” Life and Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj “
“ Maruti ”
Nisargadatta Maharaj ( née Maruti Sivrampant Kambli ) was born at dawn on the full-moon day of Saturday, 17th April, 1897.
His deeply religious parents named him “ Maruti ” in honor of the festival that day honoring the birth of Hanuman.
Though born in Mumbai, second of six children, “ Maruti ” was raised on a family farm in “ Kandalgaon ”, a rural village to the south in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri District. This was because his father Shivrampant, who had been employed by a merchant in Mumbai, had moved the family to the countryside in the year 1896, when a plagueepidemic broke out in that bustling port City.
Maharaj’s father Shivrampant Kambli and mother Parvati Bai were both ardent devotees who observed very rigorously the traditional fasts and holy days.
His father loved to sing bhajans, especially loudly as do the followers of Varkari System. ( The “ Varkaris ” are mystics and devotees of India’s Maharashtra state, founded by the sage Jnanesvar [ 1275-96 ] and invigorated by the last leading historical figure of the movement, poet-saint-sage Tukaram 1607-49 ).
Shivrampant had in his possession a number of traditional holy books which he read regularly and devoutly.
In his youth, Maruti performed all the hard labors required by life on a farm. Though he received little or no formal education, he was exposed to spiritual ideas by quietly listening to and absorbing the conversations between his father, Shivamprant and the latter’s friend, Vishnu Haribhau Gore, a pious brahman.
“ marriage ”
Shivrampant died in the year 1915, and in the year 1920 .. 23-year-old Maruti came to Mumbai to find work to help support the family back home.
At first, he landed in a job as an office clerk, but then he took the initiative to move out on his own, eventually becoming prosperous in business as the owner of a chain of small retail shops with 30-40 employees, selling sundry items like cutlery and garments, but primarily tobacco and bidis.
In the year 1924, Maruti married a young woman named “ Sumati Bai ”. Their family came to include a son and three daughters.
“ meeting the Guru ”
At the continuing behest of his friend Yashvantrao Bagkar, in late 1933, Maruti finally visited Sri Siddharameshvar Maharaj ( 1888-1936 ), a sage of the “ Navnath Sampradaya ”, a line of house-holder Gurus tracing its origins to legendary avataras ( Divine incarnations ) Gorakhnatha ( also sometimes traced further back to Lord Dattatreya ).
The Navnath lineage taught the sublime philosophy and direct, non-dual realization of Absolute Being Awareness.
On Maruti’s third visit to Sri Siddharameshvar Maharaj, he received instruction in meditation and formal initiation into the Navnath line ( Inchegeri branch ). He was given a mantra, and, upon receiving it, began to recite it diligently.
Within minutes, he inwardly experienced a dazzling illumination of varied colors and fell into Samadhi ( complete absorption into the unitary state of non-dual awareness ).
“ spiritual master ”
Eventually, Maruti became Siddharameshvar’s leading disciple.
He totally obeyed his Guru, doing or giving up whatever Siddharameshvar Ji commanded, since the Guru’s word was law unto him.
The transformation in his character was so great that all of Maruti’s employees also became initiates of Siddharameshvar. After more than a year of association with Siddharameshvar, Maruti was asked to give spiritual discourses on numerous occasions. Maruthi gave a series of twelve discourse commentaries on spiritual books at the home-town of his friend Bagkar in the year 1935.
Maruti began to impress people, not only with his cognitive understanding of spirituality but also his radiant exemplification of Truth.
In those days, he gave spontaneous talks to anyone coming to his shop seeking his spiritual wisdom. Some brought their sick relatives to him, hoping for cures. He sent the afflicted to a cafe at the street corner, telling them to drink a glass of water therein and in doing so, they were often healed.
Siddharameshvar learned of this and asked Maruti to stop intending such healings, which are trivial in light of the need for spiritual awakening from the ultimate ‘ disease ’ of identifying with the body-mind personality.
“ taking the name ‘ Nisargadatta ’ ”
Maruti eventually took on the name “ Nisargadatta ”, meaning “ One dwelling in the natural state ”.
“ Nis-arga ” literally means “ without parts ”, and suggests the unfragmented, seamless, solid Awareness of a sage.
Nisargadatta became primarily interested only in practicing meditation as prescribed by his Guru and singing devotional bhajan songs.
In his meditations, Nisargadatta experienced strange and colorful divine lights, various divine forms of God and saints, visions of beautiful landscapes never seen before, and deep trance states of samadhi.
