For over thousands of years, human beings have left their homes and gone to the ‘dessert’ seeking someone who seemed to know the answer to our problems. In the sixties, it became clear to me that quite an amount of specially young people, were leaving the country and heading out to India in search of wise men, sages, gurus. And so, here was I now on my turn and I was not feeling alone as a member of a Catholic community because I was aware of so many others who had been. Fr. Henri le Saux, (Swami Abshiktananda), and among the Christian men and women, there were so many like Madame Baumer, this well respected woman from Switzerland, who was no hippy and she was principally the one who said, “You must go and see him”. and so, here am I, that morning after breakfast, setting out with my instructions to his address. He did not live in a dessert, but rather in a very crowded area in a tiny, winding kind of back alley street where at nights, prostitutes and all kinds of people hung out.
I don’t remember all the details of buses that I had to get off and change etc, but I arrived there sometime around 10:30 am. It was one of those crowded little lanes with shops all around where they sold biddies (Indian made cigarettes) and the red stuff that so many men buy and chew and spit on the streets. There were Chai shops and vendors of a sweet made from milk with sugar and cream_ of_ wheat and in a sweet syrup and called something like “goolabjam” and that I loved. Finally I came to the address and the door at the bottom of the steps was open. I climbed the steps remembering stories of people being thrown out down the steps onto the streets by Nisirgadata and half-way up, I turned and looked and wow! It must have hurt! I remember listening to a video of Swami Muktananda and he was explaining the strange behaviour of some of the saints in India. he said that there was one realized man who spent a good part of his day seated on a dung heap. It smelt awful but there he was and if ever you got close to him, he exhaled a very beautiful perfume! And another saint wore a jacket with many pockets within which he filled with stones. He walked the streets and at times threw stones at people but you were lucky if one of them landed on you because it brought many blessings,and he spoke of his own Guru, Nityananda who spent most of his time lying down and grumbled words which were not always easy to grasp.
I came to the top of the steps and knocked and someone called me in. I was feeling a bit nervous but the gentleman who welcomed me was smiling and he was rather fair skin and not Nisirgadata. “What can I do for you sir.?” he asked. I introduced my self and I asked when is satsang and when can I see Nisirgadata. He said “Come lets have a seat” and he took me to a place in the room near a window where there was a small table and we sat.
“I am afraid I have some sad news for you. Nisirgadata has passed away and is no longer here.” He then proceeded to show me all the pictures and the place where he sat for his talks and the books and the little altar and so many souvenirs. “I was his disciple for many years” he said. He told me many things I can not recall now but I do recall his strong and gentle presence. He spoke with a soft voice and he looked at me with very compassionate eyes and at some point he said, “I would like to invite you for lunch. Do you have the time?” It was nice being there, I mean the atmosphere was peaceful. Now I would say “There was lots of Shakti”, but in those days and I did not know how to say it but rather how to explain it as being “peaceful”
And so, we went to a place he chose some 10 minutes or so away from the street where the saint had lived and we went into a small quiet restaurant.We chose a table near the window and the sun was coming in and creating patterns on the floor. He left me for a moment to go and ‘wash his hands’ and I sat there by myself just reflecting and I came to the conclusion that in reality I had no plans to make, if only I could allow myself to be guided by the moment. In my mind I asked the Holy Spirit to take my feet where they should go and allow me to meet those who I should meet and just guide me and teach me what I must learn and keep my heart and soul in peace and this was my decision. This attitude helped me all through the year in India. Planning has nothing secure about it. Things happen and plans get upset and every time we cant go some where because we missed the bus or train or whatever, it was because we were to meet someone or go some where else where we will receive some teaching.
The gentleman came back and we had a nice meal in which he spoke a lot about his Guru and the teachings and the time came to say farewell, he took me to the corner where I could take the bus heading back to the college.
What was the principle teaching of Sri Nisirgadata? Here is what comes from a website devoted to his teachings:
Message of Nisargadatta Maharaj
The essence of Maharaj’s teaching
Nisargadatta’s teachings are rooted in the Advaita Vedanta interpretation of the Vedic idea “Tat Tvam Asi” (That Thou Art), meaning ‘You are one with Divinity’.
It is hard to summarize the techings of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. He recommended the practice of looking within, and focusing the feeling ‘I am’, that had led to his own realization in less than three years. Maharaj says:
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.”
