Nisargadatta Maharaj

Religion

Nisargadatta Maharaj

 Nisargadatta Maharaj

 (1897-1981)

 

"Be true to your own self, love your self absolutely. Do not pretend that you love others as yourself Unless you have realized them as one with yourself, you cannot love them. Don't pretend to be what you are not, don't refuse to be what

you are.

 

The core of Nisargadatta Maharaj's teaching is the knowledge of one's own true identity. This knowledge is indeed the pivotal point around which moves everything. He was a fully awakened mahatma (saint), who, with no schooling and noprevious spiritual knowledge prior to his awakening, lived as a poor, illiterate, low-caste family man. He was an extraordinary teacher whose simple words are designed to jolt us into awareness of our original nature. According to Robert Powell, like the Zen masters of old, Nisargadatta's style is abrupt, provocative, and immensely profound--cutting to the core and wasting little effort on inessentials. His terse but potent sayings are known for their ability to trigger shifts in consciousness, just by hearing, or even reading them.

 

Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in Bombay (now, Mumbai) in March 1897. He was the son of Shivrampant and Parvatibai. His parents, who were religious, gave him the name Maruti, as the child was born in the Hindu vikrami month of Chaitra-Vaishak on the holy day of Hanuman Jayanti. They had a small farm in the village of Kandalgaon in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. His father was a poor man who had been a servant in Bombay before turning to farming. Maruti's primary studies took place at Kandalgaon. Farming and gardening were his favourite pastime. He had a helping nature right from his childhood. One day, his father made friends with a poor but learned Brahmin. They used to have long discussions on religious subjects, and Maruti, having an alert and inquisitive mind, listened to them with rapt attention. Maruti's father died in 1915. Maruti followed his elder brother to Bombay. He learnt yoga under the guidance of Aathavate who lived in Girgaon. In 1924, he married Sumatibai and with her he became the father of three daughters and a son. He started his career as a clerk in an office but that did not suit him temperamentally and he soon took to petty trading. He opened a bidi shop (shop for hand rolled coarse cigarettes) and began selling them. He became prosperous.

 

But the prosperity in business could not appease Maruti's inner urge. The ancient questions about the world, man and God, called for answers. He happened to have a friend, Yashwantrao Bagkar, an intelligent seeker of truth. They often used to have discussions on religious and philosophical topics. Yashwantrao was a disciple of Siddharameshwar Maharaj, head of the Inchegeri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya. He took Maruti with him to meet his Sadguru. Though he liked his teaching, Maruti said that Sadguru's philosophy was beyond his comprehension. Nevertheless, Maruti continued to attend Sadguru '8 talks and was even given a mantra and instructions in meditation. His Guru ordered him to attend to the sense "I am" and to give attention to nothing else. He obeyed him and did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, he turned his attention from it and remained with the sense 'I am'. Early in his practice, Maruti began having visions and fell into trances. Such manifestations of initial imbalance ceased soon, giving place to an absorption into the deepest being, which suddenly showed the Reality. This happened between 1933 and 1936.

 

Siddharameshwar expired in 1936. This evoked a strong feeling of renunciation in Maruti. Within three years, Maruti realized himself and took the new name Nisargadatta. In 1937, he abandoned his family, became a sadhu and took off for the Himalayas on barefoot. On his way to the Himalayas, where he was planning to spend the rest of his life, he met his brother disciple who convinced him about the shortcomings of a totally unworldly life and the greater spiritual fruitfulness of dispassion in action. Maruti retraced his steps. Back in Bombay, he found his business ventures wiped out. Only one small shop remained. But he was satisfied with little and had no worldly ambitions whatsoever. He ran his business for the sake of his family and devoted all his energy to spiritual life. He devoted his free time to meditation on his guru's instruction. His daily life was very regular, with food, sleep and speech reduced to the minimum. His devotion to his Guru was total and exclusive. He never visited temples or saints.

 

Nisargadatta continued to live the life of an ordinary Indian but his teaching, which he set out in his masterwork, I Am That, first published in English translation in 1973, made him internationally famous and brought many Western devotees to the tenement apartment where he gave satsangs. His teachings, which are rooted in the ancient Upanishadic tradition, made a significant philosophical break from contemporary thought. Devotees travelled from all over the world to hear Nisargadatta's unique message. This should be evident from the reaction of an American, Aziz Kristof, a non-traditional Advaita Zen master. On meeting Nisargadatta, Kristof wrote: "From him I realized the necessity of stabilizing the State Presence to which I was already awakened .... For the first time, I received clarity regarding the Path and recognized the necessity of the right effort. Maintaining the State of Presence became a new task; it was a new challenge .... "

 

