In September 2003, I met my wife. Instant Soul mates, we began a whirlwind spiritual romance which continues to this day. Our union, far from a typical wedding, began with vows consecrated through mutual supplication, long before the actual ceremony:
‘How can we go deeper into the heart, realize intimacy with God’s always present magnificence, in form and formlessness.’ Our intention: to dissolve any sense of separation, with Truth being more important than anything else, while helping each other wake up to Essential Self, not as conceptual or intellectual understanding but as direct experience.
In the second week of our journey together, we entered the now defunct Capitola Book Café. Our first jointly ‘owned’ book was purchased: I AM THAT by the Sage Nisargadatta Maharaj. If not for the translator Maurice Frydman who helped publish the book in 1973, Nisargadatta would have been another, mostly unknown, Indian Master living out his final decade in obscurity.
That book was an integral part of our gospel of enlightenment. The light transmitted through the teachings did not make our lives better or more comfortable. Instead, obstacles to living a fully-integrated life such as:old conditioning patterns and habitual coping mechanisms began to purge from our systems. Though necessary, this process did not feel very good.
Nisargadatta left an indelible record of the authentic spiritual path and what it means to be a fully-awakened human being. As he declared:
“For many centuries Western people were not interested in spiritual matters, but now they have realized that, in spite of all their riches, they cannot get real peace, so they are searching for the truth now.”
Speaking about the benefit of truth teachings (satsang) and grace, he urged:
“Grace is always there but receptivity must be there to accept that grace. One must have the firm conviction that what is heard here is the absolute truth…become impregnated with what I give you, to the extent that you are one with it…there is nothing you as an entity can do, that which has taken root will by itself flower into intuitive understanding…the benefit you get will be like sitting under the shade of several thickly leaved trees. Sitting under the trees there is a certain amount of peace and feelings of well-being. Stay in the peace. My teachings are like a big shady tree for relaxation…”
When a devotee attempted to get Nisargadatta’s life history, he once said:
“I was never born.”
Given the name Maruti- the Sage, soon to be known as Nisargadatta Maharaj (the great seer of the natural state), was born on 17th April 1898 on a full moon in Bombay, India. He grew up amidst religious and devoted parents with 5 brothers and sisters. At age 26 he married and over the next several years, had 4 children.
Nearly a decade later he met his spiritual preceptor or Guru, later sharing:
“My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I am’- my Guru said to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, meditation or study of scriptures. Whatever happened I would turn my attention from it and remain with the sense ‘I am’. It may look simple, even crude…but it worked!”
This ‘I am’ or beingness/presence, which Nisargadatta referred to, is the living truth, the direct experience of what we really are–not body and ego but the all-pervading consciousness, Essential Self or Soul animating the body-form.
As he insisted:
“Consciousness is taking care of everything; look at consciousness as God. That is the ‘I Amness’ you know so well…”
After an additional 3 years of intensive practice, sincere devotion and earnest application, Nisargadatta realized himself as the all-pervading Spirit. In subsequent years he began spreading the truth through gatherings in the loft above his apartment. For two decades these gatherings were filled with local people from the Bombay vicinity.
With the publication of the book, I Am That, spiritual seekers arrived from all over the globe to sit with him, ask questions, and imbibe his teachings during the last 8 years of his earthly life.
In that small loft, converted into a holy shrine for spiritual gatherings, flowers were perpetually garlanded over the portraits of dozens of Saints and Sages. The smell of incense and cigarette smoke mixed with devotional chanting and singing. The room oozed with spiritual fervor and dedication to truth.
As the gatherings began, a smile would often erupt, illuminating Nisargadatta’s entire face when he spoke:
“The innermost light, shining peacefully and timelessly in the heart is the only reality…What you seek is so near you, that there is no place for ‘a way.’”
After delivering such pearls, he might use a parable or simple story to illustrate a point:
“Do you know what I mean by peace? When you put a doughnut in hot oil, a lot of bubbles will come out until all the moisture in the doughnut is gone. It also makes a lot of noise, doesn’t it? Finally, all is silent and the doughnut is ready. The silent condition of the mind which comes about through a life of meditation is called peace. Meditation is like boiling the oil. It will make everything in the mind come out. Only then will peace be achieved.”
His eyes, in particular, would visibly enlarge as he spoke, like high beams from a car suddenly switched on, flooding the devotees with Soul force. The sharp, piercing quality of his voice would ring out as if from a machine gun stuck in the open position. These were no ordinary words he spoke, being sourced from the great beyond and aimed straight at the heart. Nisargadatta would direct his wisdom, transmit his love, as a growing silence penetrated the room and the receptive devotees would recognize this as the natural state.
