By Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Our rating: ★★★★★ 5 out of 5
Published by The Acorn Press
MANY PEOPLE SAY THIS IS THE greatest spiritual book of the twentieth century. More than five hundred pages of transcribed conversations allow you to eavesdrop on Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, the most famous teacher of Advaita since Ramana Maharshi, as he sits in his living room and answers questions from visitors who have come to ask what they should do to become enlightened. Sri Nisargadatta described what it felt like to be in his state at considerable length, and he did so with a prodigiously intelligent, uncannily articulate modern vocabulary. The force of the language makes this is a unique and astonishing work. Sri Nisargadatta's talks were given in Marathi and translated into English by Maurice Frydman, who had been a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. An American book dealer who carries many books about meditation and Advaita has told us that this book is his number-one seller.
Questioner: Kindly tell us how you realised.
Maharaj: I met my Guru when I was 34 and realised by 37.
Q: What happened? What was the change?
M: 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. It is the eternal potential as consciousness is the eternal actual.
Q: By potential you mean the future?
M: Past, present and future — they are all there. And infinitely more.
Q: But since the void is void, it is of little use to us.
M: How can you say so? Without breach in continuity how can there be rebirth? Can there be renewal without death? Even the darkness of sleep is refreshing and rejuvenating. Without death we would have been bogged up for ever in eternal senility.
Q: Is there no such thing as immortality?
M: When life and death are seen as essential to each other, as two aspects of one being, that is immortality. To see the end in the beginning and beginning in the end is the intimation of eternity. Definitely, immortality is not continuity. Only the process of change continues. Nothing lasts.
Q: Awareness lasts?
M: Awareness is not of time. Time exists in consciousness only. Beyond consciousness where are time and space?
Q: Within the field of your consciousness there is your body also.
M: Of course. But the idea 'my body', as different from other bodies, is not there. To me it is 'a body', not 'my body', 'a mind', not 'my mind'. The mind looks after the body all right, I need not interfere. What needs be done is being done, in the normal and natural way. You may not be quite conscious of your physiological functions, but when it comes to thoughts and feelings, desires and fears you become acutely self-conscious. To me these too are largely unconscious. I find myself talking to people, or doing things quite correctly and appropriately, without being very much conscious of them. It looks as if I live my physical, waking life automatically, reacting spontaneously and accurately.
Q: Does this spontaneous response come as a result of realisation, or by training?
M: Both. Devotion to you goal makes you live a clean and orderly life, given to search for truth and to helping people, and realisation makes noble virtue easy and spontaneous, by removing for good the obstacles in the shape of desires and fears and wrong ideas.
Q: Don’t you have desires and fears any more?
M: My destiny was to be born a simple man, a commoner, a humble tradesman, with little of formal education. My life was the common kind, with common desires and fears. When, through my faith in my teacher and obedience to his words, I realised my true being, I left behind my human nature to look after itself, until its destiny is exhausted. Occasionally an old reaction, emotional or mental, happens in the mind, but it is at once noticed and discarded. After all, as long as one is bur-dened with a person, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.
Q: Are you not afraid of death?
M: I am dead already.
Q: In what sense?
M: I am double dead. Not only am I dead to my body, but to my mind too.
Q: Well, you do not look dead at all!
M: That’s what you say! You seem to know my state better than I do!
Q: Sorry. But I just do not understand. You say you are bodyless and mindless, while I see you very much alive and articulate.
M: A tremendously complex work is going on all the time in your brain and body, are you conscious of it? Not at all. Yet for an outsider all seems to be going on intelligently and purposefully. Why not admit that one’s entire personal life may sink largely below the threshold of consciousness and yet proceed sanely and smoothly?
Q: Is it normal?
M: What is normal? Is your life — obsessed by desires and fears, full of strife and struggle, meaningless and joyless — normal? To be acutely conscious of your body id it normal? To be torn by feelings, tortured by thoughts: is it normal? A healthy body, a healthy mind live largely unperceived by their owner; only occasionally, through pain or suffering they call for attention and insight. Why not extend the same to the entire personal life? One can function rightly, responding well and fully to whatever happens, without having to bring it into the focus of awareness. When self-control becomes second nature, awareness shifts its focus to deeper levels of existence and action.
Q: Don’t you become a robot?
M: What harm is there in making automatic, what is habitual and repetitive? It is automatic anyhow. But when it is also chaotic, it causes pain and suffering and calls for attention. The entire purpose of a clean and well-ordered life is to liberate man from the thraldom of chaos and the burden of sorrow.
