Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Radical Wisdom and Empathy: An Inspiration and Challenge for the Helping Professions

© Copyright 2012 by Timothy Conway, PhD (May 2012)

[NOTE TO THE READER: anyone coming to this article from my related article, “Nisargadatta Maharaj and the Surprising Power of Sacred Speech,” published in the June 2012 issue of Undivided: The Online Journal of Nonduality and Psychology, will find that the opening paragraphs are identical. Such readers may wish to scroll down to the 5th paragraph here, beginning with the words, “With these extensive details of Maharaj’s life and teachings so readily available…” There are some other identical or similar paragraphs and quotes from Maharaj appearing in both these articles, but the following article is double the length of the one published in Undivided, so there is much material here not found there. Specifically, this article below covers 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.]


With the remarkable interest expressed over the past dozen years in integrating nonduality (Vedanta: advaita; Buddhism: advaya) within the theory and clinical work of psychotherapy,[1] therapists and clients are well served to understand what the sages and texts esteemed as authentic actually have to say about the “doer-less way” of nondual spirituality.

Such understanding is needed because a subtly imbalanced version of advaita can lead both therapist and client down some strange roads, such as falling into self-inflation masquerading as Self-realization. Or adopting a nihilist, aloof stance based on the Upanishads’ ancient teaching that Brahman/Reality is transcendentally neti neti, “not this, not this,” forgetting the Upanishads’ teaching on Divine immanence: “All this is Brahman.” Or fumbling the Buddha’s teaching on anatta, not realizing that this is a “not-self” dis-identification strategy, not a literal “no-self” ontology, as clearly indicated by the Buddha’s occasional warnings about “the heresy of nihilism” (uccheda ditthi). Likewise with imbalanced readings of Mahayana Buddhist sage Nagarajuna’s advaya teachings on sunyata, usually translated as “emptiness” but often more usefully rendered as “openness,” lest one be afflicted by the nihilism malady, what Nagarjuna in various writings and certainly many later Ch’an/Zen masters call “getting sick on the medicine of sunyata.”

It is illustrative, therefore, to consider the life and nondual teachings of one widely admired sage of the modern era, Nisargadatta Maharaj (1896-1981) of India. Nisargadatta, former humble retail merchant and householder turned disciple of Siddharameshvar Maharaj (1888-1936) and then roaring “spiritual tiger” of Mumbai,[2] is considered, after his elder contemporary Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) of Tiruvannnamalai, perhaps the most formidable exponent of Advaita Vedanta of the 20th century.[3] Nisargadatta was surely one of the most electrifyingly eloquent sages of all time, delivering wisdom-laden and love-dripping one-liners with stunning pithiness on a surprisingly wide-range of aspects within his circumscribed area of “allowable” discussion: nondual spirituality or realization of the non-relational Absolute. This is the nirguna Brahman, formless, unmanifest Reality, or Parabrahman, Absolute Reality, which, declared Maharaj, Maharshi, and advaita sages going back to Sankara (flourished circa 650-700 CE), is also not other than saguna Brahman, Reality manifesting “dream-like” as all forms, worlds, beings, relationships and activities.

This author, while meeting and researching sages, saints, ashrams, monasteries, etc. in Burma and India, had the good fortune to spend some intensive, high-quality time with Nisargadatta over a ten-day period in Mumbai in early January, 1981, eight months before the sage “dropped the body.” The time included Maharaj’s twice-daily talks, the rather informal morning meditations, his two daily bhajan- and arati-singing sessions open to the public (though, as with the morning meditations, there was only a handful of longtime disciples usually present, mostly Indian), and also enjoying some limited private time with the Maharaj, along with a translator. At a lengthy webpage on Maharaj I have portrayed the multi-faceted qualities and salient biographical details of this impressive advaitin, including some under-reported facts about his early years as an aspirant. The webpage highlights not just 1) his widely-known meditation on the “I Am” or Consciousness or Knowingness (the Witness) to utterly dis-identify from “I am this, I am that” (i.e., any limited identity or state of personal consciousness); but also 2) his meditation on the Vital Power or Life Force, which is immediately accessible to the intuition as a “felt sense” and of great benefit for persons active within society; and 3) his expressed appreciation for the way of nondual devotion, even including mantra-japa (recitation of holy Names) practice. These latter approaches (2 and 3) have been almost completely neglected in the commentary literature on and “merchandising” of Nisargadatta by certain persons, which tend to just emphasize his slashing deconstructive, dis-identifying wisdom of the via negativa “negating way” (neti-neti). Further linked to that webpage on Sri Maharaj is an additional webpage containing my reminiscences of being with the sage , based on daily diary notes and audio tape transcripts of his talks and dialogues during the early January 1981 period.

With these extensive details of Maharaj’s life and teachings so readily available via that webpage and subpage, the focus of the present article can be devoted to examining how Maharaj’s way of wisdom-love-devotion-compassion might be applicable to certain issues encountered by helping professionals, especially psychotherapists and pastoral counselors, with their clients.


Caveat from the outset: one better not try to “role-play being a Guru”

Some prefatory remarks are in order, given that our era has seen a widely spreading “neo-satsang” movement in which countless self-styled “enlightened ones” of dubious authenticity have arisen spouting certain advaita truths (for a price!), quite ignorant of their origin or their properly balanced context. Obviously the teachings of genuine sages Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharshi, Anandamayi Ma, et al. (their lack of greed is just one mark of authenticity) are being pilfered for profit by these new preachers coming to the town nearest you selling their talks, seminars/retreats, private sessions, books, CDs, DVDs, and other merchandise.

And so I must caution that in no way should anyone try to imitate Nisargadatta or presume to appropriate his wisdom in sessions with clients. I say this for three reasons.

First, thanks to complete integration or assimilation of the message issued by his Guru Siddharameshvar Maharaj, “You are not the body-mind or personal consciousness, You are the Absolute Reality,” Sri Nisargadatta was by all accounts released into authentic jñana, the liberating “Gnosis/Knowledge of Reality.” He was a sage dis-identified from the personal consciousness and even the universal Consciousness (involved with the manifest worlds). He was freely established or merged in/as the non-relational, supra-personal, Absolute Awarenesss which dynamically also plays as the universal Consciousness. As the Source of all worlds and Self of all selves, this Awareness into which Maharaj had merged very often spoke supra-personally as this ultimate Reality. For instance:

“Worlds come and go. I am the original Being.”[5]

“I am the Unmanifest, and with my manifestation, my form and body is all this world.”[6]

“I am not a person in your sense of the word, though I may appear a person to you. I am that infinite ocean of consciousness in which all happens. I am also beyond all existence and cognition, pure bliss of Being. There is nothing I feel separate from, hence I am all. [Yet] No thing is me, so I am nothing. Life will escape, the body will die, but it will not affect me in the least. Beyond space and time I am, uncaused, uncausing, yet the very matrix of existence.”[7]

“Once the conviction: ‘I am not the body’ becomes so well grounded that one can no longer feel, think and act for and on behalf of the body, one will easily discover that one is the universal being, knowing, acting, that in him and through him the entire universe is real, conscious and active…. Either you are body-conscious and a slave of circumstances, or you are the universal consciousness itself…. Yet consciousness, individual or universal, is not my true abode; I am not in it, it is not mine, there is no “me” in it. I am beyond, though it is not easy to explain how one can be neither conscious, nor unconscious, but just beyond. I cannot say that I am in God or I am God; God is the universal light and love, the universal witness: I am beyond the universal even. [Q: In that case you are without name and shape. What kind of being have you?] I am what I am, neither with form nor formless, neither conscious nor unconscious. I am outside all these categories. [Q: You are taking the neti-neti (not this, not this) approach.] You cannot find me by mere denial. I am as well everything, as nothing. Nor both, nor either. These definitions apply to the Lord of the Universe, not to me. [Q: Do you intend to convey that you are just nothing?] Oh, no! I am complete and perfect. I am the beingness of being, the knowingness of knowing, the fullness of happiness. You cannot reduce me to emptiness![8] “I am and I am not and I am neither. Neither the presence nor the absence…. I apperceived what is and I also apperceived what is not; and when both what is and what is not have disappeared then what remains is ‘I.’ I am certainly not presence and not even the presence of absence.”[9]

Maurice Frydman, the original editor/translator of the remarkable book I Am That (the first published record of dialogues with Sri Nisargadatta, released in 1973), pressed Maharaj further on this identity and function:

Maharaj: My world is just like yours. I see, I hear, I feel, I think, I speak and act in a world I perceive, just like you. But with you it is all, with me it is almost nothing. Knowing the world to be a part of myself, I pay it no more attention than you pay to the food you have eaten. While being prepared and eaten, the food is separate from you and your mind is on it; once swallowed, you become totally unconscious of it. I have eaten up the world and I need not think of it any more. [Q: Don’t you become completely irresponsible?] M: How could I? How can I hurt something which is one with me. On the contrary, without thinking of the world, whatever I do will be of benefit to it. Just as the body sets itself right unconsciously, so am I ceaselessly active in setting the world right. [Q: Nevertheless, you are aware of the immense suffering of the world?] M: Of course I am, much more than you are. [Q: Then what do you do?] M: I look at it through the eyes of God and find that all is well. […] Karma is the law that works for righteousness; it is the healing hand of God.[10]

[When asked about the difference between God and the jñani, Maharaj said, “They are one.” When pressed to elucidate a difference between them, he replied:] God is the All-Doer, the jñani is a non-doer. God himself does not say: “I am doing all.” To Him things happen by their own nature. To the jñani all is done by God. He sees no difference between God and nature. Both God and the jñani know themselves to be the immovable centre of the movable, the eternal witness of the transient. The centre is a point of void and the witness a point of pure awareness; they know themselves to be as nothing, therefore nothing can resist them.

[Q: How does this look and feel…?] M: Being nothing, I am all. Everything is me, everything is mine. Just as my body moves by my mere thinking of the movement, so do things happen as I think of them. Mind you, I do nothing. I just see them happen. […] I am all and all is me. […] I have no shape, nor name. […] I am not attached. I am nothing…. […] [Q: Can you influence the world by your attitude? By separating yourself from the world you lose all hope of helping it.] M: How can it be? All is myself—can’t I help myself? I do not identify myself with anybody in particular, for I am all—both the particular and the universal. [Q: Can you then help me, the particular person?] M: But I do help you always—from within. My self and your self are one. I know it, but you don’t. That is all the difference—and it cannot last.[11]

To myself I am neither perceivable nor conceivable; there is nothing I can point out and say: “this i am.” You identify yourself with everything so easily; I find it impossible. The feeling: “I am not this or that, nor is anything mine” is so strong in me that as soon as a thing or a thought appears, there comes at once the sense “this I am not.”… I am merely verbalizing for your sake. By the grace of my Guru, I have realized once and for good that I am neither object nor subject and I do not need to remind myself all the time. [Q: I find it hard to grasp what exactly do you mean by saying that you are neither the object nor the subject. At this very moment, as we talk, am I not the object of your experience, and you the subject?] M: Look, my thumb touches my forefinger. Both touch and are touched. When my attention is on the thumb the thumb is the feeler and the forefinger—the [felt]. Shift the focus of attention and the relationship is reversed. I find that somehow, by shifting the focus of attention, I become the very thing I look at and experience the kind of consciousness it has; I become the inner witness of the thing. I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness, love; you may give it any name you like. Love says: “I am everything.” Wisdom says: “I am nothing.” Between the two my life flows. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both…. My Guru showed me my true nature—and the true nature of the world. Having realized that I am one with, and yet beyond the world, I became free from all desire and fear. I did not reason out that I should be free—I found myself free—unexpectedly, without the least effort. This freedom from desire and fear remained with me since then. Another thing I noticed was that I do not need to make an effort; the deed follows the thought, without delay and friction. I have also found that thoughts become self-fulfilling; things would fall in place smoothly and rightly. The main change was in the mind; it became motionless and silent, responding quickly, but not perpetuating the response. Spontaneity became a way of life, the real became natural and the natural became real. And above all, infinite affection, love, dark and quiet, radiating in all directions, embracing all, making all interesting and beautiful, significant and auspicious.[12]

