Sometime in the early 90’s, my friend Santap moved to Boulder, Colorado, and after settling in, made arrangements to bring Dada Gavand, a teacher that he had spent some time with in California, to town. He was sponsoring the visit and Dada would be staying with Santap in his mountain home. Dada’s visit coincided with my own inward turn and interest in self-inquiry as a spiritual practice. I read his books and very much appreciated his keen insight. They were prodding me in.
Santap needed some help with the organizing and I was happy to assist. Dada primarily taught through one-on-one interviews but he did do a few public talks. Santap spread the word of Dada’s upcoming visit and organized a list of interested people for the interviews. Together we set up a public talk.
Dada did not enjoy the cold. He arrived from somewhere warm but was going to be staying in the Rockies at about 9,000, feet in the fall. Amido and I offered to host Dada down in town if he wanted, but he liked to stay with people he knew.
Amido and I had an interview together, and this meeting with Dada was very helpful for me. Up to that point, I was still thinking of “going inside” as a journey, as a movement through some imaginary inner space. I don’t remember the exact words that were said but there was a shift, and I understood for the first time that “going inside means not going at all.” This was a major insight. Dada recognized that a shift had happened and later suggested to Santap that he would like to spend half of his time in Boulder with us.
It was a complete joy to be with him in the house even at the requested ninety-degree temperature. One thing I found interesting was that we would be sitting and chatting around the dinner table and suddenly some kind of shift would happen. The atmosphere would change and there would be a palpable silence. It was almost as if a presence had descended, or the entire room had been lifted to a higher dimension, and he would then speak as the spiritual teacher. Even his speaking mannerisms would alter. He began to use the first-person plural and say “we” rather than “I” in those moments.
Dada’s story is quite unique. He had been part of the Theosophical Society and known U.G. Krishnamurti before either one of them experienced their transformations. They met up after those experiences, and it was at the urging and even help of U.G. that Dada set off for the States. Dada had also spent time with Meher Baba and J. Krishnamurti.
His teaching has the directness of Krishnamurti combined with the heart of being of Meher Baba. The following is from his book Towards the Unknown, beginning on page 57:
The imaginative and fragmentary mind can never discover that dynamic, effervescent energy of eternal, timeless quality. The mind is the product of time. Whereas Godhood is timeless divine.
The dead past cannot contact the living present. Time cannot contact the timeless. Shadow cannot contact light. Contracted polarity cannot contact enormity.
He continues on page 62:
At the cost of your own life force the mind is misusing energy, scattering it everywhere in a very clever and subtle way, in petty little pursuits and self-intoxicating drives.
And page 63:
By close and alert watching of all the movements of body and mind, you will discover that the constant ripples of thought on our life energy are the cause of disquiet.
He concludes with page 68:
You cannot meet God through the mind, nor experience the timeless through time. Thought cannot meet the omniscient. The eternal cannot touch the transient.
Only with freedom from thought and from mental cravings and ambitions does the energy become whole, tranquil and pure.
Such inner purity and humility will invite the hidden divinity.
The pure consolidated energy, with its silence and fullness within, awaits in readiness to meet the divine, to experience that which is beyond the mind.
There across the region of time, beyond the frontiers of the mind, within the sanctuary of silence resides the supreme intelligence, your Lord, the timeless divine.
At the end of his stay, Santap and I took Dada to the airport. I was, of course, sad to see him go; such a sweet friendliness had surrounded us. We said goodbye and Dada boarded the plane with his carry-on. He believed in carrying his own baggage even in his late 70’s.
A few years later, after Amido and I had moved from Boulder to Crestone, Colorado, we talked to Dada on the phone with the idea of bringing him there, but it wasn’t to be. And in 2007, while traveling in India we emailed his contact person, thinking perhaps we would visit, but he was in silence and not accepting visitors. Dada left his body in 2012. Thank you Dadaji.
This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Order the book Here.
An interview with Roy Whenary given by Ben Hassine
Can you give us a short biographical sketch with emphasis on the spiritual aspect of your life? For example which teachers and teachings inspired you and can you recount some of your encounters with them?
I don’t know if it’s possible to do this without over-emphasizing the ‘personal’, so briefly I will mention my main influences as J. Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta Maharaj and Jean Klein. I came across Krishnamurti when I was 20, and reading his books and attending his talks had a profound effect on me. After reading a lot of varied spiritual literature before that, Krishnamurti was like a breath of fresh air … uncomplicated, obvious and clear from the start. At Brockwood Park and Saanen, I met many new friends, with whom there would be endless discussions about things, albeit adopting Krishnamurti-like terminology. Then, in the mid-70s I was made aware of an Indian publication, which was not easily available in London at the time. It was called ‘I Am That’ and was by Nisargadatta Maharaj. I had previously read Advaita books by Ramana Maharshi, but somehow ‘I Am That’ had more of an effect on me. What that was, I don’t know. Maybe it was because it was more contemporary to the time, whereas Ramana’s works were from another era. Although I had met a few people who had sat with Ramana, I was often meeting people who had been to see Nisargadatta. However, I was never tempted to go to India in person, understanding from the start that there was nothing that was available there which was not already available here. In the early 70s, I also met Vimala Thakar, who was very popular in Holland. I first met her in 1972, then 1974 and in 1976 spent a week on retreat with her in England. Many of the people I met on that retreat I am still in contact with. I found Vimala to be very attentive to my sensitivity, and awake to my need for personal contact with her, and we had several helpful chats about what now would seem to be very basic questions I had at the time, but her response to me was very warm and open. In 1980, the lady who organized Vimala’s visits to the UK informed me that there was another teacher who was very much worth going to see, called Jean Klein. It turned out that she was organizing his visits too. I went along to a talk he gave at Friends Meeting House, Hampstead, in London, and was immediately impressed by his calm presence and clarity of mind. There was a lot of silence in his talks, and at the time his English was not so brilliant, although it improved over the next few years, as he came to England more frequently. At one time I offered to drive him around when he was here, which was accepted – so I would take him to and pick him up from the airport and drive him to restaurants for meals, etc – a job that I did for a couple of years, quite willingly – although we never talked about spiritual philosophy at all during these times. I found that in his presence there were no questions, and all was self-evident. I really feel that he had no agenda at all. He wasn’t out to convince anyone of anything . . . it was a case of here it is . . . take it or leave it. I couldn’t help contrast this approach, and his calm presence, with that of Krishnamurti, who was much more passionate and lively in every sense, and maybe a little angry at times. This was the complete opposite to Jean Klein, and yet Jean, who had spent some time travelling with Krishnamurti many years earlier in India, always heaped the highest praise on Krishnamurti, and Vimala Thakar for that matter. I remember him describing Vimala Thakar as “a beautiful Being”.
You spent a longer period of time with Jean Klein. Can you go a little bit deeper into the affect this teacher had on your outlook on life and spirituality at that time? [Please note I am referring to the affect Jean had at the time you met him, so we are going into history and are not yet covering your current outlook]
Well, I spent just as long listening to Krishnamurti, and they both had a profound effect, maybe in different ways. I don’t know even if it is the words that had the greatest affect on me . . . because the presence of these two teachers had at least an equal affect. With Krishnamurti one could not ignore how seriously he took the spiritual life and how passionate he was about everything he said. His presence was over-powering in that sense. With Jean, it was his quiet, calm, simple and direct clarity of expression that impressed. He showed, by his own example, how utterly available and effortless ‘realization’ is. He was not a man of ideas, he was a man of wisdom, and there is a great difference between the two. When you have met a true man of wisdom, you are never again fooled by men of ideas.
Yes I think I can understand what you are saying. I would like to go into it later on. Still you didn’t answer my question. What exactly was this affect you are speaking about? How did Krishnamurti and Klein change the way you saw life and spirituality?
Sorry to sound so evasive, but I was 19 or 20 when I first came across Krishnamurti, and there wasn’t much to change, I suppose. I had not formed any fixed view or attitude by then, so I sort of grew up with Krishnamurti in that sense. It is not like someone suddenly coming across this approach when they are 40 or 50 years old, having lived a life and made mistakes, etc. At 16 or 17, I started reading Kahil Gibran and some Buddhist and Hindu literature, just out of interest. I came across them in my local bookstore, and began exploring different ideas. I also started reading Plato and the Socratian dialogues . . . and when I first came across Krishnamurti I noticed a distinct similarity between his philosophy and that of Socrates. But the effect that it had on me? I suppose it gave me a clear direction, when many of my contemporaries were getting into heavy rock music, relationships, carving out a career, etc. I always preferred a quiet life, and especially walking in nature, to experimentation or planning too much for the future. Krishnamurti clearly helped me in that direction and Jean Klein deepened that tendency. I suppose that what these teachers were giving was a route into the deeper layers of mind and feeling, which gives rise to conscious awareness.
Yes. The deep layers of mind and feeling. I feel that at a certain point one will face not only the deeper layers of mind and feeling but also the deep layers of the body. Jean Klein’s approach also included ‘body-work’. Did this part of his teaching appeal to you? Can you expand a little on this aspect?
Yes, it did appeal very much, and I did a number of residential Seminars with him, in the UK and France, in which Yoga/Bodywork was a major part. There are others who are better qualified to comment on this aspect of his teaching than myself, so I will offer my own personal take on it. In my book ‘The Texture of Being’ I often refer to “going into the feeling” of something. There is a tendency, in a mind-dominated culture, to always think things through. This is fine when dealing with practical, mechanical things. But when dealing with personal issues and philosophical subjects, it is helpful if you can not only ‘think’ things through, but also ‘feel’ them through. This takes one into the realm of what is usually referred to as ‘intuition’ or ‘gut feeling’. But, in order to access this kind of intelligence, which is what it is, it is necessary to be able to go into the body-feeling, which is deeper than just ‘thinking’ about something. In Jean’s Yoga and other bodywork practices, conscious awareness of the ‘feeling’ was cultivated through gentle exercises. Being in the ‘feeling’ at each moment, in the body, was encouraged. This was done in a very casual, non-competitive way. Each participant in the bodywork was encouraged to work within whatever limitations their body dictated. Emphasis was always on being consciously aware of the movement and the space around the body, but also in the expansion of what we felt our physical limits were. He encouraged a stretching of the body and expansion of the limits of the body, in the creative imagination. This had the affect that one did not have the feeling of being confined within the body – there was a feeling of lightness and openness. Others could express this particular aspect more clearly, I am sure. But, it made me very aware that bodywork of some kind – be it tai chi, yoga, free-movement, or whatever, is a good counter-balance to what can become an intellectually dominant philosophy such as Advaita. If one is living in the world of ideas, and not grounding those ideas, not embodying them, then it can be like living in a kind of dream-world, where you may think that you have all the answers, even though you haven’t yet explored all the questions.
I have the feeling that the grounding or embodiment you speak about is all about facing and understanding ‘what is,’ is that right? I feel this is the stage where the shift from the verbal, conceptual level of understanding to the energetic level of non-verbal recognition, understanding and realization of reality takes place. As I see it, the body is also part of ‘what is’ and it is not just an illusion or a bag of bones. How do you see the role of the body in the non-duality you write about?