“ words of the Guru ”
Nisargadatta himself tells .. of his time with his Guru .. what transpired in the more mature phase of his spiritual practice ( sadhana ) :
“ My association with my Guru was scarcely for two and a half years. He was staying some 200 kilometers away, and he would come here once every four months, for fifteen days. This (realization) is the fruit of that. The words he gave me touched me very deeply. I abided in one thing only : the words of my Guru are the truth, and he said :
“ You are the Parabrahman ( Absolute Reality ). No more doubts and no more questions on that.
“ Once my Guru conveyed to me what he had to say, I never bothered about other things .. I hung on to the words of the Guru.”
“ My Guru told me :
‘ 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 selfidentifications .. abandon them all. ’
“ Again 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, 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. ”
Sri Siddharameshvar Maharaj passed away on 9th November, 1936, just before the Diwali festival commenced.
“ life of a renunciate ”
Nisargadatta had travelled a bit with Siddharameshvar, such as to his Guru’s home town of “ Patri ”, and he did not miss, during those days, even a single traditional function ( e.g.,celebrations of birthdays and mahasamadhi passing days of the Gurus of recent lineage holders of the Navnath sampradaya ) held at Inchgeri, Bagewadi and Siddhagiri ( Kolhapur ), Maharashtra.
A year later, during the Diwali celebrations in Fall, in the year 1937, Nisargadatta left home, taking up the life of a renunciate. He was inspired by a remark his Guru had once made :
“ Is there anyone ready to renounce material life completely for the sake of his Sadguru’s word ? ”
“ travelling the whole of India ”
Without informing anyone, Nisargadatta left Mumbai, travelling on foot southeast to Maharashtra’s holy temple town of Pandharpur ( a main center for the Varkari Movement ).
There, he gave up his costly clothes, put on a simple garment, and with only two small pieces of loincloth and a coarse woolen covering, he began the life of a penniless wanderer.
Under the scorching Sun, Nisargadatta walked to Gangapur, then turned south and roamed on foot through Tamil Nadu in India’s deep south, visiting more shrines, temples, and holy places. Through the Grace of his discarnate Guru, Nisargadatta was never without food.
On one occasion, an old man and a house miraculously materialized themselves out of nowhere in a barren place to provide the hungry, tired Nisargadatta with food, water and a brief resting place.
When he departed, on a whim he looked back after taking several steps : the place had completely vanished ! It was evidently a yogic mental creation inter-dimensionally dreamed up by Siddharameshvar to assist his dedicated successor on his path of utter renunciation.
After visiting the pilgrimage town Rameshvaram, at the southern tip of India, Nisargadatta travelled northward, coming back through the eastern part of Maharashtra state, where a fellow disciple gave him a photo of Sri Siddharameshvar, some saffron cloth for a sannyasin’s robe, and a copy of the non-dually oriented wisdom text, “ Dasbodh ”, by Samartha Ramdas, a 17th century Maratha sage.
Nisargadatta then walked north as far as Agra, Mathura-Brindavan and Delhi, intending to continue on up into the Himalayas and there adopt the life of total renunciation.
However, meeting and conversing with another fellow disciple of Siddharameshvar in Delhi convinced Nisargadatta that returning to live with his family in Mumbai would not impede the spirit of renunciation .. for true renunciation is an inward unattachment having nothing to do with one’s external situation.
“ awakening after travels ”
On the return journey he evidently opened up in an irreversible, unbroken realization of the Atma or transcendent-immanent Divine Self.
His spiritual practices had exhausted all samskaras, the problematic likes and dislikes inherited from past karma.
He had spontaneously, finally awakened to Absolute Self, Absolute Reality. All attachment, aversion, and delusion had ended. Nisargadatta was now totally free in the Freedom of the jivanmukta, one liberated while still functioning with a body.
After his eight months of wandering, pilgrimage and full awakening from the dream of “ me ”, Nisargadatta came once again to Mumbai in the Year 1938.
His business virtually wiped out, he lived in the family apartment ( Vanmali Bhavan building ) on 10th Lane in the hectic downtown Khetwadi area, just one block from a busy boulevard, maintaining one nearby tiny alcove street-front shop as an income-source for his family.
He himself reduced all bodily needs to a minimum, and spent almost all his free time in the little mezzanine loft he had built in the highceiling apartment.
Here, he could be found absorbed in meditative samadhi or singing bhajans or reading great Hindu scriptures of nondual wisdom and devotion : “ Yoga-Vasishtha ”, Eknatha’s “ Bhagavat ”, Ramdas’ “ Dasbodha ”, Jnanesvar’s “ Amritanubhava ” and “ Jnanesvari ( Gita Commentary ) ”, Tukaram’s poems, Shankara’s treatises, and some major Upanishads.
