Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

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Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (given name: Maruti) (April 1897 September 8, 1981) worked as a simple bidi seller in Mumbai (known formerly as Bombay) but was considered by many an enlightened being and a master of spirituality. Maharaj was world-renowned and admired for his direct and informal teachings, a selection of which are in his most famous and widely-translated book I Am That. Nisargadatta is widely considered to be one of the 20th century's most articulate communicators of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta or nondualism, uniquely successful in making such previously diffuse ideas accessible to both Eastern and Western minds.

Although he had a Hindu background and upbringing, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj's teachings have a universal appeal. His genius is in making abstract ideas clear to everyone. 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."


Biography
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.

At 18 Maruti's father died, prompting him and his brother to leave their family behind to find work in Mumbai. Maruti found work as a small-time clerk but quickly opened a small-goods store, mainly selling bidis; leaf-rolled cigarettes. In 1924 he married Sumatibai and they had three daughters and a son.

At the age of 34, Maruti was introduced to his future guru, Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the head of the Inchegeri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya by his friend Yashwantrao Baagkar. Maharaj "did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of." His guru told him to concentrate on the feeling "I Am" and to remain in that state.

Sri Siddharameshwar died not long after their meeting, and three years later in 1936 Maruti reached self-awareness, adopted the new name of Nisargadatta and inherited membership into the Navnath Sampradaya sect. He then took off to the Himalayas to further his understanding but eventually returned to his family in Mumbai. It was there that he spent the rest of his life, working as a bidi vendor and giving teachings in his home.

His book "I Am That" achieved international success in 1973 with its first English translation. His new found fame brought him many new devotees from around the world.

Nisargadatta continued to receive and teach visitors in his home until his death in 1981 at the age of 84.

Bob Adamson, Stephen H. Wolinsky, Robert Powell, and Ramesh Balsekar are several of his followers who are still alive; they all teach the wisdom of and have written books about Sri Nisargadatta. A close friend of Sri Nisargadatta and fellow disciple of Sri Siddharameshwar, Ranjit Maharaj, taught in Mumbai, Europe, and the U.S.A. until his death in 2000.


Teachings
Nisargadatta's teachings are grounded in the Advaita Vedanta interpretation of the Hindu idea Tat Tvam Asi, literally "That Thou Art", meaning You are one with Divinity.

According to Nisargadatta, our true nature is perpetually free peaceful awareness, in Hinduism referred to as Brahman. 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.

He describes this essence as pure, free, and unaffected by anything that occurs. He likens 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, no God as such. What is, is the "total acting" (or functioning) of the Ultimate Absolute Reality along the infinite varying forms in manifestation. This Absolute Reality is identical to The Self.

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 essence, but you are not that apparatus."

(Source: The Ultimate Medicine, pp.54 - 70)
 
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