The primary purpose of meditation, said Nisargadatta Maharaj, is to become conscious of, and familiar with, our inner life. The ultimate purpose is to reach the source of life and consciousness. The practice of meditation affects deeply our character. We are slaves to what we do not know; of what we know we are masters. Whatever vice or weakness in ourselves we discover and understand its causes and its workings, we overcome it by the very knowing of it; the unconscious dissolves when brought into the conscious. The dissolution of the unconscious releases energy; the mind feels adequate and becomes quiet. Meditation, according to Nisargadatta Maharaj, is a satvic activity and aims at complete elimination of tamas (inertia) and rajas (motivity). Pure sattva (harmony), he said, is perfect freedom from sloth and restlessness. The sattva is pure and strong always. It is like the sun, he said, which may seem obscured by clouds and dust, but only from the point of view of the perceiver. We have to deal with the causes of obscuration and not with the sun.

 

Truth, goodness, harmony and beauty have their own goal. They manifest spontaneously and effortlessly when things are left to themselves. They are not to be interfered with, not shunned or wanted or conceptualized, but are just to be experienced in full awareness. Such an awareness itself is sattva, which does not make use of things and people; rather it fulfils them, according to Nisargaddata Maharaj. He asked his followers that they can deal with tamas and rajas by watching their influence in them. They have to be aware of them in operation, watch their expressions in their thoughts, words and deeds, and gradually their grip on them will lessen and the clear light of sattva will emerge. It is neither a difficult, nor protracted process; earnestness is the only condition of success.

 

If a person is full of desires and wants them fulfilled, Nisargadatta Maharaj asked them first to ensure whether he deserves what he desires. In some way or other he has to work for the fulfilment of his desires. He has to put in energy and wait for the results. Some people have the desires but do not have the initiative or inertia; they are lazy when it comes to action. Moreover, when one's desire is personal, for his own enjoyment, the energy he gives is necessarily limited and it cannot be more than what he has. Again, when one desires the common good, the whole world desires with him. We have to make humanity's desire our own and work for it. There he will not fail. Desires are right or wrong according to circumstances. It depends on how we look at them. It is only for the individual that a distinction between right and wrong is valid. What are the guidelines for such distinction? How am I to know which of my desires are right and which are wrong? Nisargadatta Maharaja said that the desires that lead to sorrow are wrong and those which lead to happiness, are right.

 

In answer to a question "What I am?" Maharaj's reply was:

 

All that you are not .... What you are, you already are. By knowing what you are not, you are free of it and remain in your own natural state. It all happens quite spontaneously and effortlessly ... .It is your fixed idea that you must be something or other that blinds you .... You are the pure awareness that illumines consciousness and its infinite content. Realize this and live accordingly .... Purify yourself by a well-ordered and useful life. Watch over your thoughts, feelings, words and actions. This will clear your vision .... You cannot renounce. You may leave your home and give trouble to your family, but attachments are in the mind and will not leave you until you know your mind in and out.

 

Is universe subject to the law of causation, or does it exist and function outside the law? To Maharaj, causation means succession in time of events in space, the space being physical or mental. Time, space, causation are mental categories, arising and subsiding with the mind. Like everything mental, the so-called law of causation contradicts itself. Nothing in existence has a particular cause; the entire universe contributes to the existence. Nothing could be as it is without the universe being what it is. When the source and ground of everything are the only cause of everything, to speak of causality as a universal law is wrong. The universe is not bound by its content, because its potentialities are infinite; besides it is a manifestation or expression of a principle fundamentally and totally free. For everything there are innumerable causal factors. But the source of all that is the infinite possibility, the Supreme Reality, which is in us and which throws its power and light and love on every experience. Of course, this source is not a cause and no cause is a source. Because of that everything is causeless. We may try to trace how a thing happens, but we cannot find out why a thing is as it is. A thing is as it is, because the universe is as it is, said Nisargadatta Maharaj.

 

Nisargadatta Maharaj was not a learned man. There was no erudition behind his homely Marathi dialect. He never quoted authorities and rarely mentioned the scriptures. But the astonishingly rich spiritual heritage of India had been implicit in him rather than explicit. No grand ashram was ever built in his name or by him and most of his followers are humble working people cherishing the opportunity of spending an hour with him. Simplicity and humility had been the keynotes of his life and teachings. Physically and inwardly he never took the higher seat, the essence of being on which he talked. He saw in others as clearly as he could see it in himself. When asked about his yoga, he said that he had none to offer, no system to propound, no theology, cosmogony, psychology or philosophy. He knew the real nature.

