Here are four quotes of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj that conveys the essence of his teachings. They are all taken from the book I Am That. Read them several times, contemplate what he is trying to convey, and put the teachings into practice.
Nisargadatta Maharaj often spoke about his own spiritual journey and practice, and how his guru’s teachings led him to his own eventual self-realisation. In his most widely read book, ‘I Am That’, Nisargadatta speaks many times of his practice and the profound effect his own guru had upon him. The following are direct quotes from I Am That focusing on what Nisargadatta spoke of his own sadhana (spiritual practice) and the teachings of his own Guru.
I have not added any commentary as I think the excerpts speak for themselves, but I have added bold text to emphasize specific points I thought would be of use for seekers in terms of making the sadhana practical.
I hope you find the following quotes both instructive and inspiring for your own sadhana,
It so happened that I trusted my Guru. He told me I am nothing but my self and I believed him. Trusting him, I behaved accordingly and ceased caring for what was not me, nor mine.
Questioner: Kindly tell us how you realised.
Maharaj: I met my Guru when I was 34 and realised by 37.
Questioner: What happened? What was the change?
Maharaj: Pleasure and pain lost their sway over me. I was free from desire and fear. I found myself full, needing nothing. I saw that in the ocean of pure awareness, on the surface of the universal consciousness, the numberless waves of the phenomenal worlds arise and subside beginninglessly and endlessly. As consciousness, they are all me. As events they are all mine. There is a mysterious power that looks after them. That power is awareness, Self, Life, God, whatever name you give it. It is the foundation, the ultimate support of all that is, just like gold is the basis for all gold jewellery. And it is so intimately ours! Abstract the name and shape from the jewellery and the gold becomes obvious. Be free of name and form and of the desires and fears they create, then what remains?
M: Yes, the void remains. But the void is full to the brim.
Q: Please tell me which road to self-realisation is the shortest.
M: No way is short or long, but some people are more in earnest and some are less. I can tell you about myself. I was a simple man, but I trusted my Guru. What he told me to do, I did. He told me to concentrate on ‘I am’ – I did. He told me that I am beyond all perceivables and conceivables — I believed.
I gave him my heart and soul, my entire attention and the whole of my spare time (I had to work to keep my family alive). As a result of faith and earnest application, I realised my self (swarupa) within three years. You may choose any way that suits you; your earnestness will determine the rate of progress.
Q: No hint for me?
M: Establish yourself firmly in the awareness of ‘I am’. This is the beginning and also the end of all endeavour.
Q: How did you come to it?
M: By my trust in my Guru. He told me ‘You alone are’ and I did not doubt him.
…my Guru too taught me to doubt — everything and absolutely. He said: ‘deny existence to everything except your self.’ Through desire you have created the world with its pains and pleasures.
Put in all and you will get all. I was doing it. All my time I was giving to my Guru and to what he told me.
Q: Still, you have a body and you depend on it.
M: Again you assume that your point of view is the only correct one. I repeat: I was not, am not, shall not be a body. To me this is a fact. I too was under the illusion of having been born, but my Guru made me see that birth and death are mere ideas — birth is merely the idea: ‘I have a body’. And death — ‘I have lost my body’. Now, when I know I am not a body, the body may be there or may not — what difference does it make? The body-mind is like a room. It is there, but I need not live in it all the time.
I trusted my Guru and he proved right. Trust me, if you can. Keep in mind what I tell you: desire nothing, for you lack nothing. The very seeking prevents you from finding.
‘One can give food, clothes, shelter, knowledge, affection, but the highest gift is the gospel of enlightenment‘, my Guru used to say. You are right, enlightenment is the highest good. Once you have it, nobody can take it away from you.
I am now 74 years old. And yet I feel that I am an infant. I feel clearly that in spite of all the changes I am a child. My Guru told me: that child, which is you even now, is your real self (swarupa). 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 realised 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 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 silence.
When I met my Guru, he 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, and how soon! It took me only three years to realise my true nature. My Guru died soon after I met him, but it made no difference. I remembered what he told me and persevered.
Q: The mind is so absolutely restless. For quieting it what is the way?
M: Trust the teacher. Take my own case. My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I am’ and to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, I would turn away my attention from it and remain with the sense ‘I am’, it may look too simple, even crude. My only reason for doing it was that my Guru told me so. Yet it worked! Obedience is a powerful solvent of all desires and fears.
