Practicing the Path of Non-Duality
Nisargadatta's "Who Am I" Meditation
For a few years now I have been studying the teachings of one of the most remarkable sages of modern times, Nisargadatta Maharaj. Over the past decade the books of his talks to disciples have been appearing more and more and taking the "spiritual circuits" by storm. He is a teacher of what might be called "absolute non-dualism" or the path of "Who Am I?", a path also taught by a another previous 20th century sage, Ramana Maharshi. But Nisargadatta's expression of it is startlingly new and modern and in very common ordinary language.
In a way, the ancient Indian scriptures called the Vedas and the Upanishads were expressing the same truths, but their style of language is many thousands of years old and is not so accessible to the common man of today. Nisargadatta speaks plainly in common modern language in a fashion that is stark and blunt and very matter of fact. His talks are rapidly becoming one of the greatest additions to world spiritual literature of the last century. In particular the first book of these talks, called "I Am That," has already become a modern spiritual classic, all around the world and in many languages. Below you will find a beautifully edited series of excerpts from this book which captures the essence of Nisargadatta's teachings. This essence is to meditate constantly on one's inner sense of "I Am." It is as simple as that and can yield astonishing results, a discovery one's true nature.
"I Am That" is the most amazing book I have ever read. It is completely out of the ordinary. It is the only book I have ever read seven times, and the strange thing is that each time I read it it was as if I had never read it before. I even have a theory why this is so. If it is read carefully and slowly, mulling over ever statement and really trying to grasp what he is getting at, I believe it actually induces a higher state, one in which the usual type of memory is in abeyance, and thus it always seems new.
It is not a book to skimmed. It is more of a set of instructions on exactly how to really meditate. For some it will make no sense at all, but for those who have some history of wondering what this life is, what they are, what the mind is and what is consciousness, it will ring like a bell. And it may take some repeated readings to grasp what he is saying and what he means by certain words, such as the distinction he makes between "consciousness" and "awareness," but for those who persist earnestly it can suddenly all lock into place and leave one breathless with realization.
I also found that I could usually never read more than six or seven pages at a sitting. If I read that much I found that I had so much of it to ponder that I very naturally and easily drifted into simply sitting quietly and pondering the topics. In fact, although I had studied meditation for many years, it was not until I read "I Am That" that I started to realize what meditation really is. Nisargadatta is really the one who taught me true meditation. And this was an incredibly joyous discovery. Where I used to sit rather strained and forcing myself to be quiet or still, suddenly the whole process was entirely different, radically different, easy and spontaneous and amazingly alive. I realized that despite what I previously had thought, I had never really meditated before at all.
While I hope that this little presentation here will put a few people on to this remarkable and modern self-realized sage, I also realize that this teaching is not for everyone. In a sense it is the very highest teaching of the Indian sub-continent. Non-dualism was a teaching that in olden times was kept almost secret and reserved for only the most prepared and advanced aspirants. Those who were deemed not ready were given a simpler and less rigorous set of instructions. In one sense Nisargadatta's path is very easy, and in another sense it is very difficult, but I shall leave that topic for another time.
This compilation of excerpts by Jerry Katz provides an excellent introduction to the book "I Am That." I suggest printing it out and reading it a number of times over a period of days. My experience is that if one does that, each reading has an increased effect upon the mind and consciousness.
This is found on the following web page:
and there is a companion piece, "The Nisargadatta Song of Beyond I Am" here:
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
The Nisargadatta Song of I Am
(Edited by Jerry Katz)
I Am That is a book of talks with Nisargadatta, a late-20th-century Guru of the Nath sect. From the book's Introduction: "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." Please buy I Am That, wherever you buy your books. It is a "must."
Quotes specifically referring to 'I am' were excerpted and grouped into four parts, the first two being introductory and the last two relating to ways of knowing 'I am' and to the nature of 'I am'. A fifth part was later added; it includes portions of text that were originally left out.