 

The Nisarga Yoga (nisarga means natural state, innate disposition), the 'natural' Yoga of Maharaj, is disconcertingly simple: the mind, which is all-becoming, must recognize and penetrate its own being, not as being this or that, here or there, then or now, but just timeless being. This timeless being is the source of both life and consciousness. In terms of time, and space and causation, it is all-powerful, all- pervading, eternal; in the sense of being, beginning less, endless and ever present. The mind is originally a tool in the struggle for biological survival. It has to learn the laws and ways of nature to conquer it. Mind and nature, working hand-in-hand, can raise life to a higher level. But, in the process, the mind acquires the art of symbolic thinking and communication, the art and skill of language.

 

According to Nisargadatta Maharaj, for dealing with things and people words are exceedingly useful. But they make us live in a world totally symbolic and unreal. To break out from this prison of the verbal mind into reality, one must be able to shift one's focus from the word to what it refers to. The most commonly used word and most pregnant with feelings and ideas is the word "I". Mind tends to include in it anything and everything, the body as well as the Absolute. In practice, it stands as a pointer to an experience, which is direct, immediate and immensely significant. To be and to know that is most important. And to be of interest, a thing must be related to one's conscious existence, which is the focal point of every desire and fear. For, the ultimate aim of

every desire is to enhance and intensify this sense of existence, while all fear is, in its essence, the fear of self- extinction.

 

To delve into the sense of "I", said Maharaj, is the core of the Nisarga Yoga. The sense of "I" must have a source from which it flows and to which it returns. This timeless source of conscious being is what Maharaj calls the self- nature, self- being, swarupa. It is through grasping the full import of the "I am" and going beyond it to its source that one can realize the ultimate, supreme state. The difference between the beginning and the end lies only in the mind. When the mind is dark or turbulent, the source is not perceived. When it is clear and luminous, it becomes a faithful reflection of the source. The source is always the same, beyond darkness and light, beyond life and death, beyond the conscious and the unconscious. This dwelling on the sense "I am" is simple, easy and natural Yoga, the Nisarga Yoga. When persevered in and brought to its fruition, Nisarga Yoga results in one becoming conscious and active in what one always was unconscious and passive.

 

Nisargadatta Maharaj expired in 1981 at the age of84, when he was his guru's successor as head of the Inchegari branch of the Navanath Sampradaya. The form of his life had always been orthodox Hindu and the essence of his teaching had been the absolute monism of Advaita Vedanta. During his life, he recommended the practice that had led to his own realization in less than three years:

 

Just keep in mind the feeling "I am" merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one. By repeated attempts you will stumble on the right balance of attention and affection and your mind will be firmly established in the thought-feeling "I am".

 

He further said:

Seek to discover that you are neither the body nor the mind, and the love of the self in you is for the self in all. The two are one. The consciousness in you and the consciousness in me, apparently two, are really one, seek unity and that is love.

 

About his own teaching, Nisargadatta Maharaj said, 'What I teach is the ancient and simple way of liberation .... Understand your own mind, and its hold on you will snap." His teaching is presented in I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. He said that striving for the improvement ofthe world is a most praiseworthy occupation. Performed selflessly, it clarifies the mind and purifies the heart. But soon man will realize that he pursues a mirage.

 

Local and temporary improvement is always possible, and achieved again and again under the influence of a great king or teacher; but it would soon come to an end, leaving humanity in a new cycle of misery. It is in the nature of all manifestation that good and bad follow each other and in equal measure. True refuge is only in the unmanifested. He felt that there is nothing wrong in the world, but it is the people who make it bad. They need to behave properly.

 

According to Nisargadatta Maharaj, what causes suffering is wrong and what alleviates it is right. Similarly, what brings us back to reality is right, and what dims reality is wrong. Once we realize that bodily existence is but a state of mind, a movement in consciousness, that the ocean of consciousness is infinite and eternal, and that, when in touch with consciousness, we are the witness only, we shall be able to withdraw beyond consciousness altogether, said Nisargadatta Maharaj. When asked, "If somebody with a razor-sharp sword would suddenly sever your head, what difference would it make to you?" Maharaj replied, "None whatsoever. The body will lose its head, certain lines of communication will be cut, that is all. Two people talk to each other on the phone, and the wire is cut. Nothing happens to the people, only they must look for some other means of communication." Quoting Bhagavad Gita, he said, ''The sword does not cut it. It is in the nature of consciousness to survive its vehicle. It is like fire. It burns up the fuel, but not itself. Just as a fire can outlast a mountain of fuel, so does consciousness survive innumerable bodies .... Change the nature of the fuel, and the colour and appearance of the flame will change .... Above all, we want to remain conscious. Very little can be conveyed in words. It is the doing that will bring light, not my telling you. The means do not matter much; it is the desire, the urge, the earnestness that count." This was indeed the pragmatic approach of Nisargadatta Maharaj to mankind.

 

 

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