This interview was conducted by Andrew Cohen and first appeared in the magazine What Is Enlightenment as part of a longer article. I am posting the interview portion for the benefit of those who have an interest in learning more about Ajja.
Ajja: First, we should introduce ourselves, so there will be mutual understanding and harmony. After that, our conversation can begin. Only then will there be usefulness in this conversation. Otherwise, words are mere words. The other day when we met, you described your experience of awakening, but the others here have not heard it, so could you please describe it again?
Andrew Cohen: I was sixteen years old.
Ajja: Who was sixteen years old?
AC: The individual, the young man, who was convinced that there was a problem, that there was something wrong.
Ajja: You can continue.
AC: Suddenly the doors of perception opened. It seemed like the walls in the room had disappeared and suddenly there was infinite space. And this infinite space was full of energy. And this energy was conscious, it was aware of itself.
Ajja: And what you are now—is it that awareness itself?
Ajja: So it’s not this body that you refer to as “I.” The awareness you experienced at that time, is that the “I” you feel now also?
AC: Yes. It’s the same.
Ajja: It’s not this body?
AC: There’s only one “I.”
Ajja: And what happened after that?
AC: Then what happened was that I realized that this energy which was aware of itself was intelligent—there was intelligence—and the nature of it was love. Unbearable love. Excruciating love. And it also became apparent that everything that existed in the manifest universe was of the same substance, which was this consciousness. And in that it became apparent that every point in space was exactly the same point as every other. For example, now we’re here in this room. We just came from Prashanti. Before that I was in Europe. Before that I was in America. While these all seem to be different places, what I realized in that moment was that every place I could be was the same point, literally and actually. Also, there were tears but I wasn’t crying. And my throat was opening and closing.
Eventually this experience faded. But then, six years later, when I was twenty-two, I began to seek for this experience once again, because even though by that time it felt very far away from me, I knew that it had been the most real experience of my life. I began to do sadhana [spiritual practice] and had various experiences and was with many different teachers. And then finally when I met my last teacher, I told him about it. Over the years, I had told many people about this experience and they had never known what to say, but when I told him, he said, “Then you experienced everything.” And when he said this, it began to come back. Then I experienced this overwhelming love and heat and burning for several weeks. After that happened I began to find myself speaking spontaneously about the Absolute—I couldn’t help it; I would start speaking about it and then it would come into the room. And my body would fill up with bliss, and other people would feel the bliss and be drawn into the experience.
Ajja: What is your state now?
AC: That’s what my experience is now. It happens when I’m teaching, when I’m speaking about the Absolute. Then this experience comes, and when I stop speaking about it, then I go back into a more ordinary state. But the difference now is that I have no doubt—self-preoccupation and doubt are gone—and this love that I met at that time is my whole life.
Ajja: In the beginning, the “I” was a constricted “I.” Later, it started becoming expanded, and then you reached a state where there was no time and space, beyond even emotions. In that, “you” and “I” become one—the supreme Divine. We only use the word “I.” Whatever there is in this body, for that we say “I” as a simple indication. We say that it is “me,” but I am nothing. I am not the body. I am not even a power. What really exists is That whose nature is light, its nature is satya [ultimate reality]. It is truth, it is bliss, it is peace, and that is the real existence.
Who is that energy, that power? What is the source of that? Who am I? What is my source? I am that energy. I am that power which is my source. So when I go to search for the source of this “I,” I reach that self-illumination. Then this power that is existing in this body, residing in this body, is also arising from that self-illumination itself. And it has all the qualities and nature of That itself. So when I know this, I start evolving. This “I” starts evolving to become That itself. That is its nature. Total expansion is its nature.
So what is that “I” which we were calling “I”? This body is not “I.” The one who resides in this body is the real I. That power, that shakti, is I. When one goes into that self-illuminated state and recognizes it as his own true nature, he also finds that it has endowed him with the qualities of illumination, expansion, compassion. The individual self has become one with That. Whatever he sees around him, where does it come from? It is evident that it always comes from within; in every instant, it seems to just come springing up from within. To a realized soul, that is how the whole world around us looks.
Everything has come out of that “I.” The most important answers, how do they come? It is not as if they were written down somewhere. These answers have just come out. Not from the individual self, but from this state they have come out. So there is no self! It has just spontaneously come out.
