Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981), Life & Teachings of Bombay's Fiery Sage of Liberating Wisdom
(Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, blissfully seated in his family home in Bombay. Photo by Greg Clifford.)
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Mahârâj, 1897-1981)—Life & Teachings of Bombay's Fiery Sage of Liberating Wisdom
© Copyright 1981/2007, by Timothy Conway, Ph.D. (last revision: Dec. 8, 2007)
[Explore the links here and repeated near the bottom of this long webpage for my recollections of being with Sri Nisargadatta, and my long article on several facets of Maharaj's wisdom useful for helping professionals, as well as various collections of teachings and photos of the Maharaj.]
Every great once in a while, Absolute Awareness manifests within Its fascinating dream-play a powerful dream-figure to talk about the nature of the dream and to indicate the transcendent Absolute. Such a figure was Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, a sage of the highest order, a tremendously gifted teacher who spoke directly from Absolute “pure Awareness, unborn Reality,” and thus from real spiritual authority.
The Maharaj was quite clear that all personalities, including his own, and all memories of personal history, are ultimately an illusion, devoid of any real, lasting substance, for there is only the one transpersonal Divine Self. When asked about his past, the Maharaj declared that there is no such thing as the past—nothing has ever really happened!
Bearing this in mind, we shall speak on the conventional level, the level of historical events within the dream of life, to note something of the sage Nisargadatta's earth-side history. His biography, which he himself once dismissed as a “dead matter,” is nevertheless useful in displaying or modeling for us the shining virtues of total dedication, one-pointedness, faith in and obedience to the Inner Guru and outer Guru, self-sacrifice, simplicity, loving-kindness, and all-embracing compassion.
The body of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (née Maruti Sivrampant Kambli) was born near dawn on the full-moon day of Saturday, April 17, 1897. His deeply religious parents named him Maruti in honor of the festival that day honoring the birth of Hanuman, the fabled monkey-king hero of the Ramayana epic poem, selfless helper of Lord Rama, and son of wind-god Marut. (Older accounts put Maruti's birth in March, but we now know that the Hanuman Jayanti that year was on April 17.)
Though born in Bombay, second eldest of six children, Maruti was raised on a family farm in Kandalgaon, a rural village to the south in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri District. This was because his father Sivrampant, who had been employed by a merchant in Bombay, had moved the family to the countryside in 1896 when a plague-epidemic broke out in that bustling port city. We learn from a biographical booklet that "Maharaj's father Shivrampant Kambli and mother Parvatibai were both ardent devotees.... [They] observed very rigorously the traditional fasts and holy days. They made no distinction as between Siva and Vishnu. His father loved to sing bhajans [devotional songs], especially loudly as do the followers of [the] Varkari system. [The Varkaris are mystics and devotees of India's Maharashtra state, founded by the sage Jnanesvar (1275-96) and invigorated by the last leading historical figure of the movement, poet-saint-sage Tukaram (1607-49).] ... [Sivrampant] had in his possession a number of traditional holy books which he read regularly and devoutly." (S. Gogate & P.T. Phadol, Meet the Sage: Shri Nisargadatta, p. 5)
In his youth, Maruti performed all the hard labors required by life on a farm. Though he received little or no formal education, he was exposed to spiritual ideas by quietly listening to and absorbing the conversations between his father Sivramprant and the latter's friend, Visnu Haribhau Gore, a pious brahman.
Sivrampant died in 1915, and in 1920, a 23-year-old Maruti came to Bombay (after his older brother) to find work to help support the family back home. At first he landed a job as an office clerk, but then he took the initiative to move out on his own, eventually becoming prosperous in business as the owner of a chain of small retail shops with 30-40 employees, selling sundry items like cutlery and garments, but primarily tobacco and bidis, hand-rolled leaf cigarettes. In 1924, Maruti married a young woman named Sumatibai. Their family came to include a son and three daughters.
At the continuing behest of his friend Yasvantrao Bagkar, in late 1933 Maruti finally visited Sri Siddharamesvar Maharaj (1888-1936), a sage of the Navnath Sampradaya, a line of householder gurus tracing its origins to legendary avataras (Divine incarnations) Gorakhnatha (also sometimes traced further back to Lord Dattatreya). The Navnath lineage taught the sublime philosophy and direct, nondual realization of Absolute Being-Awareness. On Maruti’s third visit to Sri Siddharamesvar (or Siddharameshwar), he received instruction in meditation and formal initiation into the Navnath line (Inchegeri branch). He was given a mantra, and, upon receiving it, began to recite it diligently. Within minutes, he inwardly experienced a dazzling illumination of varied colors and fell into samadhi, complete absorption into the unitary state of non-dual awareness.
Eventually Maruti became Siddharamesvar’s leading disciple. He totally obeyed his guru, doing or giving up whatever Siddharamesvar commanded, since the Guru’s word was law unto him. The transformation in his character was so great that all of Maruti’s employees also became initiates of Siddharamesvar. After more than a year of association with Siddharamesvar, Maruti was asked to give spiritual discourses on numerous occasions. We learn, for instance, that he gave a series of 12 discourse-commentaries on spiritual books at the hometown of his friend Bagkar in 1935. Maruti began to impress people, not only with his cognitive understanding of spirituality but also his radiant exemplification of Truth. In those days, he gave spontaneous talks to anyone coming to his shop seeking his spiritual wisdom. Some brought their sick relatives to him, hoping for cures. He sent the afflicted to a cafe at the street corner, telling them to drink a glass of water therein—and in doing so, they were often healed. Siddharamesvar learned of this and asked Maruti to stop intending such healings, which are trivial in light of the need for spiritual awakening from the ultimate "dis-ease" of identifying with the body-mind personality. Nevertheless, over the years, many miracles and synchronicities still occurred.
Maruti eventually took on the name Nisargadatta, meaning “naturally (nisarga) given (datta)” or, more loosely, “one dwelling in the natural state.” “Nis-arga” literally means “without parts,” and suggests the unfragmented, seamless, solid Awareness of a sage. As he later told a dear disciple and successor, Jean Dunn: “At one time I was composing poems. Poems used to flow out of me and, in this flow, I just added ‘Nisargadatta.’ I was reveling in composing poems until my Guru cautioned me, ‘You are enjoying composing these poems too much; give them up!’ What was he driving at? His objective was for me to merge in the Absolute instead of reveling in my beingness.” (Consciousness and the Absolute: The Final Talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, pp. 7-8.)
Nisargadatta became primarily interested only in practicing the meditation as prescribed by his Guru and singing devotional bhajan songs. In his meditations, Nisargadatta experienced strange and colorful divine lights, various divine forms of God and saints, visions of beautiful landscapes never seen before, and deep trance states of samadhi. These manifestations of initial “imbalance” ceased after a while, giving way to absorptions–later, final absorption—in the utterly natural absorptive state of nisarga samadhi, or sahaja samadhi. This “extraordinarily ordinary,” “unconditioned condition” is formless Awareness abiding unto ItSelf while a form-full world of changing appearances arises. It has been likened to “waking sleep” by the illustrious sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), wherein one experiences the utter peace and care-free bliss of formless deep sleep while clearly aware of arising forms of experience. This nisarga or sahaja samadhi transcends all dramatic, flashy “experiences”—for such experiences are changing and transient, and rooted in the dualistic, subject-object split. Nisargadatta himself tells of his time with his Guru, and what transpired in the more mature phase of his spiritual practice (sadhana):
My association with my Guru was scarcely for two and a half years. He was staying some 200 kilometers [120 miles] away, and he would come here once every four months, for fifteen days. This [realization] is the fruit of that. The words he gave me touched me very deeply. I abided in one thing only: the words of my Guru are the truth, and he said, "You are the Parabrahman [Absolute Reality]." No more doubts and no more questions on that. Once my Guru conveyed to me what he had to say I never bothered about other things— I hung on to the words of the Guru. (Prior to Consciousness, pp. 1-2, April 4, 1980)
My Guru told me: “...Go back to that state of pure being, where the ‘I am’ is still in its purity before it got contaminated with ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that.’ Your burden is of false self-identifications—abandon them all.” My guru told me, “Trust me, I tell you: you are Divine. Take it as the absolute truth. Your joy is divine, your suffering is divine too. All comes from God. Remember it always. You are God, your will alone is done.” I did believe him and soon realized how wonderfully true and accurate were his words. I did not condition my mind by thinking, “I am God, I am wonderful, I am beyond.” I simply followed his instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being, “I am,” and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the “I am” in my mind and soon the peace and joy and deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared—myself, my guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained, and unfathomable silence. (I Am That, Dialogue 51, April 16, 1971)
Sri Siddharamesvar Maharaj passed away on November 9, 1936, just before the Divali festival commenced. Nisargadatta had traveled a bit with Siddharamesvar, such as to his Guru's home town of Patri, and "he did not miss, during those days, even a single traditional function [e.g., celebrations of birthdays and mahasamadhi passing days of the Gurus of recent lineage holders of the Navnath sampradaya] held at Inchgeri, Bagewadi and Siddhagiri (Kolhapur) [in Maharashtra]." (Meet the Sage, p. 15)
A year later, during the Divali celebrations in Fall, 1937, Nisargadatta left home, taking up the life of a renunciate, an acceptable thing in India for someone who is genuinely called to spiritual freedom. He was inspired by a remark his guru had once made: “Is there anyone ready to renounce material life completely for the sake of his Sadguru’s word?” Without informing anyone, Nisargadatta left Bombay, travelling on foot southeast to Maharashtra's holy temple town of Pandharpur (a main center for the Varkari movement). There, he gave up his costly clothes, put on a simple garment, and with only two small pieces of loincloth and a coarse woollen covering, he began the life of a penniless wanderer. Under the scorching sun, Nisargadatta walked to Gangapur, then turned south and roamed on foot through Tamil Nadu in India's deep south, visiting more shrines, temples, and holy places. Through the Grace of his discarnate Guru, Nisargadatta was never without food. On one occasion, an old man and a house miraculously materialized themselves out of nowhere in a barren place to provide the hungry, tired Nisargadatta with food, water and a brief resting place. When he departed, on a whim he looked back after taking several steps: the place had completely vanished! It was evidently a yogic mental creation inter-dimensionally dreamed up by Siddharamesvar to assist his dedicated successor on his path of utter renunciation.
After visiting the pilgrimage town Ramesvaram, at the southern tip of India, Nisargadatta traveled northward, coming back through the eastern part of Maharashtra state, where a fellow disciple gave him a photo of Sri Siddharamesvar, some saffron cloth for a sannyasin's robe, and a copy of the nondually-oriented wisdom text, Dasbodh, by Samartha Ramdas, a 17th century Marathi sage. Nisargadatta then walked north as far as Agra, Mathura-Brindavan and Delhi, intending to continue on up into the Himalayas and there adopt the life of total renunciation and austerities. However, meeting and conversing with another fellow disciple of Siddharamesvar in Delhi convinced Nisargadatta that returning to live with his family in Bombay would not impede the spirit of renunciation—for true renunciation is an inward unattachment having nothing to do with one’s external situation. On the return journey he evidently opened up in an irreversible, unbroken realization of the Atma or transcendent-immanent Divine Self. His spiritual practices had exhausted all samskaras, the problematic likes and dislikes inherited from past karma. He had spontaneously, finally awakened to Absolute Self, Absolute Reality. All attachment, aversion, and delusion had ended. Nisargadatta was now totally free in the Freedom of the jivanmukta, one liberated while still functioning with a body. As he put it, “Nothing was wrong anymore.”