One cannot try to pose as a free being or Being ItSelf speaking thusly while still identified with the limited, separate person or “selfish self” and any unwholesome attachments. As Maharaj says, “When everything has been given up, and nothing creates attachment any longer, neither knowledge nor worldly pleasures, then one is in the state of deliverance…. When all impurity of any kind, everything, has disappeared, then the original [Reality] is reached.”[13] “You cannot imitate a Guru and get away with it. All hypocrisy will end in disaster.”[14]

A second point to be made here about the “inimitable” Maharaj is that, in talks and dialogues with visitors, he famously deployed various “theatrical mannerisms” to rivet his listeners’ attention: making outrageous and humorous statements undermining certain traditional religious pieties; raising his voice, even from time to time shouting or using coarse speech; gesticulating dramatically (an index finger jabbing the sky or suddenly pointing at a questioner, a hand brought down forcefully to slap his thigh, a sudden loud clap of the hands, etc. etc.). This very Zen-like Advaitin would also not infrequently break down a person’s mental fortress of fixed beliefs with one or two or even a barrage of explosive koan-like questions for the deeper (supra-mental) intuition: “Why are you? What are you? Due to what are you?” “It is very obvious that you know you are—but what or who is it that knows you are?” “A hundred years back, what were you?” “What were you a million years ago?” “How are you conscious right now?” “You are confident that you are, but what does it depend on?” “Where are you? What is your location?” “Unknowingly this knowingness [“I am”] has appeared. How?” “How did you happen to be?” “Your present capital is the cycle of waking, dream, deep sleep, and knowledge ‘I am.’ What else have you got?” “You talk about heaven and hell, this Mahatma or that one, but how about you? Who are you?” “What makes you consider yourself as a person?” “Who understands the mind? What is there prior to the mind?” “Who or what principle is it that knows you are sitting here?” “Without a body, what are you?” “With what do you identify?” “Do you ever really move?”[15]

These and dozens of other forms of dynamic self-inquiry (atma-vicara) jolted listeners out of their hypnotic self-trance and helped them “recede back” into the supra-personal or universal Consciousness behind or underlying the limited personal consciousness. And from this universal Consciousness, promised Maharaj, the Divine Grace of our infinite nature would accomplish the final, full awakening unto Absolute Awareness, which is always Prior to Consciousness. (Awareness is the silent stillness, Consciousness the vibrational, dynamic cosmic dream-play.)

As a further teaching device, Nisargadatta sometimes rhetorically contrasted the visitor’s world of bondage and ignorance with the Maharaj’s world of freedom and awakeness (“In your world… whereas in my world…”)—not the normal way that psychotherapists establish empathetic “rapport” with a client! Though, for balance, we also note the many egalitarian sayings from Maharaj—e.g. “There is no ‘my self’ and ‘his self.’ There is the Self, the only Self of all…. We both are the Self.”[16] “The reality is that there is no separation at all between you and me, because we are one. Do not imagine any separation.”[17] “You are I only, I am you. I know that you are I only, but you don’t know, so I am trying to give you that introduction, that acquaintance.”[18]

To put it mildly, such dramatic outer behaviors in the interpersonal setting go well beyond the usual kind of professional protocol considered suitable for trained helping-professionals with their clients.

Third, what also makes Maharaj inimitable for most therapists, et al. is that for over four decades, like Sri Ramana Maharshi and other towering sages, he never charged a penny in freely sharing the Advaita dharma with the little hordes who invaded his loft-space in urban Mumbai for the dialogues. Nor did Nisargadatta ever try to create a lucratively paying “spiritual career” by going on the lecture-circuit, facilitating paid retreats, developing a series of workshops, selling tapes of his talks, or the like. Very, very few helping professionals are willing to “trust the Divine Providence” of our Source Nature to work exclusively pro bono in this remarkably generous, compassionate manner. His was the radiance of purely spontaneous giving and sharing. “The jñani [sage] belongs to all. He gives himself tirelessly and completely to whomever comes to him. If he is not a giver, he is not a jñani. Whatever he has, he shares.”[19]

The Maharaj wanted nothing from anyone, and asked only that one sincerely, earnestly investigate and meditate on/as our True Nature.

Having suggested that helping professionals not try to “play Guru” or imitate Maharaj for the foregoing reasons, nonetheless I would say that, in the mode of what early Buddhism calls the “kalyana mitta,” or helpful spiritual friend, there are times within the formal therapeutic context and informally outside that context wherein the sharing of Nisargadatta’s way of wisdom-love-devotion-compassion—some of his quotes, ideas and methods—can be of massive benefit, along a range of issues, such as:

1) identity, dis-identification, self-transcendence, and the liberating power of sacred speech,

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.


1) Identity, dis-identification, self-transcendence and the liberating power of sacred speech

Who or What are we, really? The whole thrust of Maharaj’s “awakening therapy” was that You are not who you think you are, you are not the body, the mind, and not even the ego or soul or personal consciousness. You are not even limited to being the “Universal Consciousness” or “Knowingness” or “I-am-ness” or “Lord God/Isvara” (etc.) that is the creatrix of the multi-level cosmic dream-play and its Witness. Your Reality is far more glorious and unlimited than what you have been led to believe by society and the workings of the mind.

You are the Absolute Awareness which is, says, Maharaj, the “No Knowing” Reality even beyond the dichotomy of consciousness or unconsciousness. You are the Openness-Fullness beyond distinctive beingness or nihilist no-beingness.

You are always ONLY THIS REALITY, so there is nothing to “do” to “effect” or bring about this Reality via causation. Yet within the Maya-play of Universal Consciousness and its masquerade as the personal consciousness, the awakening from the “me-dream” to our intrinsic Reality can involve a process of revelatory self-inquiry or atma-vicara leading to profound dis-identification and self-transcendence. Thereby one finds OneSelf awake as the Eternally Awake and utterly Transcendent Reality. And, most paradoxically and miraculously, this utter Transcendence is also complete Immanence as the play of supra-personal Universal Consciousness and all personal consciousnesses or beings.

To hear, ponder and meditate on the Truth of our Absolute Identity as the transcendent-immanent spiritual Reality—this is the essence of Maharaj’s way. It is of course Advaita’s ancient “triple-step method” of sravana-manana-nididhyasana, first enunciated in Vedanta’s oldest Upanishad, the Brhadaranyaka, nearly 3,000 years ago. And it is virtually identical to what Buddhist sage Nagarjuna, c.150 CE, terms sruti-cinta-bhavana on the Truth of Sunyata, the emptiness/openness of Reality.

“Consciousness simply speaking about Consciousness to Consciousness,” is how Maharaj framed the Truth-revelations shared with listeners. And as Consciousness he was an ongoing, gushing fountain of Truth for anyone’s hearing.

As for the second of the three steps, pondering the Supreme Truth, in diverse ways he helped people to earnestly, contemplatively “brood over” this Truth so thoroughly that their Own Absolute Nature would make this Reality Real in direct Realization, not just have it remain a mere intellectual concept. Maharaj never let people hide out in second-hand knowledge, mere “hearsay” as he often called it. This supreme Being-Knowledge (Jñana) is one’s intrinsic Divine faculty, so Maharaj utilized every possible means to insure that Consciousness (in the form of his listener) genuinely “own” and simply be this Knowledge about Consciousness.

As for the culminating third step or stage of Advaita’s triple-step method, “meditating on/as” the Truth, Maharaj insisted that this is up to each individual, easily realized via genuine sincerity and earnestness. Encouragingly, Maharaj sometimes spoke of Divine Grace, “the Grace of the Self,” “the Power of Sadasiva” (“there is a power in the universe working for enlightenment and liberation, we call it Sadashiva, who is ever present in the hearts of humans”[20]) as actually accomplishing everything. The listener need only alertly relax, recede back and let go or surrender into this True Identity. For we are always only This Self. “What you are, you can only be,” as he frequently stated. “You cannot become what you are, you can only become what you are not” (e.g., I am not an automotive mechanic or a speaker of Swahili, but the personal consciousness could become this through extensive training). “The source of consciousness cannot be an object in consciousness. To know the source is to be the source… the Inexhaustible Possibility.”[21]

The impression arises, from numerous remarks that he made and just the intuitive experiencing during time with his outer form in Mumbai, that Maharaj was one with that Sadasiva Grace Power and was grace-fully engaged with the individual in this meditation on/as Truth—from within the depths of their being as the Innate Self, non-deliberately and non-dually liberating the individual from any vestige of selfishness and “pulling” him/her back into Self-fullness. In other words, there was a profound “Jñana-Sakti” or Power of Divine Knowing-by-Being that silently emanated around Nisargadatta and permeated many of those who came into his psychophysical orbit or just deeply immersed themselves in his words as published in I Am That and later compilations of teachings. Maybe it has to do with the following reply to a questioner who wondered if Maharaj thinks of his disciples: I think of them more than you know.”[22]

“The words of a jñani have the power of dispelling ignorance and darkness in the mind. It is not the words that matter, but the power behind them.” [Q: What is that power?] “The power of conviction, based on personal realization, on one’s own direct experience.”[23]

Nisargadatta was “doerlessly,” i.e., as a “spontaneous function of Consciousness,” performing what was akin to a radical form of cognitive therapy, and brief therapy at that. (He often stated that one should just stay for a few to several days then go deeply imbibe what was heard.) His cognitive therapy, always contextualized not as “Helper helping client” or “Guru helping disciple” but, to repeat, as “Consciousness speaking to Consciousness about ItSelf,” was based on a radical (“at the Root”) opening to Unlimited Identity. Obviously this is far more profound than the body-mind model assumed by the well-known cognitive psychotherapists in the West, Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, not to mention most other forms of humanistic psychology, even many forms of transpersonal psychology, and certainly the traditional schools of depth psychology and behavioral psychology. We also note that Maharaj would surely deconstruct the notion of “person-centered therapy” advanced by Carl Rogers, et al., because a salient message from Maharaj is: fundamentally and originally, you are not a person, you are not “anything” at all. You are the no-thing-like Absolute Awareness spontaneously playing as the universal play of Consciousness, in which rise all personal consciousnesses with their individual sensations, memories, thoughts, relationships, etc.

“At the moment of realization the person ceases [as the locus for ultimate sense of self]. Identity remains, but identity is not a person, it is inherent in the reality itself.”[24]

Q: Whatever I may be in reality, yet I feel myself to be a small and separate person, one amongst many.

Maharaj: Your being a person is due to the illusion of space and time; you imagine yourself to be at a certain point occupying a certain volume; your personality is due to your self-identification with the body. Your thoughts and feelings exist in succession, they have their span in time and make you imagine yourself, because of memory, as having duration. In reality time and space exist in you; you do not exist in them. […] First we must know ourselves as witnesses only, dimensionless and timeless centers of observation [i.e., Consciousness], and then realize that immense ocean of pure Awareness, which is both mind and matter and beyond both.[25]

Maharaj even deconstructed the “person” of God or Isvara:

Q: Isn’t God a person?

M: As long as you think yourself to be a person, He too is a person. When you are all, you see Him as all.[26]

Unlike Carl Rogers’ famously “non-directive” therapeutic approach, which mainly rephrases and mirrors a client’s remarks, Maharaj was quite directive, either gently or abruptly, depending on the situation, in confronting and undermining his listeners’ self-concepts, presumptions, spiritual clichés, wayward thinking, and other mental positions.

