Nisargadatta Maharaj was an Indian guru who died in 1981. His book ‘I am that’ is one of the great spiritual classics – as you will see there is a pure Mind, which can only be found when we stop identifying with all the junk we think is me…Does internal family systems therapy draw on this pure Mind ? Well it can help to begin to align ourself with the power of knowing, of tuning into the felt sense of the body, of knowing what it is to step back and be the knowing, of being able to recognise trains of thought, and see them rather than be lost into them…Our culture is lost into the situation of the five blind men and the elephant and not knowing what is real….Maharaj is a good guide…
from the book: I am that
Questioner: Are we permitted to request you to tell us the manner of your realization?
Maharaj: Somehow it was very simple and easy in my case. My Guru, before he died, told me: Believe me, you are the Supreme Reality. Don’t doubt my words, don’t disbelieve me. I am telling you the truth — act on it. I could not forget his words and by not forgetting — I have realized.
Q: But what were you actually doing?
M: Nothing special. I lived my life, plied my trade, looked after my family, and every free moment I would spend just remembering my Guru and his words. He died soon after and I had only the memory to fall back on. It was enough.
Q: It must have been the grace and power of your Guru.
M: His words were true and so they came true. True words always come true. My Guru did nothing; his words acted because they were true. Whatever I did, came from within, un-asked and unexpected.
Q: The Guru started a process without taking any part in it?
M: Put it as you like. Things happen as they happen — who can tell why and how? I did nothing deliberately. All came by itself — the desire to let go, to be alone, to go within.
Q: You made no efforts whatsoever?
M: None. Believe it or not, I was not even anxious to realize. He only told me that I am the Supreme and then died. I just could not disbelieve him. The rest happened by itself. I found myself changing — that is all. As a matter of fact, I was astonished. But a desire arose in me to verify his words. I was so sure that he could not possibly have told a lie, that I felt I shall either realize the full meaning of his words or die. I was feeling quite determined, but did not know what to do. I would spend hours thinking of him and his assurance, not arguing, but just remembering what he told me.
Q: What happened to you then? How did you know that you are the Supreme?
M: Nobody came to tell me. Nor was I told so inwardly. In fact, it was only in the beginning when I was making efforts, that I was passing through some strange experiences; seeing lights, hearing voices, meeting gods and goddesses and conversing with them. Once the Guru told me: ‘You are the Supreme Reality’, I ceased having visions and trances and became very quiet and simple. I found myself desiring and knowing less and less, until I could say in utter astonishment: ‘I know nothing, I want nothing.’
Q: Were you genuinely free of desire and knowledge, or did you impersonate a gnani according to the image given to you by your Guru?
M: I was not given any image, nor did I have one. My Guru never told me what to expect.
Q: More things may happen to you. Are you at the end of your journey?
M: There was never any journey. I am, as I always was.
Q: What was the Supreme Reality you were supposed to reach?
M: I was undeceived, that is all. I used to create a world and populate it — now I don’t do it any more.
Q: Where do you live, then?
M: In the void beyond being and non-being, beyond consciousness. This void is also fulness; do not pity me. It is like a man saying: ‘I have done my work, there is nothing left to do’.
Q: You are giving a certain date to your realization. It means something did happen to you at that date. What happened?
M: The mind ceased producing events. The ancient and ceaseless search stopped — I wanted nothing, expected nothing — accepted nothing as my own. There was no ‘me’ left to strive for. Even the bare ‘I am’ faded away. The other thing that I noticed was that I lost all my habitual certainties. Earlier I was sure of so many things, now I am sure of nothing. But I feel that I have lost nothing by not knowing, because all my knowledge was false. My not knowing was in itself knowledge of the fact that all knowledge is ignorance, that ‘I do not know’ is the only true statement the mind can make. Take the idea ‘I was born’. You may take it to be true. It is not. You were never born, nor will you ever die. It is the idea that was born and shall die, not you. By identifying yourself with it you became mortal. Just like in a cinema all is light, so does consciousness become the vast world. Look closely, and you will see that all names and forms are but transitory waves on the ocean of consciousness, that only consciousness can be said to be, not its transformations. In the immensity of consciousness a light appears, a tiny point that moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts and feelings, concepts and ideas, like the pen writing on paper. And the ink that leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created. Stop moving, and there will be no world. Look within and you will find that the point of light is the reflection of the immensity of light in the body, as the sense ‘I am’. There is only light, all else appears.
Q: Do you know that light? Have you seen it?
M: To the mind it appears as darkness. It can be known only through its reflections. All is seen in daylight — except daylight.
Q: Have I to understand that our minds are similar?
M: How can it be? You have your own private mind, woven with memories, held together by desires and fears. I have no mind of my own; what I need to know the universe brings before me, as it supplies the food I eat.
Q: Do you know all you want to know?
M: There is nothing I want to know. But what I need to know, I come to know.
Q: Does this knowledge come to you from within or from outside?
M: It does not apply. My inner is outside and my outer is inside. I may get from you the knowledge needed at the moment, but you are not apart from me.
