Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj – I Am That

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj - I Am That

Awareness is Free

Questioner: I have just arrived from Sri Ramanashram. I have
spent seven months there.

Maharaj: What practice were you following at the Ashram?

Q: As far as I could, I concentrated on the ‘Who am I’?

M: Which way were you doing it? Verbally?

Q: In my free moments during the course of the day. Some-
times I was murmuring to myself ‘Who am I?’ ‘I am, but who am
I?’ Or, I did it mentally. Occasionally I would have some nice
feeling, or get into moods of quiet happiness. On the whole I
was trying to be quiet and receptive, rather than labouring for
experiences.

M: What were you actually experiencing when you were in the
right mood?

Q: A sense of inner stillness, peace and silence,

M: Did you notice yourself becoming unconscious?

Q: Yes, occasionally and for a very short time. Otherwise I was
just quiet, inwardly and outwardly.

M: What kind of quiet was it? Something akin to deep sleep, yet
conscious all the same. A sort of wakeful sleep?

Q: Yes. Alertly asleep. (jagrit-sushupti).

M: The main thing is to be free of negative emotions — desire,
fear etc., the ‘six enemies’ of the mind. Once the mind is free of
them, the rest will come easily. Just as cloth kept in soap water
will become clean, so will the mind get purified in the stream of
pure feeling.
When you sit quiet and watch yourself, all kinds of things may
come to the surface. Do nothing about them, don’t react to them; as they have come so will they go, by themselves. All that matters is mindfulness, total awareness of oneself or rather, of one’s mind.

Q: By ‘oneself’ do you mean the daily self?

M: Yes, the person, which alone is objectively observable. The
observer is beyond observation. What is observable is not the
real self.

Q: I can always observe the observer, in endless recession.

M: You can observe the observation, but not the observer. You
know you are the ultimate observer by direct insight, not by a
logical process based on observation. You are what you are,
but you know what you are not. The self is known as being, the
not-self is known as transient. But in reality all is in the mind. The
observed, observation and observer are mental constructs. The
self alone is.

Q: Why does the mind create all these divisions?

M: To divide and particularize is in the mind’s very nature.
There is no harm in dividing. But separation goes against fact.
Things and people are different, but they are not separate. Na-
ture is one, reality is one. There are opposites, but no opposi-
tion.

Q: I find that by nature I am very active. Here I am advised to
avoid activity. The more I try to remain inactive, the greater the
urge to do something. This makes me not only active outwardly,
but also struggling inwardly to be what by nature I am not. Is
there a remedy against longing for work?

M: There is a difference between work and mere activity. All na-
ture works. Work is nature, nature is work. On the other hand,
activity is based on desire and fear, on longing to possess and
enjoy, on fear of pain and annihilation. Work is by the whole for
the whole, activity is by oneself for oneself.

Q: Is there a remedy against activity?

M: Watch it, and it shall cease. Use every opportunity to remind
yourself that you are in bondage, that whatever happens to you
is due to the fact of your bodily existence. Desire, fear, trouble,
joy, they cannot appear unless you are there to appear to. Yet, whatever happens, points to your existence as a perceiving centre. Disregard the pointers and be aware of what they are pointing to. It is quite simple, but it needs be done. What matters is the persistence with which you keep on returning to yourself.

Q: I do get into peculiar states of deep absorption into myself,
but unpredictably and momentarily. I do not feel myself to be in
control of such states.

M: The body is a material thing and needs time to change. The
mind is but a set of mental habits, of ways of thinking and feel-
ing, and to change they must be brought to the surface and exa-
mined. This also takes time. Just resolve and persevere, the
rest will take care of itself.

Q: I seem to have a clear idea of what needs be done, but I find
myself getting tired and depressed and seeking human com-
pany and thus wasting time that should be given to solitude and
meditation.

M: Do what you feel like doing. Don’t bully yourself. Violence
will make you hard and rigid. Do not fight with what you take to
be obstacles on your way. Just be interested in them, watch
them, observe, enquire. Let anything happen — good or bad.
But don’t let yourself be submerged by what happens.

Q: What is the purpose in reminding oneself all the time that
one is the watcher?

M: The mind must learn that beyond the moving mind there is
the background of awareness, which does not change. The
mind must come to know the true self and respect it and cease
covering it up, like the moon which obscures the sun during
solar eclipse. Just realize that nothing observable, or experi-
enceable is you, or binds you. Take no notice of what is not
yourself.

Q: To do what you tell me I must be ceaselessly aware.

M: To be aware is to be awake. Unaware means asleep. You
are aware anyhow, you need not try to be. What you need is to
be aware of being aware. Be aware deliberately and cons-
ciously, broaden and deepen the field of awareness. You are
always conscious of the mind, but you are not aware of yourself
as being conscious.

Q: As I can make out, you give distinct meanings to the words ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, and ‘awareness’.