Just turn away from all that occupies the mind; do whatever work you have to complete, but avoid new obligations; keep empty, keep available, resist not what comes uninvited.
In the end you reach a state of non-grasping, of joyful non-attachment, of inner ease and freedom indescribable, yet wonderfully real.
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 realised.
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: How did you get it?
M: I found it all in the holy presence of my Guru — I did nothing on my own. He told me to be quiet – and I did it – as much as I could.
Q: You made no efforts whatsoever?
M: None. Believe it or not, I was not even anxious to realise. 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 realise 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.
Q: What happened to you then? How did you know that you are the Supreme?
M: Nobody came to tell me. Nor was I told so inwardly. In fact, it was only in the beginning when I was making efforts, that I was passing through some strange experiences; seeing lights, hearing voices, meeting gods and goddesses and conversing with them. Once the Guru told me: ‘You are the Supreme Reality’, I ceased having visions and trances and became very quiet and simple. I found myself desiring and knowing less and less, until I could say in utter astonishment: ‘I know nothing, I want nothing.’
How to actually do self-enquiry:
Here is a video detailing the theory and practice:
Here is a guided self-inquiry – short version:
The following is the last few verses of Advaita Bodha Deepika, a classical vedanta text that summarises the theories and methods of vedanta. It was also a favourite text of Ramana Maharshi’s. Here is the culmination of the teaching, as stated in the last verses of Chapter 8.
(Note, if you are unsure about why this chapter starts in this way and why we are even discussing ‘extinguishing the mind’, have a look at this post here Advaita Bodha Deepika: Vital Teachings for Self-Realisation which explains the rationale behind this first question):
Disciple: How can the mind be extinguished?
Master: To forget everything is the ultimate means. But for thought, the world does not arise. Do not think and it will not arise. When nothing arises in the mind, the mind itself is lost. Therefore do not think of anything, forget all. This is the best way to kill the mind.
To forget everything is the ultimate means
D.: Has anyone else said so before?
M.: Vasishta said so to Rama thus: ‘Efface thoughts of all kinds, of things enjoyed, not enjoyed, or otherwise. Like wood or stone, remain free from thoughts.
Rama: Should I altogether forget everything?
Vasishta: Exactly; altogether forget everything and remain like wood or stone.
Rama: The result will be dullness like that of stones or wood.
Vasishta: Not so. All this is only illusion. Forgetting the illusion, you are freed from it. Though seeming dull, you will be the Bliss Itself. Your intellect will be altogether clear and sharp. Without getting entangled in worldly life, but appearing active to others remain as the very Bliss of Brahman and be happy.
Unlike the blue colour of the sky, let not the illusion of the world revive in the pure Ether of Consciousness-Self. To forget this illusion is the sole means to kill the mind and remain as Bliss.
Though Shiva, Vishnu, or Brahman Himself should instruct you, realisation is not possible without this one means. Without forgetting everything, fixity as the Self is impossible. Therefore altogether forget everything.’
…altogether forget everything and remain like wood or stone….Though seeming dull, you will be the Bliss Itself. Your intellect will be altogether clear and sharp.
D.: Is it not very difficult to do so?
M.: Though for the ignorant it is difficult, for the discerning few it is very easy. Never think of anything but the unbroken unique Brahman. By a long practice of this, you will easily forget the non-self. It cannot be difficult to remain still without thinking anything. Let not thoughts arise in the mind; always think of Brahman.
In this way all worldly thoughts will vanish and thought of Brahman alone will remain. When this becomes steady, forget even this, and without thinking ‘I am Brahman’, be the very Brahman. This cannot be difficult to practise.
Now my wise son, follow this advice; cease thinking of anything but Brahman. By this practice your mind will be extinct; you will forget all and remain as pure Brahman.
Never think of anything but the unbroken unique Brahman…When this becomes steady, forget even this, and without thinking ‘I am Brahman’, be the very Brahman. This cannot be difficult to practise.
It is not only Sage Vasistha who tells us we need to ‘forget all’. In the Ashtavakra Gita, sage Ashtavakra says in chapter 16, verse 1:
‘My son! You may recite or listen to countless scriptures, but you will not be established in the Self unless you forget all.’
