Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was one of the leading teachers of Advaita Vedanta – the Indian philosophy of non-dualism – during the 20th century. A humble shopkeeper from Bombay, Maharaj became popular with students and spiritual seekers from around the globe who were drawn to him for his deep sense of humanity and the clarity of his direct teachings. His emphasis on the Self, on the awareness in which everything happens, brings his philosophy very much in line with Zen discourse. In this excerpt from his book, I Am That, he answers questions from one of his students and talks about the universal life and what it means to be a householder in the late 20th century.
All Search For Happiness is Misery
Maharaj: If you ask me: ‘Who are you?’ My answer would be: ‘Nothing in particular. Yet, I am.’
Q: If you are nothing in particular, then you must be the universal.
M: What is to be universal — not as a concept, but as a way of life? Not to separate, not to oppose, but to understand and love whatever contacts you, is living universally. To be able to say truly: I am the world, the world is me, I am at home in the world, the world is my own. Every existence is my existence, every consciousness is my consciousness, every sorrow is my sorrow and every joy is my joy — this is universal life. Yet, my real being, and yours too, is beyond the universe and, therefore, beyond the categories of the particular and the universal. It is what it is, totally self-contained and independent.
Q: I find it hard to understand.
M: You must give yourself time to brood over these things. The old grooves must be erased in your brain, without forming new ones. You must realize yourself as the immovable, behind and beyond the movable, the silent witness of all that happens.
Q: Does it mean that I must give up all idea of an active life?
M: Not at all. There will be marriage, there will be children, there will be earning money to maintain a family; all this will happen in the natural course of events, for destiny must fulfill itself; you will go through it without resistance, facing tasks as they come, attentive and thorough, both in small things and big. But the general attitude will be of affectionate detachment, enormous goodwill, without expectation of return, constant giving without asking. In marriage you are neither the husband nor the wife; you are the love between the two. You are the clarity and kindness that makes everything orderly and happy. It may seem vague to you, but if you think a little, you will find that the mystical is most practical, for it makes your life creatively happy. Your consciousness is raised to a higher dimension, from which you see everything much clearer and with greater intensity. You realize that the person you became at birth and will cease to be at death is temporary and false. You are not the sensual, emotional and intellectual person, gripped by desires and fears. Find out your real being. ‘What am I?’ is the fundamental question of all philosophy and psychology. Go into it deeply.