So for the individual soul who aspires to be totally free, what is the easiest and most direct path to freedom from the cycle of birth and death? The answer to that question will come when the mind becomes totally silent. So it is not what I say that is important. We have to get those answers ourselves, and that we can do only by silencing our minds. All of us have the capacity to get those answers, because every question has an answer within silence. When the mind has reached a state of stillness, the answer comes. This will not happen in one or two days, but it is certain that we will get the answer in the silence.
AC: I understand that when the mind is silent there is no problem and therefore no need to find a solution. However, I have some questions I’d like to ask you anyway, for the sake of the many people who will read this.
Ajja: Whatever question you ask, the answer that comes out of here is: “Silence the mind.” You have to first concentrate the mind on itself. If, after that, you still need a perfect answer, my life itself is the answer. By seeing my action, you can understand, you can realize That. That is my message. That is my answer.
AC: Can I ask you a question anyway? It’s a good one.
Ajja: If I answer something, it should be of some use. The importance is for action. When the message is given, will they bring it into practice?
AC: That is what I wanted to ask you about: What is the relationship between nonexistence and action in time and space?
Ajja: One loses his existence through knowledge and action. Through these he becomes free. Then he himself is a jivan mukta [liberated person]. But when that “I” has gone, what is there? Where is the question then?
AC: Even though he is free, isn’t the jnani [Self-realized individual], the jivanmukta, still expressing something through his actions?
Ajja: I don’t have the awareness that “I’m a jnani“or “I’m a jivan mukta.” I don’t have anything. When the “I” has gone, the consciousness does not even raise the feeling of “I.” That is completely gone. So for a jnani that question does not even arise. When there is no question of thinking, then ordinary action in day-to-day life does not take place. Our thoughts are transformed into contemplation. Then our day-to-day routine interactions become spiritual. In that, the regular routine itself becomes spiritual life. That itself is yogic life. That itself is divine life.
AC: There is a mystery that I’m infatuated with. From nothing, there became something; it’s literally the beginning of everything. In the jivanmukta, also, he is nothing, he’s in nothing. And yet, from nothing comes something: words, actions, etc. This is what I want to know about.
Ajja: I have already described how day-to-day interactions themselves can be converted into spiritual actions. Having that objective, when an individual soul is engaged in day-to-day actions and duties, he gets transformed. Then as he advances on the path of evolution, through contemplation on the thought “Who am I?”—who is that individual soul?—then, even while residing in this body, he becomes totally free from the cycle of birth and death. He becomes the Self itself, and the Self is total freedom. This is real freedom. This realization is the objective of human birth. It is for this alone that a human birth is taken. When this objective is fulfilled, our life itself is fulfilled. It is a state from which there is no more birth. It is a life free from duality, and beyond death. This is applicable everywhere in the entire world. This is true for the whole of humanity. When the whole of humanity understands this and puts it into action, then where is this question?
AC: Then there will be no difference between birth and death.
Ajja: Yes. Only when there is birth can there be death. Where is birth in this? We think: “I am this body. All the sense objects that are related to the body are mine.“ With such a constricted feeling, when a person is involved in action, and is experiencing the joys and sorrows that are resulting from such action, again and again he will take birth in this world. So his lives continue according to his actions. This is the secret of birth, life and death. But when the individual self is freed from the bondage of action, and also the bondage of this body, then he becomes one with the supreme Self, which is his original nature. He becomes the supreme Self itself. When the individual, through contemplation of the question “Who am I?” becomes free from karma, he evolves, he becomes the self-luminous Supreme. That itself is Self. That itself is bliss. That itself is satya, ultimate reality. That itself is Life. That itself is Self-realization.
So Self-realization is for the good of the whole. It brings auspiciousness and good to the whole universe. That is the objective of human life. When we understand the secret of this, we will really understand the relationship between the individual soul, the supreme Soul and the universe. The individual is a part of the cosmos. This body, this “I,” is nothing but a microcosm of that macrocosmic universe. When we understand the micro level, we are bound to understand the macro universe. Anyone who seeks here is bound to reach there, because this individuality is a part of That. And also, it containseverything. All the secrets of That, this also contains. Through the study of the individual—or even the atom—the basis of the whole universe can be understood.