For those who might think Nisargadatta was a masterful “psychotherapist” in the way he interacted with listeners to awaken them from the “me-dream,” I would agree, yet hasten to add that Maharaj’s function transcended the normal focus of psychotherapy: the mind or psyche. Myriad passages in the recorded Maharaj dialogues show him putting the mind in its place as basically an extremely conditioned process—heavily conditioned socially, psychobiologically and karmically—just as the body is a heavily conditioned product of biological evolution and events of this lifetime. Maharaj often remarked that people are “slaves” of their minds, “victims” of mental meaning-constructions, etc. He was not denigrating or scapegoating the mind, making a bogeyman out of anyone’s psyche, and certainly not blaming people for being involved with their “ego-minds.” No, he was clarifying that You are not the mind, You are right now and always prior to the mind. You are the “rearmost background principle” as he sometimes termed it, the Absolute Reality or Parabrahman, the Single Self or Atman in which the mind arises and then routinely merges in dreamless deep sleep or trance. (Etymologically, “Atman” means This which is superior to the manas or mind, and into which the mind merges.)

One could see Maharaj quite often helping people to work with the mind—chiefly in the mode of examining its limited and limiting tendencies, promoting self-inquiry and pondering the teaching of Absolute Truth, such inquiry and pondering usually starting from the “normal” mental level for most visitors. However, Maharaj was beckoning that the locus for such sadhana or practice be the Witness standpoint beyond the mind, not a constricted sense of “me” within the mind’s confining contexts and compulsions. Truly, YOU as nondual Self are not the mind, YOU are always prior to the mind, so don't think of YourSelf as the mind and feel constrained to working with the mind from within its own logic and limitations.

Nisargadatta discusses our situation as involving three levels of identity: 1) personal ego-consciousness, 2) egoless “universal consciousness” or “knowingness” involved in/as the worlds of experience, 3) and transcendent, world-less, no-knowing Absolute Awareness or Unmanifest Reality.

It is important to understand these three levels of identity, because many people seem to have been confused when Maharaj switches his discourse from one level to another, especially from the second level to the third level or back to the second level. Here’s just one quote from Maharaj on the distinction between second and third level of identity: “There is a state beyond consciousness, which is not unconscious. Some call it super-consciousness, or pure consciousness, or supreme consciousness. It is pure Awareness free from the subject-object nexus…. Consciousness is intermittent, full of gaps [e.g., dreamless sleep, trance]. Yet there is the continuity of identity. What is this sense of identity due to, if not to something [the Absolute Reality or Awareness] beyond consciousness?”[27]

The effective force of Maharaj’s teaching allows Awareness to witness and thereby dis-identify from merely personal consciousness or “I am so-and-so” back into universal consciousness or “I-am-ness.” A further, entirely spontaneous awakening (due to Grace, says Maharaj) occurs: a shift in identity from universal consciousness or “I-am-ness” (still “intentionally” or relationally involved with objects of consciousness) back unto Awareness. “That ‘I-am-ness,’ the [universal] feeling of ‘I am,’ is the quintessence of everything. But I, the Absolute, am not that.”[28]

Finally, this Absolute Awareness does not exclude but includes the play of Universal Consciousness and the experienced sense of personal consciousness (“me” and “mine”).

In the briefer way he would sometimes discuss the two-step dis-identification model, Maharaj advocates detaching from and witnessing all inner or outer mind-body phenomena on the level of personal consciousness and then, having surrendered all selfishness, one spontaneously is re-identified as everyone and everything in the manifest play of Consciousness. He often called the dis-identifying or detached witnessing step “wisdom” or “detachment” and the re-identifying stage “love.”

With added nuance he often taught, similar to his Guru Siddharameshvar, that authentic spirituality is 1) to dis-identify from the sense of being merely personal consciousness and recede back into one’s larger identity as Universal Consciousness, what he also often calls “I Amness,” “Beingness,” “Knowingness,” “the Witness,” “God/Isvara,” “Maya,” or “saguna Brahman.”[29] And then 2) to allow “by Grace” a further, even more profound dis-identification: “the witnessing of Consciousness by THIS which is always Prior to Consciousness”—namely, Unborn, Unchanging, Uninvolved, “No knowing” Absolute Awareness, Nirguna Brahman (formless Reality) or Parabrahman (Ultimate Reality). But though this Nirguna Brahman or Parabrahman is prior to and beyond all space-time, worlds, beings, relationships and dualistic knowing, this utter Transcendence is paradoxically fully Inclusive or Immanent as whatever happens in the experiential play of phenomena and the witnessing of this consciousness-play. (This involves the “re-identification” mentioned above.)

“For one who has realized all this, there is Brahman, the godly state, and the one who knows this godly state is the Parabrahman.”[30] “By donating the [personal] self, you get the [saguna] Brahman state; and when you donate the Brahman state, you get [sic—you ARE] the Parabrahman. In the first [disidentification], you become the manifest [universal] consciousness; in the second or last [disidentification], you surrender the consciousness also. At the end of the process you are the Parabrahman.”[31] “Brahman is manifest; Parabrahman is beyond that, prior to that: the Absolute…. [What] is finally left over is Awareness, Parabrahman.”[32] “This quality of ‘I am,’ this sattva-guna, the quality of beingness [or knowingness or consciousness eventually] goes into oblivion. Only I, the Absolute, remains. Stay put there only; nothing happens to I, the Absolute.”[33] “A jñani has transcended [personal and universal] consciousness, although the association with consciousness is still there. And consciousness, 'I-am-ness,' represents manifestation in its totality, because it is not confined or conditioned by the body as an 'individual.'”[34]

Obviously these schemas can be seen as sourced in ancient and medieval Advaita texts which Nisargadatta had also studied in addition to the words of his Guru. So, for instance, the “Universal Consciousness” or “Witness” or “Beingness-Knowingness” or “saguna Brahman” is turiya, the “Fourth” principle beyond the three cycling states of waking-dream-sleep. Whereas the Parabrahman is turiyatita, “Prior to the fourth.” Maharaj occasionally describes the Consciousness-play as “Maya” and in this parlance Our Original Nature is Mayatita, “Prior to Maya.”[35]

Understanding these three levels of identity and two versions of the basic two-fold dis-identification schema from Nisargadatta of what happens in authentically liberating spirituality provides a context for everything else he is sharing.

And here—getting back to our overall topic of nondual wisdom and psychotherapy—I would really underscore the tremendous potency of what Maharaj was so freely and powerfully sharing: “Truth-talk” or “sacred speech.” His masterfully wielded “wisdom words” possessed incredible efficacy to occasion life-changing shifts or openings into our vaster Identity, whether as the transpersonal Universal Consciousness or as the entirely Supra-personal Parabrahman. His spoken phrases de-hypnotize listeners out of their ignorance, torpor, angst and fear.

Notice in the following exchange (edited for brevity) how Nisargadatta reframes a questioner’s fear and limited sense of self, and—via the power of revelatory words—opens up for the listener an unbounded, nondual and far more glorious sense of Self, a Self invincibly transcendent yet lovingly present for every sentient being…

[Q: Surrounded by a world full of mysteries and dangers, how can I remain unafraid?] M: Your own little body too is full of mysteries and dangers, yet you are not afraid of it, for you take it as your own. […] The entire universe is your body and you need not be afraid of it. You may say you have two bodies; the personal and the universal. The personal comes and goes, the universal is always with you. The entire creation is your universal body. You are so blinded by what is personal, that you do not see the universal. […] When all illusions are understood and abandoned, you reach the error-free and perfect state in which all distinctions between the personal and the universal are no more. [Q: I am a person and therefore limited in space and time. I occupy little space and last but a few moments; I cannot even conceive myself to be eternal and all-pervading.] M: Nevertheless you are. As you dive deep into yourself in search of your true nature, you will discover that only your body is small and only your memory is short; while the vast ocean of life is yours. [Q: The very words “I” and “universal” are contradictory. One excludes the other.] M: They don’t. The sense of identity pervades the universal. Search and you shall discover the Universal Person, who is yourself and infinitely more. Anyhow, begin by realizing that the world is in you, not you in the world. [Q: How can it be? I am only a part of the world. How can the whole world be contained in the part, except by reflection, mirror like?] M: What you say is true. Your personal body is a part in which the whole is wonderfully reflected. But you have also a universal body. You cannot even say that you do not know it, because you see and experience it all the time. Only you call it “the world” and are afraid of it. [Q: I feel I know my little body, while the other I do not know, except through science.] M: Your little body is full of mysteries and wonders which you do not know. There also science is your only guide. Both anatomy and astronomy describe you. [Q: Even if I accept your doctrine of the universal body as a working theory, in what way can I test it and of what use is it to me?] M: Knowing yourself as the dweller in both the bodies you will disown nothing. All the universe will be your concern; every living thing you will love and help most tenderly and wisely. There will be no clash of interests between you and others. All exploitation will cease absolutely. Your every action will be beneficial, every movement will be a blessing. [Emphasis added.] [Q: It is all very tempting, but how am I to proceed to realize my universal being?] M: You have two ways: you can give your heart and mind to self-discovery, or you accept my words on trust and act accordingly. In other words, either you become totally self-concerned, or totally un-self-concerned. It is the word “totally” that is important. You must be extreme to reach the Supreme. [Q: How can I aspire to such heights, small and limited as I am?] M: Realize yourself as the ocean of consciousness in which all happens. This is not difficult. A little of attentiveness, of close observation of oneself, and you will see that no event is outside your consciousness. [Q: The world is full of events which do not appear in my consciousness.] M: Even your body is full of events which do not appear in your consciousness. This does not prevent you from claiming your body to be your own. […] [Q: What I do not follow is what you say about going beyond consciousness….] M: […] There is a state [i.e., the Reality] beyond consciousness, which is not unconscious. Some call it super-consciousness, or pure consciousness, or supreme consciousness. It is pure awareness free from the subject-object nexus. […] Consciousness is intermittent, full of gaps. Yet there is the continuity of identity. What is this sense of identity due to, if not to something beyond consciousness? […] In the light of calm and steady self-awareness inner energies wake up and work miracles without any effort on your part. [Q: You mean to say that the greatest work is done by not working?] M: Exactly. Do understand that you are destined for enlightenment. Co-operate with your destiny, don’t go against it, don’t thwart it. Allow it to fulfill itself.[36]

It is a bias in many circles of spirituality that “silence is better than words.” But Nisargadatta certainly did not privilege physical silence over words.

Questioner: I have come to be with you, rather than to listen. Little can be said in words, much more can be conveyed in silence.

Maharaj: First words, then silence. One must be ripe for silence.[37]

Maharaj spoke from a Consciousness that is Witness/Host to both words and physical silence and so both could easily be used as needed. His words profoundly affirm Who/What one really is and thoroughly deny the false, limited identifications. Thus he served as midwife for the birth in listeners of a firm, thorough conviction that one is not the bodily activities, the mental activities, the individual self-sense or personal consciousness, nor is one even limited to being the transpersonal “Isvara/Lord God” or Universal Consciousness which is playing as the multilevel worlds. Beyond all these, one is in True Identity none other than the Absolute, the Only Reality, Truly Unborn, Unchanging, Unfading.

It is this firm, thorough conviction, says Maharaj along with all of Advaita tradition, that genuinely liberates from the dream-shackles of limited identity. Without this conviction, there will always be a tendency to fall back into a sense of egocentricity and all the unwholesome moods, urges, reactions and troubles that come with that mere sense of “self”-ishness. And in wholesome contrast to the moral relativism or amorality of the neo-satsang or “pseudo-advaita” movement of the past 25 years, the Maharaj is adamant that one must transcend all binding selfish desires, indulgences, apathy or indifference, as well as any form of interpersonal exploitation or harmfulness.

On this topic of sacred speech and the power of words, just by way of quick experiment, consider the psycho-spiritual effect in your consciousness when I utter the following different messages.

First, listen to these words, which communicate the gist of our society’s materialistic reductionism: “You are one human being among billions of humans and countless other biological organisms. Your personal consciousness and sense of identity are based on physical brain function, and one day your body and brain will of course die, to be buried or cremated, and upon death you will no longer exist in any way.

Please re-read that passage to really let its implications register strongly.

Next, slowly consider these words: “You are an individual soul who will survive physical death but whose future well-being depends on obeying the rules of a just God, who sends the righteous to heaven and damns the unrighteous to eternal hell.