Without the body, where are you? Any answer that is given to this question is the product of a mind which is connected to a particular body … which we may call a ‘body-mind mechanism’ or some such similar term. This body-mind mechanism also contains ‘personality’ and ‘ego’. There is a constant feedback and updating going on between body and mind, from second to second. In facing ‘what is’, if there is fear at that moment, it will be mirrored in the body. If ‘what is’ is a poisonous snake, then the body will be prepared, via perception, memory and various chemical changes to respond instantly. In normal everyday life, we are not always facing poisonous snakes, but the memory is so full of conditioned influences that conditioned responses are continuously taking place without our conscious awareness. When I meet someone I have decided I don’t like, there is an inner response which relays itself into my body. I may smile and be polite to that person, but my body knows the truth, and in some way, health wise, I will almost certainly pay for such dislikes. Over the course of many years and millions of such reactions, my body will bear the scars of such unseen reactions. Maybe my joints will seize up, or I will develop an illness related to some other part of my body. There are some very good books which go into this subject more deeply than I could attempt here.
But, back to your question: how do I see the role of the body in the non-duality I write about? The body-mind mechanism is a part of the play . . . one of the actors. The phenomenal world is the world in which the body-mind mechanism has its apparent existence. Without that phenomenal world, there would be no question, or anything else. For the sage, everything appears out of nothing (including himself) and has no real substance, but he is happy to act out his part in the play of life, responding to whatever arises as appropriate. He knows that ‘what is’ is a temporary arising in perception, in the moment. Life flows through him, as if he were not there. Ultimately, all is One, but in the phenomenal world it appears otherwise. Identification and attachment within the phenomenal world will create suffering for the identified and attached, but of course this suffering is only apparent. In reality there is no permanent entity to suffer. Suffering arises and subsides, as do all other phenomena. In the sage, there is liberation from suffering because there is no identification or attachment. Ultimately, because he is not a fixed, permanent entity, this absence of suffering could also be viewed as something which arises and subsides within the body-mind mechanism. Ultimately, nothing ever happens, and there is neither duality nor non-duality, which are merely concepts. But in this life, this phenomenal life, the actor does appear to suffer, and a fine-tuning of the gap between body and mind will reduce the experience of suffering in the actor. In this sense, the traditional approaches, such as yoga, that work to refine the body-mind, are very appropriate. They make the life, the phenomenal life, more joyful . . . bringing us back to our natural state, before the mind began impeding the free-flow of energy. Emptying the mind of its ‘stuff’, its psychological hang-ups, likes and dislikes, resistances, attractions and aversions, is important work in the life of a body-mind mechanism – it will lead to freedom and joy, in this life, here and now. But, if it is entered into with an acquisitive spirit, as a way in which the ego is going to show how clever or powerful it is, then we are not talking about the same thing. The ego is a key part of the problem in the first place. An essential quality of freedom is humility . . . a complete letting go, or surrendering, of the egoistic impulse.
Many seekers believe that they have ‘got it’ when they first understand the basic principles of advaita, or non-duality. But understanding and accepting the concepts and living them, are two different things. For the living of them, there needs to be an emptying of the old conditioned thought patterns. Simply believing that ‘I Am That’, for instance, is not enough, if the memory keeps pushing up, in every moment of every day, ‘I Am Not That’. Saying “all is one”, then behaving as if all is not one by concentrating all one’s energies in self-centered activities is merely self-delusion. The memories and patterns are not just in the mind – they also appear in the body, in the muscles, the joints and so on. I would say that ‘Inner Work’, which is essential for a clear understanding, necessarily involves some kind of bodywork that allows for the letting go of dysfunctional thought and behavioural patterns, which get in the way of clear seeing and living in one’s true nature. Liberation is not just a flip in one’s thinking process, from the belief in the ego to the belief in no-ego. If you believe in no-ego yet still act from ego, then there is an immense conflict in your life, which needs to be addressed.
What is thought?
I would say that thought is simply a function of the mind, which allows the body-mind mechanism to survive in the phenomenal world of duality. It allows the body-mind to interact with the outside world in such a way that it builds up a memory bank of experience and knowledge, which should help it to function more successfully in the future. Of course this is not always the case, because if you feed rubbish in, then you will usually get rubbish out. So it is important to encourage the right thoughts and experiences, otherwise the memory bank will contain material that may contribute towards its own downfall. But thought always operates within the field of the known, because it must always refer to the past, to memory. But, it can become modified through its interaction with others, such that specific limiting patterns of thought may be completely undermined to the extent that ‘realization’ may occur.
Now, when we understand the limitations of thought, we can also utilize its incredible ability to explore its own environment, by exploring the subtleties of our ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds. The mind can easily get fixed into certain patterns of thinking and behaving, but it can also create strategies for disentangling itself from these fixed patterns. Whilst the mind may be burdened with negative thoughts, which may weigh heavy on the heart, it is also possible for the mind to express the most beautiful poetic descriptions of the world we know, and beyond. Thought can be our downfall and source of suffering, or it can take on all the lightness and beauty that there is. When we realize the incredible power of the mind, we will maybe treat it with more respect, and feed it well, so that our thoughts become an expression of the inner beauty that we essentially are.
What is the thinker, the observer, the controller? How do you see the thinker, or the ‘me’ comes to an end?
First there is consciousness, then the thinker, the controller, is created in the mind. We are not automatically born with the ability to think. This is taught to us, as we are gradually conditioned into living in the world as a separate body-mind. Always, underlying thought, there is ‘consciousness’, which is our fundamental aspect. But the thinker is the product of the past. The past is a synthesis of many strands of social evolution. What strands we become conditioned with will depend on what kind of family we are born into.
When you ask somebody “who are you?”, they will automatically reply with their name. If you ask them to define it even further, they may say that they are a man or a woman, etc. – but all the time they are describing the ‘clothing’ that consciousness has taken on in expressing itself through their particular body-mind. To think that this expression is a permanent entity in time is a mistake that nearly every body-mind makes. In this life, there is a great effort to accumulate more and more, to reinforce the notion that I am a somebody. But then, a great wave comes along, and suddenly there is nobody there.
What you are and what you appear to be are two different things. One is real and the other is an illusion, created within your own imagination. This trick has been taught to almost everyone, because it is tradition not to look at who or what you really are. You are not your name, your occupation, your body, your bank account – these are just tools for consciousness to express itself to itself. It is all a play, a great universal play of consciousness. Fundamentally, you are nothing but consciousness. But consciousness is not an object. You are conscious, you are receptive, but when you begin to think, you then begin also to think you are a separate entity. You then start to get involved and identified with the images that pass through your brain, and you believe that you are a controller, a doer. But who is there to control or do anything? It can be, and will be, wiped out suddenly. All it needs is one great wave, then where is the doer? Then, the doer is itself done. At any moment, we are solely reliant that our next breath comes – and one day it won’t come.
So, finally, to answer your question as to how I see that the thinker comes to an end. When the thinker comes to an end is of no interest. The thinking process is a natural part of life as a human being. When we see that this is how it is, we can be at ease in the understanding that all this play of the mind will come to an end. It doesn’t have to be ended as a deliberate act. Its end is already clear and will certainly happen when it is due to happen. Our true nature lies in consciousness, which is non-specific. When a life is born, it is naturally and automatically imbued with consciousness, because consciousness permeates all. When all this is known, there is naturally no more attraction for the mind to identify itself with what is going on in the play. It knows that it itself is a temporary blip on the all-encompassing background consciousness, so the mind naturally stands back from involvement. There is an awareness of the play, and the actor in the play, and it is never forgotten who or what it is that stands behind the actor.
You seem to suggest consciousness is a kind of screen on which thought moves. As I see it, thought itself is consciousness. Consciousness is dependent on the body and mind. Without memory and thought there is hardly any consistent notion of existence, which is what consciousness is after all. So consciousness is limited, relative and temporary.
When consciousness understands its own nature it is also emptied of the false sense of self or separation constructed and imagined by thought. Consciousness is transformed and empty. This emptiness is not an entity. It is without sense of self. This empty consciousness is like the dew drop in which the moon is reflected; the moon being absolute reality. This reality is beyond being or non-being. It is not an entity and is not a state which can be experienced. It is beyond consciousness and experience. What would you say to this view?
Consciousness is the substratum of all existence. It underlies everything in the physical world. At least, this is one use of the word. I am not attached to any particular concept regarding Consciousness. As far as I am concerned, consciousness is not an object. What we point to in our discussion can never be it, because ‘it’ is not an ‘it’ at all. It has no separate existence. Now, I know that one of Krishnamurti’s favourite phrases was “consciousness is its content”. This is a totally different concept, and use of the word. If you are saying that thought, mind is consciousness, then I can accept that, but we are not talking about the same thing. We are attributing different meanings to different words. Maybe you use different words to describe what I am trying to describe?
From my starting position, consciousness is not dependent on the body and mind – in fact, quite the opposite. But I am also happy to use your concept of consciousness. Both are valid. These are not opposing views. We are merely using different concepts in different ways. In the sense that I am using it, consciousness cannot be transformed, because it is beyond time-space and causation. It is not an object. If we say that consciousness is its content (i.e. memory and thought) then we maybe call what I call consciousness “God”. I am happy to do that. Or we can call one ‘Consciousness with form’ and the other ‘Consciousness without form’ – as you wish. There is black and there is white. Without black there is no white, and vice versa. Without the relative there would be no absolute, without me there would be no you, and so on. But is there something beyond this? Or do we simply need to accept that there is existence and there is non-existence? Today we converse … and tomorrow we are not here. Today we read Rumi, Hui Neng, Buddha, Jesus … where are they now? Are they not merely concepts in our minds? Tomorrow … in ten thousand years, maybe someone will read our dialogue, and it will be relevant then, as it is now, but neither Ben nor Roy will be around anymore. Where have we gone? Who in fact are we? Or is what we take ourselves to be merely a wave arising in the great ocean of consciousness?
In all schools of traditional Buddhism and Vedanta precepts for moral and ethical conduct are the cornerstone on which the more advanced teachings are founded. In popular Advaita these basic teachings are often frowned upon. What is your view on this?
The precepts are there for good reason. The mind, the ego, is very adept at deluding itself into thinking it has grasped the ultimate truth, when in fact it has only grasped the basics of the philosophy. I would not suggest that everyone practice traditional spirituality as it has been laid down through the ages. It may be appropriate for some, but is not necessary for everyone. However, I have become aware of a number of people who consider that once it is realized that the ultimate nature of reality is non-dualistic, that there is then no need to question one’s behaviour or attitudes at all – that, basically, any kind of behaviour is acceptable, as there is no one there in ultimate terms. So, such people become unwilling to question their anger, their fear, their sexual behaviour maybe, or their offensive use of language. As all is One and as this ‘person’ here really doesn’t exist in ultimate terms, anything goes, according to this view. Whilst there may be a certain amount of philosophical truth in this view, in terms of helpfulness for daily life, I would say it is a way of burying the head in the sand, whilst at the same time claiming to be able to see beyond the stars. If there truly is ‘realization’, in the traditional sense, there is also transformation on every level. It doesn’t just affect one’s ideas and concepts. If there really is selfless awareness, then where is the room for selfish behaviour? The mind and emotions are automatically transformed by ‘realization’. Otherwise, it is a new meaning that is being attributed to the word ‘realization’, to suit a less demanding group of people. Realization, in the traditional sense, changes the centricity of the ‘person’ entirely. Yes, his behaviour may then be unpredictable, but how can it ever be ego-centric again? This is the difference. There is freedom to do anything (the new approach), and there is also freedom from the need to do anything (the old approach).
