This dialogue took place about a year before Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s death, when he was 83 years old.
Maharaj: Whatever appears has really no existence. And whatever has not appeared also drops away; what remains is That, the Absolute. “That” is like Bombay.
Visitor: Bombay certainly seems to be appearing at the moment. We should sell him another city.
M: But I normally ask you this kind of question, whether Bombay sleeps, whether it wakes up in the morning, whether it is worried, whether it has pain and pleasure. I do not refer to the people of Bombay, nor to the land, but to that which remains.
Now you know that you are. Prior to this moment, did you have this knowledge that you exist? This consciousness, beingness, which you are experiencing now, was it there earlier?
V: It has been, on and off.
M: This confidence that you are, the knowledge of your existence, was it there earlier?
V: When I do what Maharaj tells me, it is very clear. It is still in an infantile stage, but my sense of “me” is completely undone, and there arises great happiness, peace and clarity; but it comes and goes, and I forget.
M: Its inherent nature is time-bound. It has appeared as childhood and it is there now; but it wasn’t there some years back. So you cannot possibly say that it is the Eternal. So don’t believe that it is true.* And so long as you are having this “I”-consciousness, you will be trying to acquire things; so long as you know that you are, the things that you possess have an emotional significance to you. Now there is the fact that your “I”-consciousness itself is time-bound. So when this dissolves, what is the value of all those things which you possessed?
*On the basis that a transitory appearance cannot be the real.
M: As long as you have not understood this child-consciousness, you’ll get involved in the world and its activities. Therefore, the real liberation is only when you understand that child-consciousness. Do you agree?
V: I do agree.
M: During your entire lifetime, you do not have any permanent identity. Whatever you consider yourself to be changes from moment to moment. Nothing is constant.
V: And what you think you are going to become changes too, with time, in spite of yourself.
M: That change is also made possible by the child-conciousness. Because of that, all these changes take place. That is why you must grasp this principle.
If you really want to understand this, you must give up your identification with the body. By all means, make use of the body, but don’t consider yourself to be the body while acting in this world. Identify yourself with the consciousness, which dwells in the body; with that identity, you should act in the world. Will it be possible?
So long as you identify yourself as the body, your experience of pain and sorrow will increase day by day. That is why you must give up this identification, and you should take yourself as the consciousness. If you take yourself as the body, it means you have forgotten your true Self, which is the atman. And sorrow results for the one who forgets himself. When the body falls, the principle which always remains is You. If you identify yourself with the body, you will feel that you are dying, but in reality there is no death because you are not the body. Let the body be there or not be there, your existence is always there; it is eternal.
Now who or what has heard my talk? It is not the ear, not the physical body, but that knowledge which is in the body; that has heard me. So identify yourself with that knowledge, that consciousness. Whatever happiness we enjoy in this world is only imaginary. The real happiness is to know your existence, which is apart from the body. You should never forget the real identity that you possess. Consider a patient on his deathbed, certain to die. Now when he first comes to know of his disease, say cancer, he gets such a shock that it is permanently engraved in his memory. Like that, you should never forget your true nature — the true identity I have told you about.
A patient who is suffering from cancer is, as it were, all the time silently chanting “I’m dying from cancer”; and that chant proceeds without any efforts. Similarly, in your case: Take up that chant “I am consciousness.” That chant, too, should go on without any effort. One who is constantly awake in his true nature — having this knowledge about himself — is liberated.
A patient suffering from terminal cancer always remembers his state and ultimately undergoes that very end; so much is certain. Similarly, one who remembers that he is the knowledge, that he is the consciousness, has that end, he becomes the Parabrahman.
So if you are about to photograph this land, I would say, no don’t photograph… take a photograph of it but without land. Whatever is Bombay, take a photograph of that and show me. Can you?
V: I could not do it.
M: So that is like photographing yourself without the body. You are that, like Bombay. Remembering that you are the consciousness should be without any effort. When you say “I,” don’t refer to this body’s “I,” but to that “I” which represents this consciousness. The consciousness is “I,” and make use of this knowledge when you act.
The pleasure or happiness that you have had, is it through the words that you have heard or because you have had a glimpse of your atman?
V: I have been studying a lot all along in doing the sadhana. Since I met Maharaj, things are becoming clarified and also I am getting confirmation of what I have learned.
M: What should be your ultimate conclusion after reading a lot, doing sadhana and listening to these talks? It is that the hearer, the knower, is not concerned with the upadhi — that is, the body, mind and consciousness — and that he is separate from this upadhi that has come upon him.
V: Does that mean sakshivan, witness-consciousness?
M: You use that word sakshivan, but what do you really mean by it? That there is sentience, through which you see what is happening. But other than that, is anything needed for witnessing to take place? The sun has arisen, and there is daylight. Have you put yourself out to do any witnessing? Or do you see effortlessly; therefore, witnessing simply takes place. There is nothing that what you call the “witness” has to do; witnessing happens purely by itself.
This knowledge “I am” has dawned on you. Since then, whatever other knowledge you have acquired, whatever experiences you have had, whatever you have seen of the world, has all been witnessed. But that one to whom the witnessing takes place is entirely separate from that which is witnessed. In this witnessing, in these experiences, you have assumed that you are the body, and you are involved in it. Therefore, you get the reactions of whatever you have seen and witnessed only through this identification with the body. But actually, you are not concerned with that which makes your seeing possible and that which has been seen. You are apart from either of them.
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.