relationship between these two? It was not very long after formulating this question that it was answered in my meditation.
It seemed that the awareness of awareness was not an activity, there was no movement. But the energy that I felt around the heart was active, it was not static. What seemed to happen was the awareness gave attention to the energy and with this attention the energy became less active. It gradually settled and when it completely settled it felt as if it was absorbed by the awareness. That is the best way that I can describe what took place. In that merging, that joining, that absorption there was no more questions. That was my final question.
Our time passed wonderfully at the ashram and we found that there was some strange connection between Ajja and U.G. Most everyone that was at Ajja’s had been to see U.G. In fact we learned that a couple of years earlier, Ajja was taken to the house where U.G. was while he was in Bangalore twice. The first time, Ajja sat next to U.G. but they never said a word to each other. When Ajja left and was in the car ready to drive away, U.G. went outside and namasted to Ajja before he drove away. The second time, Ajja sat next to U.G. and spoke for some time. Apparently it was the rare occasion when U.G. actually let someone else speak. Ajja only spoke Kanada, so only the local Indians could understand but during that time U.G. was silent. Thea was present and this was the first time that she had met either Ajja or U.G. and she met them both together.
Thea continued with a very strong connection between both of them and would shuttle back and forth between Puttur and Bangalore. Several of U.G.’s close friends in Bangalore were regular visitors at Ajja’s ashram. Because of this we had no difficulty getting all the information necessary for a visit with U.G. In fact we were getting messages at the ashram as to the exact arrival of U.G. in Bangalore.
We always participated in doing “chores” around the ashram in the morning or any other time that we were asked to help out. Thea was the one who assigned jobs in the morning and in the afternoon someone might come and ask for some help with some task. It invariably involved doing some very menial task with the utmost awareness. Because the ashram was so small, one was often within sight of Ajja who would sit on his porch and oversee all the activities. And Ajja’s presence was so strong that one was almost bowled over with the present moment. It was difficult ‘not’ to be in the moment. It was a very powerful Buddhafield that he had created.
One day Amido, I and Ingrid were asked to help out with some cleaning. Ajja had gone out somewhere and we were to help with the cleaning of the tile floor in his house. He had a very modest room but it was full of consciousness. There was something that was the same that I had felt whenever I had been in Osho’s living quarters, a certain sense, clarity, presence, to be honest not unlike some LSD experiences.
Sundays were the day that many Indian visitors came. It was the day that even the foreigners could count on spending time in Ajja’s presence. On this Sunday, we all went into the original house on the property it was a hut that the musician lived in. It was small and there was a second story. The Indians and Ajja were downstairs and all of us foreigners were upstairs just above Ajja. Bhajans were sung, music was played, it was a lovely time. Finally Ajja asked one of us foreigners to sing a song. I was blank, not a song came to mind but Thea, bless her heart, sang The Lord of the Dance. It was extraordinary, because she is one of the most ethereal persons I have ever met, and in the beginning she was rather meek in her singing and you could sense her taking courage and finding her power through the singing.
The following day it was some kind of special day and musicians were coming and there was going to be quite a celebration. We sang and danced out on the ground in front of Ajja’s porch. He came out and encouraged both the musicians and us dancers. There was some kind of performance where two speakers were enacting a conversation regarding Rama and his shooting of someone with an arrow. After the music and performance there was a great meal served. The whole event was wonderful.
Earlier in the day we were asked what our plans were and without thinking I said that we would leave the following day. It was going to be a week and we had experienced so much, especially with the coming evening celebration it seemed appropriate for us to move on. In addition we knew then that U.G. was in Bangalore and we wanted to go and see him.
On the morning of the following day Dr. Satish came to visit us and he said that he would see what arrangements could be made for us to have darshan with Ajja before we left, but that it was not guaranteed. To be honest, I think both Amido and I were so overflowing with the whole week it really didn’t matter if we would be able to or not. Of course it would be nice but we would be happy whatever happened.
Hans had made arrangements and was planning on seeing Ajja that day as well. He was taking his camera to have a photo taken with him and Ajja. We packed our things up and prepared ourselves to leave after lunch. Sometime before lunch time a woman named Kavita came and said that “the two people who are leaving today should come now.” I ran and told Amido and we were ready. I saw Hans on the way and told him what Kavita had said. He was not leaving on that day so stayed behind. Kavita took us over to the porch. We sat in front of Ajja and Kavita translated questions of where we were from and our background. We sat and the whole group sang some bhajans for some time. Then Ajja turned to us and asked us to sing a song. Because of the experience of the other day with Thea singing we had at least thought of a song that we both knew just in case. It was one of the celebration songs from the Osho ashram. I don’t know the name but the chorus is:
Asalam alaikum, Alaikum asalam. Asalam alaikum, Alaikum asalam.
When we sang the song, I experienced what I saw in Thea when she had sung on the other day. In the beginning there was a hesitancy and one continued through it and then a power took over and one just rode with it. Ajja smiled and asked where we had learned the song and we told him at Osho’s ashram and he said that it was related to his name. Ajja is just a nickname which means uncle but his name is Bhagavan Arabbi-Nithyanandam. The Arabbi is related to Islam. He has joined the two together like so many Sufis of India.
