There's a story about an old and wise woman, who lived to be a hundred. For her birthday, a respectful magazine sent reporters to interview her and inquire how she reached such an old age. "Very simple," she answered, "I never argue with anyone".
"How can that be?" argued the interviewers, "You have lived in such stormy times of wars and rifts among the people, the whole kingdom raged around you, splits in tribes, neighbors, families… Impossible!"
The old lady replied: "Right".
According to this story, Ajay Singh is supposed to live to be a hundred and twenty, or more. Very rarely have I seen him argue with anyone – when he thinks he needs to drive the point home, or shake the person's strong hold on a concept. He tends to give you the feeling as if he agrees with you, but then to say a word or two that make you stop and re-think your position, see the situation from a new angle, or get a wider and more whole perspective. Those whose ears are open – can hear.
Ajay Singh is a mystery. On the one hand, a family man and a city clerk who leads a standard and normal life. On the other hand, the people around him are convinced that he is self-realized, enlightened. On the one hand, he has academic degrees in Sanskrit, Law, Economics and Social Work. On the other hand, until the age of 12 he knew himself as Krishna. Ajay is hard to define. It's hard to give him a title, or to put him in any familiar box that will enable us a point of reference, or an understanding about who he is. It seems that the Sanskrit idiom "Neti neti" – not this, not this – fits him perfectly.
Though he is a senior teacher in Open Dharma retreats, and taught a retreat with Tovana (Insight Meditation Society) in Israel, it's hard to define what exactly he teaches. Although many regard him as their guru, he teaches in a very unique way, entirely devoid of any manners that characterize.
Ajay does not refer to himself as a teacher, but as a spiritual friend (Kalyan Mitra, in Sanskrit).
He holds daily meetings in the guest house for about an hour and a half, to which he arrives on his scooter. In the meetings (he calls them "classes"), he reads from various Indian scriptures (these days it's the Bhagavad Gita), and interprets them from his own personal experience. The classes are open to all. Ajay teaches from his own personal experience only; he responds very personally to the person before him, closes his eyes, listens inward, and then answers with very few words, sometimes not entirely comprehensible, often surprising.
While being in his presence, it seems that something is going on in another dimension, something very evasive but very tangible as well. After meeting with him, there's a feeling that all the questions were answered and all the problems found their solutions, though it's kind of hard to recall what exactly was said. People report an experience of deep silence, relaxation and inner quiet in his presence, of letting go of words and concepts; the mind becomes still like a lake. His presence gives a feeling of connection to a place deep inside us where there are stillness and answers.
It's not easy to interview Ajay. He's not much of a talker, and doesn't tend to philosophize or conceptualize. For the sake of this interview, I asked him to make an exception and give more general answers that are not only for me personally.
We are sitting in a little guest house in Lucknow in India, where he lives with his family. I begin with the question that intrigues me most:
Dear Ajay, who are you?
He smiles his Cheshire-cat smile: "Right now, I'm Sandhya's friend."
I urge him to give more of a general answer. He closes his eyes for a moment.
"Probably Ajay having realized that it's not only Ajay."
And what is it?
Realizing that I cannot finish in only Ajay. Ajay has a limited connectivity, and I'm connectivity beyond Ajay's limited possibility.
Please describe yourself.
Very alive, and without an idea about myself. And this is also not an idea.
Are you without an ego?
Do you control your thoughts?
I make use of thoughts when they are useful.
So how is life without thoughts?
Very free. I can rest. Life without any trouble. Thinking brings trouble.
What do you teach? Are you a vipassana teacher? An Advaita teacher?
I have gone through this teaching aspect, looking for what will be helpful to people. And from this search I recognized that there cannot be one way for all people. So the practice of the Path is love. Each one on this path finds the love, practices their love. I somehow trained myself to be a friend who can refer you– when you're trying to find your love I can help. So really I don't have any way I teach: I can teach all the ways, or no way at all. My way of teaching is really more like clapping behind; when your eyes are on the right object – I find myself clapping. So this you can say is my way.
What do you relate to in a person?
The love. Then it's very helpful. If I relate to other parts, then it's difficult, it becomes psychological, and that takes more time to be friends with. And love is… in a short time we become friends very easily, and once you are my friend – I can really enter into you.
Are the psychological aspects of the person important as well?
Yes, they have some importance, so I don't neglect them, but the first thing is making a relation, contact and love.
When he was six, Ajay experienced a week of Savikalpa Samadhi, and until he was 12 he "knew" he was Krishna. At the age of 12 he had a very intense experience of a different consciousness, and from that moment on he forgot the he was Krishna, and devoted his time to his studies "in order to make money," he says.
In 1985 he experiencd a very deep change of consciousness, that brought him to an intense practice that lasted about four years, until, in 1989, he says, "The practice left me". Since then he is in a "different place." From this place he teaches.