What is the nature of reality? Can it be experienced?
It may sound like an evasive answer, but I would say that the nature of reality cannot be accurately described. It can be experienced, but not by ‘you’ and not by ‘me’. When there is mindfulness, but no sense of me or you, there is a meeting with reality. It can be hinted at in poetry or art, but not directly, not by way of trying to pin it down, describe it or somehow grasp the meaning of it. It has no meaning, as we know it, and it is not fixed in such a way that any philosophy can accurately represent it in words. Anything that we say that reality is, is merely a concept, a poor representation. When we truly have been touched by reality, we will completely let go of trying to pin it down.
September 1988. Location: the kitchen of his house on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.
We were busy going over the translation of The Nectar of the Lord’s Feet (Dutch title Self-Realization) by his Spiritual master Nisargadatta Maharaj and he wanted to do an ‘interview’ for a change, as a sort of practice. The interview has survived a computer crash, break-in and theft, because luckily I had typed it out and printed the tape previously. I have preserved this as a treasure for years. Until now.
Alexander met Nisargadatta in September of 1978. In the beginning of September of that year Jacques Lewenstein had been in India and come back with the book I Am That and tapes of Nisargadatta.
Alexander: That book came into the hands of Wolter Keers. He was very happy with it, because after the death of Krishna Menon (Wolter’s spiritual master) he had not heard anything so purely advaita. After Wolter had read the book he decided to translate and publish it ‘because this is so extremely good’. Wolter gave me the book immediately and I was very moved by it. Then there was an article in Panorama or The New Revue: God Has No Teeth. A poorly written story by the young man who did Showroom (TV). There was a life-sized photo of Nisargadatta’s head in it. That was actually my first acquaintance with Nisargadatta. By then Wolter had already told me: ‘I can not do anything more for you. You need someone. But I wouldn’t know who.’ But, when he had read I Am That he said: ‘If I can give you a piece of advice, go there immediately.’ And that I did.
What were you seeking?
I was seeking nothing more. I knew everything. But, if you had asked me what I had learned I would have said; I don’t actually know it. There is something essential that I don’t know. There was a sort of blind spot in me that no one knew what do with. Krishnamurti knew nothing that he could say about it. Bhagwan was for us at that time not someone that you would go to, at least for this sort of thing. Da Free John was also not it. Those were the known people at that time. I had a blind spot. And what typifies a blind spot is that you don’t know what it is. You only knew that if you were really honest with yourself, if you really went to the bottom of yourself, that you had not yet solved the riddle.
For the first time in Bombay?
A little staircase going up to an attic room. First came my head, and the first thing that I saw was Mrs. Satprem and Nisargadatta. There were maybe three or four people there. ‘Here I am’, I said. And he said: ‘So, finally you came.’ Yeah, that is what they all say, that I heard later, but for me it was the first time that I heard it. I did have the feeling when I went in that now it was really serious. Now there is no escape possible, Here something is really going to happen. Naturally I had already met many of these people: Krishnamurti, Jean Klein, Wolter, Swami Ranganathananda, Douglas Harding, and also some less well known Indians. I was naturally too young for Ramana Maharshi and Krishna Menon. They died in the fifties. I was 7 or 8 years old then. That is not the age to be busy with these sorts of things. It held also true for us at that time, ‘wait’ for a living master. And I had a very strong feeling that this was the man that I had been looking for. He asked if I were married, what I did, and why I had come to India.
What precisely did you want from him?
Self-realization. I wanted to know how I was put together. I said: ‘I have heard that your are the greatest ego killer who exists. And that is what I want.’ He said: ‘I am not a killer. I am a diamond cutter. You are also a diamond. But you are a raw diamond and you can only be cut by a pure diamond. And that is very precise work, because if that is not done properly then you fall apart into a hundred pieces, and then there is nothing left for you. Do you have any questions?’ I told him that Maurice Frydman was the decisive reason for my coming. Frydman was a friend of Krishnamurti and Frydman was planning to publish all of the earlier work of Krishnamurti at Chetana Publishers in Bombay, And that he had heard from Mr. Dikshit , the publisher, that there was someone in Bombay who he had to meet. (I Am That was of course not yet published at that time because Frydman had yet to meet Nisargadatta). Frydman went there with his usual skeptical ideas. He came in there, and within two weeks things became clear to him that had never become clear with Krishnamurti. And I thought then: if it all became clear to Frydman within two weeks, how will it go with me? I told all this to Nisargadatta and he said: ‘That says nothing about me, but everything about Frydman.’ And he also said: ‘People who don’t understand Krishnamurti don’t understand themselves.’ I thought that was beautiful, because all the gurus I knew always ran everyone down. It seemed as if he wanted to help me relax. He didn’t launch any provocations. I was able to relax, because as you can understand it was of course a rather tense situation there. He said; ‘Do you have any questions?’
I said; ‘No.’
‘When are you going to come?’
‘Every day if you allow me.’
‘That’s good. Come just two times every day, mornings and afternoons, for the lectures, and we’ll see how it goes.’
I said: ‘Yes, and I am not leaving until it has become clear.’
He said; ‘That’s good.’
Was that true?
Yes, without a doubt. Because what he did — within two minutes he made it clear, whatever you brought up, that the knowledge you presented was not yours. That it was from a book, or that you had borrowed or stolen it, or that it was fantasy, but that you were actually not capable of having a direct observation, a direct perception, seeing directly, immediately, without a mediator, without self consciousness. And that frightened me terribly, because everything you said was cut down in a brutal way.
What happened with you exactly?
The second day he asked if I had any questions. Then I began to ask a question about reincarnation in a more or less romanticized way. I told that I had always had a connection with India, that when I heard the word ‘India’ for the first time it was shock for me, and that the word ‘yoga’ was like being hit by a bomb when I first heard it on TV, and that the word ‘British India’ was like a dog hearing his boss whistle. And I asked, could it mean that I had lived in India in previous lives? And then he began to curse in Marathi, and to get unbelievably agitated, and that lasted for at least ten minutes. I thought, my god, what’s happening here? The translator was apparently used to it, because he just sat calmly by, and when Maharaj was finished he summarized it all together; ‘Maharaj is asking himself if you are really serious. Yesterday you came and you wanted self-realization, but now you begin with questions that belong in kindergarten’… In this way you were forced to be unbelievably alert. Everything counted heavily. It became clear to me within a few days that I knew absolutely nothing, that all that I knew, all the knowledge that I had gathered was book knowledge, second hand, learned, but that out of myself I knew nothing. I can assure you that this put what was needed into motion. And that’s how it went every day! Whatever I came up with, whether I asked an intelligent question or a dumb question, made absolutely no difference. And one day he asserted this, and the following day he asserted precisely the opposite and the following day he twisted it around one more time even though that was not actually possible. And so it went, until by observation I understood why that was, and that was a really wonderful realization. Why do I try all the time to cram everything into concepts, to try to understand everything in terms of thinking or in the feelings sphere? And, he gave me tips about how I could look at things in another way, thus really looking. And then it became clear to me that it just made no sense to regard yourself — whatever you call yourself, or don’t call yourself — in that way. That was an absolute undermining of the self-consciousness, like a termite eating a chair. At a certain moment it becomes sawdust. It still looks like a chair, but it isn’t a chair anymore.
Did that lead to self realization?
He kept going on like this, and then there came a moment that I just plain had enough of it. Really just so much … I would not say that I became angry, but a shift took place in me, a shift of the accent on all authorities outside of myself, including Nisargadatta, to an authority inside myself. He was talking, and at a given moment he said ‘nobody’. He said : ‘Naturally there is nobody here who talks.’ That was too much for me. And I said: ‘If you don’t talk then why don’t you shut up then? Why say anything then?’
And it seemed as if that is what had been waiting for. He said: ‘Do you want that I should not talk anymore? That’s good, then I won’t talk anymore and if people want to know something then they can just go to Alexander. From now on there are no more translations, translators don’t have to come anymore, there is no more English spoken. Only Marathi will be spoken, and if people have any problems then they can go to Alexander because he seems to know everything.’ And then began all the trouble with the others, the bootlickers and toadies who insisted that I had to offer my apologies! Not on my life. Yeah, you can’t offer excuses to a nobody, eh?!
And to me he said; ‘And you, you can’t come here anymore.’ And I said: ‘What do you mean I can’t come here anymore. Try and stop me. Have you gone completely crazy? ‘ And the translators were naturally completely upset. They said nothing like this had ever been seen before. And he was angry! Unbelievably angry!. And he threw the presents that I had brought for him at my feet and said: ‘I want nothing from you, Nothing from you I want.’ And that was the breakthrough, because something happened, there was no thinking because I was.. the shift in authority had happened. As I experienced it everything came to me from all sides: logic, understanding, on the one hand the intellect and on the other hand at the same time the heart, feelings and all phenomena, the entire manifest came directly to me from all sides to an absolute center where the whole thing exploded. Bang. After that everything became clear to me.
The next day I went there as usual. There was a lecture, but indeed no English was spoken. I can assure you that the tension could be cut with a knife, because I was the guilty party of course. He wanted to push that down my throat and the translators just went along quietly. There was not even any talking. And the next day, there was not even a lecture. He arrived in a car, and drove away when he saw me and went to a movie… Then I wrote him a letter. Twelve pages. In perfect English. I had someone bring the letter to him. Everything was running over. I wrote everything. And his answer was: let him come tomorrow at 10 o’clock. And he read my letter and said: ´You understood. This confrontation was needed to eliminate that self-consciousness. But you understood completely and I am very happy with your letter and nothing happened.’ Naturally , that cleared the air. He asked if I wanted to stay longer. ‘From this situation that took place on September 21, 1978, I want to be here in love .’ And he said; ‘that is good.’ From that day on I attended all the talks and also translated sometimes, for example when Spaniards, or Frenchmen or Germans came. I was a bit of a helper then.
So actually you apply the same method as he did: the cutting away of the self-consciousness to the bone and letting people see their identities. Was that his method?
Yes. Recognizing the false as false and thereafter letting the truth be born. But the most wonderful thing was, My basis dilemma, and if I say ‘my’ I mean everyone in a certain sense, is that if at a certain moment you ask yourself: what did I come here for, that seems to be something completely different from what you thought. Everyone has ideas about this question, and I had never suspected in the farthest reaches of my mind that the Realization of it would be something like this. That is the first point. The second is, it appears that a certain point you have the choice of maintaining your self-consciousness out of pride, arrogance, intellect. And the function of the Guru, the skill with which he can close the escapes from the real confrontation was in his case uncommonly great, at least in my case. And for me that was the decisive factor. Because if there had been a chance to ‘escape’, I would certainly have taken it. Like a thief who still tries to get away.
Did he ever say anything about it?