But now consider what happens in your deepest reality when Nisargadatta essentially says to you: You are not merely the body, the mind, the personal consciousness nor any limited identity including the cosmically creative Consciousness. Truly, right HERE (closer than close) and right NOW (before you can even think about it), you are actually the Supra-personal Self of each and every dear self. You are the Absolute Reality, Open Awareness, Infinite Being—utterly free, pure, single, whole, complete, at peace and at bliss, the Supreme Source of all Divine qualities and virtues and capacities. You are the birthless, deathless Reality in Whom everything appears and which allows all appearing-disappearing worlds, relationships and persons to seem experientially real like in dramatic dreams, and without You nothing arises or moves. (I give here the gist of several thousand such statements by Nisargadatta.)

Quite a different effect upon hearing this kind of nondually-oriented sacred speech, no?

It’s obvious that the collective words and ideas of unenlightened materialistic society or even conventionally religious society tend to finally induce anxiety and dread, maybe even bitter resentment over our unlucky fate as a limited, hapless person. Whereas other words, words of the most sublime spiritual Truth, can easily evoke a spirit of liberated freedom, radiant Self-confidence, inclusive love, and wondrous awe and even “nondual gratitude” over this True Self’s dazzling nature and capacities.

The awakening process that Nisargadatta invites in his listeners is no different than what he himself underwent in the event and aftermath of meeting his Guru, Sri Siddharameshvar. Nisargadatta has given us numerous accounts of how powerful sacred speech or “true words” about our Absolute Nature had such amazing outcome when they are not just heard but sincerely, earnestly pondered until the Truth becomes an ongoing, uninterrupted, spontaneous meditation.

It can be an effective form of self-inquiry to listen to the following autobiographical notes as if you are Maharaj coming off his encounter with Siddharameshvar and see what happens:

My Guru told me that I am Parabrahman and nothing else. I have accepted that with great conviction and therefore whatever other things appear seem to me palpably false…. If the guru’s words are accepted with total conviction, our entire destiny, our entire life, will be transformed.[38]

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 “this I am” or “that I am.” 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 [i.e., as focus of attention] and soon peace and joy and a 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 [inner] silence.[39]

My Guru, before he died, told me: Believe me, you are the Supreme Reality. Don’t doubt my words, don’t disbelieve me. I am telling you the truth—act on it. I could not forget his words and by not forgetting—I have realized. […] I lived my life, plied my trade, looked after my family, and every free moment I would spend just remembering my Guru and his words. He died soon after and I had only the memory to fall back on. It was enough. [Q: It must have been the grace and power of your Guru.] M: His words were true and so they came true. True words always come true. My Guru did nothing; his words acted because they were true. Whatever I did, came from within, un-asked and unexpected. [Q: The Guru started a process without taking any part in it?] M: Put it as you like. Things happen as they happen—who can tell why and how? I did nothing deliberately. All came by itself—the desire to let go, to be alone, to go within. […] He only told me that I am the Supreme and then died. I just could not disbelieve him. The rest happened by itself. I found myself changing—that is all. As a matter of fact, I was astonished. But a desire arose in me to verify his words. I was so sure that he could not possibly have told a lie, that I felt I shall either realize the full meaning of his words or die. I was feeling quite determined, but did not know what to do. I would spend hours thinking of him and his assurance, not arguing, but just remembering what he told me. […] I found myself desiring and knowing less and less, until I could say in utter astonishment: “I know nothing, I want nothing.” […] [Q: Are you at the end of your journey?] M: There was never any journey. I am, as I always was. [Q: What was the Supreme Reality you were supposed to reach?] M: I was undeceived, that is all. I used to create a world and populate it—now I don’t do it any more.[Q: Where do you live, then?] M: In the void beyond being and non-being, beyond consciousness. This void is also fullness….[40]

My Guru showed me my true nature—and the true nature of the world. Having realized that I am one with, and yet beyond the world, I became free from all desire and fear. I did not reason out that I should be free—I found myself free—unexpectedly, without the least effort. This freedom from desire and fear remained with me since then. Another thing I noticed was that I do not need to make an effort; the deed follows the thought, without delay and friction. I have also found that thoughts become self-fulfilling; things would fall in place smoothly and rightly. The main change was in the mind; it became motionless and silent, responding quickly, but not perpetuating the response. Spontaneity became a way of life, the real became natural and the natural became real. And above all, infinite affection, love, dark and quiet, radiating in all directions, embracing all, making all interesting and beautiful, significant and auspicious.[41]

It is readily seen that, beyond the competing theories in Western psychology about the nature of the human personality and the dynamics of healthy levels of self-esteem, Nisargadatta and the illustrious Great Traditions of nondual mystic spirituality all assert that the personal consciousness (the individual “soul” or “limited viewpoint”) is in fact just a passing set of mental-material (nama-rupa) phenomena. (E.g., the Buddha’s deconstruction of the personality into five components or aggregates, the khandhas or skandhas, physical bodily form, sensations, perceptions, samskara-reactions, and narrow, changeable “me” consciousness.) Yet prior to and beyond this finite, conditioned personal consciousness is our Real Identity, True Self, or Absolute Awareness-Isness-Aliveness, what the Buddha terms the “Unborn” “Boundless Awareness” (anidassana viññana).[42]

Maharaj, like the Buddha and the Vedanta sages of old, invites us to clearly witness how the personal consciousness suffers all sorts of vulnerability and volatility, not only undergoing the pleasures and pains, triumphs and traumas of the waking state, and all the various social roles and psychological programs adopted according to changing circumstances, but also the remarkable state-changes from daily consciousness to the nighttime or naptime dream state (wherein a completely different, psychic world appears, along with a viewpoint and a dream-body quite different from the physical body and its viewpoint) and on into the deep dreamless sleep state (wherein one’s identity and world utterly disappear and one rests in/as the void).

It is this personal consciousness and limited sense of “me” and “mine”—myself, my life, my mind, my emotions, my body—that our society and our own conditioned felt-sense just assumes to be the fundamental “I.” And it this sense of “I” which is to be bolstered in an ongoing conventional program of maintaining and strengthening self-esteem, a project that is especially strong in pop psychology circles of the USA (with ironically perverse results: e.g., U.S. schoolchildren have the highest tested self-esteem scores found worldwide, yet in terms of actual performance they rank dismally much lower in math, reading and science skills compared to children of other nations with much poorer self-esteem but a stronger work ethic).

So Nisargadatta made this issue of our True Identity and dis-identifying from limited identity, even the universal Consciousness and its cosmic play, his number one most frequent topic for discussion. Literally several thousand quotes could be adduced from the roughly 2,000 pages of published talks and dialogues with the sage. Such quotes reveal an utter deconstruction of the phenomenal self, the limited personhood of both conventional and psychic experience, and an unqualified affirmation that our Real Nature is the changeless, birthless, deathless, timeless, spaceless, wordless and worldless Absolute Awareness-Isness-Aliveness.

Hence, one hears Sri Maharaj again and again saying, in one breath, “you, the personal consciousness in your body-mind-self manifestation, don’t really exist except as mere passing phenomena.” And in the next breath he might tell you, “You are the Absolute; You are the Source of all manifestation, but You are unmanifest.”

Maharaj, like all authentic sages, upholds the “two truth levels”—insisting that, at the conventional vyavahara level of personal consciousness, there be appropriate action, morality and a “zestful” spirit of carrying out duties and serving one’s family, friends and society. Yet one is not to narrowly identify with any roles, emotions or activities, for one is always none other than the Absolute Awareness transcending everyone and everything while immanently being—as Universal Consciousness and Energy—the the formless Heart of everyone and everything and the Life of all lives, the Vital Power animating the entire play of manifestation.

It follows from the above that, being the Absolute, there is no becoming what you ARE—“you can become what you are not, but what you ARE, you can only BE,” as he told a small group of us one night in January 1981. Or this: “You need not and you cannot become what you are already. Only cease imagining yourself to be the particular.”[43] Over the years, the Maharaj countless times clarified that there is nothing to “do” to reach Your ever-present Reality, there are “no efforts to be made”: “just BE” the Awareness, the Reality, the Self.

However, Sri Nisargadatta also countless times engaged in the great Advaitin paradox of spiritual instruction, using the imperative grammatical form in urging Consciousness-manifesting-as-the-personal-consciousness to dis­-identify from all phenomena and “step back, recede back into your Absolute Nature.”

“What I say is true, but to you it is only a theory. How will you come to know that it is true? Listen, remember, ponder, visualize, experience.”[44] “The seed of knowledge is planted in you by these talks; now you have to follow it up. You must nurse it, ruminate over it, so that the tree of knowledge will grow.”[45]

And what is the final Knowledge?

“You are God, but you do not know it.”[46] “You yourself are God, the Supreme Reality. … You are the all-pervading, all-transcending reality. Behave accordingly: think, feel and act in harmony with the whole.”[47] “Get rid of all ideas about yourself, even of the idea that you are God. No self-definition is valid.”[48] “The man who claims [exclusively] to be God and the man who doubts it—both are deluded. They talk in their dreams.”[49] “Consciousness and life—both you may call God; but you are beyond both, beyond God, beyond being and not-being.”[50] “All is you and yours [the Self]. There is nobody else. This is a fact.”[51] “Whatever happens, happens to you, by you, through you; you are the creator, enjoyer and destroyer of all you perceive and you will not be afraid. Unafraid, you will not be unhappy, nor will you seek happiness.”[52] “The world you perceive is made of consciousness; what you call matter is consciousness Itself. You are the space (akash) in which it moves, the time in which it lasts, the love that gives it life.”[53] “What you see is nothing but your Self. Call it what you like, it does not change the fact. Through the film of destiny, your own light depicts pictures on the screen. You are the viewer, the light, the picture and the screen. Even the film of destiny (prarabdha) is self-selected and self-imposed. The spirit is a sport and enjoys to overcome obstacles.”[54] “You are afraid because you have assumed something as ‘I am’, which actually you are not. Suppose you find a diamond ring on the road and you pocket it. Since it is not yours, a fear overcomes you. When you put on an identity that is not yours, you are afraid. When you are the pure ‘I-am-ness’ only, there is no fear. [… Even] this ‘I am’ is not the truth. Whatever you are prior to the appearance of ‘I am’, that is your real nature.”[55] “As long as one is conscious, there will be pain and pleasure. You cannot fight pain and pleasure on the level of consciousness. To go beyond them, you must go beyond consciousness, which is possible only when you look at consciousness as something that happens to you, and not in you, as something external, alien, superimposed. Then, suddenly you are free of consciousness, really alone, with nothing to intrude. And that is your true state [state-less Reality].”[56]


2) Interpersonal relationships and love

Speaking from the paramarthika-satya or Absolute Truth-level, Maharaj instructs that, as Absolute Awareness, one is simply non-relational, alone (all-one), single, partless, complete, and whole. One is “non-personally” or “supra-personally” prior to the personal—i.e., inclusive of but transcending all persons; one is certainly not merely “impersonal” like, say, a cloud of hydrogen-helium gas, a rock on the ground, or a force in physics.

Too often the Reality of the Parabrahman is mistakenly described or translated as “impersonal,” which unfortunately, for certain troubled individuals, can lead to a descent into aloof apathy, depersonalization syndrome, or even the anti-social personality. It’s quite clear that Maharaj was not teaching this. One of his oft-used phrases was “clarity and charity” or “clarity and kindness.” Someone once asked: “Do you continue in awareness?” Maharaj: “The person, the ‘I am this body, this mind, this chain of memories, this bundle of desires and fears,’ disappears, but … [what] you may call identity, remains. It enables me to become a person when required. Love creates its own necessities, even of becoming a person.”[57] (Emphasis added.)

Quite in accord with this, on the conventional, pragmatic, relational level of instruction (the vyavaharika-satya), for the sake of the evanescent world of manifestation and dream-like sentient beings who are suffering the universal play of consciousness, Nisargadatta enthusiastically promotes a radical empathy, genuine love, and spirit of self-sacrificing generosity, charity and service on behalf of fellow beings within the dream. Why?

