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there should be yet another addition of I AM THAT is not surprising, for the
sublimity of the words spoken by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, their directness
and the lucidity with which they refer to the Highest have already made this
book a literature of paramount importance. In fact, many regard it as the only
book of spiritual teaching really worth studying.
There are various religions and systems of philosophy which claim to endow human
life with meaning. But they suffer from certain inherent limitations. They couch
into fine-sounding words their traditional beliefs and ideologies, theological
or philosophical. Believers, however, discover the limited range of meaning
and applicability of these words, sooner or later. They get disillusioned and
tend to abandon the systems, in the same way as scientific theories are abandoned,
when they are called in question by too much contradictory empirical data.
When a system of spiritual interpretation turns out to be unconvincing and not
capable of being rationally justified, many people allow themselves to be converted
to some other system. After a while, however, they find limitations and contradictions
in the other system also. In this unrewarding pursuit of acceptance and rejection
what remains for them is only scepticism and agnosticism, leading to a fatuous
way of living, engrossed in mere gross utilities of life, just consuming material
goods. Sometimes, however, though rarely, scepticism gives rise to an intuition
of a basic reality, more fundamental than that of words, religions or philosophic
systems. Strangely, it is a positive aspect of scepticism. It was in such a
state of scepticism, but also having an intuition of the basic reality, that
I happened to read Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj"s I AM THAT. I was at once struck
by the finality and unassailable certitude of his words. Limited by their very
nature though words are, I found the utterances of Maharaj transparent, polished
windows, as it were.
No book of spiritual teachings, however, can replace the presence of the teacher
himself. Only the words spoken directly to you by the Guru shed their opacity
completely. In a Guru"s presence the last boundaries drawn by the mind vanish.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj is indeed such a Guru. He is not a preacher, but he
provides precisely those indications which the seeker needs. The reality which
emanates from him is inalienable and Absolute. It is authentic. Having experienced
the verity of his words in the pages of I AM THAT, and being inspired by it,
many from the West have found their way to Maharaj to seek enlightenment.
Maharaj"s interpretation of truth is not different from that of Jnana Yoga/Advaita
Vedanta. But, he has a way of his own. The multifarious forms around us, says
he, are constituted of the five elements. They are transient, and in a state
of perpetual flux. Also they are governed by the law of causation. All this
applies to the body and the mind also, both of which are transient and subject
to birth and death. We know that only by means of the bodily senses and the
mind can the world be known. As in the Kantian view, it is a correlate of the
human knowing subject, and, therefore, has the fundamental structure of our
way of knowing. This means that time, space and causality are not "objective",
or extraneous entities, but mental categories in which everything is moulded.
The existence and form of all things depend upon the mind. Cognition is a mental
product. And the world as seen from the mind is a subjective and private world,
which changes continuously in accordance with the restlessness of the mind itself.
In opposition to the restless mind, with its limited categories -- intentionality,
subjectivity, duality etc. -- stands supreme the limitless sense of "I am".
The only thing I can be sure about is that "I am"; not as a thinking "I am"
in the Cartesian sense, but without any predicates. Again and again Maharaj
draws our attention to this basic fact in order to make us realise our "I am-ness"
and thus get rid of all self-made prisons. He says: The only true statement
is "I am". All else is mere inference. By no effort can you change the "I am"
into "I am-not".
Behold, the real experiencer is not the mind, but myself, the light in which
everything appears. Self is the common factor at the root of all experience,
the awareness in which everything happens. The entire field of consciousness
is only as a film, or a speck, in "I am". This "I am-ness" is, being conscious
of consciousness, being aware of itself. And it is indescribable, because it
has no attributes. It is only being my self, and being my self is all that there
is. Everything that exists, exists as my self. There is nothing which is different
from me. There is no duality and, therefore, no pain. There are no problems.
It is the sphere of love, in which everything is perfect. What happens, happens
spontaneously, without intentions -- like digestion, or the growth of the hair.
Realise this, and be free from the limitations of the mind.
Behold, the deep sleep in which there is no notion of being this or that. Yet
"I am" remains. And behold the eternal now. Memory seems to being things to
the present out of the past, but all that happens does happen in the present
only. It is only in the timeless now that phenomena manifest themselves. Thus,
time and causality do not apply in reality. I am prior to the world, body and
mind. I am the sphere in which they appear and disappear. I am the source of
them all, the universal power by which the world with its bewildering diversity
In spite of its primevality, however, the sense of "I am" is not the Highest.