According to Nisargadatta Maharaj, our true nature is perpetually free peaceful awareness, in Hinduism referred to asBrahman. Awareness is the source of, but different from, the personal, individual consciousness, which is related to the body. The mind and memory are responsible for association with a particular body; awareness exists prior to both mind and memory. It is only the idea that we are the body that keeps us from living what he calls our “original essence”, the True Self, in Hinduism referred to as Atman.
Maharaj describes this essence of self as pure, free, and unaffected by anything that occurs. He compares it to a silent witness that watches through the body’s senses, yet is not moved, either to happiness or sadness, based on what it sees.
For Nisargadatta, the Self is not one super-entity which knows independently, regardless of things; there is no such super-entity, no Creator with infinite intellect. God does not exist independently from creation. What does exist is the “total acting” (or functioning) of the Ultimate or Absolute Reality along the infinite varying forms in manifestation. This Absolute Reality is identical to The Self.
In his famous work ‘I am That’, Nisargadatta quotes:
The seeker is he who is in search of himself.
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.
To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not.
Discover all that you are not — body, feelings thoughts, time, space, this or that — nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive.
The clearer you understand on the level of mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker will you come to the end of your search and realize that you are the limitless being.
Nisargadatta also predicates the radical idea that there is no such thing as a “doer”. According to him and other teachers of Vedanta, since our true nature or identity is not the mind, is not the body, but the witness of the mind and body, we, as pure awareness, do nothing. The mind and body act of their own accord, and we are the witness of them, though the mind often thinks it acts. This false idea (that the mind is the self) is what keeps us from recognizing our Self. Nisargadatta cautions:
‘”The life force [prana] and the mind are operating [of their own accord], but the mind will tempt you to believe that it is “you”. Therefore understand always that you are the timeless spaceless witness. And even if the mind tells you that you are the one who is acting, don’t believe the mind. […] The apparatus [mind, body] which is functioning has come upon your original essense, but you are not that apparatus.”
When asked about his biographical details, Maharaj used to say that “I was never born”. For him, the essence of his being is eternal, pure and ever free awareness which is not confined to a specific body-mind.
Looking at this, we find that Ramana Maharshi taught the same thing as did several others, including one of today’s most popular teacher Mooji.!
Nisirgadata was a very original teacher and he mostly screamed and waved his arms and smoked cigarettes whereas Ramana Maharshi was very quiet and spoke in a very soft voice Thanks to the Internet today we can see and hear all these saints and teachers and listen to their messages without even leaving our living room and without having to travel all the way to India. One of the most accessible of them all is Mooji and it is possible to watch hours of his teachings on Internet. I was thinking about what good would it do if we were all blissed out in the experience of the Self and who would do the work etc,
I went into one of these dollar stores looking for a small bottle of glue and a guy who works there is always smiling and after I found what i was looking for and came to pay, there was a woman just in front of me in line and she was slowly counting her money and asking, “can you take back this two dollar coin and give me two dollars in separate coins” etc. I was looking at the guy’s face and it had not changed. He was smiling and the business with this woman finished she thanked him and he said “You are most welcome!” I asked him, “Are you often in a good mood?” and he looked at me and “Yes”, “”So can you tell me the secret?” He placed an open palm on his chest as he said “I try to look inside, instead of out there” and he pointed outside. I thought, maybe he does practice what these Gurus teach, who knows?
The next day I went down to the railway station and bought my ticket to Trichy which, from there I could take a bus to the small city close to Fr.Bede’s ashram.
Travelling by train in India, was an experience in 1971 on my first visit and it may have changed somewhat after over ten years but not really!(It was 1981) Just buying a ticket cant be done on one counter. You have to go to one counter to place the ‘order’, to another to pay and then you wait and finally you have the ticket and when the train has arrived and you get on board, you have to look for your seat as it must correspond to the number on your ticket but that number is really not on the seat where you sit, but rather on the back of the seat in front of you. Once you know that and you are seated, you may evidently find someone who does not know and they want you to get up ‘because’ they say “you are in my seat” There is a lot of argument and noise until finally the train pulls out.
I was once travelling from Delhi to Bombay and this train was well out of the station when i spotted a man clinging on from outside and beckoning to open the door. I tried opening the door to no avail as it was evidently locked or jammed and so I asked a man in the compartment to help me and he simply said “he has no business there”. “But the train is picking up speed and he’s going to get hurt”, I said,and the man replied “That’s his karma!”
I went and called one of the uniformed ticket people who was further away and he came and tried with a key but could not open and he said “Door is locked sir, he will have to wait till next stop”. By then the man was screaming and losing color in his face. Luckily the next stop was not too far away and as the train came to a halt I saw him jump and he ran away.