By Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
V: Living the worldly life and being a person of the grihastha ashrama,* drudging, working, sleeping, laughing, mixing with people of all nationalities, is it possible just to be, and not identify oneself entirely with the body?
*Householder stage of life. In the Hindu tradition, four successive ashramas or stages of life are prescribed for spiritual perfection: brahmacharya (celibate disciple), grihastha (householder and family man), vanaprastha (forest dweller) and sannyasa (wandering monk, renunciant).
M: Show me a sample of that which you think is identifying itself with the body.
V: Generally, one identifies oneself with the body. One should not do so. You are not body, consciousness or buddhi. You are something different. “I” is something different. But you do identify living in this world. Is it possible not to identify completely?
Interpreter: That question has been conveyed. But Maharaj is asking: “What is this ‘I’ that cannot keep away from identifying with…?"
V: The same “I” of which Maharaj talks.
M: Why is there any relationship between you and what goes on in the world? How does the relationship between the body and the world arise?
V: Because the “I” is encased in the body. And it is the body that keeps coming in contact with material beings, other bodies, animate and inanimate.M: You think it is the body that is coming in contact. If that consciousness had not been there, how could the body have come in contact with the rest of the world? What actually is it that comes in contact with the world?
V: The “I” comes in contact with the world through the body.
M: Whatever the madhyama is, if that consciousness were not there, where is the question of either the mind medium or that with which the medium comes into contact? If the consciousness were not there, then does the body exist or even the world exist?
V: That is very correct.
M: Then consider this beingness or consciousness as the supreme God and let go(d). And even then, you as the knower of this are separate from the consciousness and the body.
V: I understand.
M: That which you have understood can work no more mischief on you, then. Is it not so? [laughter]
V: I have understood with my buddhi.
M: Which means that you can only use the instrument of the intellect to understand. But what is prior to the intellect?
V: The atman.
M: You understand the atman. Therefore, that which understands the atman must be prior to even the atman.
V: That means buddhi.
M: Atman is prior to buddhi, and you understand buddhi and also that atman is prior to buddhi.
V: I understand atman with buddhi; my buddhi tells me that there is atman. I want to understand atma-jnana. With buddhi-jnana came atma-jnana. I want the atma-jnana, not buddhi-jnana.
M: There should be no confusion. Understand a simple fact and that is that any kind of experience can only come upon the consciousness that is there. And you are separate from both that consciousness and the experiences which come on that consciousness.
Unless there is consciousness, call it buddhi, mind or whatever, can anything be there? The answer is obviously, no. Thus, in that consciousness I can see my body and the world; and it is basically only on that consciousness that any movement or experience can take place.
V: So that consciousness has the power to think or to feel?
M: On that consciousness, something happens. Whatever movement, thought, or experience there is can occur only on this consciousness. And you are prior to this consciousness; therefore you are neither the consciousness — that is, the instrument — nor any thought or experience, or whatever it is that is happening on that instrument. You are apart from it. Now stick to that.
V: Stick to what?
M: To the fact that you are apart from it.
V: And you are That. That I know, But oftentimes, one cannot forget that one is in the body.
M: Remember that this body is made of the five elements; it is a material body — I call it food-body — and in that is this consciousness because of which the body possesses its sentience, enabling the senses to function. For the senses in the body operate only thanks to the consciousness. And you are separate from this body and the consciousness. That is the only the only thing to remember.
All you have is the vital breath, the life force. And part of the prana is the atman. Other than that, what have you got? I keep coming back to the same thing. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing.
[Maharaj is commenting on “X,” who is having a lot of troubles.] All these difficulties that come and go should be merely watched like something in a play. When one scene is finished, another scene takes place, going on like an act. Then, the entire act and the entire play, does it take place anywhere but in yourself? If she did not have this consciousness, would she be aware of this play that is going on? So ultimately, whatever the play, whatever scenes and acts that take place, they are merely movements in her own consciousness.
[The lady has been urging Maharaj to take care of himself.] Who is to take care of what? I know what has come upon my original state, and there is nothing to take care of that. It is a happening that has come and will take care of itself. And whatever has happened, I have not been affected. So, again, who is to take care of what? I am not concerned with taking care of anything. The world has been in existence for millions of years. There have been thousands of avatars and great men, and important personalities. Has a single one of them been able to do anything to change the natural course of events in the world?
Whatever has come upon this original state is time-bound, but the original state is timeless and spaceless. And that is one whole, a Wholeness. Not really one, because if you say “one,” there are immediately two.
V: Is what Ramakrishna said and what Maharaj is saying the same thing?
M: I have already told you, the basic essence is only whole. All these differences are subsequent; they are to the concepts. So basically, when in the Wholeness, how can there be sin or merit, or any kind of duality?
There is something by which you are able to say that you understand. And you are separate from that. What you think you have understood is only a movement in your consciousness. And you are separate from that consciousness. So as far as you are concerned, there is no question of understanding or not understanding,
V: We always think when we have a mental grasp of someone’s teaching that ipso facto we have realized that teaching. But we have not at all, we are essentially the same person, suffering in the same way.
Text copyright © 1994 Robert Powell. Reprinted by permission from The Ultimate Medicine, Chapter 5, ‘The Greatest Miracle is the News “I Am”.’
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897‒1981) was an Advaitan guru who received visitors in his Bombay apartment. He became world famous following publication of his second book I Am That in 1973.
Robert Powell (1918‒2013) was the author of many books including Life: The Exquisite Art of Meaningfulness.
By Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Translated by Robert Powell, PhD
This book contains transcripts of conversations that Sri Nisargadatta held with visitors about a year before his death, when he was 83 years old and sick with cancer. Although it affords extraordinary glimpses into the mind of a man who had been self-realized for over half a century, the tone is occasionally impatient and even cranky. This is a good book to read after you've finished I Am That.
This page was published on October 3, 2001 and last revised on June 8, 2017.