After his eight months of wandering, pilgrimage and full awakening from the dream of “me,” Nisargadatta came once again to Bombay in 1938. His business virtually wiped out, he lived in the family apartment (Vanmali Bhavan building) on 10th Lane in the hectic downtown Khetwadi area, just one block from a busy boulevard, maintaining one nearby tiny alcove street-front shop as an income-source for his family. He himself reduced all bodily needs to a minimum, and spent almost all his free time in the little mezzanine loft he had built in the high-ceiling apartment. Here he could be found absorbed in meditative samadhi or singing bhajans or reading great Hindu scriptures of nondual wisdom and devotion: Yoga-Vasishtha, Eknatha’s Bhagavat, Ramdas' Dasbodha, Jnanesvar's Amritanubhava and Jnanesvari (Gita Commentary), Tukaram's poems, Sankara's treatises, and some major Upanishads, and, last but not least, the words of his Guru, Sri Siddharamesvar, whose teachings had been collected by several disciples, including Nisargadatta (see, for instance, the two volumes of Amrut Laya: The Stateless State, available for purchase on the Internet at www.sadguru.com). Nisargadatta fathomed the highest meaning of these texts through the deep spiritual insight gained from quality time with both the Inner Guru and the outer Guru, Siddharamesvar, though he’d never received any formal higher-education or training.
Nisargadatta's sharpness as a spiritual teacher was honed through intense conversations with his brother disciple K.A. Sabnis, better known as Sri Bhainath Maharaj. "From 1941 onwards he came in close contact with [Bhainath].... Everyday they usually used to go to Girgaum Chaupati for a walk after the shop hours. They were engrossed for hours together in their [entirely spiritual] discussion.... In those days of the Second World War there used to be a black-out every night. Sometimes even curfew hours were on, due to communal riots and house-fires. Close by, country bombs used to explode on the open streets. Braving such tense atmosphere and unmindful of the rain or the cold winds, these two Gurubandhus were engrossed for hours together in spiritual discussions on the Chaupati sands or the Chaupati bandstand or sitting on the footsteps of a closed shop or standing at the corner of N. Powell [Rd.]. It was not uncommon that when they reached home it was two or three hours past midnight. Their daily routine mundane duties, however, did not suffer on that account.... These long and subtle talks on spiritual matters helped both. This nightly spiritual fire was continuously on for 25 years." (Meet the Sage, pp. 24-5) Nisargadatta did most of the talking, once telling Bhainath, "You are very cool like Lord Vishnu. Look at me! I am like the fiery Lord Rudra [Siva]."
Pushing his body to its limits of endurance, Nisargadatta’s physical health broke down; he contracted tuberculosis at one point, and cancer at another time. But in each case, faith in his Guru and regular exercise, such as 500 daily prostrations in front of the picture of his Guru, restored his body to health.
(Photo of a young Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj seated in his shrine room by the altar featuring a framed, garlanded image of his Guru, Sri Siddharamesvar Maharaj (1888-1936)
During the years 1942 to 1948, the passing away of a dear daughter, his devoted (if somewhat "bossy") and beloved wife, and his revered mother, and the horrible violence and turbulence of India’s independence and subsequent partition, could not shake Maharaj’s enlightened equanimity, which treats all happenings as the dream-drama of an unborn, undying, universal consciousness. Fully awake, nothing can disturb one who abides as transcendental, absolute Awareness beyond its play of consciousness.
Ever since his return to Bombay in 1938, Nisargadatta had been sought out by those desiring his counsel on spiritual matters. Many wanted to become his disciples and get formal mantra-initiation from him, reverentially calling him “Maharaj,” “Great (Spiritual) King.” Yet he was reluctant to have disciples and serve as a guru. Finally, in 1951, after receiving an inner revelation from Siddharamesvar, he began to initiate students into discipleship. In 1966, Nisargadatta finally made a complete retirement from any further business-work and let his married son, Chittaranjan, take over full operation of the tiny shop selling bidis and various goods. But long before this, Nisargadatta was allowing devotees to gather in his 8x12-foot mezzanine room for twice-daily open sessions of meditation, bhajan-singing, and inquiry into spiritual truth. This room was later expanded to 8x18 feet to accommodate the larger groups that began to visit him after Maharaj was introduced to the wider world of spiritual aspirants by the several pages on him in Peter Brent's 1972 book, Godmen of India, and, especially, by the December 1973 publication in Marathi and English of the amazing book, I Am That: Conversations with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
This landmark book of searing nondual truth was edited and translated by Maharaj's longtime sagely friend and interlocutor, Maurice Frydman, an illustrious Polish Jew turned Indian citizen, a brilliant engineer, tireless humanitarian and activist in Gandhi's justice movement, and a great mystic himself who had studied under Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti from the late 1930s onward. Maharaj regularly referred to his friend Maurice as a true gnostic-sage, a jnani, and the Maharaj was at Maurice's bedside when the latter "dropped the body" in 1976. Incidentally, the book-title I Am That is somewhat confusing. The Maharaj always taught that one must stand prior to all identifications with "I am this" or "I am that" and dwell in the basic "I am" sense until the Divine Grace of one's Real Nature awakens one to the Absolute Awareness beyond even the "I am"-sense. Thus, the word "That" in the book-title I Am That refers only to the Absolute prior to and beyond the "I Am."
Even before the 1972 release of Brent's book and the first edition of I Am That the following year, Maharaj had become widely known through word of mouth and through some small booklets of his talks, teachings and writing, and the fact that he was the leading disciple of Sri Siddharamesvar. Biographers Gogate and Phadol wrote of Sri Nisargadatta in 1972: "Averse to publicity, he is well-known to many earnest aspirants of Truth.... The great Saint Shree Nisargadatta Maharaj personifies a continuous flow of ecstatic bliss of Self. His saintly life itself is an auspicious living message providing inspiration and guidance to all.... He speaks out what he himself experiences within.... Shree Maharaj reveals, through his daily discourses and talks, the essence of Reality through his own conviction with exceptional vigor and clarity. Knowledge flows through his talks everyday for hours on end. It pours freely like the rain and is addressed to all who are present. Narrow distinctions of male and female, high and low, caste and creed, isms or schools make no sense here. His sublime and Saintly looks pour peace and love equally on all.... His audience includes seekers from different walks of life. Professors, pleaders [lawyers], judges, high executives, political and social [and spiritual] leaders often visit the Ashram [his mezzanine loft] to seek spiritual guidance from him. Seekers of Truth from the West like Shri Maurice Frydman often visit him for discussion and spiritual guidance. Since he has no expectations from others, he is, as in his day-to-day practical life, exceptionally plain and uninhibitive in his spiritual teachings as well. Worldly matters have no room with him. Shree Maharaj is against making use of spiritual powers (siddhis) to seek worldly ends though his faithful devotees do experience his powers in their daily life.... On the holy days like the birthdays and anniversaries of Sadgurus in the tradition, Guru Purnima, Deepavali, Deevali, etc., celebrations are held in specially rented big halls with great enthusiasm. On these occasions Shree Maharaj himself loudly sings devotional songs and dances to the tune. It is a lovely scene to witness. Shri Maharaj does not at all like the idea of celebrating his own birthday, but he had to acquiesce in the importunities of his devotees. In the recent past [late 1960s, early 1970s] the number of disciples of Shree Maharaj in the city of Bombay and in other places has considerably increased. He undertakes tours four or five times a year to visit, along with some disciples, holy places like Bagewadi, Inchgeri, [and] Siddhagiri, which are the birth places of Sadgurus in the [Navnath] Sampradaya. He also visits, though rarely, the places of disciples who stay out of Bombay." (Meet the Sage, pp. 32, 30, 29-30)
By the latter 1970s, the Maharaj's traveling had largely dropped off due to old age and illness, a throat cancer diagnosed in 1980. Roughly 20 visitors daily, now including a disproportionately greater number of Westerners, were coming to Sri Nisargadatta's talks for gaining spiritual clarity, the number of persons expanding to about 30 persons on Sundays and holidays. Except for a throng of long-standing devotees, these visitors were frequently new faces, since the Maharaj was not interested in collecting a following, but preferred that his students hear, understand, meditate upon and then go live the teaching. Thus, he never allowed any separate spacious ashram to be built, though, as mentioned, he did allow large halls to sometimes be rented for bhajans and discourses on certain holy days, and for this purpose and a few small publishing and charitable projects the "Sri Nisargadatta Adhyatma Kendra" organization was registered in 1976. Because the I Am That book in the latter 1970s began to draw a greater number of people than could be squeezed into his little mezzanine loft, the Maharaj generally allowed people to stay for only a few weeks or even just a few days. Many persons would come for up to two weeks, then clear out, go elsewhere, and come back several months later for another short period before leaving, usually to return once again at a later date.
The Maharaj's mezzanine loft was marked by a strong, strangely beautiful peace, despite the fact that the ensuing years saw this particular Bombay neighborhood, like many other urban areas of the developing world, grow increasingly in density, din, odor and squalor. There, in that little room up the narrow, steep stairs, a little bit above and away from the outside noise and smell (from a public urinal across the street and other urban odors), one encountered Maharaj in the vastness of consciousness disguised as the little Indian man in the tiny urban loft. On the loft's south end was a fairly large window overlooking 10th Lane, on the other end to the north, next to the stairs, stood the rather regal wood-and-silver altar to Sri Siddharamesvar and the Navnath line of Gurus. Completing the configuration were one long wall with a window to the east and a facing wall on the west side, without windows, along which the stairs descended. Numerous framed photos and images, including not just Sri Siddharameshvar and the Navnath line of gurus, but other sages like the illustrious Sri Ramana Maharshi, J. Krishnamurti, Maurice Frydman, and even a painting of Maharaj himself, gazed down beneficently from their position high along the walls.
The living, breathing Nisargadatta Maharaj, about 5'4" tall, was usually dressed in a simple white cotton short-sleeved shirt or long-sleeved white kurta, sometimes going bare-chested in the heat or, in the cooler periods, wearing over his white shirt a beige kurta or an old orange sweater vest, sometimes including a dark wool jacket. Instead of modern trousers, he preferred the traditional white dhoti worn long down to the ankles and/or folded under and between the legs. When walking outside, he often donned, not just sunglasses, but also the white "freedom cap" worn by so many of the older Indian men. He wore no special robes, regalia or paraphernalia. His only concession to tradition was a dab of red vermillion powder between the eyebrows. His few physical props were his lighter, his incense sticks, and his cigarettes. Even when the doctors finally succeeded in getting him to stop smoking bidis around late 1980, he wryly confessed to some of us in early 1981 that he was still often chewing tobacco. When teaching, the Maharaj usually sat cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, or sometimes on a low folding chair, with a small towel over his lap. He varied where he sat, from the windowed end of the room, to a position near the stairs, to a spot against the long wall. (For an even more vivid and extensive description of the environs and happenings around Maharaj, see Milo Clark's delightful essay "A Day with Maharaj", linked in the Resources section below.)