He said that unbelievable courage is needed not to flee. And that my being there had almost given him a heart attack, that he no longer had the strength to tackle cases like mine as he became older. So I have the feeling that I got there at just the right moment. Later he became sick. He said: ‘I have no strength anymore to try to convince people. If you like it, continue to come, maybe you can get something out of it, but I have no strength anymore to convince people like him (and then he pointed to me). I am so grateful to him, because it only showed how great my resistance was. There has to be a proportional force that is just a bit stronger than your strangest and strongest resistance. You need that. It showed how great my resistance was. And it showed how great his strength was, and his skill. For me he was the great Satguru. The fact that he was capable of defeating my most cunning resistance — and I can assure you after having gone into these things for 15 years — my resistance was extremely refined and cunning, was difficult for him even though he knew who he was dealing with. That’s why I had to go to such a difficult person of course. It says everything about me. Just as he said in the beginning that it said everything about Frydman. But I have never seen the skill he had in closing the escape routes of the lies and falsehoods so immensely great anywhere else.
Of course I have not been everywhere, but with Ramana Maharshi you just melted. That was another way. With Krishna Menon the intellect could just not keep it together under the gigantic dismantling, but by Nisargadatta, every escape was doomed to failure. People who came to get something, or people who thought they could bring something stood naked outside the door within five minutes. I saw a great many people there walking away in great terror. At a certain moment I was no longer afraid, because I felt that I had nothing more to lose. So I can’t really say that it was very courageous of me. I can only say that in a certain sense with him I went on the attack. And what was nice about it is that he also valued that. Because, he sent many people away, and these really went and mostly didn’t come back. The he would say: ‘They are cowards. I didn’t send them away, I sent away the part of them that was not acceptable here.’ And if they then returned, completely open, then he would say nothing about it. But during those happenings with me, people forgot that. There was also a doctor, a really fine man, who said; ‘don’t think that he is being brutal with you; you don’t have any idea how much love there is in him to do this with you.’ I said: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that.’ Because I didn’t want any commentary from anyone. After all, this is what I had come for! Only the form in which it happened was totally different from what I had expected in my wildest dreams. But again, that says more about me than about Maharaj, and I still think that.
So, his method was thus to let you recognize the false as false, to see through the lies as lies, and to come to truth in this way?
Yes, and that went deeper than I could have ever suspected. The thinking was absolutely helpless. The intellect had no ghost of chance. The heart was also a trap. And that is exactly what happened there. That is everything. And I know that after that day, September 21, 1978, there has never been even a grain of doubt about this question, and the authority, the command, the authenticity, has never left, has never again shifted. There is no authority, neither in this world or in another world, that can thrust me out of the realization. That’s the way it is.
Did Maharaj say that you had to do something after this realization?
I asked: ‘It is all very beautiful, but what now? What do I do with my life? Then he said: ‘You just talk and people will take care of you.’ And that’s the way it has gone.
Did you go visit him often?
Various times. As often as I could I was there every year for two or three months. Until the last time. And when I knew that I would never see him again there was entirely no sadness or anything like that. It was just the way it was. It was fine that way,
Did he do the same with others as he had with you?
Not as intensely and not so persistently.
You get what you give?
Yes, that is so. In a certain sense he did that with everyone, but if someone was very sensitive he approached it in a different way. Naturally it makes difference if an old nun is sitting in front of you, or a rebel like myself, who also looks as if he can take quite a bit. The last time he said; ‘He will be powerful in Europe. He has the knowledge. He will be the source of what I am teaching.’ And then he directed those headlight eyes of his towards me. That is still so wonderful… It is ten years ago now, and it seems like a week. I have learned to value his words in the passage of time. The things I questioned in the past I see becoming manifest now. At first I thought; the way he has put this into words is typical Indian conditioning after all, but the wonder is that all the advice that he gave taught me to hang on to them. I didn’t follow them a few times and that always lead to catastrophes.
For example he said to me: ‘Don’t challenge the Great Ones. Let them enjoy.’ And I have to admit that I had trouble with that. But knowing my rebellious character — and naturally he saw that immediately — he still had to give me that. And every time that I see that, that aspect of my character wants to express itself, I hear his voice: ‘Don’t challenge the Great Ones.’ He anticipated that. I know that for sure. And in that way he also said a number of things that suddenly made sense. Then I hear him. And Wolter always said: ‘After the realization, the only words that remain with you are the words of your Guru. All your knowledge disappears, but the words of the Guru remain.’ And I can now confirm that that is true, that it is like that.
Was Wolter also a disciple of Nisargadatta?
No, but he was there often.
I have understood that you find the Living Teaching very important. Is that especially true for Advaita?
The objection to books about Advaita, including the translations of Nisargadatta’s words is that too much knowledge is given in them. That is an objection. People can use this knowledge, and especially the knowledge at the highest level to defend and maintain their self-consciousness. That makes my work more difficult. Knowledge, spiritual knowledge, can, when there is no living master be used again to maintain the ‘I’, the self-consciousness. The mind is tricky, cunning. And I speak out of my own experience! Because Advaita Vedanta, without a good living spiritual master, I repeat, a good one, can become a perfect self contained defense mechanism. It can be a plastic sack that leaks on all sides, but you can’t find the leak. You know that it doesn’t tally, but it looks as if it does tally. That is the danger in Vedanta. Provided there is a good living master available, it can do no harm. But stay away from it if there is no master available! Provided it is well guided Advaita can be brilliant.
Do you mean that people could act from their so called ‘knowing’ as if they are more than the content of their consciousness? That they therefore assume that the content is worthless?
Yes. That is why up to now, I have never wanted to write a book. But, as long as I am alive there are Living Teachings. When I die they can do whatever they want to with it, but as long as I am alive I am there.
To take corrective action?
Do people have a built in defense mechanism?
At the level of the psyche there is a defense mechanism that prevents you from taking in more than you can cope with, but at a higher level sooner or later you have an irrevocable need for a spiritual master who can tell you certain things, who has to explain things because other wise you get stuck. Whoever doesn’t want a living master gets stuck.
Books could lead to people becoming interested and going on a search.
To a good spiritual master of flesh and blood. Living!
Did Nisargadatta foresee that you would manifest as a guru?
I think guru is a rotten word, but he did say: ‘Many people will seek your blessings.’
So you couldn’t do anything else. It happened by itself.
He said; ‘The seed is sown, the seasons do the rest.’
Isn’t that true for everyone?
Yes, but some seeds fall on good soil and something grows, but other seeds don’t grow. Out of million sperms only one reaches the egg.
At Nisargadatta’s bhajans were also sung and certain rituals done, especially for the Indians. Did you also participate in that?
I participated two times. The bhajans I thought, were really special…
What is their goal?
Singing bhajans has a purifying effect on the body, thinking, and feeling, so that the Knowledge can become manifest and finds its place there. I don’t have any need of it, but I see that the singing offers social and emotional solace and thus I am not against it. In addition prasad was distributed and arati done.
What is arati?
A form of ritual in which fire is swung around and camphor is burned. Camphor is the symbol of the ego. That burns and nothing remains of it. Just as in self-realization nothing of the self-consciousness remains. It is a beautiful ritual. It makes you attentive to all kinds of things. The fire is swung at your eye level so what you see may be beautiful, at your ears so that what you hear may be pure, and at your mouth so that what you eat may be pure. It is Hindu symbolism that has become so common in India that it has mostly become flattened out and routine. It has something, as a symbol , but Westerners shouldn’t try it unless they understand the symbolism completely. I find the singing of OM good, that works, that is a law. It works to purify the body, thinking and feeling, so that the Knowing that it is can be manifest and find a place in your life.
Did Nisargadatta follow a certain tradition?
But of course. The Navdath Sampradaya. The tradition of the Nine Gurus. The first was Jnaneshwar (Jnanadeva) from the 13th century, who became realized when he was twenty and also died at that age. Nisargadatta was the ninth.
Are you the tenth?
No. I always call Maharaj ‘the last of the Mohicans’.
Still you always talk about the tradition.
I work following a traditional background, because there lies the experience of a thousand years of instruction. Instruction that works! I have learned to value the Tradition. I am totally non traditional, but in my heart I am a traditionalist. When I talk about ‘the tradition’ I mean the tradition of Advaita so as that became manifest in the Navdath Sampradaya.
What is the importance of tradition?
The importance of a tradition is just as with violin playing, that you have had predecessors who have done it in a certain way which you know works. But many traditions have become dead end traditions because they don’t work anymore. That is why you always see renovators like a Buddha, a Krishna, Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi in a certain sense, and Bhagwan (Osho) and Nisargadatta. The way Nisargadatta said it is after all quite different from the way his Guru said it, and the way it is here made manifest, is after all also very different then at Nisargadatta’s. It is about the ‘essence’. Just as consciousness is transmitted by means of sex, enlightenment is transmitted by the Guru.
Did Nisargadatta teach you the tradition?
You can’t learn a tradition; you can only become self-realized. And that is what happened. I know what I know. Done.
And then a tradition is born?
Yes, precisely, you say it very well.
We are now busy with book ‘Self-realization. What do you think about that book?
It is no easy book. It is no easy bedside companion.
In one way or another, translating the book has done much for me.
You have been busy with these things for a long time, thus the reading of a relatively direct form of Nisargadatta’s words must have an effect, But even you found it to be a difficult book. The theme of the book — who were you before the conception, before body/thinking/feeling appeared and before the forming of words in the mind — is not simple to say, but by repeated readings, and talking with each other and all kind of other things, a few things have become clear.
It has to be digested?
Yes, especially digesting it is important. You can eat a lot, but it has to be digested.
Did you just see him sometimes in the daytime, like here in the kitchen?
He lived in that house and everyone went to their hotel or family, or to friends, or had lodgings with the translators. Someone always stayed to care for him a bit, but everyone simply went their own way. There was nothing like an ashram in the usual sense, a care institution, a salvation army for seekers. Absolutely not.
How was he between the acts?
Changeable, from extremely friendly to grumbling.
Did you find him to be a nice man?
Never thought about it for a second.
Would you like to be his friend?
No, Odd question.
I don’t agree, you could at least say ‘he is my Guru, but as a human, as a person’… if you at least could still see him as a person.
Just a whopper of a person, but yeah, there are no meaningful words that can be said about it.
I don’t believe that.
Did you ever eat with him?
Did you ever listen to music with him?
Did you ever just chat with him about little things?
How was that?
Normal, just like with you.
Did you find that scary?
Never? Also not in the beginning?
Did he have a normal householder’s life?
Was he married?
Yes, he had children.
What kind of a father was he?
What kind of husband was he?
I don’t know because his wife was dead.
Did he have girl friends?
Did he sometimes speak about sex?
What did he do in his spare time?
He had no spare time. All his time was spent on the ‘talks’. Or he slept or took walks, or he looked outside, and he smoked a little beedee.
How did he experience being sick?
He didn’t think about it. It’s just something of the body, a little something.
What was his attitude towards women ‘seekers’?
The rule for Indian women was keep your mouth shut and listen. Ask no questions. Unless they were very brave, then he allowed it from time to time and answered them, just as with them men. Western women he just answered, just like with the men. But with Indian women he was very traditional: ‘just keep quiet.’
What did he think about Bhagwan (Osho)?
It varied. It depended who was asking the question.
This interview was conducted in 1988 by Stephan Bodian when he was editor of Yoga Journal. I have posted it here for the benefit of those who would like to know more about Jean Klein.
Jean, I find you and your teaching interesting for a number of reasons. For one thing, you are a Westerner who went to India long before such journeys were common and ended up attaining a high degree of realization. What prompted you to go to India?