“ association with Bhainath Mahara ”
Nisargadatta’s sharpness as a spiritual teacher was honed through intense conversations with his brother disciple K.A. Sabnis, better known as “ Bhainath Maharaj ”. From the Year 1941 onwards, he came in close contact with Bhainath.
Every day they used to go to Girgaum Chaupati for a walk after the shop hours. They would be engrossed for hours together in their ( entirely spiritual ) discussion. It was not uncommon that when they reached home it was two or three hours past midnight.
Their daily routine mundane duties, however, did not suffer on that account. These long and subtle talks on spiritual matters helped both.
“ enlightened equanimity ”
During the Years 1942 to 1948, the passing away of a dear daughter, his devoted and beloved wife, and his revered mother, and the horrible violence and turbulence of India’s independence and subsequent partition, could not shake Maharaj’s enlightened equanimity, which treats all happenings as the dream-drama of an unborn, undying, universal consciousness.
Fully awake, nothing can disturb one who abides as transcendental, absolute Awareness beyond its play of consciousness.
Ever since his return to Mumbai in the Year 1938, Nisargadatta had been sought out by those desiring his counsel on spiritual matters.
Many wanted to become his disciples and get formal mantra-initiation from him, reverentially calling him “ Maharaj ”. Yet, he was reluctant to have disciples and serve as a Guru. Finally, in the Year 1951, after receiving an inner revelation from Siddharameshvar, he began to initiate students into discipleship.
“ disciples in large numbers ”
In the Year 1966, Nisargadatta finally made a complete retirement from any further businesswork and let his married son, Chittaranjan, take over full operation of the tiny shop selling bidis and various goods.
Nisargadatta was allowing devotees to gather in his 8’x12’ mezzanine room for twicedaily open sessions of meditation, bhajan-singing, and inquiry into spiritual truth. This room was later expanded to 8’x18’ to accommodate the larger groups that began to visit him after Maharaj was introduced to the wider world of spiritual aspirants.
“ daily discourses ”
Maharaj used to reveal, through his daily discourses and talks, the Essence of Reality through his own conviction with exceptional vigor and clarity.
Knowledge flowed through his talks everyday for hours on end. It poured freely like the rain and was addressed to all who are present. Narrow distinctions of male and female, high and low, caste and creed, ‘ isms ’ or schools make no sense here.
His sublime and saintly looks pour peace and love equally on all. His audience includes seekers from different walks of life. Professors, lawyers, judges, high executives, political and social and spiritual leaders often visit the ‘ Ashram ’ his mezzanine loft to seek spiritual guidance from him.
Maharaj was against making use of spiritual powers ( siddhis ) to seek worldly ends though his faithful devotees do experience his powers in their daily life.
On the holy days like the birthdays and anniversaries of Sadgurus in the tradition, Guru Poornima, Deepavali, etc., celebrations used held in specially rented big halls with great enthusiasm. On these occasions, Maharaj himself would loudly sing devotional songs and danced to the tune.
Maharaj did not at all like the idea of celebrating his own birthday, but he had to acquiesce in the importunities of his devotees. In late 1960s, early 1970s, the number of disciplews of Maharaj in the city of Mumbai and in other places had considerably increased.
He used to undertake tours four or five times a year to visit, along with some disciples, holy places like Bagewadi, Inchgeri, and Siddhagiri, which are the birth places of Sadgurus in the ( Navnath ) Sampradaya. He also visited, though rarely, the places of disciples who stay out of Mumbai.
Thus, he never allowed any separate spacious ‘ Ashram ’ to be built, though, as mentioned, he did allow large halls to sometimes be rented for bhajans and discourses on certain holy days, and for this purpose and a few small publishing and charitable projects the “ Sri Nisargadatta Adhyatma Kendra ” organization was registered in the Year1976.
Because, the “ I Am That ” book in the later 1970s began to draw a greater number of people than could be squeezed into his little mezzanine loft, the Maharaj generally allowed people to stay for only a few weeks or even just a few days. Many persons would come for up to two weeks, then clear out, go elsewhere, and come back several months later for another short period before leaving, usually to return once again at a later date.
“ spiritual teachings ”
Maharaj declared : “ I speak every day on the same subject. ” ( Seeds of Consciousness, p. 165 ) That subject was our Real Identity as the birthless-
deathless, infinite-eternal Absolute Awareness or Parabrahman, and Its play of emanated universal consciousness.
