The small village of Kandalgaon had just woken to a new day. The heat was slowly gathering in strength, and a few columns of smoke were the signs that another working day was on its way. “Maruti! Maruti!” Parvati Bai was once again calling her son. She was always worried about her six children, especially the last one, so unsettled, always running around. They came here to cultivate the land after having lived in Bombay, where Maruti was born in 1897. Shivrampant Kambli and his wife were deeply religious parents, and had named their last son Maruti after the god Hanuman, whose festival was taking place when he came into the world. Maruti loved the many works in the farm, tending the cattle, helping in the fields. He had a good mind, intent, curious, and loved to listen to his father’s Brahmin friend Vishnu Haribhau Gore, when he came home. He found him to be such a wise man, and so kind!
In the land, life was running its course, year after year. When Maruti reached the age of eighteen, his father died. He had to follow his elder brother to Bombay, to support the family, accepting various little jobs. Eventually, he ended up running a little shop of beedis, these small hand-rolled country cigarettes. While raising his small enterprise to stability, he got married with Sumatibai. Once again, life had settled for Maruti. His business was working well — he had now eight little shops, he had a family with four children, and he seemed to be destined to a quiet shopkeeper life in this corner of the busy, tentacular Bombay. So be it!… But life had more in stock for the little Bombay beedi seller. One day, when he was 36, he was invited by his friend Yashwantrao Bagkar to go and visit the guru Siddharameshwar Maharaj. From this moment on, everything changed. The words of this guru were a blessing for Maruti’s simple, eager, one-pointed mind. As he later recalled: “I abided in one thing only: the words of my Guru…”
“I simply followed his instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being, ‘I am’, and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the ‘I am’ in my mind and soon the peace and joy and deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared — myself, my guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained, and unfathomable silence.”
Maruti only saw his guru once every four months, for fifteen days. For the next two and a half years, he did his daily practice, meditating on the ‘I am’ and singing devotional songs. When his guru died, he was impelled to leave his family and business and live as a mendicant. For eight months, he travelled between places of worship, and decided to go and spend his life in the Himalayas. On his way, his understanding grew beyond measure and he gradually saw the futility of his wanderings and the importance and meaning contained in having an active life into the world. Maruti’s old identity was giving way, disappearing behind the inescapable presence of life itself, the self, unbound, pervading all and everything. He came back to Bombay where his shops had disappeared in the meantime. One was left and that was enough to live on. He adopted his new name ‘Nisargadatta’, which means the one that shares or gives (datta) that which is beyond (ni) all phenomena or creation of things (sarga).
“Your loss is your gain. When the shadow is seen to be a shadow only, you stop following it.
You turn round and discover the sun which was there all the time — behind your back!”
For nearly ten years, Nisargadatta continued Maruti’s life as a shopkeeper. But his wisdom didn’t go unnoticed. He created a room in his home for himself, where he could continue singing his daily bhajans and performing pujas in honour of the teachers of his lineage. In the course of a few years, he had to suffer the losses of his wife and his daughter. When he reached the age of 54, he felt that his guru Siddharameshwar Maharaj was instructing him to start giving some initiation or teaching. He did so for the rest of his life. His little room on the first floor, 10th lane, Khetwadi, became the place where gradually, people from India and the whole world would find their way to and come to sit with him in the sanctity of his presence. They found a name for the place: ‘Ashram’.
“Ask yourself ‘to whom it all happens’.
Use everything as a chance to go within.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta fell into his new role with ease and authority, nourished and informed by the self within. There, in his little room, he pointed tirelessly to the pure presence buried inside each of our selves, behind all phenomenas. And he did it in a way that is utterly simple and straightforward, always trustful of our abilities.
“Give your undivided attention to the most important in your life — yourself. Of your personal universe you are the centre — without knowing the centre what else can you know?”
“Go beyond, go back to the source, go to the self that is the same whatever happens. Your weakness is due to your conviction that you were born into the world. In reality the world is ever recreated in you and by you. See everything as emanating from the light which is the source of your own being. You will find that in that light there is love and infinite energy.”
“I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence.”
“Truth is not a reward for good behavior, nor a prize for passing some tests. It cannot be brought about. It is the primary, the unborn, the ancient source of all that is. You are eligible because you are. You need not merit truth. It is your own. Just stop running away by running after. Stand still, be quiet.”
Nisargadatta has a unique way of making us aware of what is hidden, unnoticed, of throwing us back again and again to the place where the false appears to be false, and the true stands revealed. This is Nisargadatta’s signature. In that he is relentless. He won’t let us rest and indulge. And he is inventive. His way of finding and designing new pathways and incentives, of describing unseen contradictions, all with the aim of opening in ourselves some insights or realisation of our true nature, is truly remarkable.
“What-we-are-not is only a concept, and this concept is seeking what-we-are.”
~ ‘Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj’
“Phenomenally, ‘me’ is only an appearance in consciousness. How can an appearance be in bondage? Noumenally, how can I – pure subjectivity – need any liberation? Liberation is only being rid of the idea that there is any ‘one’ who needs liberation.”