Maharaj declared: "I speak every day on the same subject." (Seeds of Consciousness, p. 165) That subject was our real Identity as the birthless-deathless, infinite-eternal Absolute Awareness or Parabrahman, and Its play of emanated universal consciousness. For Maharaj, our only "problem" (an imagined one!) is a case of mistaken identity: we presume to be an individual, and, originally and fundamentally, we are not an individual, we are intrinsically always and only the Absolute. The play of consciousness as an individual, a person, a "me," is fleeting, insubstantial and thus a playful dream of maya-illusion. Insofar as we, the formless Absolute (Parabrahman, Nirguna Brahman, Shiva) have any "relatively real" manifestation, we are the entire play of Universal Consciousness (Saguna Brahman, Shakti, Caitanya, Cidakash). Which is why the Maharaj would often state, on the matter of our "relative level" identity, "Look upon all as your Self," "Consciousness is the same in all," "It is the same Consciousness in Lord Krishna, a human being, a donkey, or an ant," "There is only one Consciousness," "You are I only, I am you," "my real nature is your real nature," and so forth.
The Maharaj's quintessential spiritual way for any visitors and disciples ripe enough to fathom was awakening to this Universal Consciousness and even beyond that unto the Absolute Awareness or Open Divine Reality. The specific method was a radical disidentification from the dream of "me and my world" via intensely meditative self-inquiry (atma-vicara) and supreme Wisdom-Knowledge (vijñana or jñana). "I know only Atma-yoga, which is 'Self-Knowledge,' and nothing else.... My process is Atma-yoga, which means abidance in the Self." (The Nectar of Immortality, pp. 22, 25)
Operationally, this is the classic threefold practice of hearing the Truth of our Absolute Nature, pondering/contemplating this Truth, and meditating deeply on this Truth (sravana, manana and nididhyasana) until we are fully, unshakeably established in this conviction that we are not the body-mind-soul ego personality or individual, no, our real nature or identity is the supra-personal or trans-egoic Reality-Awareness. This threefold practice of hearing-pondering-meditating is identified as the classic way of awakening in the ancient Upanishads (e.g., Brhadaranyaka iv.5.6, Paingala, iii.2) and later scriptures, and in the works of Sankara (c.700 CE) and other advaita (nondual) sages. The eminent Mahayana Buddhist forefather Nagarjuna (c.110-200) likewise had advocated this triple method of hearing-pondering-meditating (sruti-cinta-bhavana) on the Truth of Sunyata-Absolute Openness-Emptiness.
Maharaj often emphasized the need for deeply hearing, pondering and meditating upon—and firmly stabilizing in—his teaching about the "I Am" consciousness and the Absolute Awareness beyond. But he frequently summarized for his listeners this classic triple method in an even pithier formulation of the way: "Just be what you hear"—i.e., be the truth of Awareness, the Source-Reality denoted by these words of wisdom.
In slightly more elaborate form, as Maharaj himself so often put it, you clearly and intuitively know or apperceive that you are. No one has any real doubts about this fundamental fact of their consciousness, beingness, knowingness, presence or "I-Am-ness." Maharaj would say, meditate on and remain as this "I-Am-ness," fervently focus on and ponder this fundamental experience or fact of "I Am," free of all limiting identifications with "I am this" or "I am that." Notice the chronic tendency to identify with "this" or "that" as me—"me" in the form of "my mind," "my body," my being a "man" or a "woman," my being "good" or "bad," my being a devotee of this religion or that, this political party or that. Said Maharaj: "Just be, and don't get restless 'trying' to be, just be." "Just be in your beingness." Simply and clearly dwelling as the unidentified, undefined "I Am" sense of sheer presence (what Sri Ramana Maharshi always called "the I-thought"), the Grace of One's Real Nature as Absolute Reality or Parabrahman takes over and finally even merges that basic "I Am" presence into Pure, Absolute Awareness, our Infinite, Eternal, Ever-Abiding Identity. This Awareness is more "no-knowingness" than "knowingness," more Absence (of anything or anyone) than presence. Yet this "Absence" is no mere "vacuous emptiness" but is the Stupendous Reality, the Nirguna Parabrahman (quality-less Divine Reality) beyond saguna Brahman (Divine Reality with qualities, manifestation, beingness), as sage Sankara, Nisargadatta and other Indian sages distinguish.
In other words, one's life and the life of every sentient being is the play of consciousness (caitanya) and its vital force (prana). Identified as an individual, one's consciousness is somatic- or body-based (i.e., the body comprised of food-essence). But one's real, trans-individual, transpersonal Being is the Absolute Awareness that is bodiless, mindless, spaceless, timeless, birthless, deathless, and Vastness beyond vastness, Aliveness beyond aliveness, Intelligence beyond intelligence, the one and only unmanifest Self beyond all apparent manifest selves. Says Maharaj, one must deploy all one's consciousness and life-force to investigate how this consciousness is the root of all experiences of the jiva or individual—bodily, mental and psychic. Going further, however, one must find out: what is the transcendent Source of this all-manifesting consciousness? As Maharaj stated the two stages of disidentification via witnessing: "There are two witnessing stages; beingness [consciousness] witnesses all this manifestation. [And] witnessing of this beingness, consciousness, happens to that eternal principle, the Absolute." (Prior to Consciousness, p. 4) He also declared: "There is only one consciousness [manifesting all beings-events]. You must become one with and stabilize in that consciousness, then you transcend it." (Consciousness and the Absolute, p. 12)
Beyond mere conceptualizing or intellectualizing about this on the level of individual consciousness, there must be authentic establishment or stabilizing in/as this transcendental Source, the Ultimate. Because Absolute Awareness can never be seen, perceived, thought of or grasped as an object (just as the fingertip cannot touch itself), the only "task" is to simply, magnificently abide, remain, "stay put" or "keep quiet" as this Absolute Awareness or Parabrahman, the No-thing which dreams up everything as Its wild, wonderful, pleasurable, painful play of consciousness and its objects.
I once heard the Maharaj declare, in typical parlance, "Presently we are one with 'I am-ness.' This is delusion. You as the Absolute must get out of that. Were you concerned about this 'I am' before you came into it? Because it came into being spontaneously, without any of your doing, so it will disappear, spontaneously, without your doing, and the Absolute which you are will remain."
Thus, paradoxically, you can't "try" to abide as Absolute Awareness, for you always already are THIS Awareness, prior to the universal consciousness and any sense of individuality. As he sometimes clarified: "What you ARE you cannot become. You can only be That." Likewise, one can't even "try" to witness, for one's real nature as the Absolute is already witnessing the consciousness, and, in turn, consciousness is already witnessing the world, sensations, thoughts, emotions, etc. of the apparent individual. Nisargadatta Maharaj made the most of this paradox, giving lots of imperatives to be utterly earnest (an oft-used word!) in disidentifying, witnessing, letting go, constantly meditating, stabilizing and remaining as Awareness, yet he also often said that there is "nothing to do," and "don't make efforts." Thereby, the sage created in his listeners a sense of paralyzing paradox of "effortless effort" which wondrously leads to a profound awakening to What We Already Are as Absolute Awareness. And yes, one must paradoxically get "established" or "stabilized" in THIS Reality, not just settle for fleeting glimpses. Which is why the Maharaj so often urged, "You must meditate!" And meditation must mature or ripen into the deepest and firmest possible intuitive conviction that we are not consciousness and the "I Am-ness," but are the Absolute always spacelessly right HERE, timelessly right NOW. This Reality is immediately our very Truth, "nearer" than the either the bodymind complex or the "I Am-ness."
In case there is any confusion on this point, consider the following. When people, faced with the Maharaj’s teaching on the Absolute beyond the sense of “I-Am-ness,” responded with any expressed intention to get rid of or suppress or terminate the “I Am,” the sage would clearly tell them that this is not needed. He would say that, just as one’s Absolute Eternal Nature is spontaneously Real, so also the “I-Am-ness,” though only temporally, relatively real (and hence ultimately false, destined to disappear), is spontaneously present, albeit as a superimposition on our Real Nature. It is the spontaneous play of the unlimited, changeless Absolute which sports as the ever-changing creative “I Am” consciousness, which in turn has whimsically or mischievously conjured up the limited individual sense of personality. So, says the Maharaj, there is nothing to do about the “I-Am-ness” but just penetrate it by deeply meditating upon it. This is “meditating on the meditator,” “contemplating the contemplator,” as he sometimes said. Such profound meditation on the root-sense of individuality and personal presence results in a paradoxical combination of complete witnessing of the “I Am” along with being completely one with the Consciousness that is “I Am.” Upon fully seeing-being this “I Am,” by the Divine Grace of one’s Real Nature this root of all individuality is transcended, and What remains is only the inconceivable, unimaginable Ultimate, the Alone (All-One), the Absolute Freedom, Fullness and Felicity.
In addition to the Maharaj’s well-known and much-discussed cognitive-intuitive way of awakening to the Absolute via the preliminary step of contemplating the “I Am-ness” or consciousness, Sri Nisargadatta also sometimes outlined (especially during some talks in mid-July 1980) a much less-known preliminary path: what might be termed an energetic-intuitive way of awakening based on contemplating and fully feeling and unfolding the prana or sakti, the life force, life breath or vital energy. Ancient Indian texts speak of this life force, subdividing it into the pañcapranas or “five breaths / vital forces”: prana, samana, apana, vyana, and udana, the energies that govern breathing, digestion, excretion, circulation, and regulation of the three basic cyclic states (waking, dream, sleep). The Maharaj did not delve into particularities but instead simply pointed out the obvious—that without the prana or sakti vital energy, we cannot live, think, feel, move or do anything. Whereas consciousness is the “static” sentience principle in our lives, the prana-sakti life force is the “dynamic” working, acting, kinetic principle, said the Maharaj, though ultimately “[they] are not really two... they are really one.... Consciousness and life force are two components, inextricably woven together, of one principle.” “Life force, love and consciousness are all one in essence.” (The Ultimate Medicine, pp. 124, 161, 165.) Therefore, this vital force is really Pranesvar, the Lord of Energy, the effective God of our lives and world, “the highest principle,” the “Great Power or Great Energy without which there cannot be consciousness” (ibid., p. 170.) “This life force is God and God is this life force.” (ibid., p. 121.)
Accordingly, Sri Nisargadatta said (as he would often likewise say of consciousness or the “I Am-sense”), make this life-force power your friend and your highest God—meditate upon, pray to and worship this God, “your constant companion,” instead of praying to some mere abstract image or heavenly concept of “God” as is done in most devotional religious paths. Now, the Maharaj did not teach or recommend the two traditional ways of working with the prana-sakti: the complicated tantra of kundalini yoga (working with the cakra energy centers along the spine, balancing the ida and pingala energy currents, etc.), or the even more ancient eight-part Yoga of Patañjali with its breath-regulation (pranayama), postures (asanas) and so on. No, the Maharaj simply made a general but very subtle recommendation to befriend, focus on, fathom, worship, abide in and just be this vital force, and be careful not to “dissipate” or “demote” or “sully” the life energy by identifying it merely with the body and its urges. By “unconditioning” the life force, one allows this prana-sakti to spontaneously “purify,” to transcend any fixation on the individual person and selfish desires. The vital energy then can “unfold” or open up freely to its true vast and potent nature as the transpersonal, universal life force. Finally, “this life force... merges with the light of the Atman/Self.” (ibid., p. 121) Thus does one transcend death, for the universal life-force cannot perish.
There is tremendous austerity in what the Maharaj is teaching, whether in his intuitive way of self-inquiry into universal consciousness or his way of abiding as the universal life-force. He is, after all, speaking of the deepest possible renunciation—renunciation of being a bodymind individual, a “me.” And yet, of course, this is no actual “renunciation,” since one is only remaining or abiding as What One truly IS, in all the glorious majesty and empty-fullness of One’s Reality: Absolute Awareness-Bliss-Grace.
