“Just keep in mind the feeling ‘I am’, merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one. By repeated attempts you will stumble on the right balance of attention and affection and your mind will be firmly established in the thought-feeling ‘I am’.”
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
The steel wheels on the subway wail as the train pulls into the station. Inside the car, bodies jostle, jockeying for a precious inch or two. Chatter rises and falls in cacophonous waves. Ads for the latest gewgaw assault the eyes. Other eyes and ears are averted, locked into crosswords and puzzles, video games, music and computer conversations. Through all of this, is it possible to hear yourself think? Is it possible to hear… your…. self?
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said:
“The knowledge ‘I am’ is ever there, residing in all at all times. There exists not a single thing devoid of the ‘I am’; it expresses itself through the five elements and three qualities. As is the combination of the elements and qualities so is the expression of ‘I am’. This expression could be good or bad depending on the combination, but the ‘I am’ itself stands in its purity. Understanding the ‘I am’ is the very basis of the teaching, that done, there remains nothing further to be understood. What follows hereafter is the ‘Sadhana’ (practice), which is the meditation on the ‘I am’. Your earnestness, sincerity and intensity of the practice would determine further progress.”
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born just at the end of the 19th Century. When he was asked when he was born, he replied that he was never born: Nisargadatta claimed to live entirely in the present, from that place which is timeless and eternal. Though he was raised in poverty and had little education, in his mid-life he was awakened to the cosmic consciousness of who he was and spent the rest of his life offering his teaching to anyone who had “eyes to see and ears to hear”.
For Nisargadatta, the world that we inhabit is nothing more than illusion: “What begins and ends is mere appearance. The world can be said to appear, but not to be… Whatever is time bound is momentary and has no reality.”
What we think we are, according to Nisargadatta, cannot possibly be, it is fleeting and changeable. In order to be, we must first look into ourselves and discover what we are not:
“You cannot possibly say that you are what you think yourself to be! Your ideas about yourself change from day to day and from moment to moment. Your self-image is the most changeful thing you have. It is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of a passer-by. A bereavement, the loss of a job, an insult, and your image of yourself, which you call a person, changes deeply. To know what you are you must first investigate and know what you are not. And to know what you are not you must watch yourself carefully, rejecting all that does not necessarily go with the basic fact: ‘I am’.”
Like the Buddha, Nisargadatta, claimed that we are asleep to the nature of reality. Contrasted with our world of temporality and changeability and imperfection, he said:
“Your world is transient, changeful. My world is perfect, changeless. You can tell me what you like about your world – I shall listen carefully, even with interest, yet not for a moment shall I forget that your world is not, that you are dreaming.”
As he said to one of his seekers, who must have just stepped in from the monsoon rain,
“You are all drenched for it is raining hard. In my world it is always fine weather. There is no night or day, nor heat or cold. No worries beset me there, nor regrets. My mind is free of thoughts, for there are no desires to slave for.”
The world of memory is the world of estrangement from our self; in order to know, we must forget:
“Self-forgetting is inherent in self-knowing. Consciousness and unconsciousness are two aspects of one life. They co-exist. To know the world you forget the self – to know the self you forget the world. What is world after all? A collection of memories. Cling to one thing, that matters, hold on to ‘I am’ and let go all else… In realization there is nothing to hold on to and nothing to forget. Everything is known, nothing is remembered.”
Back on the train, balanced on the edge of the chaotic abyss of my own and other’s wild and untamed current, the blessed wash of rush-hour humanity, I pause for a short moment and wonder if I will ever really get it. Nisargadatta reminds me, there is nothing to do and no place to go:
“There is nothing to practice. To know yourself, be yourself. To be yourself, stop imagining yourself to be this or that. Just be. Let your true nature emerge. Don’t disturb your mind with seeking.”
A wonderful book that records dialogues between Sri Nisargadatta and the many who came to seek his teaching, “I AM THAT” is published by the Acorn Press and is available through Amazon.com.
Miles Murphy works in the field of learning and professional development. An independent scholar, he has a wide range of interests including the humanities of East and West. He is a devotee of Buddhism and a t’ai chi ch’uan enthusiast. His poetry and other writings endeavour to poke about in the rich soil and empty sky of the human condition. Miles can be contacted at email@example.com