After the song the musician translated and Ajja said that we were very clean, that we didn’t have a lot of thoughts. He said that we had done a lot of work. I responded asking “so we don’t need to do a lot of digging?” He said that now we needed to stabilize. He asked if we had any questions and we said no. Eventually I piped up that yes there was one question. Could I take a photo of him? He said that we could get some photos from the office and I said that we already had. He agreed and had someone take a photo of Amido and me in fromt of Ajja also. After our time with Ajja, an Indian man (Sudarshan) had some questions. When they were answered he had some more. Eventually, Ajja turned to Amido and me and laughingly said “look this couple came from America and have no questions and you are here with me every day and you have so many questions.”
Dr. Satish came and reminded Ajja that Hans was still waiting and so he was called over. He had his photo taken with Ajja and we all sang more bhajans and then ate some ice-cream. In all we must have spent close to an hour with Ajja and it was truly glorious. We said our namastes.
After lunch, it was Sudarshan, who, when everyone was having their nap stayed around and made arrangements for a rickshaw for us. He wanted to make sure that it came and the driver knew where to take us. We seemed to have made a sweet bond. And then it was time to bid farewell. It had been one extraordinary week.
We had a hard time finding a room in Bangalore when we arrived at night. Everywhere was full because, one, it was the wedding season and two, there was a big Art of Living gathering in the city, with many visitors both Indian and western. In fact we had to resort to calling an Indian (Shiva) that we had met at Ajja’s who had given us his phone number. We stayed at his apartment that night and left early in the morning. Shiva, his wife and his mother were going to London the following day.
After finding a place the next morning we made our way to Chandrashekar’s with some very elaborate directions and a map. When we walked through the door the first people we saw were Ross and Karyn. We entered into the living room which is where everyone was gathered and they were all watching a video on the television. We sat down on the floor without really surveying the room. In fact I was wondering where U.G. was when I realized that he was sitting on the sofa watching the video of himself.
Soon the video was off and U.G. was telling stories. This is what his meetings consisted of at this point – gossiping with his friends. Ingrid was there too. She had come from Ajja’s ashram and was sitting on the sofa next to U.G. We had tried to warn her about U.G., that he wouldn’t act like what she might expect from an Indian holy man. He was throwing around the word bitch quite a bit and she looked a bit uncomfortable.
It was a very informal arrangement and people would come and go at will. Because we were the new arrivals he directed some attention to us. Ingrid left and I suggested that Amido move to the sofa and sit next to U.G. where she sat enjoying being in presence. When he learned that I was from the States he directed all of his stories about the States towards me, prying loose remaining conditioning.
It really was quite an interesting experience. First of all, there was the heightened sense of presence, that same presence that I have experienced with Osho, with Jean Klein, with the 16th Karmapa, with J. Krishnamurti and also with Ajja. That presence was at the core, at the center. If you came out of that center you could get caught up in the whirlwind that blew around his words. He used language that could easily throw you off your center. And it was not just the words but the energy. He had an appearance of anger at times, and yet if you stayed in the center it was love.
We were there for only two days and even in that short time we heard some stories so many times and that I could finish them off. It was interesting watching those that have spent a lot of time with him. They seemed to rest there at the center. There were others that would get caught up in what he was saying. You can see that on some forums about U.G. people actually believe what he would say about J. Krishnamurti or Osho. I am reminded of Osho saying that when he hammers Satya Sai Baba (for example), it has nothing to do with Sai Baba. He is speaking to us. To me, U.G. was just shocking people out of their conditioning, but he also seemed cognizant about how far he could go without really hurting someone. He seemed sensitively outrageous.
During our time there we learned that many of our sannyasin friends had become very close to U.G. We met some at the house and learned of others that had been hosting U.G.’s stay while in Palm Springs. We said our goodbyes to Ross and Karyn who were staying on. I was so happy that we managed to meet U.G. before he left the planet. As it turned out, this was his last visit to Bangalore. When we bid him farewell, it was Namaste and I felt that we had connected with an old friend. The entire time he was so welcoming and loving in an unusual way.
The following year we returned to India with the intention of visiting with Ajja and then going on to Bangalore to see U.G. again. He was scheduled to be in Bangalore in February just like the previous year. As it turned out we arrived at Ajja’s ashram the day after he had died.
We were able to take part in the ceremonies involved with the Samadhi. One of which was maintaining a chant through the night by taking shifts. Ajja was not cremated but was buried in a traditional full lotus Samadhi position. He had supervised the building of the structure that was to house the Samadhi all through the previous year. On top of the marble tomb a granite block was placed that had a small hole above Ajja’s head. We took part in the last day of the ceremony of chanting around the Samadhi through the night. We spent only two days at the ashram this time because we could sense that the ashram had a lot of adjustments to make and we didn’t want to be in the way.
The first day that we arrived at the ashram we learned that in Italy U.G. had fallen on January 31st in his bathroom and he couldn’t get up. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t drinking water and he wasn’t passing urine. This information was coming to Srinath at the ashram who was in contact with Mahesh Bhatt, the long time friend of U.G.’s.
On February 1st, Ajja had a stroke. He was hospitalized in Puttur, the village where the ashram was. After some days the doctor said that they couldn’t do anything for him there and so was transported in an ambulance to Mangalore.
When U.G. heard about Ajja he said, “I don’t want to breathe, I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to be in this body.”
Ajja left his body on March 12th and on March 14th we heard from Srinath that U.G. had sent everyone away and that it seemed he would be going soon too. We left the ashram and continued on our travels. We later learned that U.G. had passed on March 22nd. No one ever seemed to know the nature of this mysterious connection between Ajja and U.G. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them both.
A link to Ajja’s website.
Read an interview with Ajja.
See a video of Ajja.
For more posts on Ajja.
To read more from Ajja.
To read more of U. G. Krishnamurti .