Meanwhile, on the conventional, mundane level of the play of consciousness as an apparent individual, one is not to become a zombie, sociopath, or idle simpleton! The Maharaj insisted that one must allow the body-mind and vital force to appropriately fulfill its destined duties and relationships. "You must not keep yourself idle; so do go on working. [However,] whether working for the poor, the community or for progress, whatever it is that you do, be at that stage of knowledge, of real consciousness." (The Ultimate Medicine, pp. 132-3) He also remarked: "Understand that the total manifestation is the child of a barren woman [i.e., not real, only dream-like], but having understood this, give full attention to your work, and let that work be done as efficiently as possible.... It does not mean that you should neglect your worldly duties; carry these out with full zest." (Consciousness and the Absolute, pp. 43, 12) Clearly, this attention to one's duties does not mean falling into worldliness, selfishness, and ego-based attachments and aversions, the entangling realm of desires and fears. Sri Nisargadatta in his own way would often echo the well-known counsels of his Guru, Sri Siddharmamesvar, "Realize the Self and behave accordingly!" "Use this Self-Power in the right way." Over the years, Nisargadatta himself issued frequent warnings in his conversations not to succumb to pride, body-based desires, exploitation of others, hypocrisy, ambition, needless complications in one's lifestyle and relationships, and so forth.
And why? Because these things entangle one in the felt-sense of egoic individuality and this, in turn, produces the big, long, miserable dream of the egoic rebirth cycle, samsara. The Maharaj, speaking purely on the Absolute Truth-level (paramarthika-satya), would usually deny the doctrines of karma, life after death, and rebirth—for these presume the existence of a separate individual being or person, which he ultimately denied. But the records we have of the Maharaj's conversations also display with about the same frequency his brief mentions and even explicit warnings on the conventional truth-level (vyavaharika-satya) about getting karmically enmeshed in the rebirth cycle. So if one is still identified with being an individual bodymind, and fueling this delusion with unvirtuous, unskillful attitudes and behavior, welcome to the confused, conflicted dream of samsara! If one has abandoned selfishness through wisdom, devotion, dedication and virtue, and thereby allowed the authentic transcendence of egoic individuality, one easily stands Free and Clear as Absolute Awareness, the always-Unborn Reality.
Much has been made about Sri Nisargadatta’s forcefully electric style in presenting and teaching the Truth of What We Are for his listeners—a style that could quickly turn explosive and blazing—with severely pointed words, coarse speech (even untranslated cusswords), personally challenging "impolite" remarks, outrageous statements, and those famously fierce gazes and dramatic movements and extravagant gestures performed like a great thespian orator—hands loudly clapping or slapping down onto his thighs, a finger suddenly extended upward or sideward or jabbed toward the listener.
Not only did the Maharaj sometimes insult his own Hindu tradition (e.g., irreverent humorous puns on the names of the gods and goddesses), he often insulted or testily confronted his own students and visitors. David Godman, author of valuable books on Ramana Maharshi and his disciples, recalls in his colorful and insightful memoir of visits with Maharaj [see Resources section below]: "We all got shouted at on various occasions, and we all got told off from time to time because of things we did or said. We were all a little fearful of him because we never knew when the next eruption would come. We had all come to have the dirt beaten out of us, in the same way that the dhobis [washer-folk] clean clothes by smashing them on rocks. Maharaj smashed our egos, our minds and our concepts on the immovable rock of the Self because he knew that in most cases that was the only way to help us."
Switching metaphors, we might say that Maharaj functioned as just the right kind of "irritant" to get inside our egoic shell, thenceforth to begin his work of making out of us a big, beautiful, bursting-forth Pearl of Enlightenment.
Not infrequently the Maharaj demanded that certain people just leave, usually if he detected in them a lack of respect for the tradition, an over-intellectualizing of spiritual Truth, or a disobedience to one of his commands—e.g., still making comments or asking questions after Maharaj had told that person to "be still" and "be what you have heard." And yet he let the courageous, sincere ones return to subsequent talks. Alexander Smit (d.1998), a leading Dutch disciple, recalls: "He sent many people away, and these really went and mostly didn't come back. Then 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." It seems that the Maharaj picked on particular "ripe" persons just to provoke them into an even more profound disidentification from the ego-mind. Smit reports his own turbulent clash with Maharaj on Sept. 21, 1978: he threw a little tantrum and provocatively, rudely insulted the Maharaj as "crazy" when the sage told him he could no longer attend; the Maharaj then loudly, angrily cursed Smit, demanded he leave, and then completely avoided him for two days, only to reinstate Smit after the young man wrote a long sincere letter of apology. Said Maharaj, in part: "I am very happy with your letter and nothing happened." Smit was endlessly grateful that the Maharaj, already in advanced age, had expended so much energy (and risked a heart attack) to courageously confront Smit's stubborn intellectualism and "cunning resistance" to fully living the Truth. On another occasion, when Smit called Maharaj a "killer" of the ego, Nisargadatta responded: "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."
Unlike his Guru Sri Siddharamesvar, who mainly taught by delivering informal, spontaneous discourses and laid-back commentaries on text verses, Nisargadatta, who had done some of the same earlier in life, for most of the last few decades preferred to engage his visitors in rigorous, often quite confrontational, question and answer sessions concerning our Real Identity as the Absolute and the ultimate falsity of the manifest play of consciousness. And when not soliciting and getting questions, Maharaj himself was often the one blasting away with questions, probing people's level of spiritual understanding, provoking them into awakening, and modeling for them what it means to engage in profound enquiry and self-enquiry.
He was indeed a formidable tiger in Bombay’s urban jungle, roaring of the Self’s Freedom. He frequently deployed koan-questions like a Zen master—e.g., "What were you before you were born, before the 'I Am-ness' came to be?" "How did this consciousness come about?" "How did you happen to be?" "Have you any idea when all this began?... What did actually happen?" "Are you an entity? What are you?" "What makes you consider yourself a person?" "With what do you identify?" "What is this body, what is it?" "What is there prior to the mind?" "What are you using to be aware right now?" "You talk about this sage or that one—but how about you? Who are you?" And he wielded a slashing, smashing Siva-mode of deconstructive verbiage to take away people's postures and self-concepts—e.g., "You are not the body, you are not the mind, you are not the 'I am' or beingness or even the universal consciousness and its life force, you are not any 'thing' or 'process' or 'individual' at all." Nisargadatta's natural Freedom wanted us entirely Free of all that might experientially obscure our true Identity as the Absolute Reality, the Parabrahman.
Sudhakar Dikshit, an editor and publisher of the Maharaj’s I Am That teachings, and disciple as well, provides a fine image of the sage: “Think of a tall granite cliff on the seashore, buffeted day and night by turbulent waves and winds, yet majestically standing erect in its sheer height, its top enveloped in the clouds. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, the supreme master, is such a cliff of spiritual granite in human form. He is stern and unbending. He speaks bluntly and upbraids sharply, but with his powerful words he sweeps away the mental debris of his visitors—moral cant, ritualistic religion and philosophic pretentions of various sorts. He is brutally straightforward, completely devoid of sugarcoated civility, but in reality he has no desire to assert or dominate. He is what he is, because he is steeped in jnana [Wisdom-Knowledge] and he talks from the plane of true awareness where the human soul is merged into the Oversoul, the Brahman.” (“Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: The Man and His Teaching,” in Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj Presentation Volume: 1980, p. 2)
But the Maharaj was not just a severe granite cliff, or a raging fire of destruction incinerating all egoic identifications, tendencies and attachments. ("When you come here, you will be cremating yourself. Whatever identity you have, whatever idea you have about your own self, will be cremated." [The Experience of Nothingness, p. 133.])
He was basically a supremely-in-bliss optimist, knowing that everyone was eventually going to awaken, because there is truly and ultimately only the Truth of Parabrahman, Absolute Divine Awareness. Accordingly, underneath all the fiery demeanor and confrontations that left many people quaking with a certain "self"-preserving anxiety or even terror, there was an ecstatically gleeful quality to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Peter Brent, who enjoyed an edifying conversation with the sage back around 1970 (partially reproduced below), reports that the round-headed, large-nosed, toothless, often almost raucous-voiced Maharaj had an unusual light in his eyes and "is happy, he smiles a great deal.... I remember the Guru's face as what he said was being translated--his smile was that of a man who has told a good joke and knows he will get his listeners' laughter as soon as they have understood it: a conspiratorial smile, a glee he could hardly contain...." Many of us saw that same gleeful smile and merrily twinkling eyes displayed on the Maharaj's face during the thunder and theatrics of his ego-busting tirades.
We hasten also to note here that Nisargadatta Maharaj was a very devotional and spiritually respectful man, devoutly respecting the One Spirit or Reality in everyone, and maintaining an outwardly devotional life, even if he had inwardly long ago dropped any sense of dualism toward a separate God. This devotional, spiritually respectful aspect is lost on some of those who have more recently endeavored to spread Maharaj's teachings and even emulate his style of teaching. The Maharaj sang in his Marathi tongue the old bhajan songs and litanies four times daily (two sessions open to visitors), performed the traditional arati-worship ritual to his lineage of gurus and egalitarian distribution of prasad (fruit, sweets or flowers). And every morning he tirelessly (doerlessly!) cleaned, garlanded and anointed with sandalwood paste and kum-kum (vermillion) powder those altar photos and higher-hanging photos of the sages and saints adorning his meeting room. He was also known to have lovingly initiated many aspirants from East and West into mantra-recitation in a traditional Guru-disciple relationship (see a text of one such encounter, reproduced below), and to promote veneration of the Guru, as Sri Siddharamesvar had likewise done before him.
For those persons who were terrified or perhaps enamored by his confrontational, one-upping and even "wrathful" teaching style (which complemented the frequently deconstructive content of his teachings), we should also never neglect the many positive teachings issued by the Maharaj on the sublimity of Absolute Realization, the Guru, God, Life Force, Love, and the True, Beautiful and Good, which are to be found in the pages of the classic text of conversations with the sage, I Am That (edited by Frydman), and far more devotionally presented in an early work written by Maharaj himself, Atmagnyana and Paramatmayoga, "Self-Knowledge and Self-Realization"—a work now widely available for perusal on the Internet (click
to read the entirety of this short book).
And who can forget Nisargadatta’s great compassion? Not just with his close friends and family members (including a few beloved little grandchildren). The Maharaj freely welcomed into his humble home several times daily a small throng of persons for the early morning meditation (8-9 a.m.), two bhajan-singing sessions, and the even more populous mid-morning and afternoon talks (from 10:30-noon and 5:00-6:30 p.m.). Many of these people were first-time visitors and/or foreigners, including bedraggled travelers like this writer. (After surviving a 26-hour bus-ride from Kerala up to Bombay, and a wild taxi ride straight to his door early in the morning of Jan. 9, 1981, I was welcomed by the 84-year-old sage directly into his downstairs living quarters just minutes after he had emerged from his morning bath, adorned only in a dhoti and towel, while I stood a soot-covered mess with dusty backpack. He kindly instructed me to place the pack, an item not fit to bring into any Indian home, onto the clean floor under a nearby cot.) Many of us enjoyed powerful "initiatory" dreams of Maharaj and teaching dreams thereafter.
