Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was an Indian Guru and Advaita (nonduality) teacher who belonged to the Navnath Sampradaya lineage. As one of the representatives of the 20th-century school of non-duality, Sri Nisargadatta, with his direct and minimalist explanation of non-duality, is considered the most famous Advaita teacher after Ramana Maharshi.
In 1973, his most famous and widely translated book, I Am That, was published, translating Nisargadatta’s conversations into English that brought him worldwide recognition and followers. Some of the most famous students of Nisargadatta are Ramesh Balsekar and psychologist Stephen Wolinsky (founder of quantum psychology).
Life Before Spiritual Realization
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in Bombay as Maruti Shivrampant Kamvli on April 17, 1897, and died of throat cancer on September 8, 1981, at the age of 84.
His birth coincided with the auspicious day of Hanuman Jayanti, hence the name Maruti. Young Maruti’s childhood was spent in Kandalgaon, a town some distance from Bombay, to which his father had moved in the “year of the plague.”
Maharaj said that his earliest personal memory was perhaps carried on his father’s shoulders, heading towards a hill as the sun rose over the top. Over time, the farm’s income was insufficient to support the family. After the demise of his father in 1915, first the eldest son, and then Maruti himself, had to return to Bombay to earn a living for the family.
Maruti began his career as a clerk in a private company, but he soon established himself on his own with his independent and entrepreneurial temperament.
In 1924 he married. He had four children – a son and three daughters. Economic prosperity could not bring Maruti much happiness.
Maruti lived the monotonous and eventless life of an ordinary man until his middle age, with no hint of the holiness that was to follow. Among his friends from this period, one, Yashwantrao Bagkar, was a disciple of Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj of the Navanath Sampradaya.
Bagkar was well aware of Maruti’s sincere and intense search for Truth, and one day he decided to take him to his Guru. Soon after, Maruti received initiation from his Guru and pursued his spiritual activities with innate zeal and determination until they culminated in his attainment of realization (enlightenment). This happened between 1933 and 1936.
Sri Siddharameshwar entered Mahasamadhi in 1936. The following year, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj suddenly decided to abandon his family and his prosperous businesses and go on pilgrimage throughout the country.
After visiting various sacred places and temples in South India and on his way north to spend the remaining days in the Himalayas, he met his classmate. After arguing with him, Sri Nisargadatta concluded that such pilgrimages were unnecessary and that it was much more meaningful to lead an active life of dispassionate action.
When Maharaj returned to Bombay, he found that all his tents except one had been lost, but he calmly decided that it was sufficient for his worldly needs. Since then, everything has happened spontaneously; nothing has been done with deliberate intention or conscious effort.
When he sat in his bidi shop running his business quietly and efficiently, some friends came to see him. The conversation always turned to the same topic, Paramartha — the ultimate meaning. These conversations became so popular that there was always a small crowd outside the little shop listening to his pearls of wisdom.
So, when his son was able to take over the tent, Maharaj retired to the attic which, for his personal use, he had built over his house and has assumed the sacredness of the ashram ever since. Many of those conversations were recorded and transcribed, and a few were filmed.
Teaching Of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Sri Nisargadatta Maharajji often clarifies that those who come to him hoping for advice that can bring them material benefit, physical relief, or mental solace will be disappointed, for he never discusses such matters.
As he often says himself, all he does is present us with a spiritual mirror in which we can see our true image if we seriously want to do so. If we venture to do so, his basic teaching could perhaps be summarized as follows:
- The entire universe (Mahadakash) exists only in consciousness (Chidakash), while the Jnani has his abode in the Absolute (Paramakash). In the Absolute – pure beingness – there is no consciousness of ‘I am,’ which is prior to thoughts and words. In consciousness, the world appears and disappears. All that is, is Myself; all that is, is Mine. Before all origination, and after all, endings, I Am. Whatever happens, I must be here to witness it. Therefore, don’t assume that the world does not exist; it appears in consciousness. It is the totality of the known in the immensity of the unknown.
- You have projected a world of your own imagination onto yourself, based on memories, desires, and fears. You have imprisoned yourself. Realize that, break the spell and be free.
- Liberation is not a matter of acquiring something, but a matter of faith and conviction that you have always been free, and a matter of courage to act on this conviction. There is nothing to change; Only when the very idea of change is seen as false can the unchanged show itself.
- Be honest with your own real self. Love yourself absolutely. Don’t pretend that you love others as yourself. Unless you have realized that others are one with yourself, you cannot love them. Do not pretend to be what you are not, do not refuse to be what you are. Your love for others is the result of self-knowledge, not its cause.
- If you could just keep your inner silence uncontaminated by memories and expectations, you could see a beautiful pattern of events. It’s your worry that creates chaos.
- Attachment destroys courage. Freedom means to let go. People just don’t wish to let go of everything. They do not know that the finite is the price of the infinite, as death is the price of immortality. Spiritual maturity is the willingness to let go of everything. Refusal is the first step. But true refusal lies in the realization that there is nothing to give up because nothing belongs to you. It’s like falling asleep: you don’t give up your bed when you fall asleep – you just forget about it.
- Nothing brings the world more benefits than giving up benefits. A person who no longer thinks in terms of loss and gain is a person who is not violent because he is outside of the conflict.
- Realize that you are not what you think you are. Fight with all your might against the notion that you can be named and described. It is not right. Reject to think of yourself in terms of anything. There is no other way out of the misery that you have created for yourself by blindly accepting facts without inquiry. Suffering is a call to search; any pain requires investigation. Do not be lazy to think.
- You are always looking for pleasure and avoiding pain, always pursuing happiness and peace. Can’t you see that your search for happiness makes you unhappy? Try to be indifferent to pain and pleasure, without asking for anything and without giving up anything, and give all your attention to the level at which the “I am” is always present. Soon you will understand that peace and happiness are inherent in your very nature, and only their search through special channels distracts you. Avoid distraction, that’s all. There is no need to seek – you will not seek what you already have. You yourself are God, the Supreme Reality.