This penetrating presence would not be deterred by the goings on outside the room in the bustle of Bombay. The cacophony of noise: the clicking hooves from horse-drawn carriages, the honking rickshaws and Double Decker tourist buses screeching along, or the bartering street vendors would become muffled fodder against the ongoing communion happening within.
Nisargadatta taught in the style called: ‘Neti-Neti’- a Sanskrit expression that means “not this, not this” or ‘neither this, nor that’-implying negation of all things that do not last (arise and pass away). He emphasized inquiry as a pathway to freedom, which he described as follows:
“…Struggle to find out what you are in reality. To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not. Discover all that you are not – body, feelings thoughts, time, space, this or that – nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive. The clearer you understand on the level of mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker will you come to the end of your search and realize that you are the limitless being.”
He could be ruthless, with righteous anger flowing, towards those that came to the gatherings in order to show off their spiritual knowledge via an over-inflated ego filled with conceptual baggage. To such a one, he once exclaimed emphatically to his translator in a distinctive Marathi dialect:
“Nowadays people are full of intellectual conceit… You are not interested in others as persons, but only as far as they enrich, or ennoble your own image of yourself. And the ultimate in selfishness is to care only for the protection, preservation and multiplication of one’s own body…”
He, in a purely spontaneous fashion, aimed at destruction of this ‘pseudo entity’-or ‘fleeting movement’ referred to as ego. He once said:
“Ego, the sense of separate existence or identification with thought, is a reflection of the one reality in a separate body. In this reflection the limited and unlimited are confused and taken to be the same…” Further elucidating, he continued:
“A bundle of mental habits attracts attention, awareness gets focalized and a person suddenly appears…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…”
Equally Nisargadatta, after the gathering in a quiet moment of one-on-one reflection, could elicit tears of joy from a sincere aspirant through his genuine compassion and universal love. He once said to a devotee, not so much via his words but through the tender presence from which they sprang:
“Do you know what my blessing is for you…Until you leave your body may you have full devotion and surrender…”
Nisargadatta constantly urged one to be still.
“If you can only keep quiet, clear of memories and expectations, you would be able to discern the beautiful pattern of events. It is restlessness that causes chaos…Don’t be anxious about your future. All will fall into place. The unexpected is bound to happen, while the anticipated may never come.”
Jean Dunn, one of his direct disciples, referred to his teachings when she said:
“If you’re seeking truth this is it. But it’s not something everyone wants. Most people want something to make their life better, money, a better house, and so forth…”
The teachings of Nisargadatta have nothing to do with the relative, worldly aspects of life. This is a tricky point for many seekers feel they really want Truth and Spirit but in fact are just gobbling up spiritual concepts to enhance their position in life, camouflage or bypass feelings states, or add some distinguishing spiritual acquisition. This is an immature approach and very common in the West.
“The search for reality is the most dangerous of all undertakings for it will destroy the world in which you live. But if your motive is love and truth of life, you need not be afraid. Make the senseless sorrow of mankind your sole concern. With dissolution of the personal “I” personal suffering disappears. What remains is the great sadness of compassion, the horror of unnecessary pain. Compassionate awareness heals and redeems when the mind has been put to rest and no longer disturbs the inner space.”
Nisargadatta’s teachings, thankfully, have been preserved through books, the living examples of direct disciples and a few videos which highlight his intense presence, mannerisms, gestures and often bring forth a cosmic jolt.
Nisargadatta urged the devotees to ask questions in order to remove doubt and fear and was adamant about the importance of sincerity in spiritual search:
“Once you say, I want to find truth, all your life will be deeply affected by it. All of your mental and physical habits, feelings and emotions, desires and fears, plans and decisions will undergo a most radical transformation. And earnestness is the decisive factor, the homing instinct which allows the bird return to its nest and the fish the mountain stream where it was born…”
I rarely remember Nisargadatta’s words. They disintegrate on contact, like a bubble bursting inside and without residual elements lodging themselves in the mind. What’s left of the words, only fragrance- a scent that illuminates the innermost being.
During one of his final talks, while experiencing intense pain from end-stage throat cancer, a few months before his bodily passing in 1981, Nisargadatta said:
“All experiences of suffering are the result of love. It is that love for existence which gives rise to all pain…The Ultimate You can never be lost…..I have told you enough and whatever you have heard, retain it, deliberate over it, ponder over it, and become one with THAT.”