It is not the Absolute. The sense, or taste of "I am-ness" is not absolutely
beyond time. Being the essence of the five elements, it, in a way, depends upon
the world. It arises from the body, which, in its turn, is built by food, consisting
of the elements. It disappears when the body dies, like the spark extinguishes
when the incense stick burns out. When pure awareness is attained, no need exists
any more, not even for "I am", which is but a useful pointer, a direction-indicator
towards the Absolute. The awareness "I am" then easily ceases. What prevails
is that which cannot be described, that which is beyond words. It is this "state"
which is most real, a state of pure potentiality, which is prior to everything.
The "I am" and the universe are mere reflections of it. It is this reality which
a jnani has realised.
The best that you can do is listen attentively to the jnani -- of whom Sri Nisargadatta
is a living example -- and to trust and believe him. By such listening you will
realise that his reality is your reality. He helps you in seeing the nature
of the world and of the "I am". He urges you to study the workings of the body
and the mind with solemn and intense concentration, to recognise that you are
neither of them and to cast them off. He suggests that you return again and
again to "I am" until it is your only abode, outside of which nothing exists;
until the ego as a limitation of "I am", has disappeared. It is then that the
highest realisation will just happen effortlessly.
Mark the words of the jnani, which cut across all concepts and dogmas. Maharaj
says: “until once becomes self-realised, attains to knowledge of the self,
transcends the self, until then, all these cock-and-bull stories are provided,
all these concepts.” Yes, they are concepts, even "I am" is, but surely
there are no concepts more precious. It is for the seeker to regard them with
the utmost seriousness, because they indicate the Highest Reality. No better
concepts are available to shed all concepts.
I am thankful to Sudhakar S. Dikshit, the editor, for inviting me to write the
Foreword to this new edition of I AM THAT and thus giving me an opportunity
to pay my homage to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, who has expounded highest knowledge
in the simplest, clearest and the most convincing words.
Who is Nisargadatta Maharaj?
When asked about the date of his birth the Master replied blandly that
he was never born!
Writing a biographical note on Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj is a frustrating and
unrewarding task. For, not only the exact date of his birth is unknown, but
no verified facts concerning the early years of his life are available. However,
some of his elderly relatives and friends say that he was born in the month
of March 1897 on a full moon day, which coincided with the festival of Hanuman
Jayanti, when Hindus pay their homage to Hanuman, also named Maruti, the monkey-god
of Ramayana fame. And to associate his birth with this auspicious day his parents
named him Maruti.
Available information about his boyhood and early youth is patchy and disconnected.
We learn that his father, Shivrampant, was a poor man, who worked for some time
as a domestic servant in Bombay and, later, eked out his livelihood as a petty
farmer at Kandalgaon, a small village in the back woods of Ratnagiri district
of Maharashtra. Maruti grew up almost without education. As a boy he assisted
his father in such labours as lay within his power -- tended cattle, drove oxen,
worked in the fields and ran errands. His pleasures were simple, as his labours,
but he was gifted with an inquisitive mind, bubbling over with questions of
His father had a Brahmin friend named Vishnu Haribhau Gore, who was a pious
man and learned too from rural standards. Gore often talked about religious
topics and the boy Maruti listened attentively and dwelt on these topics far
more than anyone would suppose. Gore was for him the ideal man -- earnest, kind
When Maruti attained the age of eighteen his father died, leaving behind his
widow, four sons and two daughters. The meagre income from the small farm dwindled
further after the old man"s death and was not sufficient to feed so many mouths.
Maruti"s elder brother left the village for Bombay in search of work and he
followed shortly after. It is said that in Bombay he worked for a few months
as a low-paid junior clerk in an office, but resigned the job in disgust. He
then took petty trading as a haberdasher and started a shop for selling children"s
clothes, tobacco and hand-made country cigarettes. This business is said to
have flourished in course of time, giving him some sort of financial security.
During this period he got married and had a son and three daughters.
Childhood, youth, marriage, progeny -- Maruti lived the usual humdrum and eventless
life of a common man till his middle age, with no inkling at all of the sainthood
that was to follow. Among his friends during this period was one Yashwantrao
Baagkar, who was a devotee of Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, a spiritual teacher
of the Navnath Sampradaya, a sect of Hinduism. One evening Baagkar took Maruti
to his Guru and that evening proved to be the turning point in his life. The
Guru gave him a mantra and instructions in meditation. Early in his practice
he started having visions and occasionally even fell into trances. Something
exploded within him, as it were, giving birth to a cosmic consciousness, a sense
of eternal life. The identity of Maruti, the petty shopkeeper, dissolved and
the illuminating personality of Sri Nisargadatta emerged.
