These are the quotes from the “I Am That” book by Nisargadatta Maharaj together with my commentary. I believe the next post in this series will be the last one.
My life is a succession of events, just like yours. Only I am detached and see the passing show as a passing show, while you stick to things and move along with them.
Liberated people exist in the same reality but because they don’t get involved in the drama of life, their existence is very different. Whilst those who are not liberated are affected by things, events, memories and other worldly phenomena; therefore they cannot remain the detached watchers of life.
Q: What do you see?
A: I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your own self. Bring yourself into focus (…). Study the prison you have built around yourself, by inadvertence [lack of attention]. By knowing what you are not, you come to know yourself.
The only way to really see reality is when you stop getting attached to anything. That’s when we all can share in the same existence. Whilst as long as the mind is with desires, fears and things, we all live in our own private worlds.
Once you are convinced that you cannot say truthfully about yourself anything except “I am”, and that nothing that can be pointed at can be yourself, the need for the “I am” is over – you are no longer intent on verbalizing what you are. All you need is to get rid of the tendency to define yourself. All definitions apply to your own body only and to its expressions. Once this obsession with the body goes, you will revert to your natural state, spontaneously and effortlessly.
People always seek to define themselves, that’s why they seek to join certain groups and are against others. Yet all self-definitions need to dissolve to know yourself. When you dwell on “I am”, soon you realize that nothing at all can define you and you stop trying to identify yourself with anything. You realize that nothing in this world can be you or add to your being. Once you stop identifying with the things of the world, you stop obscuring your true nature.
There is nothing peculiar in the present moment to make it different from the past and future. For a moment the past was actual and the future will become so. What makes the present so different? Obviously, my presence. I am real for I am always now, in the present, and what is with me now shares in my reality. (..) There is nothing in the present event itself that makes it stand out as real.
Life is a succession of events; some of them are past, some of them are happening now, and others will only happen. Yet the present moment seems real, whilst the past and the future – illusory. That’s because our presence gives it reality. Without our presence what’s happening now would also seem illusory. And how could it then happen at all, if there’s no observer that enables the illusion to take place.
Q: On several occasions the question has been raised as to whether the universe is subject to the law of causation, or does it exist and function outside the law? You seem to hold the view that it is uncaused, that everything, however small, is uncaused; arising and disappearing for no known reason whatsoever.
A: Causation means succession in time of events in space, the space being physical or mental. Time, space, causation are mental categories, arising and subsiding with the mind.
Q: As long as the mind operates, causation is a valid law.
A: Like everything mental, the so-called caw of causation contradicts itself. No thing in existence has a particular cause; the entire universe contributes to the existence of even the smallest thing; nothing could be as it is without the universe being what it is.
Here Maharaj shares his usual take on reality and causation – this universe is how it is; if we think of ourselves as the doers by mistakenly identifying with our bodies, it would seem to us that we are causing things; but when we detach from bodies we can clearly see that life is happening without us having any say; and the only freedom that we have is to get detached from this life; because then we are not under the illusion of being the doers and experiencing gains and losses, pleasure and pain, but we can enjoy the entertainment of seeing the life unfold with all its happiness and sorrows.
Q: Yes, one can see that ultimately to speak of one thing being the only cause of another thing is altogether wrong. Yet, in actual life we invariably initiate action with a view to a result.
A: Yes, there is a lot of such activity going on, because of ignorance. Would people know that nothing can happen unless the entire universe makes it happen, they would but achieve much more with less expenditure of energy.
It’s not that without initiating anything we would be as vegetables. The energy will arise for us to do what we are supposed to do. That’s how all goals are achieved – they were supposed to be achieved. Yet when the person is a slave of the ever-restless mind, one does many things that come to no fruition.
Therefore knowing that what needs to happen, will happen, we can relax into being and act only when the energy is there. Because this will save us much trouble and effort, and will get us results with much less resistance.
Q: is there a causal link between the successive body-knowers, or body-minds?
A: Yes, there is something that may be called the memory body, or causal body, a record of all that was thought, wanted and done. It is like a cloud of images held together.
Here the devotee is asking about the continuation between life and death. Maharaj explains that our dreams, hopes, memories and other world residue follow us from existence to existence.
Q: What is this sense of a separate existence?
A: It is a reflection in a separate body of the one reality. In this reflection the unlimited and the limited are confused and taken to be the same. To undo this confusion is the purpose of Yoga.
We all share the same awareness though we are in different bodies. But when we confuse the impermanent with the permanent, taking what will pass as what’s true, we get trapped in this illusion.
Incidentally, the practice of meditation deeply affects our character. We are slaves to what we do not know; of what we know we are masters. Whatever vice or weakness is in ourselves we discover and understand its causes and its workings, we overcome it by the very knowing; the unconscious dissolves when brought into the conscious.
The way to overcome any negative trait is through mindfulness because through self-observation we shine our personal light onto the unconsciousness; and dark traits brought into the light of our awareness start dissolving, thus freeing up energy for better use.
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.
It’s only the beginning of spiritual progress that’s difficult, because the mind tries to maintain itself through giving you all kinds of suggestions to escape the present moment. Yet, if you continue in beingness, the mind eventually gives up and no longer is a barrier to your spiritual path.
Q: Can I avoid this protracted battle with my mind?
M: Yes, you can. Just live your life as it comes, but alertly, watchfully, allowing everything to happen as it happens, doing the natural things the natural way, suffering, rejoicing – as life brings. This is also a way.
Though I like the challenge of winning over the mind, not everyone is the same, and some people simply do not have the time to sit quietly with themselves every day. And thankfully there is a way to liberation without needing to challenge the mind – it’s through living in total acceptance, in the flow, accepting pains and pleasures, not resisting that which happens, not searching for excitement and not shunning unpleasant experiences. It’s also a spiritual practice, just like quietly sitting with yourself is.
Q: Well, then I can as well marry, have children, run a business… be happy.
A: Sure. You may or may not be happy, take it in your stride.
This person assumes that the life of renunciation is painful and having family is pleasant. This is, of course, entirely based on his own beliefs and may not be true at all. For some people living life alone is bliss whilst living in a family would be hell; yet we cannot predict what will happen whether we leave it all to meditate somewhere in mountains, or have a traditional life.
Whatever we experience, however, we should accept with a peaceful heart and we should stay observant and centered, so that no matter what kind of life we live, its end result is liberation.
True happiness cannot be found in things that change and pass away. Pleasure and pain alternate inexorably. Happiness comes from the self and can be found in the self only. Find your real self (swarupa) and all else will come with it.
The very same person who assumed that family life gives happiness was under the delusion that things of the world can give permanent satisfaction. Yet all that is born dies, pleasant circumstances pass away, and happiness always follows unhappiness.
The only stability and true happiness is in the self – not in the world. Once you are in touch with your real self, even the most unpleasant events cannot plunge you into despair as you are established in the love itself.
From that state comes all that is good in this world, and it’s not that we witness loving people and good events in this universe but it’s the projection from our true self that colors those things in such a way.