When he says that he has never experienced suffering, I interrupt him: "You've never experienced suffering? How is that possible?"
He smiles and shrugs his shoulders.
Didn't you suffer when your mother died?
I don't believe you. I know how much you loved her.
He closes his eyes, checking inside. His mother died in his arms when he rushed her to the hospital. "There was a moment of sorrow, of disappointment in myself for not saving her, and immediately after came acceptance," he says.
How can a person who has never known suffering relate to the suffering in the world?
Probably by empathy. When you speak, I really can feel your feelings, so although suffering is not my direct experience – I really can feel through your feelings, I can enter into your feelings. At that time, you and me is me.
What's the difference between what you teach and Buddhism?
Perhaps the difference is this: in the Four Noble Truths, the first truth is about suffering. So the crack for the spiritual happens through realizing the suffering. And with Kabir and Hindu teachings, the crack is Life itself; through recognizing Life itself – the quest happens. In this path, recognition of Life itself becomes important because the crack is there.
So maybe this is the basic difference: There pain has an importance, and in this path the Quest has importance. Quest from Life. And the pain is not that important. So maybe the Noble Truth on this path would be: Life is a mystery. Really recognizing this, not only saying; really falling in the mystery, bursting with Quest from there.
Of course, also the approach is different, because there you give importance to pain, so things like renouncing etc are important, because pain is important. Here, Life is important, so acknowledging all parts of life becomes important, not so much renouncing and pain.
Krishnamurti said: "The truth is a pathless land". Isn't meditation an attempt to create a path to that which is pathless? How can we reach the formless through form?
Through path we are reaching the pathless truth. Through the form we are reaching the formless. It is a jump. Before jumping we have to reduce our baggage – the path is for reducing our baggage so jumping is possible.
How does this jump happen?
For this jump there's no "how". When baggage is being reduced, there will be ways showing themselves.
According to the Buddhist approach, the goal of meditation is to free the mind from clinging, because where there is clinging there is suffering. Even beautiful states like Nirvikalpa are still in the conditioned, begin and end according to the changing conditions, and to the extent we cling to them – we are bound and not free. Freedom is not to be found in any state.
Last night I heard you say that Nirvikalpa is something to aspire to, so are you saying that if one gets there one achieves the goal of mediation?
The goal of mediation – but not the goal of life. Life has to be lived. Nirvikalpa is a meditative state but one cannot live in this state, one cannot go out and function in the world in this state. There is another state, Sahaj, where we allow life to live through us. This is not a state anymore.
Would you say that that is what is called in Buddhism Nirvana?
Yes. This is Nirvana. When the life is lived through you.
Are "meditative experiences" hindrances to the goal of meditation?
If we just stop there, they could be hindrances, but if we can make a step of them – they can be very useful. Before any states happen, mind is not there. The mind is "out of the system". Without the mind, these states cannot happen. The goal of meditation is removing any systematic understanding, and reaching wider understanding, which is not through any system.
Systematic understanding is very relative, it depends on me and on what I want from it. On the relative place, Aliveness is felt because of system. But Aliveness does not depend on any system. If I have a system in me and I like something – I will be very alive because of my liking. To be alive inspite of my likes and dislikes, in spite of my system – that's the goal of meditation.
You use the term 'Aliveness' very often. What do you mean?
In Aliveness I mean that we may find ourselves with something inspite of us. Most of my recognizing parts were created to recognize in a certain way – my parents, society, school – they help me to build a reception foundation, and this reception happens through the point of views of my parents, my teachers, my school, my society etc. But there is something beyond that: Aliveness is, even without these point of views, even without these foundations of reception. Aliveness means life without any layers, without any foundations.
A few days after I arrived in Lucknow, Ajay invited me to dinner in his house. He picked me up from the guest house and we went together on his scooter. His wife Kusum greeted me joyfully, their newest grandchild in her arms. During dinner, while I struggled with the chili and Kusum struggled with the English, Ajay sat on the sofa in tank-top and Dhoti, an Indian handkerchief wrapped around his head, and cradled the grandchild in his lap while at the same time bounced the four-year-old nephew on his knees. In all my time in India I haven't regreted not having a camera as in that moment.
Ajay is not a typical teacher or guru. It seems to me that the words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj from the book "I Am That" fit him the most:
"The Guru is basically without desire. He sees what happens, and feels no urge to interfere. He makes no choices, takes no decisions. As pure awareness, he watches what is going on and remains unaffected…
He knows that if disciples do not learn from his words, they will learn from their own mistakes. Inwardly he remains quiet and silent. He has no sense of being a separate person. The entire universe is his own, including his disciples with their petty plans. Nothing in particular affects him, or, which comes to the same, the entire universe affects him in equal measure."
Zohar and Nathan, dear friends on the path and the founder of Sangaseva joined the conversation with Ajay, that took place a few days later.