I was hoping to find a society where people lived without conflict. Also, I think, I was hoping to find a center in myself that was free from conflict – a kind of forefeeling, or foretaste, of truth.
While in India, you found a teacher with whom you studied for a number of years. What is the value of a teacher for the spiritual life?
A teacher is one who lives free from the idea or image of being somebody. There’s only function; there’s no one who functions. It’s a loving relationship; a teacher is like a friend.
Why is that important for someone on the spiritual path?
Because generally the relationship with other people involves asking or demanding – sex, money, psychological or biological security. Then suddenly you meet someone who doesn’t ask for demand anything of you; there’s only giving.
A true teacher doesn’t take himself for a teacher, and he doesn’t take his pupil for a pupil. When neither one takes himself to be something, there is a coming together, a oneness. And in this oneness, transmission takes place. Otherwise the teacher will remain a teacher through the pupil, and the pupil will always remain a pupil.
When the image of being something is absent, one is completely in the world but not of the world; completely in society, but at the same time free from society. We are truly a creative element when we can be in society in this way.
What did your teacher teach you?
The teacher brings clarity of mind. That’s very important. There comes a moment when the mind has no reference and just stops, naturally, simply. There’s a silence which you more and more live knowingly.
And the teacher shows you how to do that. Did you learn any meditation or yoga techniques from you teacher?
No. Because what you really are is never achieved through technique. You go away from what you are when you use technique.
What about the whole notion of the spiritual path – the idea that you enter a path, follow a certain prescribed way of practice, and eventually achieve some goal?
It belongs to psychology, to the realm of the mind. These are sweets for the mind.
What about the argument that if you don’t practice, you can’t attain anything?
You must first see that in all practice you project a goal, a result. And in projecting a result you remain constantly in the representation of what you project. What you are fundamentally is a natural giving up. When the mind becomes clear, there is a giving up, a stillness, fulfilled with a current of love. As long as there’s a meditator, there’s no meditation. When the meditator disappears, there is meditation.
So by practicing some meditation technique, you are somehow interfering with that giving up.
You interfere because you think there is something to attain. But in reality what you are fundamentally is nothing to obtain, nothing to achieve. You can only achieve something that remains in the mind, knowledge. You must see the difference. Being yourself has nothing to do with accumulating knowledge.
In certain traditions – Zen, for one – you have to meditate in order to exhaust the mind; through meditating the mind eventually wears itself out and comes to rest. Then a kind of opening takes place. But you’re suggesting that the process of meditating somehow gets in the way of this opening.
Yes. This practicing is still produced by will. For me, the point of meditation is only to look for the meditator. When we find out that the meditator, the one who looks for God, for beauty, for peace, is only a product of the brain and that there is therefore nothing to find, there is a giving up. What remains is a current of silence. You can never come to this silence through practice, through achievement. Enlightenment – being understanding – is instantaneous.
Once you’ve attained this enlightenment or this current, do you then exist in it all the time?
Constantly. But it’s not a state. When there’s a state, there is mind.
So in the midst of this current there is also activity?
Oh, yes. Activity and non-activity. Timeless awareness is the life behind all activity and non-activity. Activity and non-activity are more or less superimpositions upon this constant beingness. It is behind the three states of waking , dreaming, and sleeping, beyond inhalation and exhalation. Of course, the words “beyond” and “behind” have a spatial connotation that does not belong to beingness.
In the midst of all activity, then, you are aware of this presence, this clarity.
Yes, “presence” is a good word. You are presence, but you are not aware of it.
You’ve often called what you teach the direct way, and you’ve contrasted it with what you call progressive teachings, including the classical yoga tradition and most forms of Buddhism. What is the danger of progressive teachings, and why do you think the direct way is closer to the truth?
In the progressive way, you use various techniques and gradually attain higher and higher states. But you remain constantly in the mind, in the subject-object relationship. Even when you give up the last object, you still remain in the duality of subject and object. You are still in a kind of blank state, and this blank state itself becomes an extremely subtle object. In this state, it is very difficult to give up the subject-object relationship. Once you’ve attained it, you’re locked into it, fixed to it. There’s a kind of quietness, but there’s no flavor, no taste. To bring you to the point where the object vanishes and you abide in this beingness, a tremendous teacher of exceptional circumstances are necessary.
In the direct approach, you face the ultimate directly, and the conditioning gradually loses its impact. But that takes time.
So the ultimate melts the conditioning.
Yes. There’s a giving up, and in the end you remain in beingness.
You say that any kind of practice is a hindrance, but at the same time you suggest practices to people. You teach a form of yoga to your students, and to some you recommend self-inquiry, such as the question, “Who am I?” It sounds paradoxical – no practice, but you teach a practice. What practices do you teach, and why do you use practices at all?
To try to practice and to try not to practice are both practice. I would rather say listen, be attentive, and see that you really are not attentive. When you see in certain moments in daily life that you are not attentive, in those moments you are attentive. Then see how you function. That is very important. Be completely objective. Don’t judge, compare, criticize, evaluate. Become more and more accustomed to listening. Listen to your body, without judging, without reference – just listen. Listen to all the situations in daily life. Listen from the whole mind, not from a mind divided by positive and negative. Look from the whole, the global. Students generally observe that most of the time they are not in this listening, although our natural way of behavior is listening.
The path you are describing is often called the “high path with no railing,” which is the most difficult path of all. The average person wouldn’t know where to begin to do what you’re talking about. Most could probably be attentive to their inattention, but after that, what? There’s nothing to grasp onto.
No. there’s nothing to grasp, nothing to find. But it is only apparently a difficult path; actually, I would say it is the easiest path.
Listening to something is easy, because it doesn’t go through the mind. It is our natural behavior. Evaluation, comparison, is very difficult, because it involves mental effort. In this listening there’s a welcoming of all that happens, an unfolding, and this unfolding, this welcoming, is timeless. All that you welcome appears in this timelessness, and there’s a moment when you feel yourself timeless, fell yourself in welcoming, feel yourself in listening, in attention. Because attention has its own taste, its own flavor. There’s attention to something, but there’s also attention in which there’s no object: nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to touch, only attention.
And in that moment of pure attention, you realize the one who’s being attentive?
I would say that this attention, completely free from choice and reflection, refers to itself. Because it is essentially timeless.
The Zen master Dogen said: “Take the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate the self.” That seems to be similar to what you are talking about.
Yes, but one must be careful. Turning the head inward is still doing something. And there’s really no inward and no outward.
I notice that you use the word “attention.” Is this the same as what the Buddhists call mindfulness – being acutely aware of every movement, every sensation, every thought?
Mindfulness mainly emphasizes the object, the perceived, and not the perceiving, which can never be an object, just as the eye can never see its seeing. The attention I’m speaking of is objectless, directionless, and in it all that is perceived exists potentially. Mindfulness implies a subject-object relation, but attention is non-dual. Mindfulness is intentional; attention is the real state of the mind, free from volition.
What about the yoga you teach, which you call “body-work?” What is it, and why do you teach it?
You are not your body, senses, and mind; body, senses, and mind are expressions of your timeless awareness. But to completely understand that you are not something, you must first see what you are not. You cannot say “I am not the body” without knowing what it is. So you inquire, you explore, you look, you listen. And you discover that you know only certain fractions of your body, certain sensations, and these are more or less reactions, resistance. Eventually you come to a body feeling that you have never had before, because when you listen it unfolds, and the sensitive body, the energy body, appears. It is most important to feel and come into contact with the energy body. Because in the beginning your body is more or less a pattern or superficial structure in the mind, made up of reactions and resistance. But when you really listen to the body, you are no longer an accomplice to these reactions, and the body comes to its natural feeling, which is emptiness. The real body in its original state is emptiness, a completely vacant state. Then you feel the appearance of the elastic body, which is the energy body. When we speak of “body-work,” it is mainly to find this energy body. Once the energy body has been experienced, the physical body works completely differently. The muscle structure, the skin, the flesh, is seen and felt in a completely new way. Even the muscles and bones function differently.
What is the yoga that you teach like?
It’s not really yoga. It’s an approach to the body based on the Kashmir teaching. The Kashmir approach is largely an awakening of the subtle energies circulating in the body. These energies are used to spiritualize the body, to make it sattvic [literally, “pure” or “true”]. In a sattvic body there is already a giving up. You see more clearly what you are not – your tensions, ideas, fixations, reactions. Once the false is seen as false, what remains is our timeless being. By spiritualizing the body, therefore, I mean orchestrating all the dispersed energy that belongs to the false. Our approach is an exploration without will or effort. It is inspired by the truth itself. The natural body is an expression, a prolongation, of this truth.
But I understand you use the traditional asanas of Hatha Yoga.
Every gesture, every position the body can take, is an asana; there are certain archetypes that are not even mentioned in the classical texts of Hatha Yoga. But there are archetypal positions par excellence that brings harmonization of body and mind. Before going to these archetypes, however, one must prepare the body. Otherwise, yoga is nothing more than a kind of gesticulation. What you see for the most part in Europe and the U.S. is gymnastics, gesticulation, and has nothing to do with body integration.
Do you have any other reasons for not using the term “yoga”?
Yes. The term “yoga” means “to join,” and so there must be something to join, something to attain. But join who? Join what? In a certain way the body approach helps you to listen quietly. It is through real listening to the body that you come to true equanimity of mind and body.
Should this be practiced every day?
Don’t make a discipline of it, because in discipline there is anticipation – you’re already emphasizing a goal. This doesn’t belong to exploration.
Practically speaking, wait until you are invited by the energy of the body itself. This recall of our natural state is not memory. It comes from the needs of the body and appears spontaneously. Go to it as you would to a dinner invitation. Otherwise, you’re doing violence to the body.
In your daily life you may experience moments of absolute silence in which there’s nothing to do, nothing to avoid, nothing to achieve. In these moments, you’re completely attuned to this stillness without any effort. Become more and more aware of these timeless moments, moments when you cannot think, because when you think, the moment is already past. Present moments free from all thoughts. Often you will have these moments when an action is accomplished, when a thought is finished, in the evening before you fall asleep, in the morning when you first wake up. Become more and more familiar with these gaps between two thoughts or two actions – gaps which are not an absence of thought, but are presence itself. Simply let yourself be attuned to these timeless moments. You will increasingly welcome them, until one day you are established in this timelessness, are knowingly the light behind all perceptions.
So you don’t recommend practicing meditation as a regular discipline?
You talk about stillness and silence. Are these goals of spiritual life?
When I speak of stillness and silence, nobody is still and nobody is silent; there is only silence and stillness. This stillness does no refer to somebody or something.
So in the midst of this stillness there is activity?
Yes. Stillness is like the hinge of a door. The body is the door that opens and closes constantly, but the stillness never moves.
T.S. Eliot called it “the still point of the turning world.” Since the practice has no goal – in fact, there isn’t even a practice – what is the purpose of spiritual life at all? Obviously, most of us would say that we are not enlightened or liberated, and so we do feel a need to go somewhere where we are not. Then it seems as if we do need to undertake some kind of spiritual life. What is that like?