How is this freedom realized? Through action alone does realization come. That is jnana, that is freedom, that is moksha [liberation].We must understand how, by doing action, we can reach that state. What kind of action will help us to become liberated? Chanting the name of God, contemplation, surrender, truth, nonviolence, detached action. One who, during his lifetime, can translate the knowledge of the Self into action, that one deserves to realize that supreme blissful state. Not only that, he becomes bliss itself. “Who am I? What is the secret of my life, my birth?” Understanding this, realizing this through his search, even when he is engaged in actions and duties, he attains his original nature, which is bliss. So it is through action that he becomes transformed.
AC: When you speak about karma yoga, or detached action, are you referring specifically to spiritual practice? Or to any form of detached action?
Ajja: Any action which is done as a duty without the expectation of a result. Any action, if you do it without expectation and selfishness, is transformed into duty. This leads you to a state where there are no emotions. One is doing, but he is not doing. There is no feeling that “I am doing something.” What happened to that “I”?
This evolution is step by step. It doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It has to pass through various stages. However, even the most elementary state of bliss is Bliss itself. The nature of bliss is Bliss itself. Bliss itself is the nature of bliss. Bliss is Bliss itself. Bliss is Bliss. This bliss is eternal reality. This bliss is eternal Truth. That bliss which is eternal reality, that is the eternal bliss. This is the supreme Bliss. This is the Brahmic [Absolute] Bliss. And that itself is Ananda [spiritual bliss]. There is nothing there—no state. Experience and words cannot reach there. The actual nature of the individual self is this bliss itself. And the easiest and the shortest path is to always dwell in that sahaja [natural] state that is our original nature.
The question may arise, “Where is that Bliss?” That Bliss is here and now, ever present. When this jivatma [individual self] is dropped, that Bliss is there, already existing. The individual soul has the bondage of action, but the Supreme doesn’t have that. There is not even birth for the Self. So let us go beyond this dualistic world of action, let us evolve, and reach the paramatma [supreme Self].
For all this, meditation is the starting point. In the beginning you should sit. You should have that internal preparation. One has to discipline oneself. But it is not enough only to sit. It is not merely that the body must sit; your mind must sit also. The mind should not be wandering. Unless the mind is controlled, there is no meditation. The wandering of the mind itself is the world.
AC: Yes. The mind is the world.
Ajja: So in the beginning, the mind should become still. The mind is wandering and that must stop. Through meditation, the mind turns inward. And this should happen not only in meditation, but also in the midst of action.
Nothing that we take to be real in this world actually is. When this world becomes unreal to you, then the true reality reveals itself. That is the beginning. In that, we realize that there is no death, there is no life, there is only existence. At one point or another, we all have to die. But I do not mean the death of this body. There is another kind of death—a death from which there is no rebirth. When the one who keeps coming back for reincarnation, when that one dies, that is the real death—as in my case, where all experiences have passed. Now, here in this state, there is nothing.
AC: When you say there is nothing here, do you mean that you have no experience right now? You seem to be expressing a great deal.
Ajja: Whose experience? Words are coming, it is true. Through this vehicle, some unknown force is acting, some power is working, using this body as an instrument. It is not this body that is speaking. There is a power that is inspiring this body, intellect and mind. In each one of us the same thing is happening, but often we say, “I am speaking.” Here that is not happening. Words are just coming out. That is the difference. I don’t say, “I say, I speak.”
AC: In my own experience, the relationship between this state of bliss, in which there is no “I,” and perfect action in the world of time and space seems to be very mysterious. So I would still like to know more about how you define that relationship for the one who is actually established in that bliss consciousness in which there is no notion of “I.” How do that individual’s actions in this world express the perfection of that condition? What is the relationship between that state and the expression of perfect action in this world of appearances?
Ajja: My level of interaction is totally different. There is no relationship between these two in my actions. What is your understanding about perfect action in the world?
AC: Perfect action means action that comes from pure love, in which there is no sense of individuality and no self-interest whatsoever. There’s no pride, there’s no greed, there’s no egotism, there’s no self-consciousness. And it is also the expression of pure love that has no sense of itself as being separate. But this action does occur. All the realized souls express this.
Ajja: This is difficult to explain, to put into words, but if one spends time in the company of a person who is in such blissful consciousness, then it becomes possible to understand. Such an individual will not tell you anything. He will communicate only in silence. But through contact with him, understanding can happen. One can know this only through experience.
