Ultimately, knowledge is ignorance

The so-called birth is the appearance of ignorance which prevails till the so-called death.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

By Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Maharaj: The so called birth is the appearance of ignorance which prevails till the so called death. A rare one knows this ignorance and observes all the so called knowledge as useless. A Jnani finds that the existence is not worth the trouble it demands.

This article is reprinted from the book Nothing is Everything.

What you learn here, you cannot expect to hear elsewhere. There you will get entangled in activities.

Visitor: What about the purity of Brahmins and the untouchability of the lower castes?

M: All these are happenings in sheer ignorance. In Self-knowledge there is no place for knowledge, even that of knowledge ‘I Am’. All of it gets washed out. Have you heard this anywhere?

V: No.

M: For some spiritual teachers consciousness is the upper limit. “You are not the body but the dynamic consciousness (Chaitanya)”. They do not go beyond consciousness.

Even my Guru told me, “You are consciousness God. What is beyond that, you have to find It yourself.”

V: Is a Sage always in bliss?

M: This body is on fire. Self-knowledge has a strange quality. Sometimes it is unbearable.

Translator: Is it the consciousness that becomes unbearable?

M: How did you ask that question? Other than consciousness what is there to become bearable or unbearable?

In spirituality one attains a state of non-duality. There is neither ‘I Am’ nor others. When there is one, others are bound to accompany. Self knowledge is profound and mysterious.

When there is one, one needs many. One is never satisfied with the bear minimum necessities. One never tries to experience the bliss of being. Instead, one desires more happiness by ever increasing acquisitions. Why do people struggle for more?

Translator : One cannot be at peace with consciousness and tries to forget it in activity.

M: Are people contented with the bliss of the Self (Atmananda)?

M: Does consciousness become conscious of attention or the attention gives attention to consciousness? What is your experience?

You come to know anything because of consciousness. Without your consciousness is there any knowing? Is not knowing painful like a pin-prick? In order to forget it or to make the pain bearable one gets involved in activities.

Without Guru’s grace one cannot be out of this trouble.

We take ourselves to be that which, in reality, we are not. That is the cause of all our suffering and unhappiness. If you are everything, there is no fear. The presence of others, is the cause of fear. Is there anybody thinking on these line?

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

V: No. I have not heard this anywhere.

M: All words come from a source, other than the Self. The Self has no language of Its own. A two year old child has no language of its own. It learns from the mother. Initially, we are free of a language. We learn it from others. What is not ours has to go finally. If we live long, the language leaves us.

V: Is the Self full of happiness?

M: The Self is free of grief, hence it does not need happiness. The Eternal is the only Truth. The untruth is time-bound. It comes and goes. The ignorant have no choice but to live life as it unfolds.

M: The consciousness is Godly, still it cannot give indefinite company to the Eternal. The consciousness cannot be Eternal. A Jnani is an expression of the Eternal in a form. He is not the form, but only appears to be so. He is the Eternal. The consciousness cannot give company to the Jnani indefinitely. What does it mean?

Translator: It means consciousness is bound to leave the Jnani.

M: Is not living in a form painful? Life is full of trouble. The experience of the Universal Consciousness is full of trouble. Except that, there is no question of profit or loss there. The pain is due to the wrong identity due to ignorance. One is punished for considering oneself as that which one is not. Under these circumstances, should I impart knowledge?

Translator: The earnest seekers need it.

M: There are some people who always go in for the best, including Self knowledge; but they are not prepared to pay the price for It. They save even a beedi without offering it to anybody. People come to listen and depart in the middle of talks, without taking leave.

Some people ask irrelevant questions. I tell them not to waste their time and energy. Only try to find out why and how the beingness made its appearance.

This beingness was absent a hundred years ago. This is your direct knowledge. Why and how it appeared, should also be known directly, without referring to books or to other people.

V: Our knowledge is full of concepts.

M: The concepts sustain ignorance and give rise to fear.