Maharaj did not have to do this work, but spontaneously and most generously he did: letting folks invade his private space, which he had turned into a low-key, semi-public center for nondual awakening, therein to tirelessly teach, guide and awaken us with endless graciousness, never charging a single paisa (cent) for all his generous bounty. And he asked for no service or gifts from devotees. (But he allowed prasad-gifts of fruit or flowers to be brought and distributed to all, and he did accept from some of us our purchased boxes of the incense-brand regularly wafting in his mezzanine loft.) Some of us were also immensely grateful to receive one-on-one quality-time with the venerable old sage—wherein he briefly chatted with us with jocular warmth and even tender affection, frequently beamed his unusually intense and caring gaze into our depths, or worked in enigmatic ways with our subtle-energy fields, especially, it seemed, during the bhajan-singing sessions.
For instance, one evening, while several of us stood with him and sang the traditional devotional songs, featuring especially the hymns of Marathi Sant Tukaram, the Maharaj came over, paced back and forth, looked at me with great loving intensity, then carefully shifted me a few times, first here, then there, to different spots in the room. This and the unusual look in his eyes suggested that he was aligning me with subtly-detectable energy fields pervading his shrine room. Perhaps it was for this reason that he once declared within earshot of several of us: "Those who think they understand come only to the talks. Those who really understand come to the bhajans." This remark suggests that Maharaj held a much richer, subtler view of the significance of the bhajans than when he apparently dismissed them on a few other occasions as "pointless," only performed in "obedience" to a request by his Guru that they be done four times daily. (For audio files of some of these bhajans as sung by Nisargadatta's co-disciple Sri Ranjit Maharaj and his disciples, go to www.sadguru.com/bhajan.php)
In 1980, toward life’s end, Maharaj's body was showing all the symptoms of a virulent, painful throat cancer. This didn’t deter him from accepting into his apartment the never-ending stream of visitors from all walks of life and from all over the world who came to him to discover spiritual truth and the timeless peace of the Absolute. Though it was agony for him to speak, nevertheless, for the sake of dissolving all ignorance, Nisargadatta with great energy and vigor invited and answered their questions for three hours daily, he presided over the rousing bhajan sessions, and carried out the ritual worship of his lineage of gurus. And he still took his fairly long walks on the seashore in the mornings and evenings. Some of these activities fell off toward the last weeks of his life, but he continued to somehow courageously muster the ability to talk through the physical pain with visitors right up to his very last days.
In the last months of his earthly life, Maharaj shifted the focus of his verbal teaching more toward the purely transcendent Absolute Awareness and away from the manifest consciousness. Whereas in earlier decades he taught a process of complete disidentification from the manifest realms followed by a sagely "re-identification" with the manifest totality (sans ego) in a spirit of love, devotion, empathy, compassion and appropriate conduct, all rooted in the context of open, free Absolute Awareness— now the Maharaj usually and quite bluntly urged only final abidance as the Absolute, beyond the 'I Am,' bodymind, worlds, beings, conduct, relationship or personality (—though he did say that everyone should continue "with zest" to fulfill their duties and relationships in the world, and adopt as a guiding principle "caring for others"). In other words, whereas for many years the Maharaj's upadesha inclusively balanced both the transcendent and immanent Reality, both formless and formfull abiding, now, in his waning time, it was heavily emphasizing negation, detachment and disidentification from the fleeting and fundamentally false phenomenal realms. Whereas previously he had occasionally spoken about the play of universal consciousness as a kind of wonderful whimsy, albeit a dream-like illusion, now he regarded it as an unnecessary burden.
Readers can and should be careful with these exclusive, rather "stark"-sounding teachings from Nisargadatta's last year lest they fall into mere nihilism, quietism, intellectualism, or hedonism instead of the mature, authentic liberation and awakening that Maharaj exemplified and promoted. Had not the sage declared: "This knowledge is for those who have no desires"? (Dec. 30, 1980) And, as "impersonal" or "supra-personal" as these teachings of the final years may sound, we can also recall the sage's attitude of love and compassion toward persons during this time, such as when a questioner asked him "if Maharaj thinks of his disciples." The sage quickly replied, "I think of them more than you know." (Dec. 26, 1980)
The Maharaj had once been told by someone, "You will die." He retorted: "I am dead already. Physical death will make no difference in my case. I am timeless being." (I Am That, dialogue 55) On the morning of Tuesday, September 8, 1981, the Maharaj, knowing that the end of the physical body was near, invited a few close associates to come visit him later in the evening. That night he went into the “no-mind” state: his breathing grew shallower and shallower, finally stopping altogether at 7:32 p.m.
Back in the 1960s, Sri Nisargadatta had one afternoon fully witnessed his own "death," and now he had dropped the dream-like body with the greatest ease and peace, to abide as the videhamukti state, the all-pervasive, free state of Absolute Awareness, before/beyond the body. With him at the end were his remaining family members, two close attendants, his long-time friend and chief translator, Saumitra Mullarpattan, and another translator-friend of more recent years, Ramesh Balsekar. (Both Mullarpattan and Balsekar's reminiscences of the Maharaj's last weeks have been published.)
The next day a funeral procession, involving many hundreds of devotees and a lorry gorgeously decked out with roses and garlands, started at 12:15 p.m. and, amidst a musical band and dancers, made its way up to the Banganga cremation ground, which is part of the Valkesvar (Walkeshwar) Temple Complex, a Siva temple at the highest point of South Mumbai's Malabar Hill section. At 3:40, Maharaj’s son Chittaranjan Maruti Kambli lit the funeral pyre and the body of Sri Nisargadatta was placed on it, to dissolve into the elements from whence it came. The ashes were interred at the nearby cemetary where one also finds the mahasamadhi (resting) site of Nisargadatta's guru Sri Siddharamesvar and, more recently, Nisargadatta's younger guru-bhai (fellow disciple of Siddharamesvar) Sri Ranjit Maharaj (1913-2000).
The physical body is gone, but the powerful spiritual influence of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj lives on—via the written and taped collections of conversations, via the archived video footage of the sage in his "natural state" of teaching and worshipping and living, via ongoing dream experiences and other subtle-level contacts for those attracted to him, and via the Absolute Presence-Absence—his and our Real Divine Nature. This true Self is awakening more and more people to the Being-Awareness-Bliss that Nisargadatta timelessly IS, along with all other authentic sages who have surrendered their limited identity into/as the Absolute Reality.
May all sentient beings likewise discover this Absolute Identity and allow themselves to be fully awakened and stabilized in this transpersonal Reality, the Parabrahman.
"To be a living being is not the ultimate state; there is something [the Reality] beyond, much more wonderful, which is neither being nor non-being, neither living nor not-living. It is a state of Pure Awareness, beyond the limitations of space and time." (—Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That, dialogue 30)
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See the video, Awakening to the Eternal: Nisargadatta Maharaj: A Journey of Self Discovery, Inner Directions (POB 130070, Carlsbad, CA 92013, www.InnerDirections.org), 1995 [contains many excerpts from the extensive film footage shot by a Belgian devotee of Maharaj, Jozef Nauwelaerts].
Nisargadatta Maharaj, The Wisdom-Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj: A Visual Journey (Matthew Greenblatt, Ed.), Inner Directions, 2003 [beautifully illustrated with dozens of photos, and with Maharaj's pithy wisdom-aphorisms in Marathi language collected by Dinkar Keshav Kshirsagar (and approved for distribution by the Maharaj) from a series of talks between 1977-9, later translated by Damayanti Dungaji, Jean Dunn and Suresh Mehta].
---- I Am That: Conversations with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Maurice Frydman, Ed. & Tr. from the Marathi; Sudhakar Diksit, Ed.), Durham, NC: Acorn, 1982, 1992 (first published by Chetana Ltd., Bombay, 1973, and in an expanded, revised, two-volume edition by Chetana in 1976 and a third edition in 1978). [This is the classic, primary and most balanced text of Maharaj's teachings, including 101 sessions with Maharaj from May 7, 1970 to April 29, 1972.]
---- Self Knowledge and Self Realization (written by Nisargadatta himself) (Jean Dunn, Ed., 1978, from an original 1963 English translation by Vasudeo Madhav Kulkarni of Nisargadatta's Marathi work Atmagnyana and Paramatmayoga, published at Nisargadatta's Vanmali Bhavan bldg., Khetwadi 10th Lane, Bombay 4). [The re-worked edition by Jean Dunn was published on the Internet by Ed Muzika on Aug. 22, 2005, at gathering-minds.net/ref/selfknowledgeandselfrealization.php. This short work by Maharaj, with Introductions by Dunn and by Muzika, reveals the strong devotional bhakti nature of Sri Nisargadatta for his Guru Sri Siddharameshvar. It can be read in its entirety by clicking
---- Seeds of Consciousness: The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Grove, 1982 (2nd ed., Acorn, 1990) [selected talks from July 1979 to April 1980]; Prior to Consciousness: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Acorn, 1985 [substantial excerpts from 108 sessions from April 1980 to July 1981]; Consciousness & the Absolute: The Final Talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Acorn, 1994 (Jean Dunn, Ed.) [more selected talks from 76 sessions, May 1980 up to June 30, 1981].
---- The Nectar of Immortality, 1996 [21 talks from Jan. to Nov., 1980]; The Ultimate Medicine, 1994 [11 talks, most from July 4-15, 1980]; and The Experience of Nothingness, 1996 [10 grouped selections of talks from the last year of Maharaj's life]; all edited by Robert Powell and published by Blue Dove Press, San Diego.
---- Beyond Freedom: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (S.K. Mullarpattan, Ed.) [talks from the last two years, based on tapes found by Mullarpattan, Maharaj's longest-time translator, in a 112-page book].
---- I Am Unborn: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, published for free as an online 130-page book by Vijayendra Deshpande at www.nisargadatta.in/WebCMS/Upload/Downloads/I%20AM%20UNBORN.pdf [edited by Pradeep Apte & compiled by V. Deshpande, based on extensive notes by Damodar Lund of 56 sessions from Nov. 30, 1979 to Feb. 13, 1980]
Website http://nisargadatta.co.cc/index.html [NOTE: as of Fall 2017 this link is defunct], notable especially for its video clips and its very large "Photos" section containing over 180 photographs of Maharaj and disciples, including a number of rarely-seen photos of Nisargadatta in his 40s and 50s.
Website http://nisargadatta.in/ [NOTE: as of Fall 2017 this link is defunct] is Vijayendra Deshpande's website on the Maharaj, with 15 great photos, an audio file of the Maharaj speaking, the I Am Unborn book, the Meet the Sage biographical booklet, Pradeep Apte's nearly 400 excerpts about the "I Am" from the 7 primary texts of Maharaj's teaching, as well as an even more focused selection of 100 teachings on the same, and more.
Website prahlad.org/gallery/nisargadatta_maharaj.htm has numerous lengthy excerpts of Nisargadatta's conversations with interlocutors, derived from several of the above-referenced books.
Website www.maharajnisargadatta.com/ by Aditya likewise has much material on Nisargadatta's teachings.
Website www.sadguru.com/bhajan.php contains numerous downloadable recordings of virtually the same aratis and bhajans as sung around Sri Nisargadatta. This website is dedicated to Nisargadatta's younger co-disciple (guru-bhai) of Sri Siddharameshvar, namely, Sri Ranjit Maharaj (1913-2000). The devotees of Sri Ranjit have done a fine job to maintain the traditions of singing and digitally recording for posterity these Navnath Sampradaya songs in Marathi.