~ ‘Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj’
“There is something exceptional, unique, about the present event, which the previous, or the coming do not have. (…) What makes the present so different? Obviously, my presence. I am real for I am always now, in the present, and what is with me now shares in my reality.”
“Watch your mind, how it comes into being, how it operates. As you watch your mind, you discover your self as the watcher. When you stand motionless, only watching, you discover your self as the light behind the watcher.”
“Relax and watch the ‘I am’. Reality is just behind it.
Keep quiet, keep silent; it will emerge,
or, rather, it will take you in.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Essentially, Nisargadatta would answer questions, have a dialogue with the seeker, always tailoring his answers to the questioner. He said: “The same medicine cannot be prescribed for all.” He was known for “His extraordinary directness, and confrontational teaching style.” as Stephen H. Wolinsky remarked. But don’t be deceived by his apparent anger. Let not his scolding, his chain smoking, his fiery eyes, mislead you. Behind it all, his language is loving, soft and gentle. He speaks directly to the heart, making you feel worthy. It doesn’t mean that people were not sometimes scared sitting in front of him, being the target of his fierceness and uncompromising intent. But this is another story!
“He is warm-hearted and tender, shrewdly humorous, absolutely fearless and absolutely true — inspiring, guiding and supporting all who come to him.”
~ Maurice Frydman
“He dressed and looked like everyone else in His neighborhood. Without drawing attention to his person, ‘He’ was just sitting on the floor smoking a beedi. There was no spiritual game, no pretense, no hierarchy, no organization and absolutely no game at all.”
~ Stephen H. Wolinsky
Nisargadatta was showing a deeply encouraging trait in his discourse, asking us to try, to look, to investigate, to delve into ourselves, to abide in, again and again, relentlessly, with trust, intent. Every word here is to be chewed. With Nisargadatta, simplicity is always charged with the utmost meaning.
“Don’t be afraid, don’t resist, don’t delay. Be what you are. There is nothing to be afraid of. Trust and try. Experiment honestly. Give your real being a chance to shape your life. You will not regret.”
“Trust nobody, not even yourself. Search, find out, remove and reject every assumption till you reach the living waters and the rock of truth.”
“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.”
“See what you are. Don’t ask others, don’t let others tell you about yourself. Look within and see.”
Nisargadatta has spoken abundantly of the ‘I am’, the presence at the heart of our being before all productions of the mind, all manifestations. For him, the ‘I am’ is a door. “The sense ‘I am’ is the manifestation of a deeper cause, which you may call self, God, reality or by any other name. (…) Know that all perceivable is transient, and only the ‘I am’ endures. (…) This is the beginning and also the end of all endeavour.”
“When you see the world you see God. There is no seeing God, apart from the world. Beyond the world to see God is to be God. The light by which you see the world, which is God, is the tiny little spark: ‘I am,’ apparently so small, yet the first and the last in every act of knowing and loving.”
“In pure being consciousness arises; in consciousness the world appears and disappears. All there is is me, all there is is mine. Before all beginnings, after all endings – I am. All has its being in me, in the “I am,” which shines in every living being.”
“To take the world as real and one’s self as unreal is ignorance, the cause of sorrow. To know the self as the only reality and all else as temporal and transient is freedom, peace and joy. It is all very simple. Instead of seeing things as imagined, learn to see them as they are. When you can see everything as it is, you will also see yourself as you are. It is like cleansing a mirror. The same mirror that shows you the world as it is, will also show you your own face. The thought ‘I am’ is the polishing cloth. Use it.”
In the early seventies, Maurice Frydman, who was a student of Nisargadatta and his occasional translator, suggested to bring a tape recorder so that the wonderful conversations that took place here would not be lost and could benefit to many around the world. The book ‘I Am That’ was produced out of these recordings and edited in 1973. It quickly became a spiritual classic, attracting more people to the little room in Khetwadi. Nisargadatta said ″I used to have a quiet life but the book ‘I Am That’ by Maurice has turned my house into a railway station platform.″ But what a blessing for all the seekers. It is easy to imagine how this little room must have been filled with Maharaj’s Presence. The sounds of the street coming in, the caws of crows, occasional horns, the intent, the listening, the questions. In the Mountain Path magazine, Jean Dunn writes eloquently:
“He jokes, laughs, frowns, shakes his finger, pounds his fist to emphasise a point. Different expressions play on his face like sunlight on water. He is beautiful ! One feels his vibrant energy, the pure joy of being, flowing from him. He answers all questions simply, clearly and concisely, with no quoting of scriptures or propounding of doctrines. He is kind and gracious as he knocks the props right out from under you. Cherished concepts are seen for what they are — mere words. Now one understands the value of ‘Sat-Sangha’.”
~ Jean Dunn
“The young Canadian prostrated before Maharaj, his eyes brimming with tears of gratitude and joy. Maharaj asked him if he would be coming again, and the lad said: ‘Honestly, I don’t know.’ When he left, Maharaj sat for a while with his eyes closed, the gentlest of smiles on his lips. He then said very softly: ‘A rare one’; I could barely catch the words.”