Go deep into the sense of 'I am' and you will find.
...focus your mind on 'I am', which is pure and simple being.
Take the first step first. All blessings come from within. Turn within. 'I am' you know. Be with it all the time you can spare, until you revert to it spontaneously. There is no simpler and easier way.
Before all beginnings, after all ending -- I am. All has its being in me, in the 'I am', that shines in every living being.
On a deeper level my experience is your experience. Dive deep within yourself and you will find it easily and simply. Go in the direction of 'I am'.
When I met my Guru, he told me: "You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense 'I am', find your real Self." I obeyed him, because I trusted him. I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence. And what a difference it made, and how soon!
My teacher told me to hold on to the sense 'I am' tenaciously and not to swerve from it even for a moment. I did my best to follow 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 -- unbound.
I simply followed (my teacher's) instruction which was to focus the mind on pure being 'I am', and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the 'I am' in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared -- myself, my Guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained and unfathomable silence.
My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense 'I am' and to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, I would turn away my attention from it and remain with the sense 'I am', it may look too simple, even crude. My only reason for doing it was that my Guru told me so. Yet it worked! Obedience is a powerful solvent of all desires and fears.
There is no sense of purpose in my doing anything. Things happen as they happen -- not because I make them happen, but it is because I am that they happen. In reality nothing ever happens. When the mind is restless, it makes Shiva dance, like the restless waters of the lake make the moon dance. It is all appearance, due to wrong ideas.
...in whatever role I may appear and whatever function I may perform -- I remain what I am: the 'I am' immovable, unshakable, independent.
When I say 'I am', I do not mean a separate entity with a body as its nucleus. I mean the totality of being, the ocean of consciousness, the entire universe of all that is and knows. I have nothing to desire for I am complete forever.
Words betray their hollowness. The real cannot be described, it must be experienced. I cannot find better words for what I know. What I say may sound ridiculous. But what the words try to convey is the highest truth. All is one, however much we quibble. And all is done to please the one source and goal of every desire, whom we all know as the 'I am'.
Just like the sun is reflected in a billion dew drops, so is the timeless endlessly repeated. When I repeat: 'I am, I am', I merely assert and re-assert an ever-present fact. You get tired of my words because you do not see the living truth behind them. Contact it and you will find the full meaning of words and of silence -- both.
...I trusted my Guru. What he told me to do, I did. He told me to concentrate on 'I am' -- I did. He told me that I am beyond all perceivables and conceivables -- I believed. ... You may choose any way that suits you; your earnestness will determine the rate of progress.
First of all, establish a constant contact with your self, be with yourself all the time. Into self-awareness all blessings flow. Begin as a centre of observation, deliberate cognizance, and grow into a centre of love in action. 'I am' is a tiny seed which will grow into a mighty tree -- quite naturally, without a trace of effort.
Establish yourself firmly in the awareness of 'I am'. This is the beginning and also the end of all endeavour.
Hold onto the sense of 'I am' to the exclusion of everything else. When thus the mind becomes completely silent, it shines with a new light and vibrates with new knowledge. It all comes spontaneously, you need only hold on to the 'I am'.
Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought 'I am'. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally, without any interference on your part.
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'. Whatever you think, say, or do, this sense of immutable and affectionate being remains as the ever-present background of the mind.
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'. ... Separate consistently and perseveringly the 'I am' from 'this' or 'that', and try to feel what it means to be, just to be, without being 'this' or 'that'.
Give up all questions except one: 'Who am I'? After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The 'I am' is certain. The 'I am this' is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality.
Cling to one thing, that matters, hold on to 'I am' and let go all else. This is sadhana. In realization there is nothing to hold on to and nothing to forget. Everything is known, nothing is remembered.
...just remember yourself. 'I am', is enough to heal your mind and take you beyond. Just have some trust.
Stop searching, and see -- it is here and now -- it is that 'I am' you know so well.