I would say that we are constantly, without knowing it, being solicited by what we are fundamentally. But the feeling by which we are solicited is very often mistaken for something objective, for a state, for some relative mental stillness that we can achieve through effort or practice. We seek this state as a kind of compensation for real stillness. The moment you are really solicited by the inner need and you face it and visit with it, you will be taken by it. But generally we are looking for compensation.
This process you’re talking about is very different from the way we usually do things. Usually we have an idea in mind of where we are going and then we set out in a certain direction and use our will to get there.
But all doing has a certain motive. I think this motive is to be free – from oneself, free from all conflict.
The motive is a good one, then, but the response is a little misguided.
When you become more and more acquainted with the art of observation, you will first see that you do not observe; when you see that you don’t observe, you are immediately out of the process. There is a moment, a kind of insight, when you see yourself free from all volition, free from all representation; you feel yourself in this fullness, in this moment beyond thought. It’s mainly through observation and attention that you come to feel what you are fundamentally.
How would you describe liberation?
I’ll give you a short answer. It is being free from yourself, free from the image you believe yourself to be. That is liberation. It’s quite an explosion to see that you are nothing, and then to live completely attuned to this nothingness. The body approach I teach is more or less a beautiful pretext, because in a certain way the body is like a musical instrument that you have to tune.
And we tune it to play on it the song of our own nothingness.
Exactly. Liberation means to live freely in the beauty of your absence. You see at one moment that there is nothing seen and no seer. Then you live it.
This is what you refer to as living free from psychological memory.
Is it really possible to live in the world in this state of total openness and freedom from our own identity, doing the things we do – leading busy lives, taking care of family, etc. ?
Yes. You can live in a family perfectly without the image of being a father or a mother, a lover or a husband. You can perfectly educate your children not to be something, and have a love relationship with them as a friend, rather than as a parent.
One teacher of vipassana meditation who is also a clinical psychologist has written, “You have to be somebody before you can be nobody,” meaning that for many people, particularly now in the West, who have been brought up in dysfunctional families, there are very often such deep lack of self-esteem and such a conflicted or uncertain sense of who they are in an everyday way, that they must first develop psychological and emotional strength before they can embark on the path to becoming nobody. There are people who would near you say that ultimately we have no identity, we are nothing, and we live in this nothingness, and would turn around and say, “Oh, yes, I know that.” What they are really talking about is their own inner emptiness, their own inner feeling of lack or deprivation, which is a kind of sickness. Do you agree that we have to be somebody before we can be nobody?
First you must see how you function. And you will see that you function as somebody, as a person. You live constantly in choice. You live completely in the psychological structure of like and dislike, which brings you sorrow. You must see that. If you identify yourself your personality, it means you identify yourself as your memory, because personality is memory, what I call psychological memory. In this seeing, this natural giving up, the personality goes away. And when you live in this nothingness, something completely different emerges. Instead of seeing life in terms of the projections of your personality, things appear in your life as they are, as facts. And these appearings naturally bring their own solution. You are no longer identified with your personality, with psychological memory, though your functional memory remains. Instead, there is a cosmic personality, a trans-personality, that appears and disappears when you need it. You are nothing more than a channel, responding according to the situation.
This interview was part of a larger article that was published in Yoga Journal, Issue 83, November/December, 1988.
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 faraway 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.
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.
It was at Ajja’s ashram in Puttur, Karnataka, that Vimala Thakar’s name first came up. We were told that a woman lived in Mt. Abu who had become enlightened through J. Krishnamurti and that she was available for visitors.
On our way north through India we went through Rajasthan. We arrived in Mt. Abu and chose a guesthouse from Lonely Planet. After settling in, we informed the manager that we were interested in visiting Vimala Thakar and asked if he knew of her. We had chosen well. The guesthouse was located less than 100 meters from her house and the manager himself was a friend of hers. He called and made arrangements for an appointment for us the following day.
We arrived and were shown into a small sitting room where we met Vimalaji. A tremendous force of presence surrounded her. We introduced ourselves and told her that we were Osho sannyasins. She spoke to each of us about the names Osho had given us. Vimalaji asked us about our travels in India and in general about the life we were living, allowing life itself to lead the way.
Over tea Vimalaji told us that Osho had invited her to Jabalpur to speak at the university where he was chair of the Philosophy Department. Osho took her out on the Narmada River in a boat and then to the Kwality Ice Cream shop in town. She said she chided him about his taste in food because it was not good for his health, and that she felt like an older sister but that Rajneeshji was Rajneeshji, meaning he wasn’t one for listening to advice. Vimalji also said that she was sad for what had happened to him in Oregon.
I told her that I didn’t know much about her but had heard the story concerning Krishnamurti and her experience and wanted to ask her about it. She proceeded to relate the story that you will find in her book On an Eternal Journey. She stated that if one wants to say that the transformation that happened to her was through the grace of Krishnaji, she was fine with that. I will let her tell you the story in the link above, so you will not need to rely on my memory.
When our time was up Vimalji gave us four of her books. The giving was a very deliberate act and seemed pregnant with significance. I had never read any of her books, but because of this event, I paid special attention and kept a look out for what might jump out at me and shout, “This! This! This is for you.” Here is one such statement:
In meditation, there is no movement. Life has no movement: it is only matter that has movement. Movement and energy are the property of matter. Life is is-ness without any movement whatsoever. That which remains without movement can be called neither individual nor universal. It has no center and no circumference. Intellectual activity has a center, the me, the self, the ego. Awareness as the activity of the intelligence has the whole human body, the human individual, as the center. Beyond awareness, the individual is not at the center. Nothing moves out of the individual. Nothing emanates or radiates from the person. Just as in the state of observation there is no ego-centered activity, so in the state of awareness, the whole cerebral organ does not function. Beyond awareness, the individual entity and the movements contained in the individual entity are simply not there. I wish that I could verbalize this more fully. – The Movement of Mind.
This has proved to be extremely helpful. Thank you, Vimalaji.
In some ways her style of teaching is reminiscent of J. Krishnamurti which is not surprising. But because she too was a University professor and had studied Western Philosophy and Psychology she includes that breadth of knowledge that Osho brings into his discourses.
Two of her books are easily available in the west through Rodmell Press. The book I mentioned above, On an Eternal Journey, I have not been able to find copies for sale, but you can download it from the link above.
This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Order the book Here.
The first time I heard the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Randy (who had traveled with me to India and Nepal from Madagascar) and I were trekking on the Annapurna route and reached the point where we decided to turn around. Ben and his girlfriend Kathy (actually I’m not sure of their names but will refer to them as Ben and Kathy from here on out) were coming down the path and said they had run into snow. Being ill-equipped, without even sleeping bags, the decision was choiceless. We all spent the night in a teahouse.
There seemed to be some tension between Ben and Kathy. They were both involved in Tibetan Buddhist practice but it seemed that Ben was keener than Kathy and this was causing some friction.
On the bus ride back to Kathmandu, Ben and I sat together and Randy and Kathy sat together with a growing chemistry. Ben told me about his experience doing a Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Randy and I had visited Kopan a week or so earlier with another friend from Madagascar and had had the good fortune to have a cup of tea with the head lama, Lama Yeshe. He was a very sweet man and enormously generous. But as I explained to Ben, I wasn’t finding myself attracted to the Tibetan Buddhist practice. In fact, the words that I heard come out of my mouth as we talked were, “I’m looking for something more universal and more personal.” For one thing, it was the limitation of the “ism” in Buddhism that turned me away. My own intuitive spiritual sky was wide open and did not want to be confined to a container, however much I respected the teachings.
Ben told me that I should pay a visit to the ashram of a guru in India named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and proceeded to give me the address. Ben had met one of Rajneesh’s sannyasins recently while he was on a visa run and so was visiting Nepal in order to return to India with a new visa. This sannyasin named Devanand had impressed him, and what he heard about Rajneesh interested him, but he was quite immersed in the Tibetan Buddhist dharma. So, I put the piece of paper with the address away in my wallet. The bus ride took a few hours and so Ben and I had quite a long chat. He was a sincere practitioner, perhaps I thought, a bit too serious, but regardless we had a very nice connection.
When we arrived back in Kathmandu, both Ben and Kathy returned to Kopan to continue their practice and Randy and I stayed in a guest house. Randy and I were intending to spend a couple more weeks in Kathmandu and so found a room in a private house. It was a lovely situation because the house had a walled garden and so offered a retreat from the daily busyness of the city. This house was closer to the Tibetan Swayambhu Monastery which we liked to visit.
We had learned that a very important Tibetan Buddhist teacher was coming to Kathmandu soon to perform an Empowerment Ceremony and this event was to take place at Swayambhu. I wasn’t really sure what an Empowerment Ceremony was but it sounded interesting. Unfortunately, we also learned that it was only open to practicing Buddhists.
The day of the event I spent meditating in our room. It was a silent, cool oasis. We were close enough to the monastery to hear the Tibetan horns, and in my meditation, I felt a humming sensation in the area of my heart.
During our time in Kathmandu both Randy and I became interested in Satya Sai Baba. He was quite popular with the Hindu Nepalis and his photo and books were everywhere. I was intrigued by the possibility of a “living” Master. I had been introduced to Meher Baba seven years before, six months, however, after he had passed away, so the idea of meeting a living Buddha very much appealed to me.
Randy and I decided to end our traveling partnership. We had different schedules. I wanted to go to India and head south and possibly meet Sai Baba. Randy wanted to do the same, but he had become involved in a torrid affair with Kathy that hadn’t burned itself out. We bid our farewells with the idea that we would meet up at the Sai Baba ashram which was in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Note: I will now intersperse my story with a letter I received from my friend Randy (Narayanadeva) after sharing what I had written of our journey in Nepal and India.
Dear Purushottama, What a flash from the past. Thank you for this. It brings so much back. Your memory is like a video recording. My memory is patchy with particular moments fuzzily framed. If you don’t mind, I want to share what I can.
I believe if we hadn’t stopped where we had at that last village at 10,000 feet that we would have gotten into serious trouble. There was a group with a broken leg still on the snowed-in trail was the story. I remember the couple. The name Ben comes to mind and I can’t remember the name of the girl, Kathy is very close. This was a significant time.
She was from the east coast, living in an artists and musicians commune, a photographer and roadie with Jethro Tull, I think. The social and other experiments she participated in at such a tender age, this boy from Nebraska was challenged to comprehend. In this respect she was much more worldly, wiser than me, an elder in a killer 20 something body.
She was also the first lover in my life where the center of gravity and conversations were about spirituality, Buddha’s teachings in particular, and how to reconcile our limited understanding with what we saw in the monasteries and monks, which was then followed by the most present lovemaking for me up to that time. We flew high, were consumed with each other, and parted consciously in mid bubble, purposely in crescendo. I review that time with joy and sadness. It is hard to think of that extraordinary woman and time without sometimes tearing. She was finished traveling, wanted to return to her art. I knew I didn’t want to go back to anything. I was sure I wanted to go forward. We knew but unspoken that to go further would have brought reality into the mix. We wanted to say goodbye in full bloom. Things like that were easier in your 20’s. I must say probably the most bittersweet, intense affair I ever remember in a life riddled with less meaningful affairs.