~ Ramesh Balsekar (Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj)
“After uttering these words Maharaj became silent and closed his eyes. The little loft-room seemed to be submerged into an effulgent peace. Not a word was spoken by anybody.”
~ Ramesh Balsekar (Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj)
“Love says ‘I am everything’.
Wisdom says ‘I am nothing’.
Between the two, my life flows.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta often speaks of the Jnani, or the enlightened being, never tiring of describing its nature and qualities. “We call him digambara ‘clothed in space’, the Naked One, beyond all appearance. There is no name and shape under which he may be said to exist, yet he is the only one that truly is.”
“[The jnani] tastes of the pure, uncaused, undiluted bliss. He is happy and fully aware that happiness is his very nature and that he need not do anything, nor strive for anything to secure it. It follows him, more real than the body, nearer than the mind itself.”
“He is alone, but he is all. He is not even a being. He is the beingness of all beings.”
“[The supreme state] is entirely one and indivisible, a single solid block of reality. The only way of knowing it is to be it. The mind cannot reach it. To perceive it does not need the senses; to know it, does not need the mind.”
Nisargadatta has an aversion for the idea of effort, or training. With his clarity of language, he always stresses the simplicity, the straightforwardness of the inquiry. He addresses things in a clear cut way. David Godman once wrote: “He really didn’t like anyone using [the word ‘effort’]. The idea that there was a person who did something to achieve some spiritual state was a complete anathema to him. He seemed to feel that it showed a complete lack of understanding of his teachings.”
“There is no need of training. Awareness is always with you. The same attention that you give to the outer, you turn to the inner. No new, or special kind of awareness is needed. What you need is to be aware of being aware. Don’t be misled by the simplicity of the advice. Very few are those who have the courage to trust the innocent and the simple.”
“Truth is not the result of an effort, the end of a road. It is here and now, in the very longing and the search for it. It is nearer than the mind and the body, nearer than the sense ‘I am’. You do not see it because you look too far away from yourself, outside your innermost being. You have objectified truth and insist on your standard proofs and tests, which apply only to things and thoughts.”
“You need not get at it, for you are it. It will get at you, if you give it a chance. 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 realisation 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.”
Nisargadatta also made very clear the true identity and importance of the real guru, which is nothing but the self, or consciousness itself.
“Your own self is your ultimate teacher (sadguru). The outer teacher is merely a milestone (guru). It is only your inner teacher, that will walk with you to the goal, for he is the goal. (…) Since he is in you and with you, the difficulty [ to reach him ] cannot be serious. Look within, and you will find him. (…) He alone is, all else only appears to be. He is your own self, your hope and assurance of freedom; find him and cling to him and you will be saved and safe.”
“The innermost light,
shining peacefully and timelessly
in the heart,
is the real Guru.
All others merely show the way.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
There is one thing that comes back again and again in Nisargadatta, and this is what he calls ‘earnestness’. This intent, one-pointed purpose that is necessary to overcome all obstacles, which could be equated to ‘fervour’. This, for him, is an essential if not necessary ingredient to recognise our true self.
“These will come with earnestness. What is supremely important is to be free from contradictions: the goal and the way must not be on different levels; life and light must not quarrel; behaviour must not betray belief. Call it honesty, integrity, wholeness; you must not go back, undo, uproot, abandon the conquered ground. Tenacity of purpose and honesty in pursuit will bring you to your goal.”
Nisargadatta died on September 8th,1981 at the age of 84, of throat cancer. Jean Dunn wrote: “Due to the weakened condition of his body, on some days there was very little discussion. But even one sentence of his was like an Upanishad. (…) To be in his presence was to feel the vibrant truth, impossible to describe.” Nisargadatta’s teaching has been and is of an immense value to any true seeker. Maybe we could here, as a conclusion, emphasise three of its highest and most enduring qualities: the efficacy of the trust in the guru, the power of utter simplicity and the application of one’s mind to the task.
“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.”
Quotes by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Text by Alain Joly
Unless otherwise mentioned, all quotes here are excerpted from the book ‘I Am That’, Nisargadatta Maharaj.
Read G.K. Damodara Row’s extensive description of Nisargatta’s life and teaching on InnerQuest website.
– ‘I Am That’ – by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Translated by Maurice Frydman) – (Chetana Pvt.Ltd)
– ‘Seeds of Consciousness: The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ – by Nisargadatta Maharaj (edited by Jean Dunn) – (Chetana)
– ‘Prior to Consciousness’ – by Nisargadatta Maharaj (edited by Jean Dunn) – (The Acorn Press)
– ‘Nothing is Everything: The Quintessential Teachings Of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ – by Nisargadatta Maharaj (Translated by Mohan Gaitonde) – (Promontory Press)
– ‘Meditations with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ – by Nisargadatta Maharaj – (Yogi Impressions Books)
– ‘Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj’ – by Ramesh S. Balsekar – (The Acorn Press)
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