We talked about meditation and its wider aspects.
Sometimes we use meditation in the service of the personality structure. But the role of meditation is not to strengthen this structure, but to deconstruct it, to see through it and not to let it run our life.
The goal of meditation is removing any systematic understanding, and reaching wider understanding, which is not through any system. Prior to meditation there can be various techniques for connectedness, but mediation is more dropping, being in touch with the essence of who we are. It is both a technique and a place of resting.
There are different techniques for meditation. What, to your understanding, is meditation?
Meditation as a practice helps us see that our minds are very busy in several areas. Many different priorities are flushing in our minds at the same time, and we are in a state of indecisiveness: which one to follow. So there is conflict, since we have a body and hands that can follow only one thing at a time, and our mind has multiple directions. That creates difficulty as to which act to take. So one aspect of practicing meditation is really reducing priorities, which makes us clearers in our life.
Another aspect of meditation is concentration. Concentration can be very useful in achieving worldly things, in getting on and performing. We can also be charged and empowered by concentration, as we don't spend unnecessary energy, so it helps with charging and recharging.
Concentration is basically control of the mind. I actually don't call mediation that, but it's generally thought of that way, so I accept that.
But this is for worldly use of meditation, a very useful tool for worldly achievements. There's another aspect of meditation which is to dive in, really dive in into life. Life as we know it is probably only around 1/9th percent; this is the part that we call 'human intelligence', and through it we know life. The other 8/9th percents of life are under it all, or covered, and meditation can be used to dive into this part. A whole different realm of life appears through that. What we see, the 1/9th layer, is only the upper layer, like the skin, and bellow the skin, as we know, is the whole full body aliveness. So similarly, bellow this is the whole area of life which is very much unknown.
Is there a way to give to others this experience?
The whole thing is based on collective agreement. And because for these 8/9th of life there is no collective agreement – we have no collective language for them. So it's frightening. It's knowing this place and yet saying: "I don't know it", because there's no way to communicate about that.
And through meditation we can access this place?
Yes, we can access it, we can really dive in.
Meditation opens the door for this 8/9th of life, and then several kinds of experiences may come, and we have to be careful about them. I may have one experience and then speak from the memory of this experience, without really going into the experience again. Memory has this fading quality, so the more I will keep on talking about it, the less affective I will be. It will be more effective and helpful if I can go to the experience again, and speak from there. These experiences, which arise in meditation, also pass, because experience is two activities in the same realm. For instance, if my hand is in this position and is doing something, this will create an experience…
So it takes two? We need duality to experience anything?
Without duality experience is not possible. The whole realm of experiencing is dual. And then, when experience ends, duality rejoins (really it was already one but had become dual). And then we say that we've became one, or found oneness. Very fresh life is always available in this place, and you don't have to look for this freshness through experience. Mediation can greet us at the door of the 8/9th, and the whole process can really find us one, where Aliveness is lighting all the time, and you don't need experiences anymore to be alive.
Experience gives us a very alive feeling, so this duality is useful: the Aliveness comes. But it also goes away. That's why experiences are good – but not enough. We know Aliveness through experience. Many times we say, "Inner knowing happened" – how did it happen? Because of this Aliveness. But then when experience disappears – Aliveness also disappears. In meditation we dig and dig and then Aliveness appears, without experience. We dig beyond the experience, where Aliveness is inspite of experience. There's a place which is Aliveness, but it's beyond the experience; then it's neither going nor coming.
Zohar: In the Buddhist tradition and in many other traditions, there are stages. Are these stages experiences or…?
All the stages are experiences.
Zohar: So this kind of Samadhi or that kind of Samadhi, they are all experiences…
Yes. The no-experience-realm appears, or is available, is there – but we don't always recognize or know the ways to it. All these experiences enable us to more subtle recognizing-facilities, to more subtle connectivity.
Are these stages, these experiences, essential? Do we have to go through them?
Yes, this part cannot be missed. They can take different forms: maybe your nose is different and you can smell things that generally people don't smell, so your smelling becomes a way of recognition.
Rabbi Hillel The Elder said: "Where my heart goes – there go my legs". Is effort and determination important, or shall we just "follow our hearts", as they say these days?
We need a balance between effort and non-effort; between practice and non-practice. Sometimes you can do a 1,000 Japa Malas [Indian prayer beads], and not have one second of quiet. Find balance between doing and not-doing. It's important to practice, but while practicing, look for something else, look for no-practice. That just happens.
Sri Ramana Maharshi said: "Earnest effort never fails. Success is bound to result."
For me, the whole path is a matter of effort. There comes a time when effortlessness is there, when effort becomes intention. So for a while it's: effort, effort, effort, and then it becomes intention, and the intention carries you. And maybe later there comes a time when even intention is not needed. Because it's a very wide range of spirituality, it's not like you make a jump and that's it – there are many jumps. There are jumps that can be made only by effort, and there are jumps which only intention can make.
