During my flirtation last month with trying to understand Quantum Mechanics by listening to Russell Brand talk about it online, reader Robert V. Burke sent me a truly sumptuous dialogue from I Am That with Nisargadatta Maharaj that I wanted to share with all of you.Jerry Katz brought me my first copy of I Am That from the now-defunct Bodhi Tree Bookstore in the late 1990s. I’ve never read the book all the way through, but I have such a special place in my heart for it. It’s always within reach on my night table or desk.
This particular excerpt is one of those bits from The Niz which, as you first read it, sounds pretty much like any of his other good bits, but which, after reading more slowly and carefully, I’ve discovered contains some of the most elemental keys to understanding this entire puzzle.
When I read stuff like this, I’m perhaps most amazed by the efforts of whoever transcribed and translated these talks. I can think of few things more challenging to do than what would be involved in translating such subtle, nuanced discussion into an entirely different language while still making it read so lucidly and clearly.
Questioner: As I can make out, you give distinct meanings to the words ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, and ‘awareness’.Maharaj: 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 sensation 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 consciousness’, 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 centered in the body and consciousness is centered in the mind, awareness is free. The body has it 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 interested 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 emptiness 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 Consciousness itself, un-broken awareness of all that is. I am in a more real state than yours. I am undistracted by the distinctions and separation 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 nothing.
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 language and the style may appear personal. A person is a set pattern 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 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.
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 gets 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 desire, 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 liberation 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 imperfection.
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, then something will happen and you will know without a trace of doubt that God is because you are and you are because God is. The two are one.
For those of you still reading, now you get to have some dessert…
First, some of my recent favourites from The Tweet of God:
Prayers are My spam.
If hearing about the Pentecostal snake handler who died of a snakebite doesn’t make you laugh out loud, you’re dead inside.Don’t worry. I’m not going to send another flood to destroy you all. This time, I’m letting you do it yourself.
McDonald’s sponsoring the Olympics is like Jack Daniels sponsoring the prom.
Being gay is far less of a choice than being an asshole.
And last, I came across this fascinating set of photos from some of the world’s most exclusive and out-of-the-way hotels; some of these images are quite breathtaking, and several defy description outright:
Editor’s Note: Thanks to those who replied and/or commented on the blog re my last post that discussed addiction. An approach I’d never heard of before called Rational Recovery by Jack Trimpey was mentioned; I was corrected on the year that Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics (2010 not 2008); and a book by David Carse called Perfect Brilliant Stillness was mentioned.