Q: You seem to be in favour of a computerised life.
M: What is wrong with a life which is free from problems? Personality is merely a reflection of the real. Why should not the reflection be true to the original as a matter of course, automatically? Need the person have any designs of its own? The life of which it is an expression will guide it. Once you realise that the person is merely a shadow of the reality, but not reality itself, you cease to fret and worry. You agree to be guided from within and life becomes a journey into the unknown.
Questioner: From what you told us it appears that you are not quite conscious of your surroundings. To us you seem extremely alert and active. We cannot possibly believe that you are in a kind of hypnotic state, which leaves no memory behind. On the contrary, your memory seems excellent. How are we to understand your statement that the world and all it includes does not exist, as far as you are concerned.
Maharaj: It is all a matter of focus. Your mind is focussed in the world, mine is focussed in reality. It is like the moon in daylight — when the sun shines, the moon is hardly visible. Or, watch how you take your food. As long as it is in your mouth, you are conscious of it; once swallowed, it does not concern you any longer. It would be troublesome to have it constantly in mind until it is eliminated. The mind should be normally in abeyance — incessant activity is a morbid state. The universe works by itself — that I know. What else do I need to know?
Q: So a jnani knows what he is doing only when he turns his mind to it; otherwise he just acts, without being concerned.
M: The average man is not conscious of his body as such. He is conscious of his sensations, feelings and thoughts. Even these, once detachment sets in, move away from the centre of consciousness and happen spontaneously and effortlessly.
Q: What then is in the centre of consciousness?
M: That which cannot be given name and form, for it is without quality and beyond consciousness. You may say it is a point in consciousness, which is beyond consciousness. Like a hole in the paper is both in the paper and yet not of paper, so is the supreme state in the very centre of consciousness, and yet beyond consciousness. It is as if an opening in the mind through which the mind is flooded with light. The opening is not even the light. It is just an opening.
Q: An opening is just void, absence.
M: Quite so. From the mind's point of view, it is but an opening for the light of awareness to enter the mental space. By itself the light can only be compared to a solid, dense, rocklike, homogeneous and changeless mass of pure awareness, free from the mental patterns of name and shape.
Q: Is there any connection between the mental space and the supreme abode?
M: The supreme gives existence to the mind. The mind gives existence to the body.
Q: And what lies beyond?
M: Take an example. A venerable Yogi, a master in the art of longevity, himself over 1000 years old, comes to teach me his art. I fully respect and sincerely admire his achievements, yet all I can tell him is: of what use is longevity to me? I am beyond time. However long a life may be, it is but a moment and a dream. In the same way I am beyond all attributes. They appear and disappear in my light, but cannot describe me. The universe is all names and forms, based on qualities and their differences, while I am beyond. The world is there because I am, but I am not the world.
Q: But you are living in the world!
M: That's what you say! I know there is a world, which includes this body and this mind, but I do not consider them to be more “mine” than other minds and bodies. They are there, in time and space, but I am timeless and spaceless.
Q: But since all exists by your light, are you not the creator of the world?
M: I am neither the potentiality nor the actualisation, nor the actuality of things. In my light they come and go as the specks of dust dancing in the sunbeam. The light illumines the specks, but does not depend on them. Nor can it be said to create them. It cannot be even said to know them.
Q: I am asking you a question and you are answering. Are you conscious of the question and the answer?
M: In reality I am neither hearing nor answering. In the world of events the question happens and the answer happens. Nothing happens to me. Everything just happens.
Q: And you are the witness?
M: What does witness mean? Mere knowledge. It rained and now the rain is over. I did not get wet. I know it rained, but I am not affected. I just witnessed the rain.
Q: The fully realised man, spontaneously abiding in the supreme state, appears to eat, drink and so on. Is he aware of it, or not?
M: That in which consciousness happens, the universal consciousness or mind, we call the ether of consciousness. All the objects of consciousness form the universe. What is beyond both, supporting both, is the supreme state, a state of utter stillness and silence. Whoever goes there, disappears. It is unreachable by words, or mind. You may call it God, or Parabrahman, or Supreme Reality, but these are names given by the mind. It is the nameless, contentless, effortless and spontaneous state, beyond being and not being.
Q: But does one remain conscious?
M: As the universe is the body of the mind, so is consciousness the body of the supreme. It is not conscious, but it gives rise to consciousness.