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.
Maharaj often emphasized the need for deeply hearing, pondering and meditating upon .. and firmly stabilizing in .. his teaching about the “ I Am ” consciousness and the Absolute Awareness beyond.
Maharaj would say :
“ Meditate on and remain as this ‘ I-Am-ness ’, fervently focus on and ponder this fundamental experience or fact of ‘ I Am ’, free of all limiting identifications with ‘ I am this ’ or ‘ I am that ’.
Maharaj stated the two stages of disidentification via witnessing :
“ There are two witnessing stages; beingness ( consciousness ) witnesses all this manifestation. And witnessing of this beingness, consciousness, happens to that eternal principle, the Absolute. ”
He also declared :
“ There is only one consciousness ( manifesting all beings-events ). You must become one with and stabilize in that consciousness, then you transcends it. ”
Beyond mere conceptualizing or intellectualizing about this on the level of individual consciousness, there must be authentic establishment or stabilizing in/as this transcendental Source – the Ultimate.
Because Absolute Awareness can never be seen, perceived, thought of or grasped as an object ( just as the fingertip cannot touch itself ) .. the only “ task ” is to simply, magnificently abide, remain, “ stay put ” or “ keep quiet ” as this Absolute Awareness or Parabrahman, the Nothing which dreams up everything as Its wild, wonderful, pleasurable, painful play of consciousness and its
Thus, paradoxically, you can’t try to abide as Absolute Awareness, for you always already are THIS Awareness, prior to the universal consciousness and any sense of individuality.
As Maharaj sometimes clarified :
“ What you ARE you cannot become. You can only be That. ”
Likewise, one can’t even try to witness, for one’s real nature as the Absolute is already witnessing the consciousness, and, in turn, consciousness is already witnessing the world, sensations, thoughts, emotions, etc. of the apparent individual.
Nisargadatta Maharaj made the most of this paradox, giving lots of imperatives to be utterly earnest ( an oft-used word ! ) in dis-identifying, witnessing, letting-go, constantly meditating, stabilizing and remaining as Awareness.
“ you must meditate ”
Maharaj often urged, “ You must meditate ! ” And meditation must mature or ripen into the deepest and firmest possible intuitive conviction that we are not consciousness and the “ I Am-ness ”, but are the Absolute always space-lessly right HERE, time-lessly right NOW.
This Reality is immediately our very Truth, nearer than the either the Body-Mind complex or the “ I Am-ness ”.
In addition to the Maharaj’s well-known and much-discussed cognitive-intuitive way of awakening to the Absolute via the preliminary step of contemplating the “ I Am-ness ” or consciousness, Nisargadatta Maharaj also sometimes outlined a much less-known preliminary path : what might be termed an “ energetic-intuitive ” way of awakening based on contemplating and fully feeling and unfolding the prana or sakti, the life-force, life-breath or vital energy.
Ancient Indian texts speak of this life-force, subdividing it into the “ pañcha pranas ” or five breaths / vital forces : prana, samana, apana, vyana, and udana ..
the energies that govern breathing, digestion, excretion, circulation, and regulation of the three basic cyclic states ( waking, dream, sleep ).
Maharaj did not delve into particularities but instead simply pointed out the obvious .. that :
“ Without the prana or shakti, vital energy .. we cannot live, think, feel, move or do anything. Whereas consciousness is the static sentience principle in our lives .. the prana-sakti, life-force is the dynamic working, acting, kinetic principle ”, said the Maharaj.
Ultimately, they are not really two .. they are really one .. Consciousness and Life-force are two components, inextricably woven together, of one principle.
Life-force, love and consciousness are all one in essence. Therefore, this vital force is really Praneshvar, the Lord of Energy, the effective God of our lives and world. “ This Life-Force is God and God is this Life-Force. ”
Meanwhile, on the conventional, mundane level of the play of consciousness as an apparent individual, one is not to become a zombie, sociopath, or idle simpleton.
“ give full attention to your work ”
Maharaj insisted that one must allow the body-mind and vital force to appropriately fulfill its destined duties and relationships.
“ You must not keep yourself idle ; so go on working. Whether working for the poor, the community or for progress, whatever it is that you do, be at that stage of knowledge, of real consciousness. ”
He also remarked :
“ Understand that the total manifestation is the child of a barren woman ( i.e., not real, only dream-like ), but having understood this, give full attention to your work, and let that work be done as efficiently as possible. You should not neglect your worldly duties ; carry these out with full zest .”
Clearly, this attention to one’s duties does not mean falling into worldliness, selfishness, and ego-based attachments and aversions, the entangling realm of desires and fears.