You cannot meaningfully say 'this is what I am'. It just makes no sense.
'I am' is first-hand and needs no proofs. Stay with it.
Be content with what you are sure of. And the only thing you can be sure of is 'I am'. Stay with it, and reject everything else. This is Yoga.
Go back to that state of pure being, where the 'I am' is still in its purity before it got contaminated with 'this I am' or 'that I am'. Your burden is of false self-identifications -- abandon them all.
Don't you see that it is your very search for happiness that makes you miserable? Try the other way: indifferent to pain and pleasure, neither asking nor refusing, give all your attention to the level on which 'I am' is timelessly present. Soon you will realize that peace and happiness are in your very nature and it is only seeking them through some particular channels, that disturbs.
Give your heart and mind to brooding over the 'I am', what is it, how is it, what is its source, its life, its meaning. It is very much like digging a well. You reject all that is not water, till you reach the life-giving spring.
The 'I am' that pursues the pleasant and shuns the unpleasant is false; the 'I am' that sees pleasure and pain as inseparable sees rightly.
Those who practise the sadhana of focussing their minds on 'I am' may feel related to others who have followed the same sadhana and succeeded.
You need not worry about your worries. Just be. Do not try to be quiet; do not make 'being quiet' into a task to be performed. Don't be restless about 'being quiet', miserable about 'being happy'. Just be aware that you are and remain aware -- don't say: 'yes, I am; what next?' There is not 'next' in 'I am'. It is a timeless state.
On waking up, was it not the sense 'I am' that came first?
The sense 'I am' is always with you, only you have attached all kinds of things to it -- body, feelings, thoughts, ideas, possessions, etc. All these self-identifications are misleading. Because of them you take yourself to be what you are not.
What is mine is mine and was mine even when God was not. Of course, it is a very tiny little thing, a speck -- the sense 'I am', the fact of being.
The light by which you see the world, which is God, is the tiny little spark: 'I am', apparently so small, yet the first and the last in every act of knowing and loving.
Without the 'I am' there is nothing. All knowledge is about the 'I am'.
Outside the Self there is nothing. All is one and all is contained in 'I am'.
Give it all up and be ready for the real to assert itself. This self-assertion is best expressed in words: 'I am'. Nothing else has being. Of this you are absolutely certain.
Instead of seeing things as imagined, learn to see them as they are. When you can see everything as it is, you will also see yourself as you are. It is like cleansing a mirror. The same mirror that shows you the world as it is, will also show you your own face. The thought 'I am' is the polishing cloth.
'I am' is ever afresh. You do not need to remember in order to be. ... At present your being is mixed up with experiencing. All you need is to unravel being from the tangle of experiences. Once you have known pure being, without being this or that, you will discern it among experiences and you will no longer be misled by names and forms.
...the 'I am' in movement creates the world. The 'I am' at peace becomes the Absolute.
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.
The 'I am' is at the root of all appearance and the permanent link in the succession of events that we call life... .
Human beings die every second, the fear and the agony of dying hangs over the world like a cloud. No wonder you too are afraid. But once you know that the body alone dies and not the continuity of memory and the sense of 'I am' reflected in it, you are afraid no longer.
People differ, but all are faced with the fact of their own existence. 'I am' is the ultimate fact; 'Who am I?' is the ultimate question to which everybody must find an answer.
Delve deeply into the sense 'I am' and you will surely discover that the perceiving centre is universal, as universal as the light that illumines the world. All that happens in the universe happens to you, the silent witness. On the other hand, whatever is done, is done by you, the universal and inexhaustible energy.
Before the mind -- I am. 'I am' is not a thought in the mind; the mind happens to me, I do not happen to the mind. And since time and space are in the mind, I am beyond time and space, eternal and omnipresent.
...you are not this, there is nothing of yours in this, except the little point of 'I am' ... . 'I am this, I am that' is dream, while pure 'I am' has the stamp of reality on it. You have tasted so many things -- all came to naught. Only the sense 'I am' persisted -- unchanged. Stay with the changeless among the changeful, until you are able to go beyond.