Ramesh Balsekar, Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj (S. Diksit, Ed.), Acorn, 1983; Explorations into the Eternal: Forays into the Teaching of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Acorn, 1987 [by one of the three main translators of Maharaj's teachings in the last years, a retired bank president who first came to Maharaj in 1978, and who subsequently wrote many other books on spirituality, all flawed by a certain fatalist, amoral outlook and neglect of the Maharaj’s teachings on earnest "effortless effort" in meditation and appropriate behavior for a sage--for insightful assessments by various persons on Ramesh's flawed teachings and behavior, click
Robert Powell, The Blissful Life, Acorn, 1984 (see therein Milo Clark’s rich and witty description “A Day with Maharaj,” pp. 15-27, also reproduced
; The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Blue Dove Press, 1995. [Though Powell, a longtime researcher of Zen and J. Krishnamurti, never personally met Nisargadatta, he has spent the last two decades of his life promoting the Maharaj through these books, especially presenting the Maharaj in his strongly negating, deconstructive and disidentifying aspect of the last period of his life.]
Mark West, Gleanings From Nisargadatta, Australia: Beyond Description Publishing, 2006 [Transcripts of excerpts from talks given in the late 1970s by the Maharaj, translated by S.V. Sapre, while Mark was present and recording notes; 134 pages.]
Shrikant Gogate & P.T. Phadol, Meet the Sage: Shri Nisargadatta, Bombay: Sri Sadguru Nisargadatta Maharaj Amrit Mahotsav Samiti, 1972. [This 32-page book, long out of print, but available at http://nisargadatta.co.cc/pages/meet_the_sage.html,
contains a much fuller biography of Nisargadatta than the account given by Gogate and Phadol as the Introduction for the book I Am That.]
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: Presentation Volume: 1980, Bombay: Sri Nisargadatta Adhyatma Kendra, 1981. [This volume has contributions from many of the Maharaj's disciples and well-wishers, and select teachings from the sage.]
S.K. Mullarpattan, The Last Days of Nisargadatta Maharaj, India: Yogi Impressions Books (available in the USA from Advaita Press [Redondo Beach, CA], 2007 [a 38-page book giving a detailed reminiscence by Maharaj's longest-serving English interpreter, a beloved disciple].
David Godman, “Remembering Nisargadatta Maharaj,” www.davidgodman.org/interviews/nis1.shtml. [David Godman, the longtime librarian at Ramanashramam, and author-compiler of several wonderful books on Ramana Maharshi, Annamalai Swami, Lakshmana Swami and Saradamma, as well as Papaji/Poonja, visited Bombay several times from 1978 onward to see and hear Nisargadatta. This is his well-written, lengthy reminiscence, filled with interesting, funny and also quite poignant and even "miraculous" anecdotes.]
Timothy Conway, “Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj--My Recollections,” www.enlightened-spirituality.org/Nisargadatta_My_Recollections.html. [Verbatim diary-notes and tape-transcriptions from my time with the Maharaj, January 9-22, 1981. See link near bottom of this page.]
Conrad Goehausen, “Do Not Pamper the Mind: The Teaching of Nisargadatta Maharaj,” The Laughing Man, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1985 [with talk-transcripts furnished by Colleen Engle of Portland, OR].
Alexander Smit (d.1998), “Every Escape is Bound to Fail,” www.ods.nl/am1gos/am1gos2/indexframe2_us.html?as_inter_us.html~infoframe [interview of Smit by Belle Bruins, 1988, posted to the Internet on Oct. 21, 2001, about Smit's time with Maharaj from 1978 on, one of the few people encouraged by Maharaj to share his teachings].
Cathy Boucher, “Meeting Maharaj,” www.nisargadatta.net/cathy1.html.
Lakshyan Schanzer, “Discovering Nisargadatta Maharaj,”
Other persons' accounts of meeting Nisargadatta Maharaj can be found in published books: Peter Brent, Godmen of India (NY: Quadrangle Books, 1972), pp. 136-40; Stephen Wolinsky, I Am That I Am: A Tribute to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Quantum Institute, 2000; and Earl Rosner (Swami Paramatmananda), On the Road to Freedom: A Pilgrimage in India, Vol. 1 (San Ramon, CA: Mata Amritanandamayi Center, 1987), pp. 212-8 [reproduced below].
(Photo by Jozef Nauwelaerts)
(Photo by Ajit Balsekar)
Teachings of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj--Part I:
[A Marathi-language abhanga, translated into English, written by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, and sung daily as part of the morning bhajan session of songs and chants:]
Thy Presence fills every nook and corner of the whole universe
O Auspiciousness! Where can I invoke thee?
You are everywhere, world’s refuge
Can a special role be given?
The holy Ganges flows from consciousness…
Thy feet—how to give obeisance!
O Purity! Marble-white complexioned
Can oblations wash a speck?
O Untainted! What can taint thee?
Cool waters drench not the heat absorbent
Sandalwood disappears in your calm
When endless sky covers thee
Garments are unnecessary—O Love!
Knowing the very ocean of wisdom
Needless, the sacred thread of knowledge
Precious jewels—ruby, pearly, amethyst
Fade, as thou art Lord, gloss of all
When thou art the fragrance, blossoming
Flower garlands, can they adorn thee?
When all appeased, will hunger, thirst remain
Since there is only
Thou are all-pervading! Where to circumambulate?
The Vedas have negated all description
How can I invoke thee?
The lustrous sun-light fades before thee
What of the camphor flame? [used in the arati-worship rite]
No place for any immersion [in holy water-tanks in temples]
Since you fill all surroundings.
All desire to worship thee is banished
The concept of you being God and I being devotee has vanished.
This is my invisible spontaneous prayer
I got the light of understanding regarding the worship of thy feet
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[Two short excerpts from Nisargadatta Maharaj's very early written work, Self Knowledge and Self Realization, published in English translation in 1963:]
All the characteristics of the Saint naturally spring from his experience [of being nondual Awareness]. As there are no desires left in him, nothing in the world of sense can ever tempt him, he lives in the fearless majesty of Self-realization. He is moved to pity by the unsuccessful struggle of those tied down to bodily identity and their striving for the satisfaction of their petty interests. Even the great events of the world are just surface lines to him... The Saint who has direct experience of all this is always happy and free from desire. He is convinced that the greatest of the sense experiences is only a momentary affair, impermanence is the very essence of these experiences; hence pain and sorrow, greed and temptation, fear and anxiety can never touch him....
The ever-awaited first moment was the moment when I was convinced that I was not an individual at all. The idea of my individuality had set me burning so far. The scalding pain was beyond my capacity to endure; but there is not even a trace of it now, I am no more an individual. There is nothing to limit my being now. The ever present anxiety and the gloom have vanished and now I am all beatitude, pure knowledge, pure consciousness.... I am ever free now. I am all bliss, sans spite, sans fear. This beatific conscious form of mine now knows no bounds. I belong to all and everyone is mine. The "all" are but my own individuations, and these together go to make up my beatific being.... Bliss reclines on the bed of bliss. The repose itself has turned into bliss.
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[The following is a translation of almost all of Nisargadatta Maharaj's 2-part “Preface”, written in 1961 and 1962, for a book of 130 talks by his Guru, Shri Sadguru Siddharameshwar Maharaj, entitled in Marathi Adhyatma Dnyanacha Yogeshwar, and in English translation Master of Self-Realization: An Ultimate Understanding (D.A. Ghaisas, Tr.) (Mumbai: Sri Sadguru Trust [Gautam Mudbhatkal, 5 Ganesh Villa, Tejpal Scheme Road No. 2, Vile Parle (East), Mumbai 400 057), 2006, pp. 110-3.]
These are discourses, the words being those of my Master. I cannot explain His words and therefore I keep quiet about that. When the ego becomes silent, "Soham," ("I am He" [the Divine]) automatically starts functioning. Soham is endless, limitless, measureless, and is the messenger of Truth, who is Self-evident. The message and the messenger are not separate in Him. This messenger is himself the joy that is the enjoyment of the endless. The description of the enjoyment of the Self is called "discourse" in this world, which is really a commentary. The voice of the Master is also called the "Divine Word." … The sky is the space, and space is the vast expanse of speech that is the Word. Word is the natural quality of the sky as is well known from the days of the Vedas. First there is vibration in the space that is sky (wind), then there is the sound, and then the words appear. The words then become the base of the subsistence of all creatures and things. The sky is the ocean of words of the measureless. That ocean sings in praise to the immeasurable. The purpose of singing in praise of anything is to shed all bad qualities. This Divine Speech is doing the work of discarding the duality, or sense of separateness from The Essential Unity of Existence, through the medium of the mouth of the Master.
At the very moment and in the very place where all reverence towards the Master arises in our heart, the separateness disappears like an insignificant tiny insect. But alas, such things rarely happen! It is seldom that one among billions of people comes to the Realization that the Master is Truth itself, Parabrahman, the Ultimate Reality incarnate. When the teaching of the Master is dear to one, and totally acceptable, and when one understands that the feet of the Master are the source of the spontaneous experience of the Divine Self within, which directs and performs all the actions and functions of the body, when one holds fast to the feet of the Master within one’s heart without a speck of doubt, when unfailingly the stream of the blessings and the bliss of the revered Master flow very naturally from within, which is the movement of the "Life All-Pervading." Where complete trust in the divine feet of the Master is active, there the Grace of the Bliss of the Master comes to reside in the nature of Spiritual Joy, called "Pralhad." Then the non-duality, without the blemish of the separateness of "You" and "I" in the Consciousness, flows unhindered. There is no satisfaction other than the Grace of the Master, which is total Self-bliss, solid, and impenetrable.
At the time when the Master (Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj) was giving his discourses, the writer of this preface was a fresh entrant of the path, and was but a novice. The only acquaintance was that he was introduced to Maharaj and had the opportunity to see Him. The work of listening to the discourses of Maharaj and taking them down in broken sentences was being done by the writer. He was not even knowing whether what he wrote down was correct or not, but the capacity to take down all that he heard was growing, and it can he said that almost all that was heard has been noted in His presence. There were other co-disciples who were learned, and had the opportunity of being in the company of Maharaj for many years. They were also taking down the teachings of Maharaj.… It is now 25 years since Maharaj has left his physical body. During the last two or three years, the writings were read out and correctly re-written.
I say from my conviction of Self-Knowledge, that such a Master and such teachings are very rare in this world. I say this out of my faith in the wisdom of our Teacher and my own Self-Confidence. These words are expression of my faith. As is one's achievement, so is his experience, so is his contentment and his peace, and so is his satisfaction. All this is the result of one's loyalty. Since my acquaintance with my senior co-disciples, I have always been humble before them and I pray to my Master that I will continue to be so humble before them in the future also.
The reason why I have total reverence for my senior co-disciples is that they somehow managed to keep our Master in Bombay for a long time by offering Him the sweet dish of their Devotion and I could have the opportunity to meet the Master who is the "Ocean of Knowledge." They not only had the benefit of seeing Him and serving Him with Devotion, but having been liberated through Self-Knowledge, they themselves became the saviors for others. The Cosmos that is the Universal Spirit, and Form, abides in Him. It takes refuge in Him, and the senior co-disciples were able to have intimate relationship with Him, and thereby they were saved and became liberators for others. That was and is the imperishable power of the glimpse (darshan) of the Master and His teachings. Even those who are simple souls without much learning, are purified by having seen only once The Great Master who is the "Ocean of Light and Merit," the "Embodiment of Knowledge," the "Knower of Science," and "Ocean of Wisdom." The sayings and discourses of such a Great Master form the contents of this book. Those who will read them again and again, learn by heart, and deeply think upon the truthful meaning of these teachings, will become the meaning incarnate, and themselves become full of the meaning of the Self.