Similarly Ramana Maharshi says in his text ‘Who am I?’:
‘Eventually all that one has learnt will have to be forgotten’
In the traditional path of Knowledge or Jnana, first we are to know our True Self (Atman) and know this to be the same as the Absolute (Brahman). Then we are to be still and renounce all desires.
This spiritual knowledge (Jnana) of ‘I am Brahman’ (Aham Brahmasmi) allows the mind to become still and desireless. Note this does not mean that the body becomes totally inert – no – rather it continues to function naturally according to its destiny (Prarabdha Karma) until the body dies.
Shankara states this multiple times, eg, in Vivekachudamani, and also in his many commentaries, eg. in his commentary upon the Kena Upanishad – in his introduction to the Kena Upanishad Shankara writes:
And [the Self] being eternal, it is not to be secured by any means other than the cessation of ignorance. Hence the only duty is to renounce all desires after the realisation of the unity of the indwelling Self and Brahman.
This is akin to Self-Surrender, as spoken by Sri Ramana Maharshi:
There is no destiny. Surrender, and all will be well. Throw all the responsibility on God. Do not bear the burden yourself. What can destiny do to you then?”
and again here:
Question: Surrender is said to be Bhakti [the path of devotional love]. But Sri Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi] is known to favour enquiry [ie. the path of Knowledge or Jnana] for the Self. There is thus confusion in the hearer.
Ramana Maharshi: Surrender can take effect only when done with full knowledge. Such knowledge comes after enquiry. It ends in surrender.
Relax into Unknowing
What does that mean?
It means to relax, to let go of everything.
What are you left with?
You are left with whatever is.
You are left with this,
No matter how much you let go,
Or you could say:
No matter how much you let go,
This Letting Go,
Is the coming into contact with being.
This is what it means to abide as the ‘I am’.
This is what it means to ‘remember who you are’.
It’s can become obvious that
All perceived things,
Come and go.
The objects of the external world come and go,
Thoughts come and go,
Feelings come and go.
Knowledge comes and goes,
Expericences come and go,
States of consciousness come and go.
The body is a process
Of constant change,
As is everything else.
It too comes and goes.
In this sense independent objects do not exist in of themselves.
All there is is movement,
Constant movement appearing as form,
But no static unchanging form can be found
– Not even for a moment.
This Being/Unknowing is always here.
It can be consciously known when you relax and notice it,
Notice that which is ever present and unchanging in your experience.
When this unchanging essence/being is realised
And understood to always be here,
Undisturbed by comings and goings,
Then we do not need to keep on returning
to the practice of relaxing into unknowing/being.
Instead we can have Faith In Being.
This is Self-Knowledge.
Everything is happening,
in every nook and cranny,
saying ‘I AM’
Sights, sounds, visions and sensations,
flurrying and flitting,
dancing for us,
each saying ‘I AM’
The auditory landscape whooshing through,
speaking to me,
constantly saying ‘I AM’
The energy of life,
abundant and obvious,
Zip! Zap! Zoom!
right in our faces, everything:
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was [already] in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
Christmas is meant to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and the above bible verse tells of his coming. But was Jesus ever born? I’m not asking whether or not he existed, I’m asking was Jesus an entity that was born into this world, or was Jesus something else?
In John’s gospel the opening chapter proclaims the coming birth of Jesus Christ. But in verse 10 (above) it clearly states that Jesus already existed prior to his birth, and prior to the existence of the world: he was already in the world, the world was made through him, but the world knew him not.
This is not referring to the human Jesus made of flesh and blood, but something else, something deeper, more subtle, more universal and more potent. This Christ is the True Light, as per verse 9 above, the deeper essence of Christ. A few chapters later in John’s Gospel Jesus himself testifies that he was never born:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Note, Jesus doesn’t say ‘I was’, he says ‘I AM‘, again indicating he is and always has been beyond the notion of time. Anyone who has studied vedanta and other spiritual traditions would be familiar with similar sayings espoused by countless sages in ages gone past.
Jesus is not identifying himself as the body-mind entity, but as the Absolute, the Father, the unborn, that which always IS, that which is never not.
So here’s to wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and when we come together to celebrate Jesus’s birth, let us remember the deeper import of Jesus’s teachings: to be with the Father, the Absolute, that to which we are all slaves whether we know it or not.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the greatest and first commandment.”
And it is in discovering this slavery that we actually ‘become’ free.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”