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Ajay Dahiya: From Teenage Monk to Lifelong Experimentation in Service
Nuggets From Ajay Dahiya's Call
Saturday March 23 we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Ajay Dahiya.
Ajay Dahiya is Executive Director of The Pollination Project, which makes worldwide daily seed grants – 365 days per year – to inspiring grassroots leaders who would not likely qualify for funding from other foundations or institutions.
Once supported by the Pollination Project, grantees often are able to leverage their seed grant into more funding, media attention and more.
Ajay was born in Surrey, England, to a working-class immigrant family. From early on in his life he felt a deep spiritual calling that moved him to become ordained as a monastic in his late teens. As a monk for eight years, Ajay served diverse teams across the globe. After transitioning out of monastic life, he went on to hold leadership positions in various mission-driven organizations. An entrepreneur in all that he does, Ajay strives to realize a healthy, equal and just society for all by bringing out the goodness and compassion in everyone he meets.
We'll post the transcript of the call soon, but till then, some of the nuggets that stood out from the call ...
- We were the only Indians in an English working class town. I grew up with the feeling of isolation. I could feel it in my body and in my heart. I saw families working to get their kids to college. I saw them trying to accumulate, which wasn't filling the void that they were trying to fill.
- We were taught the cultural values that we had from India. Like, if a stranger comes to your door, you should give him something to drink and eat.
- When I was 10 years old we went to the local temple, and I just lost it. I felt like, this is where I want to be! These people had so little, but they were the happiest people I ever saw. That was when I met my teacher. After that I knew what I wanted. Most kids wanted to be astronauts or something like that. I just wanted to be a monk!
- When you're Indian in a foreign place, the bar is set higher for you. Your parents expect you to work harder and do better. I started to realize that I had to put my becoming over and above my being. More and more, in whatever spare time I had, I'd go to the temple.
- When I was 18, I was different from other 18-year olds. I just wanted to be in the monastery. My parents were against it, and the monks wouldn't let me join. Finally my parents and the monks agreed to let me take a year. That expanded into eight years.
- Right away they discovered that I could get things done. So I became an assistant to the head of the monastery.
- I cooked for my teacher. One day he said, "I gave a good talk today because I had such a great lunch!" So I kept cooking for him.
- In monastic training, you put yourself in a space where you fine-tune the heart and spirit connection.
- One time I was in India, in Mumbai, and my teacher was there, and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. He said "Why don't you come and travel with me!" I was hesitant, I wasn't sure, but he persuaded me. I was his cook, his administrator and his care taker.
- The Bahagavad manifests in 2 ways: in the literature, and in the living presence of people.
- My teacher asked me to go to New York to help with the Bhakti Center. "New York,” he said, “what's your conclusion?" I wasn’t ready to do this. So he asked me, “Why wouldn't you go?” I said, "Because I want to be with you, I want to serve you." He said "if you're with me, you can serve my body. If you to New York, you can serve my heart!" So I agreed to go.
- When the time came for me to go, we were at the airport and we each had different flights. He had to go left and I had to go right. That was hard. And that was when I realized, it was time for me to grow up.
- So I ran the Bhakti Center in NY. It was really a team that came together to hold the space. Holding space means people come together to hold an intention. Then more people come to do the same, and more and more people are drawn there.
- I got to learn about some of the issues that come with living and working in a spiritual center. Spiritual centers are made up of people, who are flawed. People got attached to their ideas rather than to the original ideal on which the center was founded. This led to ego, and conflict. This is inevitable.
- I was living as a monk, and I was doing service by managing the Center. But there was a tension between the two .The whole world had it's eyes on the Bhakti Center. It was a cool and hip place. But over time I came to realize that my identity was more and more about being a monk, rather than my original reasons for becoming a monk. It was time to step out and realign my work to my original purpose.
- There are different planes on which a person can live. The first is exploitation: where my life is focused on acquiring the things of this world. Then there’s renunciation: the life of a monk, renouncing the things of this world in order to live the life of the spirit. But I discovered a third plane: dedication. Dedication is about engagement in the world, in service of a higher dimension of living.
- Now I’m married and I have a 16-month-old son. So how do I serve now? A lot of people come to me for advice. There are a lot more parents than monks, so I can connect with them from my own experience. I can wed the spiritual with the practical.
- I had to figure out my material situation after leaving my monastic life. Paradoxically being engaged as a family man with work, financial responsibilities, and family life, leads me to go even deeper into my spiritual life.
- Rather than demanding perfection in myself and others, I've learned to go with a different approach. I accept my incompleteness and also the other person’s incompleteness. And I hope that they in turn will come to accept mine.
- Take yourself out of the center and put the greater purpose in the center. If you take yourself out of the center, then you are taking the ego out of the center. Then you can begin serving the whole.
- I want to set up my life in such a way, more and more, that I work not because I need something, but because I want to give something.
- I think I'm eternally a student.
- The guru is not really a person. It is an energy that manifests in a person. The forest is your guru. The tree is your guru. The prostitute down the street is your guru. My 16-month old son is my biggest guru.
- When misfortune comes, don’t ask: why is this happening to me? Rather ask: why is this happening for me? What is this situation here to teach me?
Lots of gratitude Ajay for joining us, to Birju for his deep and skillful moderation, and to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!
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