What is love? Are we speaking about a love related to the senses? Or is it beyond the senses? Some people are the embodiment of love but the nature of their love is beyond the senses. You cannot see it with your eyes. You cannot describe that love with your words. They are love embodied. This love is not something to be displayed. It is their original nature. It’s not something they merely express. It is their nature always.
AC: It’s who they are.
Ajja: They exist in this world, but they are not. They are, and they are not. That is what self-illumination is. That itself is Atman [the Self]. That itself is bliss. That itself is truth. That itself is life. Which life is it? It’s not worldly life. It’s a life beyond duality and beyond death.
AC: So how they are, then, is the answer to the question. How they are is the answer to the question of what the relationship is between nothing and something.
Ajja: These things are beyond description. This we cannot explain. This can only be seen and understood. It’s not because they have something to say that they speak. It’s not possible to describe bliss. When you are blissful, it’s an experience, but there is no one there to speak. Words come out, but between the words that come out and that ultimate reality there is no relationship. The real state and the words that describe it are not related. That exists only as Itself. The words show That, they manifest That, but they are not That. The existence of that Supreme is indicated by the word “I” only for the sake of interaction in the world—for the sake of the world, but not for the sake of That.
My experience is of the Universal Soul only, which is energy, light and power—the self-luminous supreme Universal. It has come for evolution and it has evolved. Universal light comes for evolution and it evolves.
AC: The light evolves?
Ajja: Light and power came, but now only light remains in the evolved form. There is no power. The indweller of this physical body is the soul, which is nothing but self-luminous light and power. And in evolution, the power dissolves, leaving only light.
AC: Can you say that again?
Ajja: The indweller of the body is a universal power and light. And in the process of evolution, the power dissolves and the light remains. But the truth of this cannot really be communicated. Only through contact, by being in the proximity of a realized soul, can one understand. This is one of those questions the answer to which can only be discovered when you search for it in silence. Otherwise it becomes mere lecture from which none of us will benefit.
AC: I understand that the most important answer cannot be given in words, that it can only be found by the individual in silence. And yet it is my experience that by asking these kinds of questions sometimes magical and extraordinary things can happen.
Ajja: Even if the truth comes out or if, as you say, magical, miraculous things occur, when words come out, they are still nothing but words.
AC: But the words coming from a jnani have the power to enlighten.
Ajja: That is about the jnani. But where are the jnanis? Who is a jnani? And who is it that recognizes the jnani?
AC: The jnani and the one who recognizes the jnani are one and the same.
Ajja: Is that your experience?
Ajja: I do not deny that experience. But a jnani will never have the experience that “I am a jnani.” He is simply what he is. It’s his original state. If an unnatural state comes, he will be amazed. This is the original, natural state for a jnani. There is only bliss. There is no one to experience that bliss. The person who sees has gone. That is evolution. So what is, in that case, is a state which is not a state. This is the original state of every individual. But one must be ready to go to that original state.
AC: One of your disciples told me that when you get to know people more intimately you can see their past lives. Is this true?
Ajja: I am not an astrologer. I don’t read anyone’s mind. This is contradictory for spirituality. Liberation should happen in this life itself. Sometimes we are told that for some reason it’s not possible in this life, that we have to wait for future incarnations. But we don’t know if this is true or not, so here and now we should become free.
AC: I agree with you, and my question is based only on what I’ve heard from other people here. I personally feel that this kind of thing is a complete waste of time and also that it’s the opposite direction one should be looking in if one wants to be free. If one wants to be free, one wants to know the Self one is when there’s no time and no history. Finding out about past lives could never tell you anything about that which never happened.
Ajja: Yes. Let us know about this life. In knowing this you know everything you need to know. Now we are here. It’s now about this. Why should we go back? There is no future and no past. We have come here. We are here. What is this? Who are we? Who am I? Who is the one who has come? That which has come is self-luminous power with light. This itself is the foundation. There are engineers who build the building, but we must look only at the foundation, we are concerned only with the foundation. “Who am I?”—this inquiry is the foundation. When you go in search of That, it is possible to find the answer to every question on this earth. When you go in search of “Who am I?” you will reach a state where there is nothing. “I” means the state where nothing is there. It’s over. No sadhana is required for this—only search.
AC: Direct search.
Ajja: Yes, direct search. When the seeker goes in search of That, the seeker is no more. That state is Atman, which is bliss, which is self-luminous and which is silence. Until then, ego is there. Then it is not.