When the 'I am myself' goes, the 'I am all' comes. When the 'I am all' goes, 'I am' comes. When even 'I am' goes, reality alone is...
After the first four parts were edited, more 'I Am' expressions were found and are included here:
There are many starting points -- they all lead to the same goal. You may begin with selfless work, abandoning the fruits of action; you may then give up thinking and in the end giving up all desires. Here, giving up (tyaga) is the operational factor. Or, you may not bother about any thing you want, or think, or do and just stay put in the thought and feeling 'I am', focussing 'I am' firmly in your mind. All kinds of experience may come to you -- remain unmoved in the knowledge that all perceivable is transient, and only the 'I am' endures.
What do you love now? The 'I am'. Give your heart and mind to it, think of nothing else. This, when effortless and natural, is the highest state. In it love itself is the lover and the beloved.
Before the world was, consciousness was. In consciousness it comes into being, in consciousness it lasts and into pure consciousness it dissolves. At the root of everything, is the feeling 'I am'. The state of mind: 'there is a world' is secondary, for to be, I do not need the world, the world needs me.
Go home, take charge of your father's business, look after your parents in their old age. Marry the girl who is waiting for you, be loyal, by simple, be humble. Hide your virtue, live silently. The five senses and the three qualities (gunas) are your eight steps in Yoga. And 'I am' is the Great Reminder (mahamantra). You can learn from them all you need to know. Be attentive, enquire ceaselessly. That is all.
Everything is a play of ideas. In the state free from ideation (nirvikalpa samadhi) nothing is perceived. The root idea is: 'I am'. It shatters the state of pure consciousness and is followed by the innumerable sensations and perceptions, feeling and ideas, which in their totality constitute God and His world. The 'I am' remains as the witness, but it is by the will of God that everything happens.
In my world nobody is born and nobody dies. Some people go on a journey and come back, some never leave. What difference does it make since they travel in dreamlands, each wrapped up in his own dream. Only the waking up is important. It is enough to know the 'I am' as reality and also love.
As it is natural for the incense stick to burn out, so it is natural for the body to die. Really, it is a matter of very little iimportance. What matters is that I am neither the body nor the mind. I am.
Don't identify yourself with an idea. If you mean by God, the Unknown, then you merely say: 'I do not know what I am'. If you know God as you know yourself, you need not say it. Best is the simple feeling 'I am'. Dwell on it patiently. Here patience is wisdom; don't think of failure. There can be no failure in this understanding.
That which makes you think you are human is not human. It is but a dimensionless point of consciousness, a conscious nothing; all you can say about yourself is: 'I am'. You are pure being, awareness, bliss. To realize that is the end of all seeking. You come to it when you see all you think yourself to be as mere imagination and stand aloof in pure awareness of the transient as transient, imaginary as imaginary, unreal as unreal.
Nisargadatta's book, I Am That , is available through The Society for Abidance in Truth. or Blue Dove Press as well as other places.
There are a number of other books containing the talks of Nisargadatta, and new ones continue to come out.
Click here to see Nisargadatta books available at Amazon.com
Here is one that I have read and can highly recommend, "The Experience of Nothingness."
Another book that I have read is called "Conciousness and the Absolute." This contains the finals talks of Nisargadatta, given when he was suffering from cancer. In these talks he speaks of going beyond even the previous high state he was in, into the experience of the Absolute itself.
I am currently reading "The Ultimate Medicine" for the second or third time, I'm not sure. As with all of Nisargadatta's books, reading this one again seems like I never read it before. It is not so much a process of reading as it is entering again into Nisargadatta's meditation. You can take a peek inside this book at Amazon.com at this link:
Another place you can order "I Am That" is at Blue Dove Press.
Lastly, click here for the web page I made devoted to Nisargadatta Maharaj.