Most people live in the world of self-consciousness and do not have the desire
or power to leave it. They exist only for themselves; all their effort is directed
towards achievement of self-satisfaction and self-glorification. There are,
however, seers, teachers and revealers who, while apparently living in the same
world, live simultaneously in another world also -- the world of cosmic consciousness,
effulgent with infinite knowledge. After his illuminating experience Sri Nisargadatta
Maharaj started living such a dual life. He conducted his shop, but ceased to
be a profit-minded merchant. Later, abandoning his family and business he became
a mendicant, a pilgrim over the vastness and variety of the Indian religious
scene. He walked barefooted on his way to the Himalayas where he planned to
pass the rest of his years in quest of a eternal life. But he soon retraced
his steps and came back home comprehending the futility of such a quest. Eternal
life, he perceived, was not to be sought for; he already had it. Having gone
beyond the I-am-the-body idea, he had acquired a mental state so joyful, peaceful
and glorious that everything appeared to be worthless compared to it. He had
Uneducated though the Master is, his conversation is enlightened to an extraordinary
degree. Though born and brought up in poverty, he is the richest of the rich,
for he has the limitless wealth of perennial knowledge, compared to which the
most fabulous treasures are mere tinsel. He is warm-hearted and tender, shrewdly
humorous, absolutely fearless and absolutely true -- inspiring, guiding and
supporting all who come to him.
Any attempt to write a biographical not on such a man is frivolous and futile.
For he is not a man with a past or future; he is the living present -- eternal
and immutable. He is the self that has become all things.
I met Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj some years back and was impressed with
the spontaneous simplicity of his appearance and behaviour and his deep and
genuine earnestness in expounding his experience.
However humble and difficult to discover his little tenement in the back lanes
of Bombay, many have found their way there. Most of them are Indians, conversing
freely in their native language, but there were also many foreigners who needed
a translator. Whenever I was present the task would fall to me. Many of the
questions put and answers given were so interesting and significant that a tape-recorder
was brought in. While most of the tapes were of the regular Marathi-English
variety, some were polygot scrambles of several Indian and European languages.
Later, each tape was deciphered and translated into English.
It was not easy to translate verbatim and at the same time avoid tedious repetitions
and reiterations. It is hoped that the present translation of the tape-recordings
will not reduce the impact of this clear-minded, generous and in many ways an
unusual human being.
A Marathi version of these talks, verified by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj himself,
has been separately published.
October 16, 1973
The present edition of I AM THAT is a revised and re-edited version
of the 101 talks that appeared in two volumes in earlier editions. Not only
the matter has now been re-set in a more readable typeface and with chapter
headings, but new pictures of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj have been included and
the appendices contain some hitherto unpublished valuable material.
I draw special attention to the reader to the contribution entitled "Nisarga
Yoga", in which my esteemed friend, the late Maurice Frydman, has succinctly
presented the teaching of Maharaj. Simplicity and humility are the keynotes
of his teachings, as Maurice observes. The Master does not propound any intellectual
concept or doctrine. He does not put forward any pre-conditions before the seekers
and is happy with them as they are. In fact Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj is peculiarly
free from all disparagement and condemnation; the sinner and the saint are merely
exchanging notes; the saint has sinned, the sinner can be sanctified. It is
time that divides them; it is time that will bring them together. The teacher
does not evaluate; his sole concern is with "suffering and the ending of suffering".
He knows from his personal and abiding experience that the roots of sorrow are
in the mind and it is the mind that must be freed from its distorting and destructive
habits. Of these the identification of the self with its projections is most
fatal. By precept and example Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj shows a short-cut, a-logical
but empirically sound. It operates, when understood.
Revising and editing of I AM THAT has been for me a pilgrimage to my inner self
-- at once ennobling and enlightening. I have done my work in a spirit of dedication,
with great earnestness. I have treated the questions of every questioner as
mine own questions and have imbibed the answers of the Master with a mind emptied
of all it knew. However, in this process of what may be called a two-voiced
meditation, it is possible that at places I may have failed in the cold-blooded
punctiliousness about the syntax and punctuation, expected of an editor. For
such lapses, if any, I seek forgiveness of the reader.
Before closing, I wish to express my heart-felt thanks to Professor Douwe Tiemersma
of the Philosophical Faculty Erasmus, Universieit, Rottendam, Holland for contributing
a new Foreword to this edition. That he acceeded to my request promptly makes
me feel all the more grateful.
Sudhakar S. Dikshit
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