Once there was a Guru sitting amidst his disciples. Every disciple was earlier told separately about a basket, full of garlands. The disciples had to garland the Guru, one by one. In case of any doubt, one could skip the garlanding without telling anybody.

The first disciple lifted the lid of basket and picked a garland. He dropped it immediately in the basket, as it was a cobra. The same was repeated by other disciples. The last disciple who had full faith in his Guru, picked the garland made from fresh cute flowers. This disciple was free of concepts, hence fearless. Concepts lead to delusion and misapprehension.

Consider your beingness as God and worship it with your sense of being only. Thereby, your beingness will become God in reality. God is consciousness or knowledge, Guru is also knowledge. This worship is advocated in the devotion with attributes (Saguna Bhakti). This way when one knows this knowledge, its true nature as ignorance becomes clear. Outwardly, what appears as knowledge is pure ignorance at source.

M: This way the knowledge takes away the ignorance and what remains is in perfect order.

V: Then, how should a man behave in the world?

M: If you wish to study a tree, should you watch the foliage or the roots?

V: Roots.

M: Your question does not originate from the roots. If somebody talks something irrelevant, I wring him there only.

V: Why is ‘I Am’ knowledge so important?

M: Without it did you have knowledge of your world? Then, how can you underestimate it?

V: How to get rid of the birth and death concepts?

M: When you know the origin and cause of your consciousness, there will be no birth or death for you. It is like catching the thief. The ‘I Am’ knowledge was absent. It has suddenly entered like a thief. Here, the night signifies ignorance. The Eternal never said ‘I Am’. This thief which entered is saying ‘I Am’. We must find out as to wherefrom this thief entered. This thief did not enter alone but with Cosmic Spirit (Purusha) and Cosmic Substance (Prakriti) i.e. the male and the female aspect. And what is the meaning of this happening? It is ‘I Am’, that is all. You were in the state of non-duality, in which the sense of being was absent. Due to this thief the duality started with ‘I Am’ and the experience of the world.

M: The Cosmic Spirit is the experience of silence, in which there are no words. The words begin with the Cosmic Substance, which is the female aspect. The absence of sense of being is the ideal. The activities begin with the appearance of sense of being. In deep sleep, as well as, in Samadhi, the sense of being is absent and there is contentment. The appearance of sense of being is the beginning of conflict. In its absence, there is peace and tranquility.

Elsewhere, you will be taught faithful observance of the duties for success and happiness. Here I show you the futility of action and remove the very cause of disturbances. I show you, why and how actions are not needed for real contentment.

By activities you may do better for some time; but none of those actions would give you eternal contentment.

In the absence of sense of being there were no needs, including the craving to be or to exist. The sense of being gives rise to all kinds of needs.

The people turn to spirituality only when there is a rise of Self-knowledge in them in dormant condition. Just as the so called birth happens unknowingly, the rise of Self-knowledge happens unknowingly.

In the absence of the knowledge (Sun) rise, people do not develop interest in spirituality. The dormant condition is like the existence of fire in this towel.

Other teachers will tell you how to achieve perfection. None will tell you that you are already perfect prior to doing anything. The question is only of knowing it directly.

M: (to a new visitor) : You say you have no Guru. From your talk, it appears, you had a Guru.

V: Really, I have no Guru.

M: You are hiding something. In spirituality you should be frank and open. What do you understand by the term Guru?

V: He is a spiritual teacher.

M: Guru means consciousness or knowledge. When you met him, he woke up the knowledge within you. That is why you have developed interest in Self-knowledge. Spirituality is the give and take of knowledge. Guru, the giver, is knowledge and disciple, the receiver, is also knowledge (jnana).

This article is reprinted from the book Nothing is Everything: The quintessential teachings of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Copyright © 2014 Jayashri M. Gaitonde.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was a spiritual teacher and beedie maker. His book I Am That is regarded by many people as the greatest spiritual text of the twentieth century.


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This page was published on May 22, 2017 and last revised on May 23, 2017.


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