Once you can say with confidence born from direct experience: “I am the world, the world is myself,” you are free from desire and fear on one hand and become totally responsible for the world on the other. The senseless sorrow of mankind becomes your sole concern.… There is nothing wrong with suffering for the sins of others.… With the dissolution of the personal “I” personal suffering disappears. What remains is the great sadness of compassion, the horror of the unnecessary pain…. Compassionate awareness heals and redeems. There is nothing we can do, we can only let things happen according to their nature. [Q: Do you advocate complete passivity?] Clarity and charity is action. Love is not lazy and clarity directs. You need not worry about action, look after your mind and heart [and all action happens spontaneously, “like growing hair,” as Maharaj remarked on at least several occasions].[58]

These are no mere words: “For establishing and maintaining relationship affectionate awareness expressed in direct action is required. Not what you say, but what you do is that matters.”[59] (Emphasis added.)

Because this aspect of his teaching has generally been under-acknowledged in the commentary literature by Robert Powell, Ramesh Balsekar, et al., a good number of further quotes are adduced to underscore this is a crucial element in Maharaj’s spirituality and what he urged on listeners:

“Unless you know yourself well, how can you know another? And when you know yourself, you are the other.”[60] “He [the jñani] is alone, but he is all. He is the beingness of all beings. [Yet] not even that. No words apply. He is what he is, the ground from which all grows.”[61] “Don’t bottle up your love by limiting it to the body, keep it open. It will be then the love for all. When all the false self-identifications are thrown away, what remains is all-embracing love.”[62]

“Let go your attachment to the unreal and the real will swiftly and smoothly step into its own. Stop imagining yourself being or doing this or that and the realization that you are the source and heart of all will dawn upon you. With this will come great love which is not choice or predilection, nor attachment, but a power which makes all things love-worthy and lovable.”[63]

“Don’t pretend to be what you are not, don’t refuse to be what you are. Your love of others is the result of self-knowledge, not its cause. Without self-realization, no virtue is genuine. When you know beyond all doubting that the same life flows through all that is and you are that life, you will love all naturally and spontaneously. When you realize the depth and fullness of your love of yourself, you know that every living being and the entire universe are included in your affection. But when you look at anything as separate from you, you cannot love it for you are afraid of it. Alienation causes fear and fear deepens alienation. It is a vicious circle. Only self-realization can break it. Go for it resolutely.”[64] “You are love itself—when you are not afraid.”[65]

“Don’t try to love somebody, be love. [Emphasis added.] When you are love, that love will be useful [beneficial] to humanity. Just like water, if you are water, everything will grow…. Everything is your Self, there is no other. All this is the expression of your love.”[66] “To see myself in everybody, and everybody in myself, most certainly is love.”[67] “All the universe will be your concern; every living thing you will love and help most tenderly and wisely.”[68]

“In dream you love some and not others. On waking up you find you are love itself, embracing all. Personal love, however intense and genuine, invariably binds; love in freedom is love of all....When you are love itself, you are beyond time and numbers. In loving one you love all, in loving all, you love each. One and all are not exclusive.”[69] “Love is not selective, desire is selective. In love there are no strangers.”[70] “Love is boundless. What is limited to a few cannot be called love…. All is loved and lovable. Nothing is excluded. [Q: Not even the ugly and the criminal?] All is within my consciousness; all is my own. It is madness to split oneself through likes and dislikes. I am beyond both. I am not alienated. [Q: To be free from like and dislike is a state of indifference.] It may look and feel so in the beginning. Persevere in such indifference and it will blossom into an all-pervading and all-embracing love.”[71]

“True awareness (samvid) is a state of pure witnessing, without the least attempt to do anything about the event witnessed. Your thoughts and feelings, words and actions may also be a part of the event; you watch all unconcerned in the full light of clarity and understanding. You understand precisely what is going on, because it does not affect you. It may seem to be an attitude of cold aloofness, but it is not really so. Once you are in it, you will find that you love what you see, whatever may be its nature. This choiceless love is the touchstone of awareness. If it is not there, you are merely interested—for some personal [self-centered] reasons.”[72] (Emphasis added.) “Without love all is evil. Life itself without love is evil.”[73]

Someone asked: “In all the universe is there one single thing of value?” Maharaj: “Yes, the power of love.”[74]

“Live your life without hurting anybody. Harmlessness is a most powerful form of yoga and it will take you speedily to your goal. This is what I call nisarga yoga, the Natural yoga. It is the art of living in peace and harmony, in friendliness and love. The fruit of it is happiness uncaused and endless.”[75]

These statements from Sri Nisargadatta (and many similar ones that could be adduced) reveal his consummate balance as a sagely teacher of fully liberating wisdom and freely laboring love. He paradoxically but most usefully emphasizes both transcendence and immanence, an utterly detached Realization of the Single Reality, and spontaneous, flowing engagement in/as the play of multiple relationships. Maharaj’s view feels far more mature and complete compared to the views of certain “nondual” teachers of our era and previous eras who dogmatically insist on “mere transcendence” and make a veritable fundamentalist religion out of a narrow, imbalanced, impersonal interpretation of advaita spirituality.

Maharaj was pointing back to realization of our original Supra-personal Identity, which transcends yet includes and cherishes all persons. Whereas, unfortunately, too many proponents of a stunted version of “nonduality” are leading listeners into a dead-end trap of depersonalization.


3) Emotions

Maharaj did not have much to say about emotions per se, in terms of how they function, their psychodynamic roots, etc. Nor, unlike certain spiritual teachers, did he get heavy about how “toxic” are anger, fear, shame, jealousy, envy or lust for spiritual aspirants. Nor, unlike Primal Scream therapists and Rajneesh/Osho (who urged several daily heavily-cathartic “meditations”), did Maharaj encourage acting out emotions in any kind of “ventilating” fashion. He simply encouraged listeners to study emotions for the sake of recognizing them and disidentifying from them as their “owner” or “target.”

Maharaj knew that our Reality is quiescent Absolute Awareness, which, within the dynamic play of the worlds, radiates as love, bliss, benevolence, cheerfulness and energetic action. He felicitously once remarked: “Love is will—the will to share your happiness with all. Being happy, making happy, this is the rhythm of love.”[76] This loving happiness is spontaneous, gentle “nondual effusion,” not to be forced or fabricated. Moreover, this real happiness (sukham) or bliss (ananda) is ego-free, fathomless/boundless, and Absolutely our very Identity, not a relative state, possession or activity for a “me” (“my happiness”). “The happiness of being absolutely free is beyond description.”[77]

Specifically about emotions, for the sake of clients and therapists, we hear Maharaj repeatedly teaching that, like all phenomena, emotions are impermanent, insubstantial, dream-like phenomena, no matter how intensely experienced. Where are your emotional states from last weekend or ten years ago or lifetimes ago? They arise and pass within the play of universal consciousness like weather systems forming, transforming and dissolving in a vast open Sky. His recommended “method” here, as might be predicted, was to sensitively feel, watch and witness emotional states in a detached way, with a certain “affectionate amusement,” as he sometimes said, for, after all, here is the awesome (awful?) poignancy of Universal consciousness masquerading as little “me,” Siva disguised as jiva (the Absolute as a human) and feeling enmeshed in the rounds and insults of samsara, the collective dream of rebirth-cycles.

Eventually, in the naturally healing light of Awareness within the play of universal consciousness, any unwholesome, persistent emotional complexes afflicting the person would be softened and eventually dissolved, leaving no residues, as each unconditioned moment is entirely new and fresh. Unwholesome emotions would thereafter see little if any recurrence, except as “non-binding” momentary human expressions suitable or predictable given the particular situation. I say “non-binding” in that they do not serve as “binding samskaras/vasanas” fueling a limited sense of “me and mine” and the consequent samsaric rounds of rebirth.

It may be interjected that though Maharaj fairly often denied samsara as having any ultimate reality on the Absolute truth-level, being only like a dream. Nevertheless, speaking on the conventional, pragmatic level, he plainly acknowledges on numerous occasions that samsara and the law of karma are experientially real for the personal consciousness. We should not confuse levels here.

“If you investigate this aspect of spirituality [the ultimate unreality or illusoriness of death], then there is no question of birth and death. But if you don’t investigate this particular aspect, you remain involved in the cycle of birth and death.”[78] “You can quit this cycle of travail when you understand that you are not that….”[79] “Karma, or destiny, is an expression of a beneficial law: the universal trend towards balance, harmony and unity. At every moment, whatever happens now, is for the best. It may appear painful and ugly, a suffering bitter and meaningless, yet considering the past and the future it is for the best, as the only way out of a disastrous situation.”[80]

People might feel that they are forever doomed to be enmeshed in their “emotional issues,” bound to the cycle of samsara, but Maharaj often promised that anyone sincere and earnest about realizing their Source Nature will awaken because this ever-free, always peaceful and blissful Nature is our Real Identity, right Now. “All will realize this Knowledge, but presently you are caught up with this intimacy with the body.”[81] It may seem to take time to realize this liberating Self-Knowledge, but “time is nothing in our timeless, eternal Nature,” as I once heard him say.

“The deepening and broadening of self-awareness is the royal way. Call it mindfulness, or witnessing, or just attention—it is for all. None is unripe for it and none can fail.”[82] “There can be no defeat in [Nisarga / Natural] Yoga. This battle is always won, for it is a battle between the true and the false. The false has no chance. … There is no question of failure, neither in the short run nor in the long. It is like travelling a long and arduous road in an unknown country. Of all the innumerable steps there is only the last which brings you to your destination. Yet you will not consider all previous steps as failures. Each brought you nearer to your goal, even when you had to turn back to by-pass an obstacle. In reality each step brings you to your goal, because to be always on the move, learning, discovering, unfolding, is your eternal destiny.”[83]


4) Motivation

Maharaj sharply remarked on numerous occasions that narrow identification with the body makes one quite selfish in one’s motivations and expressions. But he was no mere “scold,” instead always coming back to a basic optimism that each and every being would one way or another outgrow this selfishness and become more expanded and finally become quite universal in one’s sense of identity and motivation. This is so because our real nature as far as the “I Am” goes is this One, Single Consciousness, the same Consciousness in and underlying every being, from the highest personifications of Deity to heaven dwellers and other subtle plane beings down to humans, mammals, worms, bugs, and even within all inanimate objects.

Maharaj declared that “to grow is in the nature of consciousness,” and stated that the usual person “will progress from motive to motive and will chase Gurus for the fulfillment of his desires. When by the laws of his being he finds the way of return (nivritti) he abandons all motives, for his interest in the world is over. He wants nothing—neither from others nor from himself. He dies to all, and becomes the All. To want nothing and do nothing—that is true creation! To watch the universe emerging and subsiding in one’s heart is a wonder.”[84]

Herein lies real Freedom from all selfish motive and a mature, benevolent spirit of caring for each and every being, who is actually the One Consciousness. “Freedom to do what one likes is really bondage, while being free to do what one must, what is right [for the welfare of all], is real freedom.”[85] “Circumstances and conditions rule the ignorant. The knower of reality is not compelled. The only law he obeys is that of love.”[86]

On wholesome and unwholesome motivation, Maharaj gave one of his typically pithy, insightful remarks, allowing for different levels of operation: “Relatively, what causes suffering is wrong; what alleviates it is right. Absolutely, what brings you back to reality is right, and what dims reality is wrong.”[87] And: “Discard every self-seeking motive as soon as it is seen and you need not search for truth; truth will find you.”[88]


5) Addictions

Experientially, most addictions operate as chronic, futile attempts to “fill a void” (“myself”) with “something.” That is, to feel or sense that one is in relationship with some “other than myself” entity or substance or activity that triggers a physiological cascade of “feel good” neurotransmitters and a concomitant psychological sense of temporary fullness or completeness or at least relief from the urge, drive or compulsion.