M: Look at it this way. The mind produces thoughts
ceaselessly, even when you do not look at them. When you
know what is going on in your mind, you call it consciousness.
This is your waking state — your consciousness shifts from sen-
sation to sensation, from perception to perception, from idea to
idea, in endless succession. Then comes awareness, the direct
insight into the whole of consciousness, the totality of the mind.
The mind is like a river, flowing ceaselessly in the bed of the
body; you identify yourself for a moment with some particular
ripple and call it: ‘my thought’. All you are conscious of is your
mind; awareness is the cognizance of consciousness as a
whole.

Q: Everybody is conscious, but not everybody is aware.

M: Don’t say: ‘everybody is conscious’. Say: ‘there is cons-
ciousness’, in which everything appears and disappears. Our
minds are just waves on the ocean of consciousness. As waves
they come and go. As ocean they are infinite and eternal. Know
yourself as the ocean of being, the womb of all existence. These
are all metaphors of course; the reality is beyond description.
You can know it only by being it.

Q: Is the search for it worth the trouble?

M: Without it all is trouble. If you want to live sanely, creatively
and happily and have infinite riches to share, search for what
you are.
While the mind is centred in the body and consciousness is
centred in the mind, awareness is free. The body has its urges
and mind its pains and pleasures. Awareness is unattached
and unshaken. It is lucid, silent, peaceful, alert and unafraid,
without desire and fear. Meditate on it as your true being and try
to be it in your daily life, and you shall realize it in its fullness.
Mind is interested in what happens, while awareness is in-
terested in the mind itself. The child is after the toy, but the
mother watches the child, not the toy.
By looking tirelessly, I became quite empty and with that emp-
tiness all came back to me except the mind. I find I have lost the
mind irretrievably.

Q: As you talk to us just now, are you unconscious?

M: I am neither conscious nor unconscious, I am beyond the
mind and its various states and conditions. Distinctions are
created by the mind and apply to the mind only. I am pure Cons-
ciousness itself, un-broken awareness of all that is. I am in a
more real state than yours. I am undistracted by the distinctions
and separations which constitute a person. As long as the body
lasts, it has its needs like any other, but my mental process has
come to an end.

Q: You behave like a person who thinks.

M: Why not? But my thinking, like my digestion, is unconscious
and purposeful.

Q: If your thinking is unconscious, how do you know that it is
right?

M: There is no desire, nor fear to thwart it. What can make it
wrong? Once I know myself and what I stand for, I do not need
to check on myself all the time. When you know that your watch
shows correct time, you do not hesitate each time you consult it.

Q: At this very moment who talks, if not the mind?

M: That which hears the question, answers it.

Q: But who is it?

M: Not who, but what. I am not a person in your sense of the
word, though I may appear a person to you. I am that infinite
ocean of consciousness in which all happens. I am also beyond
all existence and cognition, pure bliss of being. There is nothing
I feel separate from, hence I am all. No thing is me, so I am no-
thing.
The same power that makes the fire burn and the water flow,
the seeds sprout and the trees grow, makes me answer your
questions. There is nothing personal about me, though the lan-
guage and the style may appear personal. A person is a set pat-
tern of desires and thoughts and resulting actions; there is no
such pattern in my case. There is nothing I desire or fear — how
can there be a pattern?

Q: Surely, you will die.

M: Life will escape, the body will die, but it will not affect me in
the least. Beyond space and time I am, uncaused, uncausing,
yet the very matrix of existence.

Q: May I be permitted to ask how did you arrive at your present
condition?

M: My teacher told me to hold an to the sense ‘I am’ tenaciously
and not to swerve from it even for a moment. I did my best to fol-
low his advice and in a comparatively short time I realized 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 — un-
bound.

Q: Was your realization sudden or gradual.

M: Neither. One is what one is timelessly. It is the mind that
realizes as and when it get cleared of desires and fears.

Q: Even the desire for realization?

M: The desire to put an end to all desires is a most peculiar de-
sire, just like the fear of being afraid is a most peculiar fear. One
stops you from grabbing and the other from running. You may
use the same words, but the states are not the same. The man
who seeks realization is not addicted to desires; he is a seeker
who goes against desire, not with it. A general longing for libera-
tion is only the beginning; to find the proper means and use
them is the next step. The seeker has only one goal in view: to
find his own true being. Of all desires it is the most ambitious, for
nothing and nobody can satisfy it; the seeker and the sought are
one and the search alone matters.

Q: The search will come to an end. The seeker will remain.

M: No, the seeker will dissolve, the search will remain. The
search is the ultimate and timeless reality.

Q: Search means lacking, wanting, incompleteness and imper-
fection.