I remember spending the winter in Kathmandu immersing myself in everything I could about the Buddha’s teaching, going to the temples, hanging with the monks, partaking in the local produce followed by the pie shops. I was completely blown away and still am today about the psychology, the profound understanding of the science of the mind, but could not get my head around the asceticism. Why the monks, western included had to walk around in winter without shoes or why the poor food needed to be covered in flies. Also, the live translations of the Lama’s discourses by some very severe and grim western types. If there was any juice in the teaching, these translators sucked it out and everything was completely lost in translation. I knew for me to go deeper I needed to be able to listen and speak about all this in my tongue.
This is also where the timing gets confused. I do not remember you during that winter. I remember attending the Karmapa’s Black Hat ceremony after spending those cold months in study. This is when I had the most profound experience with him.
The ceremony lasted several days. There were many westerners mingled with the overflowing crowds of Tibetans. The first few days I could not get into the hall but stood outside with the multitudes listening and catching glimpses through the barred windows of the pageantry.
There was one day that I did get in and sat with a few other westerners along with it seemed several hundred monks with the Karmapa on a podium doing chants and mudras. The monks deep toned chanting in response, the horns, the incense, I got completely stoned. When it was over, I lingered. The hall was clearing out. I stood in the middle looking up at all the hanging tangkas. I turned around, a few people parted and there was the Karmapa sitting alone on his dais looking at me with an inviting smile a few meters away. I was so shy and not sure what to do. I smiled, bowed and retreated.
The next day I could not get in. I was peering through the open-air barred window being jostled back and forth by the crowds feeling the music and chanting; suddenly the Karmapa was at the window looking directly at me about 50 centimeters away. He had been making the rounds inside, blessing everyone in the hall. He looked in my eyes and smiled. He threw water on my face and these words came into my head “Don’t worry, this path is not for everyone” Then he was gone. I was so shocked. This was the confirmation. Whenever I think of this, I feel I was blessed by this very extraordinary being. How he got those words clearly into a very confused mind was magical.
It was not long afterward that I headed south and planned to go to Sai Baba’s ashram as we had planned, on my way to Madras before heading back to the states. As you remember we gave Sai Baba magical powers and were convinced he was going to help us financially.
I got to Bombay and stayed at the Salvation Army behind the Taj Mahal hotel. The very place you and I stayed on our first nights in India coming by boat for 10 days from Madagascar and Mauritius. Do you remember waking up to the Shiva Babas with their pythons and cobras, the junkies some dyed from head to toe in blue, including one with a blue dog, the color of the local antiseptic? What a circus before we took a train to the edge of town and hitched our way to Nepal. Do you remember the time a truck stopped for us and we threw our packs into the back, climbed up and jumped into a truck full of cow shit along with our packs? Do you remember all the chillum brakes at the roadside temples? Or the nights in small villages waking up to thousands of the same face staring at us with vacant eyes and all with small pocked scars, village after village the same?
When I was in New Delhi, I heard that there was a Meher Baba center and so I visited during one of their open evenings. Upon hearing I was on my way to visit Satya Sai Baba, an older Baba lover suggested that I go see a rebel of a guru named Rajneesh. I remembered the name and said I did have in mind possibly stopping there as well. He told me the Rajneesh ashram was in Poona, just a couple of hours by train from Bombay. He also said although Satya Sai Baba was not in Poona, there was some kind of Baba center there. At this point, it became clear to me I would indeed head to Poona.
Walking out of the Poona train station, I found a rickshaw and told the driver to take me to the Sai Baba center. I said, “Sai Baba center, not Rajneesh ashram.” “Yes, yes,” he replied. I had decided that I would first go to the Sai Baba center and then check out the Rajneesh ashram.
As we got nearer and nearer to our destination, I saw increasing numbers of young western people dressed in orange clothes. By this time, I had been exposed to a couple of Rajneesh sannyasins and so recognized what I was seeing. We arrived at a large gate and on the top was written Shree Rajneesh Ashram. A large, blonde, German fellow greeted me and I heard myself say, “I don’t think I am where I was going, but I know that I’m in the right place.”
The first thing I read from Osho (I will now begin to refer to Rajneesh by the name he took only a few months before leaving this planet) spoke directly to me. There was no space, no separation between the words and my self, an immediacy. It was clear within days that I would not be going on to the Sai Baba ashram; I had found the living Master I was looking for. I arrived just weeks before a major celebration day, March 21st, honoring Osho’s day of Enlightenment. I took initiation, became a sannyasin and did a couple of groups. During this time, I read one of Osho’s books called The Silent Explosion. At the very end of the book was the story of an Indian sannyasin who had gone to Sikkim and visited the Karmapa at his Rumtek Monastery. This was the same Lama that had been in Kathmandu months earlier. I had learned that he was highly respected in the Tibetan Buddhist community and was on par with or even more highly regarded than the Dalai Lama.
This is the story that was recounted: In 1972, Swami Govind Siddharth, an Osho sannyasin, visited the Tibetan Lama Karmapa, who had fled from Tibet and who at that time lived in his Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. When Siddharth arrived, accompanied by his wife and two young daughters, the monastery was completely closed. In an interview at the time, he told of his initial disappointment at not meeting the Karmapa. Then all of a sudden, one monk came running out to tell him that he was immediately wanted inside by His Holiness. He went in and was greeted by the Karmapa as if he was expected there. The Karmapa never even knew anything about him beforehand as he had not made an appointment . . . he knew nothing about him except that he was dressed in the faded orange of early neo-sannyas.
Of Lama Karmapa, it was said he was a ‘Divine Incarnation,’ a Bodhisattva. In Tibet, they believe that whosoever attains to Buddhahood, and then by their own wishes is born again to help people in the world is a divine incarnation — Bodhisattva. His Holiness was said to be the sixteenth incarnation of Dsum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, who was born about 1110 AD.
When Swami Siddharth first entered, the Karmapa immediately told him that he knew where he was from. He said, “I am seeing that you have somewhere some photograph or something which is printed on two sides, of your Master.” Siddharth answered that he had nothing like that which is printed on two sides. He had completely forgotten about the locket hanging from his mala with Osho’s photograph on both sides! There was an English woman who was acting as an interpreter since the Lama Karmapa did not speak English. She immediately saw his mala and said, “What is this?” He then remembered that the locket was printed on two sides and he said, “This is the photograph of my Master.” She was curious to see it, so Siddharth took it off and showed it to her.
Immediately, the Karmapa said, “That is it.” He took the locket of Osho in his hand and he touched it to his forehead and then said: “He is the greatest incarnation since Buddha in India — he is a living Buddha!” The Karmapa went on to say, “You may be feeling that he is speaking for you, but it is not only for you that he speaks. Rajneesh speaks for the Akashic records also, the records of events and words recorded on the astral planes. Whatever is spoken is not forgotten. That is why you will find that he goes on repeating things and you will feel that he is doing this for you, but, as a matter of fact, he speaks only for a few people. Only a few people realize who Rajneesh is. His words will remain there in the Akashic records, so that they will also be helpful to people in the future.”
The Karmapa went on to say that Osho had been with Siddharth in past lives. “If you want to see one of Rajneesh’s previous incarnations — who he was in Tibet — you can go to Tibet and see his golden statue there which is preserved in the Hall of Incarnations.” He continued to chat about Osho and his work, “My blessings are always there, and I know that whatever we are not going to be able to do to help others, Rajneesh will do.” He explained that one of the main aims of the Lamas in coming to India was to preserve their occult sciences. Osho from his side also confirmed this in his Kashmir lectures given in 1969. He said then, “The Dalai Lama has not escaped only to save himself, but to save the Tibetan religion, the meditation secrets and the occult sciences.”
The Karmapa went on to explain, “We have gotten these things from India in the past, and now we want to return them back. Now we have come to know that here is an incarnation, Rajneesh, who is doing our job in India and the world, and we are very happy about it. The world will know him, but only a few people will realize what he actually is. He will be the only person who can guide properly, who can be a World Teacher in this age, and he had taken birth only for this purpose.”
When I read this story, I was very skeptical because all devotees of gurus like to exaggerate the importance of their teachers. Although I believed the story must be based on some truth, I could not be sure what the Karmapa thought about Osho.
In the meantime, I had written to my friend Randy to tell him about Osho and the ashram and had sent it to American Express, Delhi, where I knew he would pick up mail. One day I went into the ashram office to check for a response and as I was walking down the steps leaving, coming through the gate was my friend Randy. He had never received my letter but had learned of Osho on his own.
Narayanadeva’s letter continues:
Anyway, I returned to Bombay to catch a boat to Goa and then planned to go to Sai Baba by land. I needed to get something to read. The best bookstore I knew was at the Taj Mahal Hotel. I went to the section on psychology and religion. I was browsing when I swear this book fell on my big toe. Archarya Rajneesh was the title. The first page mentioned that he gave lectures in English and lived in Poona only one day away.
Getting there, first person I meet is you. And our stories join and the rest is history.
Brother, we shared some amazing times together. I have forgotten so many of them. It is a complete delight to hear from you with your photographic memory of those days. We were so lucky. I am so grateful for that time.
Much Love to you my fellow traveler. Narayanadeva a.k.a. Randy
I had by this time realized my time traveling outside of the States was coming to an end. Taking sannyas was a new beginning for me and to be honest I wanted to return to my hometown and share this remarkable discovery. I had received a name for a meditation center that I would start. Randy (whose name had become Narayanadeva by this point) and I said our farewells again with approximately the same plans to return to the States by going east from India through Thailand but with slightly different time frames.
On the plane from Bombay to Calcutta, I sat next to a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He didn’t speak a word of English but there we were — he in his maroon robes and me in my orange clothes.
It might have been the first or second night of my stay in a Sutter Street guesthouse in Calcutta when in walked Ben, the American Tibetan Buddhist who had given me the contact info for Osho. I was very happy to see him. I had thought about him many times and was so grateful for his sharing and I wanted to tell him what I had found. We talked a bit and then he told me that coincidentally the Karmapa was in Calcutta and he was going to see him the next day at the Oberoi Hotel. He invited me to go with him. I was delighted. For one thing in the back of my mind was the Rumtek story and so I thought I would be able to see what the Karmapa actually did think about Osho for myself.
The Karmapa’s room was a corner one and Ben and I approached from one hallway. As we neared, we could see an Indian sannyasin couple in orange approaching from the other direction. He was dressed in a lungi and had a very long beard and long hair. She was dressed in an orange sari. They were Osho sannyasins and ran the Calcutta Osho center.
We all entered the room and were shown to seats just in front of the Karmapa, who was seated on a sofa. He was immensely childlike, full of love and innocence and looked to be always on the verge of a good chuckle. He sat stroking the beard of the Indian sannyasin who was sitting slightly to his right. This in itself would have been enough to let me know what he thought of Osho but it was not all. Sitting next to him on the sofa, he had propped up a copy of Sannyas Magazine (published at the ashram) with a photo of Osho beaming out on to our group.
At that point it did not matter whether the story I had read was factual or not, I could see the connection between the Karmapa and Osho. That space out of which the Karmapa and the photo of Osho appeared was One.
Of course, I had related the story to Ben when we met in Calcutta, but after the meeting at the Oberoi, we didn’t talk of it again. We were invited to a private Black Crown (Empowerment) Ceremony that was taking place at the home of a wealthy Indian woman later that evening. This is the same ceremony that took place months earlier at the Swayambhu Monastery in Kathmandu that I had not been able to attend.
