I had been aware of his book “I Am That” for quite a while (well, actually it’s not so much as book as a collection of live question and answer sessions, recorded and translated and produced in book form). It is widely renowned as one of the most powerful books of spiritual awakening ever written, or as many simply put it “the first and last spiritual book you’ll ever need to read.” That’s a bold statement, but its nevertheless maintained by many people that – assuming you are ready and open to it -once you work your way through this volume, you’ll have “GOT IT!” and any further seeking is simply unnecessary. I’m halfway through the book and in my view that statement is no exaggeration.
Nisargadatta had a remarkable gift for elucidating profound truths simply and powerfully using few words. His statements – often short and pithy yet deeply transformative – jump off the page and strike me with such power. I meditate upon his words and they dissolve into me; deeply resonant and alive. Many spiritual teachings lose themselves in the attempt to use words to convey that which is beyond words and their work becomes far more complex and convoluted than it needs to be, thus losing the original essence of what they seek to point to. All words are mere pointers – some pointers are more helpful than others, I guess depending upon the nature of the subject and the ability of the perceiver to receive them, as well as the clarity and expressiveness of the teacher. The words of Nisargadatta are among the most helpful pointers I’ve ever been given and pack such an incredible power that I had to share some of them!
Nisargadatta was born in Bombay on 17th April 1897 and passed away on 8th September 1981, aged 84. His outward life was seemingly unremarkable; raised on a farm, he later opened a shop selling clothes and tobacco, while marrying and having four children. It was when he was 34 that he was introduced to the man that became his guru. His guru’s instruction was clear and simple and is the basis of what might be deemed Nisargadatta’s essential teaching:
“When I met my Guru, he told me: “You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense ‘I am’, find your real Self.” I obeyed him, because I trusted him. I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence. And what a difference it made, and how soon!
My teacher told me to hold on to the sense ‘I am’ tenaciously and not to swerve from it even for a moment. I did my best to follow his advice and in a comparatively short time I realised within myself the truth of his teaching. All I did was to remember his teaching, his face, his words constantly. This brought an end to the mind; in the stillness of the mind I saw myself as I am — unbound.
I simply followed (my teacher’s) 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 peace and joy and a 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.”
Living a very simple life following his realisation, he gave talks in his home amid the slums of Mumbai for the rest of his life, receiving thousands of visitors and having many of his discourses recorded, an assortment of which became edited into his famous “I Am That” as well as other books. As Dr Robert Powell says, “Like the Zen masters of old, Nisargadatta’s style is abrupt, provocative, and immensely profound — cutting to the core and wasting little effort on inessentials. His terse but potent sayings are known for their ability to trigger shifts in consciousness, just by hearing, or even reading them.”
His teachings defy summarisation, but could be said to be rooted in the purpose of spirituality is to know who and what you are and to be rooted in that deepest essence of Self, referred to as the sense of “I am” (the sense of “I am” that is prior to “I am this” or “I am that”). Our true nature is boundless awareness – which is the source of, but distinguished from, the personal individual (egoic) consciousness, which is related to the body.
His book “I Am That” is quite simply the finest spiritual book I have ever read and has had a profound effect on me. I have found it deeply illuminating and would recommend it to anyone who is ready (and not everyone will be, I hasten to add. You will know in yourself whether this resonates). It is available online as a PDF file at http://home.earthlink.net/~grharmon/I_Am_That.pdf It is best to read it from start to finish rather than dipping in. It’s advanced stuff which necessitates an open mind and heart. I knew I had to order a physical copy of the book just so I could attack it with a highlighter pen and underline all the bits which really jumped out at me (and it turns out that has necessitated a LOT of flourescent ink!)
What I would like to do is share some of my favourite quotations; words which I have found very powerful and transformative. I will keep adding to them, because there are a lot!
“Stop imagining yourself being or doing this or that and the realisation that you are the source and heart of all will dawn upon you.”
“I see only consciousness, and know everything to be but consciousness, as you know the picture on the cinema screen to be but light.”
“My life is a succession of events, just like yours. Only I am detached and see the passing show as a passing show, while you get stuck to things and get swept along with them.”
“You are the pure awareness that illuminates consciousness and its infinite content. Realise this and live accordingly. Go within and enquire “what am I?” or focus your mind on “I am”, which is pure and simple being.”
“Your self-image is the most changeful thing you have. It is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of a passerby. A bereavement, the loss of a job, an insult, and your image of yourself, which you call your ‘person’, changes deeply. Separate consistently and perseveringly the ‘I am’ from ‘this’ and ‘that’ and try to feel what it means to BE, just to BE, without being ‘this’ or ‘that’.”
“To take appearance as reality is a grievous mistake and the cause of all calamities. You are the all-pervading, eternal and infinitely creative awareness – consciousness. All else is local and temporary. Don’t forget what you are.”
“All I say is: wake up, know yourself, be yourself.”
“When the psyche is raw, undeveloped, quite primitive, it is subject to gross illusions. As it grows in breadth and sensitivity, it becomes a perfect link between pure matter and pure spirit and gives meaning to matter and expression to spirit.”
“All perceivables are transient and, therefore, unreal. Only that which makes perception possible, call it Life or Brahman, or what you like, is real.”
“Mine is a non-verbal world. In your world the unspoken has no existence. In mine – the words and their contents have no meaning. In your world nothing stays, in mine – nothing changes. My world is real, while yours is made of dreams.”
“When the mind is quiet, we come to know ourselves as the pure witness. We withdraw from the experience and its experiencer and stand apart in pure awareness, which is between and beyond the two.”
“The person is a very small thing. Actually it is a composite, it cannot be said to exist by itself. Unperceived, it is just not there. It is but the shadow of the mind, the sum total of memories. Pure being is reflected in the mirror of the mind, as knowing. What is known takes the shape of a person, based on memory and habit. It is but a shadow, or a projection of the knower onto the screen of the mind.”
“Your mind projects a structure and you identify with it. It is in the nature of desire to prompt the mind to create a world for its fulfilment.”
“Your personal universe does not exist by itself. It is merely a limited and distorted view of the real. It is not the universe that needs improving, but your way of looking.”
“Be fully aware of your own being and you will be in bliss consciously. Because you take your mind off your Self and make it dwell on what you are not, you lose your sense of well-being, of being well. […] True happiness is spontaneous and effortless. Happiness is unshakable. What you can seek and find is not the real thing. Find what you have never lost, find the inalienable.”
“Within the prison of your world appears a man who tells you that the world of painful contradictions, which you have created, is neither continuous nor permanent and is based on a misapprehension. He pleads with you to get out of it, by the same way by which you got into it. You got into it by forgetting what you are, and you will get out of it by knowing yourself as you are.”