The Experience of Nothingness: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Talks on Realizing the Infinite

“Whatever is, is an expression of consciousness only. If consciousness is not there, the expression of consciousness is not there either. Therefore, nothing is. And this consciousness is an uncalled-for concept; it has appeared spontaneously… Even this consciousness is not everything and it is not going to last for all time. Find out how that consciousness has arisen, the source of the consciousness… What is this body? The body is only an accumulation of food and water.

Therefore, you are something separate from either the body or the consciousness… Jivatman is the one who identifies with the body-mind as an individual separate from the world. The Atman is only beingness, or the consciousness, which is the world. The Ultimate principle which knows this beingness cannot be named at all. It cannot be approached or conditioned by any words. That is the Ultimate state.”

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj [1897-1981] is a revered master who is an inspiring example of an ordinary merchant and family man who attained complete realisation of the Infinite. In the tradition of Ramana Maharshi, he shared the highest Truth of non-duality in his own unique way, from the depths of his own realization. His life was a telling parable of the absolute non-duality of Being. His words carry a rare potency that can jolt the reader into a profound sense of awareness, which at the same time signifies true freedom – freedom from all fear and mental suffering. He taught that true freedom is a possibility for every one of us.

In The Experience of Nothingness Nisargadatta clearly demonstrates that logic and spirituality do not necessarily stand in opposition to one another. He relentlessly pursues a logical argument with his visitors to its very end, showing that until there is transcendence of all thought, logic remains fully valid and should be pursued rigorously.

Biography of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

When asked about his biographical details, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj used to say “I was never born”, for he does not identify himself with his body. He identified himself only with the eternal and pure beingness. However, here is a shory biogrpahy of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, the person.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in March 1897, on the day the birthday of Lord Hanuman. In honor of Lord Hanuman, he was given the name ‘Maruti’. Nisargadatta’s father, Shivrampant, worked as a domestic servant in Mumbai and later as a petty farmer in Kandalgaon, a small village in the back-woods of Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Mariti’s family followed the traditional Hindu culture. At the tender age of 18, in the year 1915, Maruti’s father passed away. After the death of his father, Maruti followed his oldest brother to Bombay.

Mariti started working as a small-time clerk in an office near Bombay, but soon opened a small goods store selling bidis (leaf-rolled cigarettes). He became successful in this venture. In 1924 he married Sumatibai. They had three daughters and a son.

Maruti had a wise friend named Yashwantrao Bagkar. They often would have spiritual discussions. One day Yashwantrao brought Maruti to meet Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, his future guru. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, was then the head of the Inchegeri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya. Maruti was given a Mantra, which is totally in keeping with the Navnath tradition, and instructions on how to meditate. His guru told him to concentrate on the feeling “I Am” and to remain in that state. Maruti did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. He mearly followed his gurus instruction of concentrating on the feeling “I am”, and within three years, the realization dawned on him and he got Self-awareness.

Sri Siddharameshwar died in 1936 and evoked in Maruti a strong feeling of renunciation which he acted upon. He abandoned his family and bidi businesses and took off for the Himalayas. Srikant Gogte and P.T. Phadol, in the introduction of Sri Nisargadatta’s book “I am That” say of this, “On his way to the Himalayas, where he was planning to spend the rest of his life, he met a brother-disciple, who convinced him about the shortcomings of a totally unworldly life and the greater spiritual fruitfulness of dispassion in action.” When he returned he found that out of six shops only one remained, but that was enough for the sustenance of his family, Maruti adopted the name of Nisargadatta and inherited membership into the Navnath Sampradaya sect. He devoting all his free time to meditation on his guru’s instruction.

Sri Nisargadatta continued to live the life of an ordinary Indian working-man but his teaching, which he set out in his master-work “I Am That” and which are rooted in the ancient Upanishadic tradition, made a significant philosophical break from contemporary thought. Devotees traveled from all over the world to hear Nisargadatta’s unique message until his death. Maharaj left his mortal frame in 1981, suffering with throat cancer.

An example of one who was moved by his works is Aziz Kristof, billed as a non-traditional Advaita Zen master, who, upon reading Nisargadatta’s book I Am That, writes most eloquently:

“At that moment, I knew that I found my master. He spoke to my essence, his spirit deeply touched my heart. From him I realised the necessity of stabilising the State Presence to which I was already awakened. He called this the I Am-ness. For the first time, I received clarity regarding the Path and recognised the necessity of the right effort. Maintaining the State of Presence became a new task; it was a new challenge. I went for long walks, attempting not to lose the State, not for a single moment.”

Nisagadatta’s Style of Teaching

He explained that the purpose of advanced spirituality is to simply know who you are. Through his many talks given in his humble flat in the slums of Bombay, he showed a direct way in which one could become aware of one’s original nature. Many of these talks were recorded, and these recordings form the basis of I Am That and his other books. His words are free from cultural and religious trappings, and the knowledge he expounds is stripped bare of all that is unnecessary.

In the words of Advaita scholar Dr. Robert Powell:

“Like the Zen masters of old, Nisargadatta’s style is abrupt, provocative, and immensely profound — cutting to the core and wasting little effort on inessentials. His terse but potent sayings are known for their ability to trigger shifts in consciousness, just by hearing, or even reading them.”

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. contoveros
    Aug 01, 2010 @ 18:30:04

    Wouldn’t it be great to accumulate so much knowledge and apply it to your own Life!


    michael j


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