I am putting these words before you as a preface to this book. Every sentence in this book has the potency of giving the fruit of Self-Realization. One who will read regularly and ponder over these discourses, will himself become the channel for the expression of the inherent spirit of these words. The heavenly records contain the imprints of all the Saints, and the bevy of Godmen, their projected schemes, their utterings, their meanings, and the very Life within. The Realized Ones truly speak from the fountain of their own experience and there is great conviction in their speech. Their speech has the capacity to discard the ignorance of the ego, and every line in this book will eradicate the reader’s ignorance about his True Self and bring forth the True Nature of his Being.
Saturday, 4th November, 1961.
Nisargadatta Ashram, Vanamali Bhuvan,
Khetwadi, 10th Lane, Bombay
[Preface to Part II:]
[...] The publisher and some other Guru-Brothers of mine were urging me to write a preface to this book. However, to venture to do so is difficult, because the subject of this book is extraordinary, deep, vast, and in a way, endless. When we call this Knowledge as "Spiritual Knowledge," or Vidnyana [Skt: Vijnana], the words that we intend to use are better left unspoken. Ignorance means "no knowledge" or absence of Knowledge, while Knowledge implies that there is awareness of Ignorance. That which is "known" is Ignorance, and as it has no existence as such, it disappeared. The Knowledge which knows that "This is not That" has nothing more to be known, and has therefore, become mute. The capacity of knowing did not remain there. As speech did not get any object to be described by words, the speech was stopped. Knowledge, together with speech became still. By "The Power of the Self," the Knowledge remained without any object, in the Self, only.
When we say that Knowledge must have something to be "known," it is Ignorance that is the "known," and therefore the term "Knowledge" became applicable to it. Now, as there is not any other object, it remained with itself without focus on any object. So, the function of knowing is gone. The sense that "I Am That" is also not functioning. He who saw that "Knowledge" has no place, actually lost his power of seeing, and then saw. Thus, the Life-Energy (Chaitanya), has no status. The Vidnyana is the "Power" which has perceived all of this. When Knowledge loses its quality of knowing because of "Spiritual Perception" that is Vidnyana. It is pristine Life-Energy only, and it undergoes a natural transformation, where it has no concept whatsoever, which makes for awareness of oneself as the five elements, or God, or Brahman. Now, that Vidnyana is witness to the Knowledge that has lost its duality. It is also witness to egolessness and the appearance of forms, like waves on water. So, we define this as "Vidnyana." In Vidnyana, there is neither a doer, nor an enjoyer, nor a provocative agent for either. There is only natural Being, which is "Self-Knowabilty." It has no sense of being any "thing" that is a mixture of the five elements, or any form, any names, any shapes, or a devotee, or an Avatar [Divine Incarnation], or any active principle. Only that Chaitanya, the "Power" which has transcended all states, is Vidnyana.
Blessed are those who were lucky enough to listen to the discourses which were like showers of Nectar from the mouth of the Sadguru Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, who was the embodiment of this Supreme Knowledge, Vidnyana. Equally blessed will be those who will read and listen to these discourses, and will become like the Immortal Nectar itself. They will never have fear of death, nor will they die. Those who devote themselves to the Sadguru, as if He is the most auspicious embodiment of the Absolute Brahman [Parabrahman], may receive this Sacred Knowledge, and realize that they are not the body, but that they are that Life-Energy which moves the body. Gradually, then again while being increasingly aware of this Spiritual Self-Existence, there is the unnamable awareness of this Pure Awareness. When the understanding permeates the whole Conscious Existence, the spiritual aspect of life also loses its existence in the "Totality of Understanding." An example is not much warranted here, but it cannot remain unexpressed, and therefore, the example of a person who dines, is alluded to. When a person takes food and it is digested, the various articles of food are mingled in his system of the physical body, and he becomes satisfied and gets nutrition and strength. Similarly, the spiritual aspect of the Consciousness is mingled into the "Wholeness of Understanding," by giving peace, nourishment, and contentment. Therefore, that which is called the Science of Self-Knowledge, the Reality, which is Paramatman, the Absolute Parabrahman, remains unaffected by a permanent natural transcendent state, which has an endless Contentment.
Saint Dnyaneshwar [Jnaneshvar] said, "The Ocean of all Happiness is the husband of Rakhumadevi (Rakhumadevi is the wife of Vitthala), who is our Father." Thus, even when the creative forces of the universe are taking place, this body of scientific understanding remains unaffected. Although it has multidimensional forces full of action, it remains beyond all qualities. It is inactive and unchanging, as a Reality complete with the very "Essence of Nature." It is a "Fullness of Bliss" beyond measure. By reading these discourses, full of Supreme Knowledge, those who are ignorant will have wisdom, and will reach "The Highest State" by deep Devotion to the Sadguru. It is my humble prayer to all the people of the world who are themselves like Gods, that they will please read and learn this book. Now, I will end my preface.
Dear readers, unknowingly, you are originally only Brahman. Therefore we request you, on our personal experience and conviction, that although you are Brahman today without being aware of it, you may knowingly be Brahman by having Direct Knowledge through reading this book. My salutations!
Nisargadatta Ashram Vanmali Bhuvan,
Khetwadi, 10th lane, Mumbai 4
Friday, 27th July, 1962.
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[Excerpt from a birthday discourse given by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj at Bombay's Laxmibaug Hall, no date (likely late 1960s, 1970 or 1971), reproduced in S. Gogate & P.T. Phadol, Meet the Sage, Bombay: Sri Sadguru Nisargadatta Maharaj Amrit Mahotsav Samiti, 1972, pp. 2-3:]
Today's celebrations are not in the glorification of any individual. This is an auspicious occasion for you and for me to glorify the unity of a devotee with his Sadguru [True Guru, Divine Guide]. To name a particular day as being the birthday of One who is not only eternally existent but eternal Existence itself is, in the spiritual parlance, incorrect. It is also wrong to personify a true devotee. As long as you conceive yourself to be an individual male or a female being, you will not be the all-pervading, eternal and transcendental Self. Go with the conviction that you are not the bodily self, that you are beyond births and deaths, that you are dynamic, being dynamism itself, and are apparently experienced only as pure and simple Awareness. Be free, proclaim saints, go on asserting within that Atma [Absolute Self] is not weak or devoid of power. Believe steadfastly with a simple belief that Atma is rich with its fullness [purnam]. It is not possible to delve deep enough to reach the seed—the Gurubeej [Guru-seed]—the inner faith on Sadguru. Devotion to Guru reaches the Guru through devotion to the Self and the Sadguru's blessings emerge and flower through the Self and are consciously received externally by the devotee. Godhead is nothing but pure Awareness of your being. The achievement of this fruit—this Godhead—is accomplished through unshakeable faith in the pure Self. That which is called the Satswarup, the Self, is through this faith thoroughly comprehended. There should be conviction of this comprehension. The conviction implies unshakeability. That should be accomplished. There should be unflinching conviction of the Self being fixed, immobile. That which you conceive yourself to be is myth, because you take yourself to be the bodily being. The incomprehensible on the surface of which the awareness of being is experienced is called the Sadguru. Call conviction only to That which does not budge, which is immobile. Parabrahma is fixed, immobile. The Self is fixed (in Parabrahma). The Self is Parabrahma.
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[Maharaj, in conversation with journalist Peter Brent, circa 1970, asking Brent whether he was interested in the two persons in the Guru-disciple relationship or the relationship itself, and the nature of the latter; Maharaj taught him:]
The Guru and shishya [disciple] are like two kernels in one jack-fruit, one raw, the other ripe. The raw one wants to be ripe; the ripe one is ripe and wants nothing more. While the raw one feels different it will continue to demand, to want something. But there is no difference--it is all jackfruit, all the same stuff. The difference is only felt by the unripe. When I met my Guru, I experienced the ripeness in him. Now that ripeness is in myself, I am one with my Guru. At the start, I used to ask myself, “What is Guru?” “What is shishya [disciple]?” But now I no longer ask myself such questions because they are meaningless. There is no separation so there can be no answers, no explanation-there is only being.... The Guru-shishya relationship is organic--they are one.
Everything occurs within your consciousness; when you travel, remember that things move in you, not you in them. You even exist because you are within your consciousness, so you are within Consciousness, Cit, in the absolute sense. In the end, you must say to yourself, “I am everything and so I do not need to change.” You must reach that point of realization. [Peter Brent, Godmen of India (NY: Quadrangle Books, 1972), pp. 138-9]
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[Maharaj, in conversation with longtime spiritual aspirant Neal Rosner in 1979. This is an especially good example of Maharaj's under-reported emphasis on love of Guru and God, and his critique of a merely intellectual approach to nondual Truth. Note that Rosner, who was later ordained (in 1995) and renamed Swami Paramatmananda, the senior Western disciple of the awesome "Hugging Mother" Ammachi / Mata Amritanandamayi (whom Rosner met just a few months after seeing Maharaj), had already been living for 12 years at Ramanashramam in Tiruvannamalai with Ratnamji, a sagely disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Rosner had read I Am That and wanted to meet Maharaj, but was having severe health problems with back pain and chronic fatigue. He wrote to Maharaj that he desired to meet the sage. The very next day Rosner met a new acquaintance, a Frenchwoman "pseudo-nondualist" by name of Ananda, who paid for the plane tickets and taxi to bring both herself and Neal to see Maharaj in Bombay. En route, Ananda harangued Neal with the neo-advaita view that there is no need for any disciplines or devotion. She declared:]
"All of these things are only for weak-minded people. You should just go on thinking ‘I am That,’ ‘I am That,’ and you will realize the Truth of it one day."
"I think that you have overlooked an important point in the philosophy of Vedanta," I objected. "All of the texts and teachers of that school thought insist that, before one even takes up the study of it, one must have certain qualifications. A child in kindergarten cannot possibly do justice to a college textbook. He may even pervert the meaning. In the same way, before one takes up the study of practice of Vedanta, the mind should be rendered unmoving [i.e., free of attachments and aversions] [...] There is not even a trace of bad in the Supreme Reality and one who had not given up such negative qualities as lust, anger and greed cannot be taken to be one who has realized the Truth. A safer course would be to consider oneself as a child of a Realized Soul or of God. To benefit from being the child of such a one, we must try to approximate his character. Only if we can do this, will our mind gradually become pure and unruffled by passions and the Truth will be seen, and not until then."
"You are still weak-minded. You will see when we get to Maharaj. He will tell you to throw all this mushy sentimentalism overboard," she retorted, somewhat irritated.
I had already met a number of people like her and knew there would be no value in arguing, so I kept quiet.
Reaching Bombay, a friend took us to Maharaj's apartment. [...] He was now in his 80's and lived with his son in a three-room flat. He had also created a small loft in the living room where he would spend most of his time. It was there that we met him.
"Come in, come in. You are coming from Arunachala, are you not? Your letter came yesterday. Are you enjoying peace near Ramana?" Maharaj jovially asked me, motioning for me to sit near him. Immediately I felt an intense peace near him, a sure sign that he was a great soul. "Do you know what I mean by peace? When you put a doughnut in boiling oil a lot of bubbles will come out until all of the moisture in the doughnut is gone. It makes a lot of noise also, doesn't it? Finally, all is silent and the doughnut is ready. That silent condition of mind which has come about through a life of meditation is called peace. Meditation is like the boiling oil. It will make everything which is in the mind come out. Then only peace will be achieved." A very vivid and precise explanation of spiritual life if I had ever heard one!
