Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

1897 ‒ 1981

From his living room in the slums of Bombay (Mumbai), this self-realized master became famous for brilliant, aphoristic, extemporized talks in which he taught an austere, minimalist Jnana Yoga based on his own experience. Many of these talks have been published in books. The earliest volume, I Am That, is widely regarded as a modern classic.


Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in Bombay (Mumbai) in March, 1897. His parents, who gave him the name Maruti, had a small farm at the village of Kandalgaon in Ratnagiri district in Mahrashtra. His father, Shivrampant, was a poor man who had been a servant in Bombay before turning to farming.

Maruti worked on the farm as a boy. Although he grew up with little or no formal education, he was exposed to religious ideas by his father's friend Visnu Haribhau Gore, a pious Brahman.

Maruti's father died when the boy was eighteen, leaving behind his wife and six children. Maruti and his older brother left the farm to look for work in Mumbai. After a brief stint as a clerk, Maruti opened a shop selling children's clothes, tobacco, and leaf-rolled cigarettes, called beedies, which are popular in India. The shop was modestly successful and Maruti married in 1924. A son and three daughters soon followed.

When Maruti was 34, a friend of his, Yashwantrao Baagkar, introduced him to his guru, Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the head of the Inchegeri branch of the Navanath Sampradaya. The guru gave a mantra and some instructions to Maruti and died soon after. Sri Nisargadatta later recalled:

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! (I Am That, Chapter 75.)

Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, Nisagadatta’s guru

Within three years, Maruti realized himself and took the new name Nisargadatta. He became a saddhu and walked barefoot to the Himalayas, but eventually returned to Mumbai where he lived for the rest of his life, working as a cigarette vendor and giving religious instruction in his home.

The success of I Am That, first published in 1973, made him internationally famous and brought many Western devotees to the tenement apartment where he gave satsangs.

At the time of his death in 1981 he was his guru’s successor as the head of the Inchegari branch of the Navanath Sampradaya. He was 84 years old.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

His Teachings

Sri Nisargadatta's teachings defy summarization, but he frequently 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." (I Am That, Chapter 16.)

One of Nisagadatta’s editors, Jean Dunn, has written a brief, condensed summary of the most important points of his teaching. We’ve printed it here.

Book excerpts on this site

I Am That

Nisargadatta’s best-known book, I Am That, is widely regarded as one of the greatest spiritual books of the twentieth century. Here’s a sample:

Question: Is there any danger in pursuing the path of Yoga at all cost?

Maharaj: Is a match-stick dangerous when the house is on fire? The search for reality is the most dangerous of all undertakings for it will destroy the world in which you live. But if your motive is love of truth and life, you need not be afraid. (I Am That, Chapter 96.)

The language is terse and powerful; the three clashing ideas in the answer pop one after another like firecrackers or the voltas of sonnets. And the metaphors! “Is a match-stick dangerous when the house is on fire?” The person who devised that analogy was very smart ‒ dizzyingly so. In fact the analogy is so clever that I suspect the author thought of it first and contrived the question afterward to introduce it.

For comparison, here’s a typical paragraph from one of Nisargadatta’s other books:

For meditation, you should sit with identification with the knowledge “I am” only and have confirmed to yourself that you are not the body. You must dwell only in that knowledge “I am” ‒ not merely the words “I am.” The design of body does not signify your identification. And also, the name which is given to you or to the body is not your correct identity. (The Ultimate Medicine, Chapter 8.)

The prose is utterly different. The first paragraph was composed by a literary genius, but the second clanks and plods like a 1950s movie robot.

What accounts for the difference? I Am That, unlike Nisargadatta’s other books, had a co-author. The co-author, Maurice Frydman, is identified modestly and misleadingly on the book’s cover as the translator but in fact he played a larger role. It was he who supplied the brilliant prose and mesmerizing metaphors and who knows how much else.

This is not to say that Nisargadatta’s other books are bad. On the contrary, they are excellent. But they are a different sort of literature. If you want stupendous prose, I Am That is your book; but if you want to get as close as you can to the sound of Nisargadatta’s voice and the content of the conversations that took place in his living room, you should look at his other books, particularly those edited by Jean Dunn.

It may be worth mentioning that Ed Muzika, an American guru, reports that Jean Dunn told him that Nisargadatta said that I Am That is kindergarten and Prior to Consciousness is graduate school. Ed ranks the Nisargadatta books in the following order, starting with the best: Prior to Consciousness, Seeds of Consciousness, and Consciousness and the Absolute. All three are edited by Jean Dunn.

Maurice Frydman

Self-knowledge and Self-realization

Most of Nisargadatta’s books are transcriptions of his recorded conversations. However there is at least one book, Self-knowledge and Self-realization, that he apparently wrote himself with pen and paper. Two editions of this book exist in English. The first was a printed translation by Prof. Vasudeo Madhav Kulkarni published in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1963. The second was an edited version of Kulkarni’s edition made by Jean Dunn and released in digital form by Ed Muzika in 2005. Both editions are on this site for free.

Kulkarni’s 1963 book.

Jean Dunn’s adaptation of Kulkarni’s book.

Recommended books

I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Translated by Maurice Frydman

If any spiritual work of the last century deserves to be called a classic, it’s this one. An American spiritual book dealer has told us that this is his number-one seller. 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. The stupendously forceful language, coupled with Nisargadatta’s profound insight, makes this is a unique and astonishing work.

See it on Amazon.

Prior to Consciousness

Edited by Jean Dunn

This is the second book in the three-volume series that Jean Dunn made of conversations held by Nisargadatta during the last two years of his life when he was dying of cancer. This volume contains conversations that occurred between April 1980 and July 1981.

Ed Muzika, an American guru, thinks this is best edited work of Nisargadatta’s.

See it on Amazon.

Seeds of Consciousness

Edited by Jean Dunn

During the last two years of his life, when he was dying of cancer, Nisargadatta held many conversations with visitors. Jean Dunn collected some of these conversations and published them in a series of three books. This is the first of the series. It contains conversations that occurred between July 1979 and April 1980.

See it on Amazon.

The Ultimate Medicine

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.

See it on Amazon.

The Nectar of Immortality

By Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Translated by Robert Powell, PhD

This book contains transcripts of 21 talks given by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in 1980, shortly before his death. The talks include “Prior to Conception, What Was I?’ and “To Know What One Is, One Must Know One's Beginning.” This volume resembles another book by the same editor, The Ultimate Medicine, which was compiled from talks given six months later.

See it on Amazon.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Consciousness and the Absolute: The final talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Consciousness and the Absolute: The final talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Edited by Jean Dunn

This is the last book in the three-volume series that Jean Dunn made of conversations held by Nisargadatta during the last two years of his life when he was dying of cancer. This volume, like the second, contains conversations that occurred between April 1980 and July 1981.

Although this book purports to be the “final” talks, the second book in the series covers the same time period and the talks that it contains are just as final.

See it on Amazon.


This page was first published on February 28, 2001, last revised on August 4, 2020, and last republished on October 16, 2020.



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