Q: What is turiya, the fourth state we hear about?
M: To be the point of light tracing the world is turiya. To be the light itself is turiyatita. But of what use are names when reality is so near?
Q: Is there any progress in your condition? When you compare yourself yesterday with yourself today, do you find yourself changing, making progress? Does your vision of reality grow in width and depth?
M: Reality is immovable and yet in constant movement. It is like a mighty river — it flows and yet it is there — eternally. What flows is not the river with its bed and banks, but its water, so does the sattva guna, the universal harmony, play its games against tamas and rajas, the forces of darkness and despair. In sattva there is always change and progress, in rajas there is change and regress, while tamas stands for chaos. The three Gunas play eternally against each other — it is a fact and there can be no quarrel with a fact.
Q: Must I always go dull with tamas and desperate with rajas? What about sattva?
M: Sattva is the radiance of your real nature. You can always find it beyond the mind and its many worlds. But if you want a world, you must accept the three gunas as inseparable — matter — energy — life — one in essence, distinct in appearance. They mix and flow — in consciousness. In time and space there is eternal flow, birth and death again, advance, retreat, another advance, again retreat — apparently without a beginning and without end; reality being timeless, changeless, bodyless, mindless awareness is bliss.
Q: I understand that, according to you, everything is a state of consciousness. The world is full of things — a grain of sand is a thing, a planet is a thing. How are they related to consciousness?
M: Where consciousness does not reach, matter begins: A thing is a form of being which we have not understood. It does not change — it is always the same — it appears to be there on its own — something strange and alien. Of course it is in the chit, consciousness, but appears to be outside because of its apparent changelessness. The foundation of things is in memory — without memory there would be no recognition. Creation reflection — rejection: Brahma — Vishnu — Shiva: this is the eternal process. All things are governed by it.
Q: Is there no escape?
M: I am doing nothing else, but showing the escape. Understand that the One includes the Three and that you are the One, and you shall be free of the world process.
Q: What happens then to my consciousness?
M: After the stage of creation, comes the stage of examination and reflection and, finally, the stage of abandonment and forgetting. The consciousness remains, but in a latent, quiet state.
Q: Does the state of identity remain?
M: The state of identity is inherent in reality and never fades. But identity is neither the transient personality (vyakti), nor the karma-bound individuality (vyakta). It is what remains when all self-identification is given up as false — pure consciousness, the sense of being all there is, or could be. Consciousness is pure in the beginning and pure in the end; in between it gets contaminated by imagination which is at the root of creation. At all times consciousness remains the same. To know it as it is, is realization and timeless peace.
Q: Is the sense ‘I am’ real or unreal?
M: Both. It is unreal when we say: ‘I am this, I am that’. It is real when we mean ‘I am not this, nor that.’ The knower comes and goes with the known, and is transient; but that which knows that it does not know, which is free of memory and anticipation, is timeless.
Q: Is ‘I am’ itself the witness, or are they separate?
M: Without one the other cannot be. Yet they are not one. It is like the flower and its colour. Without flower — no colours; without colour — the flower remains unseen. Beyond is the light which on contact with the flower creates the colour. Realize that your true nature is that of pure light only, and both the perceived and the perceiver come and go together. That which makes both possible, and yet is neither, is your real being, which means not being a ‘this’ or ‘that’, but pure awareness of being and not-being. When awareness is turned on itself, the feeling is of not knowing. When it is turned outward, the knowables come into being. To say: ‘I know myself’ is a contradiction in terms for what is ‘known’ cannot be ‘myself’.
Q: If the self is for ever the unknown what then is realized in self-realization?
M: To know that the known cannot be me nor mine, is liberation enough. Freedom from self-identification with a set of memories and habits, the state of wonder at the infinite reaches of the being, its inexhaustible creativity and total transcendence, the absolute fearlessness born from the realization of the illusoriness and transiency of every mode of consciousness — flow from a deep and inexhaustible source. To know the source as source and appearance as appearance, and oneself as the source only is self-realization.
Q: On what side is the witness? Is it real or unreal?
M: Nobody can say: ‘I am the witness’. The ‘I am’ is always witnessed. The state of detached awareness is the witness-consciousness, the ‘mirror-mind’. It rises and sets with its object and thus it is not quite the real. Whatever its object, it remains the same, hence it is also real. It partakes of both the real and the unreal and is therefore a bridge between the two.
Q: If all happens only to the ‘I am’, if the ‘I am’ is the known and the knower and the knowledge itself, what does the witness do?
Of what use is it?
M: It does nothing and is of no use whatsoever.
Q: Then why do we talk of it?
M: Because it is there. The bridge serves one purpose only — to cross over. You don’t build houses on a bridge. The ‘I am’ looks at things, the witness sees through them. It sees them as they are — unreal and transient. To say ‘not me, not mine’ is the task of the witness.
Q: Is it the manifested (saguna) by which the unmanifested (nirguna) is represented?
M: The unmanifested is not represented. Nothing manifested can represent the unmanifested.
Q: Then why do you talk of it?
M: Because it is my birthplace.