"Maharaj, I have written to you about the spiritual practices that I have done until now. Kindly tell me what more remains to be done," I requested him.
"Child, you have done more than enough. It would be quite sufficient if you just go on repeating the Divine Name until the end is reached. Devotion to your Guru is the path for you; it should become perfect and unbroken by thoughts. Whatever may come to you accept it as His gracious will for your good. You are hardly able to sit up, aren't you? [Neal had been long enduring intense pain in his back.] It does not matter. Some people's bodies become sick like this when they sincerely do meditation and other spiritual practices. It depends on the physical constitution of each. Even then, you should not give up your practices but persist until you reach the goal or until the body dies," he said.
Turning to Ananda, he asked, "What kind of spiritual practice are you doing?"
"I just go on thinking that I am the Supreme Being," she replied, in a somewhat proud tone.
"Is that so? Did you ever hear of Mira Bai? She was one of the greatest lady saints who was ever born in India [in Rajasthan, circa 16th century]. From her childhood itself she felt that Lord Sri Krishna was her all in all and would spend most of her days and nights in worshipping Him and singing songs about Him. Finally she had a mystic vision of Him and her mind merged into Him. She thenceforth sang songs about the glory and bliss of the God-realized state. At the end of her life she entered into a Krishna temple and disappeared in the sanctum sanctorum. You should walk in the same path as her if you want to achieve the goal," Maharaj said smilingly.
Ananda turned pale. Maharaj had pulverised her mountain of "Nonduality" in one stroke! She could not speak.
"I may talk Non-duality to some of the people who come here. That is not for you and you should not pay any attention to what I am telling others. The book of my conversations [I Am That] should not be taken as the last word on my teachings. I had given some answers to questions of certain individuals. Those answers were intended for those people and not for all. Instruction can be on an individual basis only. The same medicine cannot be prescribed for all.
"Nowadays people are full of intellectual conceit. They have no faith in the ancient traditional practices leading up to Self-Knowledge. They want everything served to them on a platter. The path of Knowledge makes sense to them and because of that they may want to practice it. They will then find that it requires more concentration than they can muster and, slowly becoming humble, they will finally take up easier practices like repetition of a mantra or worship of a form. Slowly the belief in a Power greater than themselves will dawn on them and a taste for devotion will sprout in their heart. Then only will it be possible for them to attain purity of mind and concentration. The conceited have to go a very round-about way. Therefore I say that devotion is good enough for you," Maharaj concluded.
It was time for lunch so we all left Maharaj to himself. While I was going, he asked me if I would be staying for some days in Bombay. "I don't know. I am having no plans," I replied.
"Very good. Then you come here this evening after 4," he said.
The evening saw me back in Maharaj 's room. He asked me to sit near him. Though I had known him only for a few hours, I felt as if I were his own child, that he was my mother or father. A European came and put a large currency note in front of Maharaj. "Please take it back. I am not interested in anyone's money. My son is over there and he is feeding me and looking after my needs. After you attain some peace of mind there will be enough time for these things. Take your money, take it!" he exclaimed.
With great difficulty I sat and watched what went on until 7 o'clock. I felt fully satisfied and peaceful and thought that I could not possibly get anything more than Maharaj had told me. I thought of going the next day back to Arunachala [the holy mountain behind Ramanashramam on the northwest side of Tiruvannamalai]. I mentioned it to him and asked him for his blessings.
"If you feel like that, then you may go. Do you know what my blessing is for you? Until you leave your body, may you have full devotion and surrender to your Guru." Maharaj looked at me compassionately. Moved at his kindness I started to cry but controlled myself. Even then a few tears trickled down my cheeks. He smiled and gave me a piece of fruit. He then got up and, taking a huge pair of cymbals, started to sing devotional songs in praise of his Guru.
I bowed down to him and went to take rest in my room. Ananda was not to be seen since the morning. I thought that the humiliation must have been too much for her and she did not want to show her face. I therefore struggled on my own and somehow reached Arunachala, minus a sadder but wiser Ananda.
[--from chapter 6 of the original manuscript by Earl Rosner, On the Road to Freedom, Vol. 1 (pp. 214-8 of the published 1987 edition by the Mata Amritanandamayi Center at San Ramon, CA. Note: this excerpt is also available at nisargadatta.net/SwamiParamatmananda.html]
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[Maharaj, in conversations with Jean Marc and Mahindra Thakur, Marc's friend and translator, no date. The printed version of this dialogue was given to me in 1981 by Sunyata, a Danish-born advaita sage [1890-1984] who lived 45 years in India and then the U.S.; Sunyata has evidently slightly customized the piece, streamlining in a few places the imperative verb phrase "be aware of" to his own characteristic use of "aware" as a verb--e.g., "aware the One," "aware the Seer," "aware space."]
[Maharaj speaking to Mahindra:] I will explain to you a simple technique, which is called Dhyana Yoga [realization via meditation]: Sit in the open air every day in the morning—at any convenient time, irrespective of any laws and regularities—on a simple asana [seat or posture], for 30-60 minutes. Keep your eyes half open and [be aware of] your nose-tip. This is only to withdraw your mind from external sense-organs. Then try to be aware of the Seer. You have not to think about sense-organs. You have only to do nothing—no thoughts. Be only aware of the one who is sitting in Dhyana [meditation]. You have to focus on him only. Aware the One, who is beyond body, without body [videha]. Practise this slowly, slowly every day and all your problems will be solved. Have the feeling of Caitanya Brahman [Divine Reality as Pure Consciousness]. Be aware of Purnam [wholeness, fullness]. If your eyes close during this, let it be. You will aware space. All forms of which you are aware within are modifications or shapes of the One who is sitting. Call him Krishna, Shiva, or any other divine Name. It is all darsan [sight] of the one who is sitting. Continue sitting in this sadhana [spiritual practice]. From within, That [Absolute Awareness-Reality] will give its message, guidance, and spontaneous insight. Remember: “I am not the body.” Be aware of the Seer. “I am beyond the body.”
[To Jean Marc:] You can also continue the same sadhana [practice] given to Mahindra, if you like. Feel that you are Caitanya Brahman [Pure Consciousness-Reality], that is the only one study you have to do. [Jean Marc: “Is kapalbhat (a yogic breathing exercise) a good practice?”] [Maharaj:] Do not play with breathing without a real Master. It is very dangerous.... Try to aware the Seer. Feel mentally that you are beyond the body. You will get much peace in this. Increase this practice every day by one minute. As a tree grows and gives fruits, wisdom and insight will dawn and flourish and fragrance will spread more and more.... You can do your duties as they are called for and as it is necessary. “All experiences come and go. I alone neither come nor go.” If this condition is realised it is the true wisdom, all else is ignorance. As an aspirant, do always all your worldly duties as you feel right and leave the bad. Use always common sense or sense of intuitive discrimination. Then you will realise, above conditions and experience, ultimately, that you are beyond both ignorance and knowledge. Take this in your hand [i.e., to heart], what you are searching for all this time. Take this! Take this! Stop searching anywhere and be quiet. Be still. You have listened to this, now sit down [outwardly and inwardly]. Do not think and do not worry, but Be—awarely. Awarely Be what you are. And Be that completely.
[Jean Marc: “Maharaj, I am very interested in mantras, because sound and vibrations seem to be very important for my way of feeling, but my mind cannot accept what seems to be (the) conditioning and superstition (around the practice of mantra-recitation).”]
[Maharaj:] It depends on your own choice. Mantra is necessary if you can feel it, and if you can’t, it is not. Do you want me to give you one mantra? [Jean Marc: “No don’t, if it is not necessary. Is it necessary?”] Yes, it is good for Jean Marc and I will give you one also, Mahindra. I am very happy that J.M. came here. Tell him that I will tell mantra three times and he has nothing to do but listen and feel [it] mentally only. You have not to employ lips, tongue or throat and you must not tell it to anybody.... Mantra should not be revealed to anyone. You can repeat it loudly [in public] if necessary, ... like “Hari Om” or any other mantra, but do not say that it is your mantra and this will help you and give you Grace. Mantra is divine elixir or divine wine. Its intoxication is all-pervading. It is Atma [Divine Self] intoxication. You will get samadhi [absorption in Atma] ultimately, and even initially you will get divine bliss.
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Teachings of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj--Part II:
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj--My Recollections
--verbatim diary-notes and tape-transcriptions of conversations with Sri Nisargadatta, made by Timothy Conway during a visit from January 9 to 22, 1981. Contains some more great photos of the Maharaj as well as his profound teachings and colorful instances of how he worked to awaken disciples on both the physical and subtle planes.
My long article on Nisargadatta's multi-faceted wisdom as useful for helping professionals
--this is the full essay from which an excerpt (roughly half the length) was published in Undivided: The Online Journal of Nonduality and Psychology, vol. 1, number 2, June 2012 (see www.undividedjournal.com for that shorter article). Many topics covered, including Maharaj’s teachings on 1) identity, dis-identification and self-transcendence, 2) interpersonal relationships and love, 3) emotions, 4) motivation, 5) addictions, 6) work and service, and the Divine Vital Power or Life Force powering all work, 7) transcending dreams, visions and paranormal occurrences, 8) end-of-life issues (death/dying/immortality), and 9) dependency issues.
Excerpts from I Am That
--At this link are to be found Miguel-Angel Carrasco's considerable excerpts (approx. 80 pages), arranged by topic, from the classic text I Am That: Conversations with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Maurice Frydman, Ed. & Tr.), Bombay: Chetana, single volume edition, 1992 (first published in 1973 and in a revised, two-volume edition in 1976).
Excerpts from Consciousness & the Absolute
--At this webpage link are to be found some interesting photos of Maharaj and most of the conversations from the first 32 pages of the book Consciousness & the Absolute: The Final Talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Jean Dunn, Ed.), Acorn Press, 1994.
The full text of Nisargadatta's own written book, Self-Knowledge & Self-Realization
--This text, written by the Maharaj himself, published in the early 1960s, is essential reading for many insights into his own devotional nature and understanding of subtle processes of the yogas of wisdom, meditation, and mantra.
The full text of I Am Unborn
--the complete text of a 130-page free online book compiled by Vijayendra Deshpande, edited by Pradeep Apte, based on notes of 56 talks with Nisargadatta Maharaj over 76 days from Nov. 30, 1979 to Feb. 13, 1980, made by Prof. Damodar Lund. Incidentally, Jeff Johnson, who kindly told me of this I Am Unborn book, further informs me that a print copy is available for purchase at websites like lulu.com.
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With heartfelt appreciation, i thank and acknowledge Eliyahu Elliott Isenberg and Paul Ramana Das for first telling me of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in 1979; Jean Dunn, for so kindly welcoming me upon my arrival at Maharaj's in January 1981; all the dear translators who served to help us understand Sri Maharaj's Marathi words (especially Saumitra Mullarpattan, S.V. Sapre, and Ramesh Balsekar); Greg Clifford and others for the great photographs of Maharaj; all those who have in any way helped bring out the many books of Maharaj's life and teachings; and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj himself, whose only interest was abiding as the Absolute and awakening sincere aspirants to This Truth. Jai Guru Jai!