SRI NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ
The following piece was written for Namarupa:
"Nothing you do will change you, for you need no change. You may change your mind or your body, but it is always something external to you that has changed, not yourself. Why bother at all to change? Realize once for all that neither your body nor your mind, nor even your consciousness is yourself and stand alone in your true nature beyond consciousness and unconsciousness. No effort can take you there, only the clarity of understanding. Trace your misunderstandings and abandon them, that is all. There is nothing to seek and find, for there is nothing lost. 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
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in a village south of Mumbai (Bombay) in 1897, on Hanuman’s birthday. In honor of this Hindu monkey deity of strength and power, he was given the name of Maruti. His father was a servant, whom with time, purchased some land and became a farmer. Maruti lived and worked on this land until 1915, when upon the death of his father, he followed his oldest brother to Mumbai to help support his siblings and mother. His early years there started as an office clerk, but soon gave way to his opening of a tobacco shop. This enterprise soon became prosperous and led to him operating six such shops. In 1924, he married Sumatibai, with whom he fathered three daughters and a son.
He was a deeply religious man and kept in the company of fellow truth seekers. One such man was a friend named Yashwantrao Bagkar, who introduced him, at age 34, to Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj (1888-1936). This realized master, a contemporary of Sri Ramana Maharshi and a disciple of Bhausaheb Maharaj, was an adherent of the Advaitic (non-duality) school. His specific teaching for realization of Reality was Vihangam Marg or "the bird’s way". The basic premise of this path is that ignorance of one’s true nature comes from the constant repetition of the false throughout life. This hypnosis can be reversed by constant practice of contemplation of truth as heard from the master. This constant mulling over, just like a bird flies from one branch to another, is a fast and short way of remembrance.
Maruti took Sri Siddharameshwar as his teacher and was given a mantra and some teachings. Despite the passing of his teacher soon after their meeting, Maruti devoted himself to serious and deep practice. He abandoned his family and business for a time, after the death of his teacher, and started wandering the Himalayas as a sadhu. He had a chance encounter with a fellow aspirant who talked him into the importance of going back to his life and practicing within that structure, as opposed to being a wandering seeker. He took this to heart and returned to Mumbai to find none but one of his tobacco shops still thriving. This, he found sufficient for his meager needs, and built a tiny room on top of his apartment in the slums of Mumbai, where he would spend all his spare time in contemplation.
In a short span of three years, from the time of meeting his teacher, he attained Realization at age 37. Of this time, he said: “My guru told me you are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense 'I Am'. Find your real Self. I obeyed him because I trusted him. I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence and what a difference it made. It took me only three years to realize my true nature. My guru died soon after I met him, but it made no difference."
Maruti took on the name Nisargadatta Maharaj at this time, which translates into "the one who dwells in the natural state beyond manifestation". At this time, he started satsangs and dispensing spiritual instructions from his tenement apartment. With the publication in English of his book, I Am That, he became known to a generation of international visitors, who streamed into his presence seeking enlightenment. Translated from Marathi tape recordings by Maurice Frydman, a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, I Am That is a gold mine of pointers for the spiritual aspirant, a beacon of remembrance in a tomb of worldly forgetfulness. Every page contains a nugget of truth that shakes one’s anesthetized sense of Self awake from its worldly slumber. Transcribed in a question and answer format, all seekers’ questions - from the worldly to the esoteric - are squarely answered.
Nisargadatta’s teachings are classic Advaita Vedanta, since he constantly emphasizes that there is nothing to seek, that we already are the Self. “You can not find what you have not lost”, and “you are not a person”, summarize this viewpoint. It is a skewed attention that has us feeling disconnected from reality: “We miss the real by lack of attention and create the unreal by excess of imagination.” He does not quote scripture nor holy books. His literacy was modest at best, and he never read the Vedas. And yet, the explosive force, simplicity, and clarity of his words are astounding.
He taught that we need to “cease being fascinated by the content of your consciousness”, and that “whatever pleases you, holds you back”. On the state of the world in troubled times he commented: “callous selfishness is the root of evil”, and “it is selfishness, due to self-identification with the body, that is the main problem and the cause of all other problems”. He taught that “the world is the abode of desires and fears; you can not find peace in it”, “for peace you must go beyond the world”. The solution to this problem is to be “passionately dispassionate”, since “it is through desire that you have created the world with its pains and pleasures”.
This is to be done by looking at our mind dispassionately in order to calm it. “When the mind is quiet, you can go beyond it. Do not keep it busy all the time. Stop it and just be. A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly, once your mind is quiet.”
It is from this place of quiet mind that one can grasp the “I Am”, the awareness beyond the mind and its limitations, the field in which all things happen. He states that “beyond the real experience is not the mind, but the Self, the light in which everything appears… the awareness in which everything happens”.
This “I Am” which is the state prior to, and contains the body and mind, is not the final state. The Absolute or pure Awareness and its attainment is the final state which transcends the “I Am” state. This indescribable “state” is the place from which the great masters like Nisargadatta Maharaj reach into the phenomenal dream world and nudge us awake.
On a final note, let us turn our attention to an observation that he had for us Westerners. “It is very often so with Americans and Europeans. After a stretch of sadhana they become teachers of yoga, marry, write books, anything except keeping quiet and turning their energies within to find the source of the inexhaustible power and learn the art of keeping it under control.”
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj abandoned the physical body in 1981, at age 84.