“ confronting students / visitors ”
Maharaj sometimes insulted or testily confronted his own students and visitors
David Godman, author of valuable books on Ramana Maharshi and his disciples, recalls in his colorful and insightful memoir of visits with Maharaj :
“ We all got shouted at on various occasions, and we all got told off from time to time because of things we did or said.
“ We were all a little fearful of him because we never knew when the next eruption would come. We had all come to have the dirt beaten out of us.
“ Maharaj smashed our egos, our minds and our concepts on the immovable rock of the Self because, he knew, that in most cases that was the only way to help us. ”
Maharaj functioned as just the right kind of irritant to get inside our egoic shell, thenceforth to begin his work of making out of us a big, beautiful, bursting-forth “ Pearl of Enlightenment ”.
Not infrequently, Maharaj demanded that certain people just leave, usually if he detected in them a lack of respect for the tradition, an overintellectualizing of spiritual Truth, or a disobedience to one of his commands .. e.g., still making comments or asking questions after Maharaj had told that person to “ be still ” and “ be what you have heard ”. And yet, he let the courageous, sincere ones return to subsequent talks.
Alexander Smith, a leading Dutch disciple, recalls : here ’. And if they then returned, completely open, then he would say nothing about it. ”
“ He sent many people away, and these really went and mostly didn’t come back. Then he would say : ‘ They are cowards. I didn’t send them away, I sent away the
part of them that was not acceptable here ’. And if they then returned, completely open, then he would say nothing about it. ”
It seems that the Maharaj picked on particular ripe persons just to provoke them into an even more profound dis-identification from the ego-mind. Smith reported his own turbulent clash with Maharaj on 21st September, 1978 :
He threw a little tantrum and provocatively, rudely insulted the Maharaj as ‘ crazy ’ when the sage told him he could no longer attend; the Maharaj then loudly, angrily cursed Smith, demanded he leave, and then completely avoided him for two days, only to reinstate Smith after the young man wrote a long sincere letter of apology. Said Maharaj, in part : “ I am very happy with your letter and nothing happened. ”
On another occasion, when Smith called Maharaj a ‘ killer ’ of the ego, Nisargadatta responded :
“ I am not a killer. I am a diamond cutter. You are also a diamond. But, you are a raw diamond and you can only be cut by a pure diamond. And, that is very precise work, because if that is not done properly then you fall apart into a hundred pieces, and then there is nothing left for you. ”
Maharaj freely welcomed into his humble home several times daily a small throng of persons for the early morning meditation ( 8-9 am ), two bhajan-singing sessions, and the even more populous mid-morning and afternoon talks ( from 10:30 noon and 5:00 – 6:30 pm ). Many of these people were first-time visitors and / foreigners.
Maharaj did not have to do this work, but spontaneously and most generously he did : letting folks invade his private space, which he had turned into a low-key, semi-public center for non-dual awakening, therein to tirelessly teach, guide and awaken us with endless graciousness, never charging a single rupee for all his generous bounty.
“ Nisargadatta Adhyatma Kendra ”
By the late 1970s, the Maharaj’s travelling had largely dropped off due to old age and illness, a throat cancer diagnosed in the Year 1980.
Roughly twenty visitors daily were coming to Sri Nisargadatta’s talks for gaining spiritual clarity, the number of persons expanding to about thirty persons on Sundays and holidays.
Except for a throng of long-standing devotees, these visitors were frequently new faces, since the Maharaj was not interested in collecting a following, but preferred that his students hear, understand, meditate upon and then go to live the teaching.
“ toward life’s end ”
In the Year 1980, toward his life’s end, Maharaj’s body was showing all the symptoms of a virulent, painful throat cancer.
This didn’t deter him from accepting into his apartment the never-ending stream of visitors from all walks of life and from all over the world who came to him to discover spiritual truth and the timeless peace of the Absolute.
Though it was agony for him to speak, nevertheless, for the sake of dissolving all ignorance, Nisargadatta with great energy and vigor invited and answered their questions for three hours daily.
Maharaj had once been told by someone, “ You will die ”.
Nisargadatta retorted :
“ I am dead already. Physical death will make no difference in my case. I am timeless being ”.
“ 8th September, 1981 ”
On the morning of Tuesday, 8th September, 1981, Maharaj, knowing that the end of the physical body was near, invited a few close associates to come visit him later in the evening.
That night, he went into the “ no-mind ” state : his breathing grew shallower and shallower, finally stopping altogether at 7:32 pm.