One of the first people I met after arriving at the house was the Tibetan monk who had sat next to me on the flight. As it turned out, he had been traveling to join up with the Karmapa and return with him to Rumtek. He was as surprised as I was.
The ceremony was penetrating; to be in a room with Tibetan horns blaring is in itself a transformative experience. After the ceremony the few westerners that were there, I think we were maybe five, were invited into a side room where the Karmapa gave a teaching on Tilopa’s Song of Mahamudra. This is the most important text of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Osho had himself given a discourse series published as Tantra: The Supreme Understanding on this text and I was traveling with the book.
Because the Karmapa didn’t speak English, he had a translator, but his translator told us he was having a very difficult time translating this teaching into English. He was frustrated but the Karmapa was understanding and compassionate. This experience highlighted for me one of the advantages of having a teacher who spoke English. Osho’s words did not need to be translated and we were able to hear them directly without a filter.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to first spend some time with the Karmapa and then to take part in this mysterious ceremony. It was the only time I met the Karmapa. But my wife Amido and I did have a chance in 2006 to visit the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, where his relics are housed today.
This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Order the book Here.
When Amido and I were on Koh Phayam, Thailand, in 2004, we met a New Zealand couple named Ross and Karyn. They had a bungalow next to ours. We had never spoken until after the tsunami hit on December 26th, which apart from being destructive, brought people together. There was a palpable sense of oneness, with everyone experiencing this huge swell that went all around the Indian Ocean. You could literally feel and see the interconnectedness. Anyway, we struck up a friendship and found that we had many common interests, one of them was U.G. Krishnamurti. None of us had spent any time with him but we were all interested in doing so. I was particularly concerned with seeing him before he died.
A year later, we ran into Ross in Bangkok. He and Karyn were on their way to India, as were we. We talked about Goa and keeping in touch to communicate if we found a spot we really liked. A couple of emails later and they were at Arambol Beach, Goa, and recommended the place, so we made plans to meet up.
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 appeared on his way to some shop. We spent a couple of breakfasts sharing information and stories over very large bowls of fruit muesli at the Buddha’s Smile restaurant.
Ross and Karyn met an English guy who had visited every guru he could learn about in India and kept a very well-documented address book. He told Ross and Karyn that of all the gurus he had seen the two that really affected him were U.G. and a 90-year-old sage named Ajja. They proceeded to relate the story this fellow had told them.
It went like this: He spent quite some time at Ajja’s ashram in Karnataka near Mangalore and he kept wanting to speak with Ajja. He was continually told to go to the mediation hall. Finally, he was sitting in the hall and became tremendously angry; he just couldn’t handle the experience anymore, so he grabbed his bag and walked down the drive to leave. As he was leaving, he looked back at Ajja and saw Ajja 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 Ajja had given to Andrew Cohen published in What is Enlightenment? Ross also told us 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 details of the information that had come from him. They said that once they arrived, they would contact us, and in that way, it would be their information and not this other fellow’s.
We didn’t stick around very long in Arambol, as nice as it was; we wanted to go straight away to Ajja’s ashram.
We phoned the ashram from Mangalore, an hour and a half away by bus, 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. 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, 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 simple and fabulous.
After lunch we were given a room. But very soon after our arrival, Amido and I needed to be separated because there were a few other visitors coming. Amido shared a room with a lovely Swedish woman named Ingrid, and I bunked (although there was no bed or mattress) with an Indian man who would be arriving later.
Besides Ingrid there were a couple of other foreigners, a German named Hans who had been coming regularly for a couple of years, and 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 named Satish, who took care of organizing darshans with Ajja, paid us a visit. He wanted to get some background from us and learn why we were there. He asked us to clarify our questions if we had any so as to make better use of our time with Ajja. He said he would talk with Ajja and let us know when it was time to see him.
In the meantime, 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 questions a particularly powerful engine for my inquiry. The question was – did I have a question? This whole process of wanting to see Ajja seemed to be one of the primary teaching methods for westerners. We heard many stories of westerners wanting to see Ajja and being told to go to the meditation hall. To most it seemed like some kind of punishment. For Amido and I, from the very beginning, we 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 some Indians were coming to visit Ajja later and we could try and tag along. He wasn’t sure if Ajja would allow us to stay or not. It seemed it wasn’t something that he could just ask Ajja. When Satish informed us of his plan, the other westerners present overheard and the lights went on in their minds. This would be a good opportunity for them too.
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 the opportunity to explore all the feelings that were aroused. We were joined by Ingrid and Hans 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 at 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, 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 had 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 were no more questions. The question was answered in dissolving. And in that dissolving of the question there was light and bliss.
Our time passed wonderfully at the ashram. We found that there was some strange connection between Ajja and U.G. Almost everyone at Ajja’s had been to see U.G. In fact, we learned that a couple of years earlier, Ajja, on two occasions, had been taken to the house where U.G. was staying in Bangalore. 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. 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 spoke Kanada, so only the local Indians could understand, but during that time U.G. was silent.
Thea was present during this meeting and it was the first time that she met either Ajja or U.G., and she met them both together. Thea continued to have a very strong connection with both Ajja and U.G. 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 participated in ‘chores’ around the ashram in the morning and also any other time we were asked to help out. Thea was the one who assigned jobs in the morning; in the afternoon someone might come and ask for help with some task or other. It invariably involved doing a 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. His presence created a very powerful Buddhafield.
One day, Amido, Ingrid, and I were asked to help with some cleaning. Ajja had left the ashram and we were to help with cleaning the tile floor in his house. He had a very modest room but it was full of consciousness. There was ‘that something’ the same that I had felt whenever I had been in Osho’s living quarters, a certain sensing, clarity, presence, to be honest not unlike the heightened awareness accompanying some of my past LSD experiences.
Sunday was 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 the Sunday that we were there, we all went into the original house on the property which was a hut the musician lived in. It was small but 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 and it was a lovely time. Finally, Ajja asked for one of us foreigners to sing a song. I went blank, not a song came to mind, but Thea, bless her heart, sang “Lord of the Dance.” It was really extraordinary because she is one of the most ethereal people I have ever met. In the beginning, her singing was rather meek, and then you could sense her taking courage and finding her power through the singing.
The following day was some kind of special day. It was a full moon. 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 a performance in which two speakers enacted a conversation regarding Rama and his shooting of Vaali with an arrow from behind. After the music and performance, a great meal was served. The whole event was wonderful.
Earlier in the day, we were asked what our plans were, and without thinking, I said 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 now knew that U.G. was in Bangalore, and we wanted to go and see him.
The next morning, Dr. Satish came to visit us and said he would see what arrangements could be made for us to have darshan with Ajja before we left, but nothing was guaranteed. To be honest, Amido and I were so overflowing with the whole week, it really didn’t matter if we would be able to have darshan or not. Of course, it would be nice but we would be happy whatever happened.
Hans had made arrangements and was planning to see Ajja that day as well. He was going to take his camera to have a photo taken with Ajja. We packed our things and prepared ourselves to leave after lunch. Sometime before lunchtime, a woman named Kavita came and said, “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 that day so stayed behind. Kavita took us over to the porch. We sat in front of Ajja and Kavita translated questions about where we were from and our background. While sitting with Ajja, the whole group sang Bhajans. Ajja turned to us and asked us to sing a song we knew. Because of the experience on the day of 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 Poona Ashram, Asalaam Aleikum.
The words are as follows:
May the love we share here spread its wings And fly across the Earth and sing Its song to every soul that is alive May the blessings of your grace Bhagwan Be felt by everyone and may we All see the light within, within, within Asalaam aleikum, Aleikum asalaam Asalaam aleikum, Aleikum asalaam Asalaam aleikum, Aleikum asalaam
While we were singing, I experienced what I had seen in Thea when she sang. In the beginning, there was a hesitancy but we 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 transcends demarcations like Kabir, or Sai Baba of Shirdi, and so many Sufis of India.
At the end of the singing, Ajja said that we were very clean and didn’t have a lot of thoughts. I said that it was because we had spent a lot of time with Osho, and Ajja said that we had done a lot of work. I responded, “so not a lot more digging.” He said that now we needed to stabilize. He asked if we had any questions and we said no, (my questioning had dissolved days before). Eventually, I piped up that yes there was one question, “Could I take a photo of him?” He agreed and had someone take a photo of Amido and me with him. After our time with Ajja, an Indian man, Sudarshan, had some questions. When they were answered he had more questions. Eventually, Ajja turned to Amido and me and said, “Look, this couple has 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. We must have spent close to an hour with Ajja and it was truly glorious. We said our Namastes.
After lunch, Sudarshan was the one, when everyone was having their nap, who 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 had been bonded in the sweetness of Ajja’s Darshan. And then it was time to bid farewell. It had been one extraordinary week.
U. G. Krishnamurti
We had a hard time finding a room in Bangalore when we arrived late 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) who we had met at Ajja’s and had given us his phone number. We stayed at his apartment that night and left early in the morning. Shiva, his wife and mother were going to London that day.
After finding a place the next morning, we made our way to Chandrashekar’s home, courtesy of some very elaborate directions and a map. When we walked through the door, the first people we saw were Ross and Karyn. We entered the living room where everyone was gathered and watching a video on the television. We sat down on the floor without really surveying the room. In fact, I had been wondering where U.G. was when I realized 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 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 behave as she might expect an Indian holy man to act. He was throwing around the word bitch quite a bit and she looked uncomfortable.
It was a very informal arrangement and people would come and go at will. Because we were the new arrivals, U.G. directed some attention to us. Ingrid left and I suggested Amido move to the sofa where she sat enjoying being in his presence. When he learned that I was from the States, he directed all of his stories about the States towards me.
It really was quite an interesting experience. First of all, there was the heightened sense of presence, the same presence that I have experienced with Osho, Jean Klein, the 16th Karmapa, 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 had an appearance of anger at times, and yet if you stayed in the center, it was love.
We only visited for two days but, even in that short time, heard some stories so many times that I could finish them off myself. It was interesting to watch those that had spent a lot of time with U.G. They seemed to rest at the center. Others would get caught up in what he was saying. That can be seen on some U.G. forums where people actually believe what he was saying about J. Krishnamurti or Osho. To me, he was just shocking people out of their conditioning, but he also seemed cognizant of how far he could go without really hurting someone. He seemed sensitively outrageous.
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 in Palm Springs. We said our goodbyes to Ross and Karyn who were staying on. I was so happy that we had 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 his unique way.
The following year we returned to India with the intention of visiting 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 left the body.
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 buried in a traditional lotus Samadhi position. He had supervised the building of the structure 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, chanting around the Samadhi through the night. We spent only two days at the ashram this time because we could sense the ashram had a lot of adjustments to make, and we didn’t want to be in the way.
The first day we arrived at the ashram, we learned that on January 31st, in Italy, U.G. had fallen in his bathroom and 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 longtime friend of U.G.
On February 1st, Ajja had a stroke. He was hospitalized in Puttur. After some days, the doctor said that they couldn’t do anything for him there and so he was transported by ambulance to Mangalore. We were told that 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. left his body on March 22nd. No one ever seemed to understand the nature of this strange connection between Ajja and U.G but it was a blessing to have met them both.
This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Order the book Here.