M: No, it means refusal and rejection of the incomplete and the-
imperfect. The search for reality is itself the movement of reality.
In a way all search is for the real bliss, or the bliss of the real. But
here we mean by search the search for oneself as the root of
being conscious, as the light beyond the mind. This search will
never end, while the restless craving for all else must end, for
real progress to take place.
One has to understand that the search for reality, or God, or Guru and the search for the self are the same; when one is found, all are found. When ‘I am’ and ‘God is’ become in your mind indistinguishable, than something will happen and you will
know without a trace of doubt that God is because you are, you are because God is. The two are one.

Q: Since all is pre-ordained, is our self-realization also preor-
dained? Or are we free there at least?

M: Destiny refers only to name and shape. Since you are
neither body nor mind, destiny has no control over you. You are
completely free. The cup is conditioned by its shape, material,
use and so on. But the space within the cup is free. It happens
to be in the cup only when viewed in connection with the cup.
Otherwise it is just space. As long as there is a body, you ap-
pear to be embodied. Without the body you are not disem-
bodied — you just are.
Even destiny is but an idea. Words can be put together in so
many ways! Statements can differ, but do they make any
change in the actual? There are so many theories devised for
explaining things — all are plausible, none is true. When you
drive a car, you are subjected to the laws of mechanics and
chemistry: step out of the car and you are under the laws of
physiology and biochemistry.

Q: What is meditation and what are its uses?

M: As long as you are a beginner certain formalized medita-
tions, or prayers may be good for you. But for a seeker for reality
there is only one meditation — the rigorous refusal to harbour
thoughts. To be free from thoughts is itself meditation.

Q: How is it done?

M: You begin by letting thoughts flow and watching them. The
very observation slows down the mind till it stops altogether.
Once the mind is quiet, keep it quiet. Don’t get bored with
peace, be in it, go deeper into it.

Q: I heard of holding on to one thought in order to keep other
thoughts away. But how to keep all thoughts away? The very
idea is also a thought.

M: Experiment anew, don’t go by past experience. Watch your
thoughts and watch yourself watching the thoughts. The state of freedom from all thoughts will happen suddenly and by the bliss of it you shall recognize it.

Q: Are you not at all concerned about the state of the world?
Look at the horrors in East Pakistan.* Do they not touch you at
all?

M: I am reading newspapers, I know what is going on! But my
reaction is not like yours. You are looking for a cure, while I am
concerned with prevention. As long as there are causes, there
must also be results. As long as people are bent on dividing and
separating, as long as they are selfish and aggressive, such
things will happen. If you want peace and harmony in the world,
you must have peace and harmony in your hearts and minds.
Such change cannot be imposed; it must come from within.
Those who abhor war must get war out of their system. Without
peaceful people how can you have peace in the world? As long
as people are as they are, the world must be as it is. I am doing
my part in trying to help people to know themselves as the only
cause of their own misery. In that sense I am a useful man. But
what I am in myself, what is my normal state cannot be expres-
sed in terms of social consciousness and usefulness.
I may talk about it, use metaphors or parables, but I am
acutely aware that it is just not so. Not that it cannot be experi-
enced. It is experiencing itself! But it cannot be described in the
terms of a mind that must separate and oppose in order to
know.
The world is like a sheet of paper on which something is
typed. The reading and the meaning will vary with the reader,
but the paper is the common factor, always present, rarely per-
ceived: When the ribbon is removed, typing leaves no trace on
the paper. So is my mind — the impressions keep on coming,
but no trace is left.

Q: Why do you sit here talking to people? What is your real mo-
tive?

M: No motive. You say I must have a motive. I am not sitting
here, nor talking: no need to search for motives. Don’t confuse
me with the body. I have no work to do, no duties to perform.

(This conversation and a few more in the following pages took place in 1971, when a war was on in East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh).

That part of me which you may call God will look after the world.
This world of yours, that so much needs looking after, lives and
moves in your mind. Delve into it, you will find your answers
there and there only. Where else do you expect them to come
from? Outside your consciousness does anything exist?

Q: It may exist without my ever knowing it.

M: What kind of existence would it be? Can being be divorced
from knowing? All being, like all knowing, relates to you. A thing
is because you know it to be either in your experience or in your
being. Your body and your mind exist as long as you believe so.
Cease to think that they are yours and they will just dissolve. By
all means let your body and mind function, but do not let them
limit you. If you notice imperfections, just keep on noticing; your
very giving attention to them will set your heart and mind and
body right.

Q: Can I cure myself of a serious illness by merely taking cog-
nizance of it?

M: Take cognizance of the whole of it, not only of the outer
symptoms. All illness begins in the mind. Take care of the mind
first, by tracing and eliminating all wrong ideas and emotions.
Then live and work disregarding illness and think no more of it.
With the removal of causes the effect is bound to depart.
Man becomes what he believes himself to be. Abandon all
ideas about yourself and you will find yourself to be the pure
witness, beyond all that can happen to the body or the mind.

Q: If I become anything I think myself to be, and I start thinking
that I am the Supreme Reality, will not my Supreme Reality re-
main a mere idea?

M: First reach that state and then ask the question.

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