The felt-sense of shame over any addictive behavior can be lightened by hearing Maharaj basically teaching that, short of full stabilization in our Supra-personal Reality as Open Awareness, we are all “addicts” trying to reify or solidify a sense of myself in relation to some aspect of the other, not just through drink, drugs, food, sex or the adrenaline rush (via gambling, sports-addiction, chronic thrill-seeking)—the usual designated addictions—but also addictions to interpersonal relationships, multimedia entertainment, intellectual stimulation, high-flown “metaphysical formulations” and, most insidious of all, says Maharaj, addiction to seeking “spiritual experiences”—visions, trances, rushes of energy, etc. In fact, he many times cautioned that most so-called adepts, yogis, siddhas, alleged avatars, and even jñanis have settled for merely an identification with or “addiction” to the universal consciousness or “I Am,” still involved with manifestation or “beingness” (the saguna Brahman) and they have not utterly surrendered or merged back into their “prior to consciousness” Absolute Nature (the Parabrahman that is intrinsically nirguna and incidentally saguna).

More to the point here for therapists and clients on the topic of addiction, Maharaj over and over expressly invites us to let go our addiction to being something or clinging to something and thereby recede back into our essential no-thingness. Wonder of wonders, we find that we are the Source of each and every “thing”—the Reality beyond and within everything. So, says, Maharaj, “have faith in” and “trust” the emptiness or openness of our Reality, such emptiness actually being quite full, such openness being quite solid (seamless, partless, homogenous, unshakeable) as Awareness-Aliveness. He often used these words “full” and “solid” to describe his own state or the state of anyone living in/as Reality.

The word “solid” seems especially unsettling for many Buddhists addicted to “Emptiness” language, but consider this statement from Maharaj: “The average man is […] conscious of his sensations, feelings and thoughts. Even these, once detachment sets in, move away from the centre of consciousness and happen spontaneously and effortlessly. [Q: What then is in the centre of consciousness?] M: That which cannot be given name and form, for it is without quality and beyond consciousness [as Absolute Awareness]. You may say it is a point in consciousness, which is beyond consciousness. Like a hole in the paper is both in the paper and yet not of paper, so is the supreme state in the very centre of consciousness, and yet beyond consciousness. It is as if an opening in the mind through which the mind is flooded with light. The opening is not even the light. It is just an opening. [Q: An opening is just void, absence.] M: Quite so. From the mind’s point of view, it is but an opening for the [clear] light of Awareness to enter the mental space. By itself the light can only be compared to a solid, dense, rocklike, homogeneous and changeless mass of pure Awareness, free from the mental patterns of name and shape.”[89] (Emphasis added)

Obviously, most addictions are part of old patterns, even very ancient patterns, in the psyche, which is heavily conditioned by ancient primate psychobiology on the earthly level (and who knows what origins in the subtle realms eons ago). The fact that one is blissfully free from the insidious pull of addictions in deep, dreamless sleep is a big clue that the addicted bodymind is not our essential nature. This can be the basis for a real trust or faith and finally an unshakeable conviction (a favorite word for Maharaj) that our intrinsic Awareness-Reality is free and clear of any compulsions. More and more “receding back” or releasing moment by moment by moment into this “Open No-thing/Everything” of True Identity allows for authentic liberation from all that could apparently “bind.” In truth, one is always this unbound Freedom. Awareness has never really been caught or addicted to anything.

Maharaj invites: find out how this supernal Freedom is no mere concept, but your real Nature right now. It will radically change the nature of how desire works.

“Increase and widen your desires till nothing but reality can fulfill them. It is not desire that is wrong, but its narrowness and smallness. Desire is devotion. By all means be devoted to the real, the infinite, the eternal heart of being. Transform desire into love. [… ] By all means love yourself—wisely. What is wrong is to love yourself stupidly, so as to make yourself suffer. Love yourself wisely. Both indulgence and austerity have the same purpose in view—to make you happy. Indulgence is the stupid way, austerity is the wise way. […] To eschew the unnecessary is austerity. Not to anticipate pleasure or pain is austerity…. Desire by itself is not wrong. It is life itself, the urge to grow in knowledge and experience. […] To imagine that some little thing—food, sex, power, fame—will make you happy is to deceive yourself. Only something as vast and deep as your real self can make you truly and lastingly happy. [Q: …How should desire be managed?] M: Live your life intelligently, with the interests of your deepest self always in mind. After all, what do you really want? Not perfection; you are already perfect. What you seek is to express in action what you are. For this you have a body and a mind. Take them in hand and make them serve you.”[90]


6) Work and service and the all-accomplishing vital Power or life Force

Many gurus in modern-era India from the late 1800s onward, likely influenced by Protestant Christianity’s “work ethic,” and sincerely endeavoring for the upliftment of a society exploited for nearly a millennium by Muslim, Mughal, and then British regimes via oppressive taxes (resulting in widespread poverty over India through a massive transfer of wealth from multitudes of laborers to the elite)—such teachers rather often have touted “work as worship” and promoted various forms of seva, service. In corrupt circles, the so-called “seva” is simply free labor for the particular guru or spiritual organization, with little or no service being rendered to larger society.

Maharaj had heard the Bhagavad Gita in youth and later studied it and other sacred texts in his period of intense sadhana (disciplined practice). He certainly knew Lord Krsna’s teachings on seva, nishkama karma (desireless action), and abandoning all sense of “doer-ship” while spontaneously engaged in the unfolding of svadharma, one’s destined duty and work within the life-dream. With this foundation, naturally Nisargadatta eschewed any spiritual instruction that would create or inflate a sense of “doership” around the themes of work or service. And so he doesn’t trot out the usual pious slogans on these topics. “It is amazing, almost silly, that anyone could think that he or she is acting,”[91] says Maharaj, when it is God as the Life Force or Great Power that animates everyone and does everything.

Maurice Frydman, translator of I Am That and not just a sagely mystic but also a lifelong courageous social justice activist and humanitarian, was one of many listeners to challenge Maharaj on the possibility that such a view might lead to apathy or indifference. But, says Maharaj, this is not indifference… it is detachment.”[92] Maharaj always made it clear that outgrowing selfishness and becoming one with God, the universal Consciousness and Vital Power, was the greatest if subtlest way to render help to those in need because one consciously opens up to being the Self of all these apparently separate selves. “Their pain is my pain,” as Maharaj would say. Recall his line about being aware of suffering, “much more [aware] than you are.” And hear this: “The thought of a jñani pervades humanity and works ceaselessly for good. Being anonymous, coming from within, it is the more powerful and compelling. That is how the world improves—the inner aiding and blessing the outer. When a jñani dies, he is no more, in the same sense in which a river is no more when it merges in the sea; the name, the shape, are no more, but the water remains and becomes one with the ocean. When a jñani joins the universal mind, all his goodness and wisdom become the heritage of humanity and uplift every human being.”[93]

For anyone horrified by the unspeakably intense woes of sentient beings subjected to terrible injustices or misfortunes, Maharaj was touched by their sincerity but if anyone sounded or looked bent on helping or saving the world, Maharaj issued some “tough love” replies to such persons: “What business have you with saving the world, when all the world needs is to be saved from you?”[94]

Notwithstanding such contrarian remarks, on other occasions he condoned altruism: “By all means help the world. You will not help much, but the effort will make you grow. There is nothing wrong in trying to help the world…. When the time comes for the world to be [significantly] helped, some people are given the will, the wisdom and the power to cause great changes.”[95]

And we note in passing Maharaj’s prescription for a healthy social order: “Only a selfless society based on sharing can be stable and happy. This is the only practical solution.”[96]

Further along this line, it is hugely significant that the Maharaj on numerous occasions suggested that the acme of spiritual life while associated with the earthly role was not some glamorous status as a celebrated renunciate guru or esteemed speaker on the “consciousness lecture-circuit,” or even some quietist state of nirvikalpa samadhi featuring inner/outer motionlessness or some apathetic sense of “nothing matters” and indifference to society. Maharaj would clarify his way as utterly beyond worry and obsession, but again, this is no “indifference.” He clarifies that, as long as a physical body remains, the acme of spirituality is a simple, humble life of tirelessly sharing one’s talents and gifts and serving family and society, “doing what one must,” without any sense of “doer-ship.” In such passages, Maharaj appears a champion of the dignity of honest labor and straightforward work for the common welfare.

“With this understanding [of Reality], carry out your worldly life, family life, with full zeal.”[97] “By all means perform your family activities, comply with worldly and social responsibilities with full zest and enthusiasm….”[98] “Carry out your duties. Look upon all as your Self…. Care for others as much as you care for yourself. Behave as if they were all yours [precious and dear]…. Take care that you do not hurt anyone else.”[99] “Attend to your duties. Action, in which you are not emotionally involved and which is beneficial and does not cause suffering will not bind you. You may be engaged in several directions and work with enormous zest, yet remain inwardly free and quiet, with a mirror-like mind, which reflects all, without being affected. [Q: Is such a state realizable?] M: I would not talk about it, if it were not. Why should I engage in fancies? [Q: Everybody quotes scriptures.] M: Those who know only scriptures know nothing. To know is to be. I know what I am talking about; it is not from reading, or hearsay.”[100]

We do well to segue from the present topic into a remarkable set of teachings from Maharaj about the Vital Power or Life Force, and realize that his occasional brief remarks about working and serving on behalf of family and society point to a profound realization of that formless, bodiless, colorless, shapeless Prana-Sakti animating Energy that allows us to lift a hand, blink an eye or recognize a thought. This Power is an awesome dynamism included within the stillness or restfulness of the Self: “There is rest as a state of mind (chidaram) and there is rest as a state of being (Atmaram). The former comes and goes, while the true rest is the very heart of action.”[101]

As mentioned near the outset, this subject of the Vital Power is one topic generally neglected in the commentary literature on Maharaj’s teachings, which almost exclusively privileges his instruction to “meditate on the ‘I Am’ or consciousness or beingness.” If one knows what to look for, however, one actually finds many references by Maharaj to his “meditation on the vital power” interspersed throughout I Am That and later compilations of talks. It is especially in dialogues from July 7-15, 1980, as transcribed in the volume The Ultimate Medicine, where, in conversation with Dr. Peter Madill and others, Maharaj greatly emphasized this inscrutable yet intuitively obvious “Power” which empowers all activity. Below are presented some limited excerpts from Maharaj’s teachings on the subject. An overarching point to be made here for the sake of therapists and clients is that, a dawning recognition of this Vital Power or Force will render even the most “mundane” or “banal” chores and tasks within family or society instantly transform into gloriously sacred, miraculous functioning, suffused with a mind-boggling sense of wonder that any movement or activities are happening at all.

Our modern societies frequently subject their members to mass media which relentlessly glamorize the material wealth, luxurious leisure activities and “superstar” celebrity jobs and status of the relatively few privileged elites in the field of entertainment, sports, high finance, politics, etc. Consequently, many persons come to therapy with a basic sense of unfulfillment, unworthiness or even a thinly veiled sense of defeat (“I feel like such a loser”) because they feel “stuck” in jobs or household chores deemed “drudgery” and lives deemed “unexciting, boring.”

So, as suggested a moment ago, if Maharaj’s teaching on the beautifully mysterious and efficacious Vital Power or Life Force is even partially realized, a rich sense of wonder and “attitude of gratitude” nondually arises over the miracle of “extraordinarily ordinary functioning” just moving across a room, filing papers, taking out trash/recycling, talking on the phone, eating, etc. A real sense of “work as worship” does ensue—a spontaneous, nondual worship of and devotion to this all-accomplishing, formless, shapeless Divine Power right HERE, right NOW.