You are describing something linear, and in my experience it's not linear: sometimes I need effort and other times…
We can say it's not linear, but there's a general direction, and each time connection will be more subtle, so it's connected to the first time because each time it becomes more subtle.
So you say that for most of us, until we get to the part where intention carries us through, it's good to but some effort.
Yes, without effort I haven't seen intention growing. So as long as intention has not come – it will be really helpful to really keep on.
What is the relationship between effort and forcefulness?
For me, forcefulness is not good, because when you are collecting force, there's also against-force, and this can make the whole structure collapse one day. So I'd really like if we can somehow convince ourselves without forcing, and make use of love, so that love is there to convince us, not force. Maybe in the beginning a little bit force is needed, but slowly if love can take over, that will be more fruitful.
Zohar: So it's a learning process: which effort is needed and how to apply it is part of our path in itself.
Nathan: What can be helpful for people in terms of what you offer, and what would you recommend for starting on the spiritual path?
In general maybe meditation is helpful, so you can offer meditation. Meditation in general has very wide range, many levels, from concentration to the Samadhi to the end of Samadhi. But I don’t see anything in particular; one thing for every-one cannot be. So if I had to say something general to Vipassana practitioners, I would say: 'Just keep on', and then in the middle I would enter, so that Vipassana is still Vipassana, but not totally Vipassana. And as your understanding grows, I keep on entering and interrupting.
Actually, the Buddha acted similarly: to every person who came to him he gave a different practice, according to what he saw with his special eye what that person needed…
Nathan: How does activity on the 1/9th part of life that we know impact the rest of the parts that we don't know, in difficult situations like war or pain… Seeing all 9/9th parts, is it worth acting on the 1/9th level?
If situation allows, it is very helpful to act upon and give some kind of confidence, a hand behind people's back; that can be very supportive. Like when somebody loves you, you feel grounded, you don't feel alone or frightened. It's very helpful to put a hand on the back…
So you're saying that activity in this level (the 1/9th) is penetrating and affecting that level…
Yes, if I don’t' trust in you, I will not be able to hear you, but when I trust in you and your love, I really can be rooted, and that rooting really helps.
Nathan: Does it help toward something? Is life moving towards something in this way?
The whole connection happens, and from the connected place any activity is helping the whole. If I don’t feel connection to you, my decisions will be pro to me, and when I'm connected to you, my decisions cannot be for me only, you have to included it that. So similarly, when a connected life happens, whatever activity comes, the whole will be included in that. From the connected place, any activity will be for the whole.
Because of connectivity our decisions and our activities become different, and love becomes the decisive factor. When I'm separate, when I'm not in love, love is not the decisive factor: I decide for me. It's very different from the place of connectivity.
Nathan: Is there any common life experience that indicates that 8/9th?
Maybe the feeling of being very expansive, when you don't feel you. Many people experience expanding experiences. We don't have words for these experiences, words come later, not at the time.
You mean that because it's a place of no concepts, we can't use concepts to describe it?
We have to make concepts. Somehow we have to develop a language, there has to be a communication. Some people who have known these experiences, have tried to make common agreements to make a concept for them. I think many cultures have done that. These days we have lost the track of this common understanding.
The Buddha also spoke of this place only in the negative terms, in what it is not: it's not this, it's not that. He said one cannot describe it.
Nathan: In terms of freedom as the goal of the spiritual life, it is said that freedom is here and now, readily available to us; so why is it that we're not free here and now?
Freedom is in the Here and Now, not here and now. They missed one word: IN… It is the here and now that is not available to us. So we have to dig.
Meaning that the here and now is the doorway, the gate?
And what stands between us and being in the here and now?
Our attributes, concepts, opinions, conditionings, our views. Actually – US.
Is life leading somewhere?
I feel that life IS. And I think for life that is enough.
So what is the purpose for us being here?
I think life IS… So the word 'purpose' is a very small word… For our mental realm it seems very useful and big, but for life – neither useful nor big.
We all laugh.
I experience with you what's called "unconditional love". It is a very freeing experience, and yet – it feels very impersonal. What is the difference for you between how you loved before and how you love now?
Before when I loved, I was making use of people. Now probably I love.
What about your children, how do you love them differently?
Before, I loved them in a conditioned way; not fully honest (to the children). Now there's no difference. I may act in a different way with different people, according to what each of them needs, but the love is the same.
I'm remembering that in one of the retreats, I told Ajay I felt like a beggar sitting in the palace's gate, waiting to see the face of the Queen showing from time to time in the window. But, I added, I was willing to sit like this forever, for the chance of seeing her face. Ajay nodded agreeingly. As always. Then he smiled with kind eyes:
"The face of the Queen is always in the window", he said.