It sometimes happens in life that due to some incident there is total transformation. In many people’s lives, due to one incident there is total transformation. It is in the biographies of all the great saints of southern India—Valmiki, Tulsi Das, Ramana Maharshi, J. Krishnamurti. According to their karma, due to small incidents, they changed. Through all these stories, there is one thread. In my case, for example, there was pain for six months, then no pain. Then contemplation began; worry became contemplation. Untruth became truth. Darkness became light. As with fruit, when it is unripe, it is bitter. When it becomes ripe, it is sweet. But that sweetness was always there. That bitterness is transformed into sweetness.
So worry should become contemplation. For that reason alone we should give importance to thoughts. We should not get agitated or lost when we get worries or problems. We should experience them. Then there is an explosion.
AC: Do you mean that we must face them completely?
Ajja: Yes. Experience that. And how should the mind be when you experience that? During that time, the mind should be focused, the mind should contemplate on that. When the mind is fixed on that, then—
AC: You mean there should be no resistance to experience?
Ajja: No resistance. In this way, the same mind that experiences everything else now goes to contemplation. Beyond that there is no mind at all. So mind itself is both the cause of bondage and the means to liberation. This world is nothing but the roar of mind. When the works of mind are over, there is no mind. Then all desires are gone—desires which the mind imagines. Everything is imagined; all of that is mind. So the mind has to withdraw. All desires should go. Even if one desire is there, you cannot take the mind inward. The mind should go into the heart and begin the search. “Who am I? Who am I? I am here in this body. Who am I?” We should search like that. When you are in the search, in that the mind is gone. We are afraid to touch that place. But the mind must be totally gone. Give it up.
AC: You said earlier that this is universally applicable and true for the whole of humanity.
Ajja: Yes, this is a question for the whole of mankind. We need freedom. No one wants to be in bondage. Everyone wants to be free. My message for the whole universe is not that only one should get free. Others also should become free. The whole world should become free. That is my message.
What is the path to freedom? If you have a clear picture of the experiences I’ve had during my lifetime—joys and sorrows, triumphs and miseries, honor and dishonor, and how I reacted to these—that can help you to find your own way. How I faced those experiences, how I walked in my life, how I accepted death. How action was performed, and how transformation has come. My whole life, once understood, gives a clear picture of the way. When we have understood all these things, then we have to bring that understanding into our practice. Then we become free. If one individual is liberated in this way, then the mission of my life has been fulfilled. That is why I am giving these statements—so that it will be helpful for the public. That is why I have agreed to this interview. Otherwise I would remain in total silence.
The total picture is the integrated evolution of the individual and that power. When we become totally free in our action, only then is our birth fruitful. Then our life is really fulfilled. Freedom is the goal. Everyone should become free. And all have come to life only for that purpose—that freedom itself is bliss for all, for every individual. Every individual should be released from bondage. If I alone become free, it is not enough to make me happy. Everyone should become like that. Every soul has to become free. I have had a glimpse of that possibility, and if all were free, that would be true bliss for me.
AC: So this is for the benefit of mankind.
Ajja: Yes. This message is for the whole of humanity. When there is purity within, mind, heart and action should be one. Mind and heart should be pure and our deeds should be the same. We all have to go beyond thought to that state in which there are no obstacles at all. It is by this true search alone that one becomes a universal soul. And every individual has that capacity. Not just one. Every individual has the capacity to become That.
I am not in mind at all. I am in a state beyond all thoughts and emotions. I am speaking, but I don’t know anything. I don’t think; I read no books. For the true knowledge itself, none of this is necessary. For intellectual discourse, books are necessary, but for Self-experience, nothing is required. If I am in some remote corner, also it doesn’t stop. It spreads through the whole universe, percolates through the whole universe. If one reaches that state of ananda, even if he is in some remote corner, it just spreads. Even if he tries to hide, it just radiates from him. It reaches throughout the whole universe, the entire cosmos.
So . . . what are you going to do with what you have recorded?
AC: It will be part of an article about you—your experience and what you are saying—that will help people in America and other places to benefit from what you have discovered.
Ajja: It feels as if you are very known to us. You do not feel like a stranger to me.
AC: Yes, I feel the same way.
Ajja: There is no America and no India. There is only the whole universe.
Read about a visit to Ajja’s ashram.
See a video of Ajja.
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To read more from Ajja.