What was the teaching of Nisargadatta Maharaj?
Many years ago I was a friend with a woman whom I greatly admired for her simplicity and generosity. It was a very difficult time for me and I was having trouble with my own spiritual work. In her infinite kindness, despite my negativity, she would counter it with telling me I was not the “doer.” She told me that her own teacher, with whom she was recently studying, was Nisargadatta Maharaj. My or anyone not being the doer was a simplistic way of saying that our egos are not what is in charge of our destiny, even though we think they are. How we think so is truly the biggest illusion of all times; it arises out of our attachment to identification of self. She went on to explain to me that the problem was my mind and the identification of my self with the mind.
I had no real understanding of what she was talking about. Even though I loved being in her presence, I eventually searched for someone who could either, in retrospect, join me in my negativity or offer me a way out in words or philosophies I understood. I regret now that I was not advanced enough to truly appreciate who she was and the teaching she offered.
Similarities of Ramana Maharishi and Nisargatta Maharaj
The closest I came to understanding the teachings of Nisargadatta occurred when my own guru teacher gave me a picture of the saint Ramana Maharshi. I remember my old friend telling me that Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta were very similar in that Ramana Maharshi would tell his disciples to chant, Who am I? The understanding of that mantra is that by chanting Who am I? the cloaks of our personalities and our attachments slowly separate and dissolve from the ego and we are left in the presence of the soul.
Quotations from Nisargadatta Maharaj
Similarly, Nisargadatta Maharaj was introduced to his guru Siddharameshwar Maharaj who told him, “You are not what you take yourself to be,” and gave him the mantra “I am” which he immediately began to recite. As he recounted later:
“My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense of 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.”
What I now understand of Nisargadatta Maharaj
Now in my new incarnation of spiritual understanding, I have since come to understand a piece of what my friend spoke. Quoting from Nisargadatta Maharaja, this is the basis of what he taught:
“The life force (prana) and the mind are operating of their own accord, but the mind will tempt you to believe that it is “you. Therefore, understand always that you are the timeless space less witness.”
“And even if the mind tells you that you are the one who is acting, don’t believe the mind. The mind, body, which is functioning, has come upon your original essence, but you are not that essence.”
I particularly love this quote from a disciple of his stating:
“For Maharaj, our only “problem” (an imagined one!) is a case of mistaken identity: we presume to be an individual, and, originally and fundamentally, we are not an individual, we are intrinsically always and only the Absolute.”
The problem with identification with ego
Having furthered my studies of Ramana Maharshi since receiving the picture from my teacher, I gave a small workshop regarding his work and focused a lot on what Nisargadatta Maharaj speaks of: a case of mistaken identity. As mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, etc., we are often caught in a web of mistaken identity. When asked to make choices on behalf of any of our loved ones, we get caught in our attachments and sometimes make wrong choices. We sometimes do not understand that people have their own karma and dharma and no matter how much we may wish for them, it is not up to us to interfere.
Particularly as a parent, I can see how that would be a difficult practice when dealing with your child. Parents often see themselves as inseparable from their children. To their detriment they might even force their children to follow in paths they have walked themselves.
What we forget is that we all want happiness and yet we pursue paths that bring us nothing but unhappiness. Yet the “I” with whom we identify continues to believe that we are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, it is not until we awaken from our misery through mishap or tragic occurrence. Then we realize that we have lived in a dream that was created way before we were even born. It is a dream that continues to be pursued even though it leads to unhappiness. It is one that has been wrought for thousands of years.
You are lucky indeed if you meet someone who awakens you from your dream. You are also fortunate if awareness through misery suddenly awakens you to your true path.
Quoting from Nisargadatta Maharaj about his own Guru
Ending with this wonderful quote from Nisargadatta speaking of himself and his own Guru:
“…Go back to that state of pure being, where the ‘I am’ is still in its purity before it got contaminated with ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that.’ Your burden is of false self-identifications—abandon them all.” My guru told me, “Trust me, I tell you: you are Divine. Take it as the absolute truth. Your joy is divine; your suffering is divine too. All comes from God. Remember it always. You are God, your will alone is done.”
“I did believe him and soon realized how wonderfully true and accurate were his words. I did not condition my mind by thinking, “I am God, I am wonderful, and I am beyond.” I simply followed his instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being, “I am,” and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the “I am” in my mind and soon the peace and joy and deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared—myself, my guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained, and unfathomable silence.”
My friend’s name was Kali Ganga. I now extend my love and appreciation for who she was and what she still teaches me.