I first read about Ajja in 2003, in Andrew Cohen’s magazine “What Is Enlightenment”.I found Ajja’s story very fascinating and intriguing. Ajja was a wealthy farmer from South India. One day he suddenly experienced extreme pain in his stomach. The pain did not subside for a few weeks even after taking all kinds of medications. Then one fine day the pain left as mysteriously as it had appeared. This mystified Ajja and he started inquiring as to who was experiencing the pain. His deep inquiry led to a profound awakening.
After his awakening he experienced intense bliss and started losing all consciousness of his body. Sometimes he would dance in the rain unaware of the people around him. His family members were quite disturbed by his behavior and he was even admitted to NIMHANS, a psychiatrist Institute in Bangalore. But the doctors did not find anything wrong with him and soon he was discharged. After that Ajja wandered the length and breadth of India.
“When the individual, through contemplation of the question “Who am I?” becomes free, he evolves, he becomes self-luminous. That itself is Self. That itself is bliss. That itself is satya, ultimate reality. That itself is Life. That itself is Self-realization.”
Reading about Ajja and his experiences gave me goosebumps. In fact I read the entire interview couple of times, late into the night. Reading his words, I was reminded of Nisargadatta Maharaj& Ramana Maharishi.
I emailed the Ashram and in a week’s time I arrived in Mangalore. Ajja’s ashram in Puttur, which was an hour’s drive from Mangalore airport. Throughout the drive, my heart throbbed with anticipation. What if with his grace I am able to finally break through into reality? Maybe he is my guru.
Ajja‘s ashram was very simple. It was divided into three parts. In the lower part was Ajja’s residence, the middle part was where all the seekers resided. On the top part was the meditation hall, along with the common kitchen.
The room I stayed in was a simple 10 x 10’ room with a very thin mattress on the ground. They were just 10 to 12 residence in the ashram. The residents all seemed very humble and simple, specially Ram. He used to work in the IT sector in the US, but had left everything and was now serving Ajja. The food in the ashram was very simple, served at fixed times. I had a fitful sleep that night, thinking about the meeting with Ajja the next day.
In the morning I helped with the cleaning of the ashram. Ajja believed in selfless service. He used to say that when a person works without any ulterior motive, it helps in getting rid of his ego. I also heard stories of him being very tough and angry at times and he had thrown out people from his ashram. The anger part was fine with me. Even Nisargadatta Maharaj used to have very heated discussions with his devotees and he was supposed to be very fiery.
Ajja was a tough task master and everyone in the ashram was supposed to work. The thing that I most liked about Ajja was that even though he was around 90 years old, he worked alongside with his followers. He practiced what he preached.
In the late evening I was granted an audience with him. My heart was bursting out of my body and my hands shivered with anticipation, as I entered the small portico. Ajja was seated in a chair. Around him sat five of his devotees. Among them was Mr Kamat, who was his translator.
I came before him and bowed down at his feet and then respectfully took my seat.
“I hope he doesn’t just throw me out of his ashram! You can never be sure how a master reacts to you. “ This was my first thought as I sat down.
Mr.Kamat then asked me to ask whatever was on my mind.
My question was; “is it enough to be in awareness to become enlightened?”
Ajja replied with a short “Yes.”
This was followed by a few questions. Ajja was gracious and kind to me for the entire Darshan. At the end of the Darshan, I bowed down and took my leave. I stayed in the ashram for a few days, reading, contemplating and working. After a few days, I went back to Mumbai.
First Glimpses Of Awareness
Once I was in Mumbai, I deepened my contemplation. I stared meditating for 14 hours a day. After a few weeks of intense meditation, I had an incredible experience.
One morning I was just sitting down and suddenly my consciousness expanded, became one with everything. But for the first time, I felt something even more subtle then consciousness itself. I got the first glimpse of pure awareness. That pure awareness was the ground of all things. Everything appeared and disappeared in it, including consciousness. In a flash, the “What Is” revealed itself, being immensely simple and immensely profound at the same time.
This glimpse, lasted for a few minutes, but I knew I had touched the most sublime state of all. I wanted to share it with Ajja and get further insights from him. So 3 days after the insight, I again traveled to his Ashram. As usual, I was granted an audience with him. This time it was just he and his interpreter. When I described the flash to Ajja, he suddenly sat straight up and became very interested. He asked me couple of questions about that state, and after I had answered them, he just smiled at me mysteriously. And that was the end of the darshan.
That night, his close disciple, came to me and said;” Ajja has asked me to tell you something. But before I tell you this, please remember Ajja has never said something like this before. I looked at him with puzzlement, not prepared for what he was about to say.
“Ajja has asked you stay in the ashram with him. He has said, you will be provided with everything that you need- food, residence, or whatever else. You don’t have to worry about anything, just stay back and complete your journey. Many followers and seekers have come to Ajja, but I have never seen him ask anyone to stay back. He doesn’t care who comes and goes.”
“I don’t know why he has asked you specifically to stay back; he has seen something in you. It is rare blessing that a realized master asks someone to stay with them. ”
The entire proposition thrilled me but also threw my mind in turmoil. If I stayed back, my mom would be devastated. She could never come to terms with her son leaving behind the worldly life. On the other hand, a master asking me to stay back? Wasn’t that great fortune? After some days of conflict, I choose my mom, and politely declined the offer. S felt that it wasn’t the right thing to do, that I was missing out on a golden opportunity. But I couldn’t break my mother’s heart.
So with a heavy heart, I flew back to Mumbai, where I continued working and doing my meditation.
In 2007, Ajja became sick and his condition was quickly deteriorating. I was recently married and my wife was very keen on having his darshan before he left his body. We both travelled to Mangalore to see him. Ajja was very sick and bed ridden. It was heart wrenching to see him in bed, frail and sick, with tubes for collecting his waste. Sometimes he opened his eyes, sometimes you could hear him groan. He was always surrounded by his close disciples.
On the second day of our visit, Ajja looked at us and I saw those kind eyes, filled with love. He smiled with recognition. We stayed for a few days in Mangalore visiting him. Ajja died shortly afterwards.
I still remember, when I had described the flash of awareness, his last words of advice to me were “always remember that flash, that pure awareness, the source and ground of what is. Be in it, think about it and finally merge in it”
Ajja official site – http://myajja.weebly.com/about.html
Andrew Cohen Interview with Ajja- https://o-meditation.com/2009/11/02/an-interview-with-ajja-bhagavan-arabbi-nithyanandam/