“For now I will be talking about that power which looks like an individual but because of whose presence the whole world is carrying on its business…. I am talking about this power which is in the body, but which is the root of the existence and maintenance of the entire universe. What there is in my body, is in everyone else’s body also. But everyone else is concerned more about this ‘corpse’ that he is living with rather than that which lies within that corpse.”[102] “I am referring to the vital force, Prana. Make friends with the Prana and the Prana will help you to know God. The mind is only a witness: your real friend is the Prana, because it does everything. Waking, sleeping, digesting food, all these activities are done by the vital force. Atman is only a witness; so give importance to this vital force and worship it, and you will be able to know God. In order to do any meditation, you should make friendship with the vital force [which allows any meditation at all to happen]; it is readily available without any effort. Because of the Prana, there is mind. And because of the mind, there are the [scriptures]…. That is why I give full homage to the vital force. Without it, what would be your value? Your body would collapse…. You can know about God and world only when the vital force is there. Who knows the greatness of this Prana? That itself is God, Pranesvar [Lord of Prana].”[103] “For all the species, including human beings, this vital force itself is godly. And this vital force also contains that Isvara or consciousness principle. Now you should find out: How are you going to focus your attention [intuitively, subjectively] on that vital breath and meditate on the Self? That is for you to discover.”[104] “Do understand that this life force is God, and God is the life force, and be one with it…. This life force is the acting principle; and that which gives sentience to the person is the consciousness.”[105] “‘I am’ is Great God, the Isvara principle. And that Prana, vital force, is Great Power or Great Energy, the kinetic principle without which there cannot be consciousness.”[106] “The life force and the consciousness are not really two; as a concept they are treated as such, but they are really one.”[107] “Consciousness and life force are two components, inextricably woven together, of one principle. But consciousness is only the witnessing principle or the static aspect, the dynamic aspect or the working principle is the life force.”[108] “Who is this God who is your companion every moment of your existence? What can it be other than this life force and the consciousness?”[109] “For one who has identified himself not with the body, but with this life force, can there be the need for anything else from any source?”[110]

“Life force, love and consciousness are all one in essence. By all means use your body to work in the world but understand what it is. The body is only an instrument to be used; you are not the body. You are the everlasting, timeless, spaceless [life force] principle which gives sentience to this body. This is the most secret but simplest principle as far as spiritual knowledge is concerned.”[111] “It is this life force’s conscious presence, without any form, which has been called God in various names…. Repeat the fact to ourselves that I am not the body but the life force or consciousness; that is my nature.”[112] “If you do not consider yourself as anything else, then at least consider yourself as the vital force. Identify yourself as the vital force and be like that [universal, formless, shapeless, timeless aliveness].”[113] “It seems you never feel happy unless you get identified with the body. Get instead identified with the vital force…. What is the vital, primary capital available to you now? It is the vital force only, and with that you perceive through the senses [and can think, act]…. You are the vital force. And the vital force is universal.”[114] “The sum and substance of my teaching is this: Don’t be dishonest to your vital breath, worship that only, accept it as yourself. And when you worship in this manner, it can lead you anywhere, to any heights…. Then you will realize… that this touch of ‘I-am-ness,’ which is dwelling in the vital breath, will open up [to the Absolute Reality].”[115] “Knowledge about the vital force is not generally available; it has not been recorded anywhere. So this information might be new to you.”[116]


7) Transcending dreams, visions and paranormal occurrences

Maharaj was remarkably free of any “esotericism” or “occultism” and he was usually quick to eradicate in his listeners any hankering after the paranormal. He occasionally replied to experiencers that their visions of Deity-aspects or vivid dreams of himself, of Siddharameshvar, Ramana Maharshi, or other “outer gurus” could be considered auspicious “initiations” from the Inner Guru and/or signs of purification of the personal consciousness, a growing preponderance in the consciousness of sattoguna (the quality of sattva, purity, harmony, refinement) over rajas (agitation, passion) and tamas (inertia, stagnancy).

But Maharaj did not indulge anyone’s fascination with such transient phenomena or the benign play of sattoguna. “The Yogi comes to know many wonders, but of the self he remains ignorant. The jñani may look and feel quite ordinary, but the self he knows well…. In the light of consciousness all sorts of things happen and one need not give special importance to any. The sight of a flower is as marvelous as the vision of God. Let them be.… Go beyond, go back to the source, go to the self that is the same whatever happens.”[117]

As with Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta clearly taught that what can come and go is not Our Unborn, Timeless Nature. Hence Maharaj did not work with dream-interpretation, visualization via the creative imagination, or other special activities or states of the mind. To reiterate his ongoing prime challenge and invitation: What are YOU as the Source of the mind, the Substance, Vital Power, Witness and Transcending Reality underlying whatever happens in the realm of mind-body experiencing, the worlds of form? The relative play of phenomena is Your Dream Play in/as the field of universal Consciousness, but You are always prior to all that as Absolute Awareness.

I would underscore that Maharaj, like most of the nondual sages of Vedanta and Buddhism, and of other lands and religions as well, regards all of manifest life as a Dream, evanescent and transitory therefore insubstantial and not solid or reliable. Here’s a relevant passage, among many that could be quoted:

In the waking state the world emerges due to ignorance and takes one into a waking-dream state. Both sleep and waking are misnomers. We are only dreaming. True waking and true sleeping only the jñani [sage] knows. We dream that we are awake, we dream that we are asleep. The three states are only varieties of the dream state. Treating everything as a dream liberates. As long as you give reality to dreams, you are their slave. By imagining that you are born as so-and-so, you become a slave to the so-and-so. The essence of slavery is to imagine yourself to be a process, to have past and future, to have history. In fact, we have no history, we are not a process, we do not develop, nor decay. So see all as a dream and stay out of it.[118]

Someone asked Maharaj: “So, the universe is of no value?” He replied:

It is of tremendous value. By going beyond it you realize yourself. [Q: But why did it come into being in the first instance?] M: You will know it when it ends. [Q: Will it ever end?] M: Yes, for you. [Q: When did it begin?] M: Now. [Q: When will it end?] M: Now. Q: [It does not end now?] M: You don’t let it. [Q: I want to let it.] M: You don’t. All your life is connected with it. Your past and future, your desires and fears, all have their roots in the world. Without the world where are you, who are you? [Q: But that is exactly what I came to find out.] M: And I am telling you exactly this: find a foothold beyond and all will be clear and easy.[119]


8) End-of-life issues (death/dying/immortality)

Maharaj left us with a legacy of some very stark and also very witty sayings about death—death of the body and death of the narrow self-sense. A good number of these statements occurred during his last earthly years after the diagnosis of terminal throat cancer. He always regarded physical death as utterly natural, like dropping a set of clothes in the evening before sleep. At times he spoke quite ecstatically about imminent physical death: “Giving up the body is a great festival for me.”[120] “For me the moment of death will be a moment of jubilation, not of fear. I cried when I was born and I shall die laughing.”[121] “How would a jñani feel when he gives up his body?... Imagine a newlywed couple: the pleasure which they derive from their wedding night is as nothing compared to the highest bliss a jñani gets when he quits his body or his [individual] life force. I call it the highest bliss in the best festival…. Compared with the love play of the wedding night, whatever pleasure the couple realize in coming together, the happiness a jñani derives in getting separated from the vital breath and the knowingness [the consciousness or “I Am”] is thousands of times superior. They [the couple] are coming together, he is coming apart!”[122]

At least from the printed record, in his teacher mode Nisargadatta did not indulge anyone’s usual sense of sympathy around death, instead pointing his listeners to our Invincible Identity, our unassailable Reality. Maharaj thus—in both word and example—invites anyone to fearlessly regard death as the benign challenge to authentically live WHO/WHAT one really is: unborn, undying, infinite Awareness.

“To be a living being is not the ultimate state; there is something beyond, much more wonderful, which is neither being nor non-being, neither living nor not-living. It is […] pure Awareness, beyond the limitations of space and time. Once the illusion that the body-mind is oneself is abandoned, death loses its terror, it becomes a part of living.”[123] “[Q: “One must survive.”] “You can’t help surviving! The real you is timeless and beyond birth and death. And the body will survive as long as it is needed. It is not important that it should live long. A full life is better than a long life.”[124]

“Why do you fret at one man dying and care little for the millions dying every day? Entire universes are imploding and exploding every moment—am I to cry over them? One thing is quite clear to me: all that is, lives and moves and has its being in consciousness and I am in and beyond that consciousness. I am in it as the witness. I am beyond it as [Absolute] Being. […] Bodies are born and bodies die, but what is it to me? Bodies come and go in consciousness, and consciousness itself has its roots in me [the Absolute]. I am life, and mine are mind and body.”[125] “People are afraid to die, because they do not know what is death. The jñani has died before his death, he saw that there was nothing to be afraid of. The moment you know your real being, you are afraid of nothing. Death gives freedom and power. To be free in the world, you must die to the world.”[126] “One who believes himself as having been born is very much afraid of death. On the other hand, to him who knows himself truly, death is a happy event.”[127]

Many other quotes from the Maharaj could be adduced on this topic….


9) Dependency issues

Though I have quoted Maharaj as saying, “Love creates its own necessities, even of becoming a person,” in strong contrast to any insecure psychotherapists and so-called “spiritual teachers” hungry for clients or disciples, in no way did the Maharaj want listeners dependent on himself. In most cases Maharaj asked people to stay for not more than several days and then move on. They were to utterly rely upon the Inner Self and simply BE their own Divine Nature—the Reality entirely whole and complete. At the level of personal consciousness, they were to directly, on their own, engage that ancient triple method of hearing, pondering and meditating on/as the supreme Truth of Awareness Alone. Numerous quotes could be adduced on this topic, here are just a few:

“Meet your own Self. Be with your own Self, listen to it, obey it, cherish it, keep it in mind ceaselessly. You need no other guide.”[128] “The greatest guru is your inner Self. Truly, He is the supreme teacher. He alone can take you to your goal and He alone meets you at the end of the road. Confide in Him and you need no outer guru.”[129] “Your own Self is your ultimate teacher (sadguru). The outer teacher (guru) is merely a milestone. It is only your inner teacher that will walk with you to the goal, for it is the goal.”[130]

Ah, but many people consider themselves “hopeless cases,” as for instance the following person confessed, which elicited a deeply poignant, encouraging declaration from Maharaj:

Q: My mind is weak and vacillating. I have neither the strength nor the tenacity for sadhana (spiritual practice). My case is hopeless.

M: In a way yours is a most hopeful case. There is an alternative to sadhana, which is trust. If you cannot have the conviction born from fruitful search, then take advantage of my discovery, which I am so eager to share with you. I can see with the utmost clarity that you have never been, nor are, nor will be estranged from reality, that you are the fullness of perfection here and now and that nothing can deprive you of your heritage, of what you are. You are in no way different from me, only you do not know it. You do not know what you are and therefore you imagine yourself to be what you are not. Hence desires and fear and overwhelming despair. And meaningless activity in order to escape. […] I shall not mislead you. You are the Supreme Reality beyond the world and its creator, beyond consciousness and its witness, beyond all assertions and denials. Remember it, think of it, act on it. Abandon all sense of separation, see yourself in all and act accordingly. With [such loving, unselfish] action bliss will come and, with bliss, conviction. […] Once you begin to experience the peace, love and happiness which need no outer causes, all your doubts will dissolve. Just catch hold of what I told you and live by it. […] I do not ask you to trust me. Trust my words and remember them, I want your happiness, not mine. Distrust those who put a distance between you and your true being and offer themselves as a go-between. I do nothing of the kind. I do not even make any promises. I merely say: if you trust my words and put them to test, you will for yourself discover how absolutely true they are. If you ask for a proof before you venture, I can only say: I am the proof. I did trust my teacher’s words and kept them in my mind and I did find that he was right, that I was, am and shall be the Infinite Reality, embracing all; transcending all.[131]

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was a living testament to the capacity for anyone of any station to contemplate or simply surrender to and thereby realize in full conviction their ever-free, ever-pure, ever-awake, ever-blissful nature as Absolute Reality, beyond all beings as their Unmanifest Source, within each and every being as their Heart-Self.

Now, we remember his lovely saying, “true words always come true”… and, perfectly at peace, we know that Maharaj’s “true words” are coming true, gloriously true, for You.



