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.
A link to Ajja’s website.
Read an interview with Ajja.
See a video of Ajja.
For more posts on Ajja.
To read more of U. G. Krishnamurti .