Q: In my daily actions much goes by habit, automatically. I am aware of the general purpose, but not of each movement in detail. As my consciousness broadens and deepens, details tend to recede, leaving me free for the general trends. Does not the same happens to a jnani, but more so?
M: On the level of consciousness — yes. In the supreme state, no. This state is entirely one and indivisible, a single solid block of reality. The only way of knowing it is to be it. The mind cannot reach it. To perceive it does not need the senses; to know it, does not need the mind.
Q: That is how God runs the world.
M: God is not running the world.
Q: Then who is doing it?
M: Nobody. All happens by itself. You are asking the question and you are supplying the answer. And you know the answer when you ask the question. All is a play in consciousness. All divisions are illusory. You can know the false only. The true you must yourself be.
Q: There is the witnessed consciousness and there is the witnessing consciousness. Is the second the supreme?
M: There are the two — the person and the witness, the observer. When you see them as one, and go beyond, you are in the supreme state. It is not perceivable, because it is what makes perception possible. It is beyond being and not being. It is neither the mirror nor the image in the mirror. It is what is — the timeless reality, unbelievably hard and solid.
Q: The jnani — is he the witness or the Supreme?
M: He is the Supreme, of course, but he can also be viewed as the universal witness.
Q: But he remains a person?
M: When you believe yourself to be a person, you see persons everywhere. In reality there are no persons, only threads of memories and habits. At the moment of realisation the person ceases. Identity remains, but identity is not a person, it is inherent in the reality itself. The person has no being in itself; it is a reflection in the mind of the witness, the 'I am', which again is a mode of being.
Q: Is the Supreme conscious?
M: Neither conscious nor unconscious, I am telling you from experience.
Q: Pragnanam Brahma. What is this Pragna?
M: It is the un-selfconscious knowledge of life itself.
Q: Is it vitality, the energy of life, livingness?
M: Energy comes first. For everything is a form of energy. Consciousness is most differentiated in the waking state. Less so in dream. Still less in sleep. Homogeneous — in the fourth state. Beyond is the inexpressible monolithic reality, the abode of the jnani.
Q: I have cut my hand. It healed. By what power did it heal?
M: By the power of life.
Q: What is that power?
M: It is consciousness. AII is conscious.
Q: What is the source of consciousness?
M: Consciousness itself is the source of everything.
Q: Can there be life without consciousness?
M: No, nor consciousness without life. They are both one. But in reality only the Ultimate is. The rest is a matter of name and form. And as long as you cling to the idea that only what has name and shape exists, the Supreme will appear to you non-existing. When you understand that names and shapes are hollow shells without any content whatsoever, and what is real is nameless and formless, pure energy of life and light of consciousness, you will be at peace — immersed in the deep silence of reality.
Q: If time and space are mere illusions and you are beyond, please tell me what is the weather in New York. Is it hot or raining there?
M: How can I tell you? Such things need special training. Or, just travelling to New York. I may be quite certain that I am beyond time and space, and yet unable to locate myself at will at some point of time and space. I am not interested enough; I see no purpose in undergoing a special Yogic training. I have just heard of New York. To me it is a word. Why should I know more than the word conveys? Every atom may be a universe, as complex as ours. Must I know them all? I can — if I train.
Q: In putting the question about the weather in New York, where did I make the mistake?
M: The world and the mind are states of being. The supreme is not a state. It pervades, all states, but it is not a state of something else. It is entirely uncaused, independent, complete in itself, beyond time and space, mind and matter.
Q: By what sign do you recognise it?
M: That's the point that it leaves no traces. There is nothing to recognise it by. It must be seen directly, by giving up all search for signs and approaches. When all names and forms have been given up, the real is with you. You need not seek it. Plurality and diversity are the play of the mind only. Reality is one.
Q: If reality leaves no evidence, there is no speaking about it.
M: It is. It cannot be denied. It is deep and dark, mystery beyond mystery. But it is, while all else merely happens.
Q: Is it the Unknown?
M: It is beyond both, the known and the unknown. But I would rather call it the known, than the unknown. For whenever something is known, it is the real that is known.
Q: Is silence an attribute of the real?
M: This too is of the mind. All states and conditions are of the mind.
Q: What is the place of samadhi?
M: Not making use of one's consciousness is samadhi. You just leave your mind alone. You want nothing, neither-from your body nor from your mind.
This page was published on October 16, 2001 and last revised on April 28, 2017.