[1] See John Prendergast et al., Eds. (2003), The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom & Psychotherapy, Vol. 1, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House; and Prendergast, et al., Eds. (2007), Listening from the Heart of Silence: Nondual Wisdom & Psychotherapy, Vol. 2., Paragon.

[2] I do not use this metaphor lightly. Scientists now know that the subsonic (to human hearing) portion of a tiger’s roar can instantly disorient, rattle, and paralyze other mammals in the vicinity. (E.g., “Secrets of a Tiger’s Roar,” Science Daily, Dec. 1, 2000.) Nisargadatta’s roaring words of wisdom—deconstructing the self and affirming the Absolute Self—had a similar effect on many listeners’ ego-sense.

[3] Other notable advaita sages have arisen in modern-era India, including the two especially beloved Sankaracaryas in the line of Adi Sankara (fl. 650-700)—Swami Candrasekhara Bharati (1892-1954) of Srngeri and Swami Candrasekhara Sarasvati (1894-1994) of Kancipuram; as well as independent sages like Swami Ram Tirtha (1873-1906), Swami Narayana Guru of Kerala (1855-1928), Atmananda of Trivandrum (Krishna Menon, 1883-1959), Siddharamesvar Maharaj of Maharasthra (1888-1936, Nisargadatta’s guru), Ranjit Maharaj (1913-2000, Nisargadatta’s younger guru-bhai or brother disciple of Siddharamesvar), Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982) of North India, Anasuya Devi (1923-1985) of Andhra Pradesh, Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) of Rishikesh and his successors (Sw. Krishnananda, 1922-2001, Sw. Chidananda, 1916-2008), Swami Chinmayananda (1916-93) and disciple Swami Dayananda (1930- ), Papaji of Lucknow (1910-97), and several other figures including the widely traveling “anti-gurus” J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986) and U.G. Krishnamurti (1918-2007), whose views can be more-or-less categorized as “advaita.” But it would seem that Nisargadatta—judging from word-of-mouth acclaim in India from the early 1970s onward (after the first major compilation of dialogues, the 2-volume book I Am That, first emerged in 1973), the number of well-selling books of teachings (at least eight wisdom-compilations since I Am That), appreciative websites and, more recently, the “quotability” factor on the leading social network, Facebook—Nisargadatta is to be reckoned, after Ramana Maharshi, the most renown advaita sage of our era, especially of what might be termed Advaita Vedanta’s “sudden awakening, gradual cultivation” school, as similarly found in Chan/Zen/Son Buddhism.


[5] Robert Powell, Ed. (1994). The Ultimate Medicine: As Prescribed by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. San Diego, CA: Blue Dove, 1994, p. 200.

[6] Jean Dunn, Ed. (1982). Seeds of Consciousness: The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. NY: Grove Press, p. 193.

[7] Nisargadatta Maharaj. (1988). I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Maurice Frydman, Ed. & Transl. Durham, NC: Acorn Press, 1st paperback ed. (originally published by Chetana, Bombay, 1973, in 2 vols.), p. 222, dialogue 48. (For the sake of those using older 2-volume editions, I cite dialogue/chapter numbers.)

[8] I Am That, pp. 320-1, dialogue 67.

[9] Robert Powell, Ed. (1996). The Experience of Nothingness: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Talks on Realizing the Infinite. San Diego, CA: Blue Dove Press, p. 45.

[10] I Am That, p. 24, dialogue 9.

[11] I Am That, pp. 87-8, dialogue 24.

[12] I Am That, pp. 268-9, dialogue 57.

[13] The Ultimate Medicine, op. cit., p. 183.

[14] I Am That, p. 491, dialogue 95.

[15] The first three quotes are from The Experience of Nothingness, pp. 35, 113, 68 (see also pp. 56, 74). A few of the other questions I adduce here are from The Ultimate Medicine, pp. 168, 86 (see also pp. 68, 74-7, 83-4, 103, 169), Robert Powell, Ed. (1996), The Nectar of Immortality: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Discourses on the Eternal, San Diego, CA: Blue Dove Press, pp. 2, 46, 147, 166 (see also 12, 48, 72-3, 106, 123), and from Jean Dunn, Ed. (1994), Consciousness and the Absolute: The Final Talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Durham, NC: Acorn Press, pp. 5, 8, 39, 77 (see also pp. 53-4, 57, 61, 74, 91, 99, 110). Other questions quoted here come from various other printed sources and from what I heard while seated at his talks.

[16] I Am That, op. cit., p. 137 dialogue 33.

[17] Consciousness and the Absolute, p. 40.

[18] Seeds of Consciousness, p. 45.

[19] I Am That, p. 168, dialogue 38.

[20] I Am That, p. 462, dialogue 89.

[21] I Am That, p. 65, dialogue 20.

[22] Consciousness and the Absolute, p. 30.

[23] I Am That, p. 193, dialogue 43.

[24] I Am That, p. 37, dialogue 13.

[25] I Am That, pp. 205, dialogue 45.

[26] I Am That, p. 88, dialogue 24.

[27] I Am That, p. 310, dialogue 65.

[28] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 120.

[29] In the Upanishads, this Universal Consciousness which emanates the worlds is none other than the Pranava or “ancient vibration” seed-syllable AUM. In the later Hindu Tantras, including, for instance, the Kashmir Saiva lineages, this root-manifesting Principle is often known as the Sakti creatrix or playful Divine Power.

[30] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 104.

[31] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 81.

[32] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 123.

[33] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 154.

[34] The Ultimate Medicine, pp. 106-7.

[35] E.g., see The Experience of Nothingness, p. 68.

[36] I Am That, pp. 308-311, dialogue 65.

[37] I Am That, p. 203, dialogue 45.

[38] The Experience of Nothingness, pp. 111-112.

[39] I Am That, p. 239, dialogue 51.

[40] I Am That, pp. 391-2, dialogue 78.

[41] I Am That, p. 269, dialogue 57.

[42] As elucidated in the first part of my essay “Nondual Awakening: Its Source and Applications,” in J. Prendergast et al., Eds., 2007, op. cit. (see pp. 231-240), by far the oldest wisdom tradition disclosing our Absolute Divine Nature is the Vedanta revelation in the form of five pre-Buddhist Upanishads, starting with the Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya. This subsequently saw expression in a dozen more “major” and one hundred “minor” Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma-sutra (or Vedanta-sutra), and many later nondual works of India, including nondual Mahayana Buddhist sutras, and texts of the Sankara’s formal Advaita Vedanta lineages, as well as Tantra (Hindu and Buddhist Tantra), Sant and Sikh traditions of India. Not to mention nondual traditions arising in China (the contemplative Taoists from Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu onward, and the Chan Buddhists) and further to the East (chiefly Zen, Son, Thien Buddhism), as well as nondual traditions arising in the Middle East (e.g., the “Thomasine” Christians with their Gospel of Thomas sayings attributed to Jesus/Yeshua of Nazareth, many of which are strongly nondual in revealing our true identity in/as the Divine, as well as the Neo-Platonic mystics Plotinus, et al. and Christian Neo-Platonists like the second Dionysius (c.500 CE); and in Europe (from the pre-Socratic figures Parmenides in southern Italy to Irishman John Scottus Eriugena of the 9th century in France, to Eriugena’s spiritual heirs a few centuries later including Meister Eckhart and Beguine mystics, et al.). Note to the Reader: my aforementioned essay’s second, third and fourth parts (pp. 240-54 in J. Prendergast, et al. Eds.) are also quite relevant to the present essay as “suggested further reading.”

[43] I Am That, p. 206 dialogue 45.

[44] I Am That, p. 166, dialogue 37.

[45] Consciousness and the Absolute, p. 32.

[46] I Am That, 533, dialogue 101.

[47] I Am That, 240, dialogue 51.

[48] I Am That, 195, dialogue 43.

[49] I Am That, p. 171 dialogue 38.

[50] I Am That, p. 475, dialogue 92.

[51] I Am That, p. 161 dialogue 37.

[52] I Am That, p. 468, dialogue 90.

[53] I Am That, p. 286, dialogue 61.

[54] I Am That, pp. 479-80, dialogue 92.

[55] Consciousness and the Absolute, p. 65.

[56] I Am That, p. 382, dialogue 76.

[57] I Am That, p. 488, dialogue 94.

[58] I Am That, p. 496, dialogue 96.

[59] I Am That, p. 513, dialogue 98.

[60] I Am That, 429, dialogue 84.

[61] I Am That, p. 181, dialogue 40.

[62] I Am That, p. 195, dialogue 43.

[63] I Am That, p. 3, dialogue 1.

[64] I Am That, p.213, dialogue 46.

[65] I Am That, p. 112, dialogue 28.

[66] Seeds of Consciousness, p. 132.

[67] I Am That, p. 91 dialogue 25.

[68] I Am That, p. 309, dialogue 65.

[69] I Am That, p.258, dialogue 55.

[70] I Am That, p. 511, dialogue 98.

[71] I Am That, pp. 530-1, dialogue 101.

[72] I Am That, p. 382 dialogue 76.

[73] I Am That, p. 112, dialogue 28.

[74] I Am That, p. 341, dialogue 70.

[75] I Am That, p. 173, dialogue 38.

[76] I Am That, p. 246, dialogue 52.

[77] I Am That, p. 139, dialogue 33.

[78] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 98.

[79] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 73.

[80] I Am That, p. 511, dialogue 98.

[81] Jean Dunn, Ed. (1985), Prior to Consciousness: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Durham, NC: Acorn Press, p. 56.

[82] I Am That, p. 324, dialogue 67.

[83] I Am That, p. 112, dialogue 29.

[84] I Am That, p. 139-40, dialogue 33.

[85] I Am That, p. 114, dialogue 29.

[86] I Am That, p. 484 dialogue 93.

[87] I Am That, p. 326, dialogue 68.

[88] I Am That, p. 315, dialogue 66.

[89] I Am That, p. 34, dialogue 13.

[90] I Am That, pp. 211-212, dialogue 46.

[91] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 109.

[92] Seeds of Consciousness, p. 25.

[93] I Am That, p. 89, dialogue 24.

[94] I Am That, p. 116, dialogue 29.

[95] I Am That, p. 160, dialogue 36.

[96] I Am That, p. 418, dialogue 82.

[97] Robert Powell, Ed. (1996). The Experience of Nothingness, op. cit. p. 100.

[98] Robert Powell, Ed. (1996). The Nectar of Immortality: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Discourses on the Eternal. San Diego, CA: Blue Dove Press, American ed. (first published in UK in 1987 as The Nectar of the Lord’s Feet), p. 69.

[99] Seeds of Consciousness, pp. 84, 69, 72.

[100] I Am That, p. 50, dialogue 16.

[101] I Am That, p. 104 dialogue 27.

[102] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 95.

[103] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 192.

[104] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 201.

[105] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 121.

[106] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 170.

[107] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 124.

[108] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 161.

[109] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 163.

[110] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 164.

[111] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 165.

[112] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 166.

[113] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 200.

[114] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 203-4.

[115] The Ultimate Medicine, p. 207.

[116] The Ultimate Medicine, pp. 192-3.

[117] I Am That, pp. 194, 197, dialogue 43.

[118] I Am That, p. 189, dialogue 42.

[119] I Am That, pp. 126-7, dialogue 31.

[120] Consciousness and the Absolute, p. 31.

[121] I Am That, p. 418, dialogue 82.

[122] The Experience of Nothingness, p. 67.

[123] I Am That, p. 122, dialogue 30.

[124] I Am That, p. 315, dialogue 66.

[125] I Am That, pp. 91-2, 94, dialogue 25.

[126] I Am That, p. 139, dialogue 33.

[127] I Am That, p. 383, dialogue 76.

[128] I Am That, p. 173, dialogue 38.

[129] I Am That, p. 149, dialogue 35.

[130] I Am That, p. 51, dialogue 16.

[131] I Am That, p. 424-6, dialogue 83.