|The Navnath Sampradaya and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
by Cathy Boucher
| Three Lineages
The Navnath Sampradaya and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
In January, 1978, I stepped off a plane in Bombay and entered another world. As my taxi raced through the streets at three o’clock in the morning, past the street sleepers. I felt as though I had entered the city of the dead. The next day, Mr. Hate, the Guru’s son-in-law came by to pick us up ( I had come with a friend.) He told us stories about his Guru, Sri Nisargadatta his father-in-law, and about his wives, the first daughter of the Guru, who had died, and the second was the one that the his Guru had picked out for him. Sri Nisargadatta’s daughter had died suddenly, but before she did, she laughed with her father. His second wife was picked by Sri Nisargadatta and now they were happily married with a new baby. We went to the market place to buy some fruit as an offering for the Guru. Finally, we arrived at 10 Ketwadi Lane, caticorner from the Alfred Cinema and awash with the cacophony of the street. Inside was a small bronze man with burning eyes. He was about to have a shave from an itinerant barber and was lathered up to his cheekbones. He glared at me and I wondered if I insane to have come all this way. His intensity was simultaneously frightening and captivating. Since we were about the same height, I could look directly into his eyes, the eyes I had traveled more than half way around the world to meet, the eyes of an enlightened being. Although I had a spiritual teacher in California, I wanted to meet a bonafide Indian Enlightened Guru. He wasn’t angry, he was just pure intensity. What I was to learn on other occasions was that he was also pure Love.
In 1976, I had discovered Sri Nisargadatta’s book, I Am That, in the book review section of the Mountain Path Magazine, put out by Sri Ramana Maharshi’s ashram. Upon receiving the book it was obvious to me, that this teaching was similar to that of the Maharshi, pure non-duality, but in a style unique to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. I Am That is a book of recorded dialogues, predominately with Western spiritual seekers. I had written to the translator of the book, Maurice Frydman in 1976-77, to express my appreciation for bringing this teacher to light. Maurice Frydman wondered if I could find a publisher for I Am That in the United States. I said I would try and promptly sent copies of the book to three publishers of spiritual books at the time, Shambhala in Berkeley, Unity Press in Santa Cruz, and Rainbow Bridge in Santa Cruz. Shambhala never expressed any interest in publishing I Am That , Stephen Levine at Unity Press, really liked the book but said it fell outside the scope of Unity Press which was dedicated to Insight Meditation and the publisher at Rainbow Books said “It gave him the creeps!”.
Stymied for awhile, I waited to hear from Maurice again and instead got the news that Maurice had died. I decided then that I wanted to meet Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in person.
After the initial meeting, with shaving cream, I felt shook up, not knowing if coming to meet Sri Nisargadatta was the right thing, but I was determined to go forward. Returning to the house on Ketwadi Lane, I was struck by how much this place was in the midst of the chaos which is Bombay. Stepping inside, into the dark house, going up the steep steps to his mezzanine, brought expectancy and fear again on my part. It was customary to prostrate before him and I could feel certain “American” resistances within myself to bowing down before another human being. Yet once I did it, I had a taste of bliss well up within myself. The translator explained that the prostration meant, “ none of me, only you”. Prostration became increasingly blissful the more I did it. But this was only my first time and I was anxious and uncomfortable.
The room was long, dimly lit and painted with a green color that looked like the color of rusty copper. Around the room were drawings and photographs of ancient men that I did not recognize. Each one had a dab of red paste on their foreheads. At the far end was a massive silver altar with a painting of Sri Siddharameshwar (Sri Nisargadatta’s guru) above it. Flower garlands hung over the portrait, as they did on many of the other pictures in the room. Maharaj was sitting on some kind of animal skin, beneath a mirror, which faced another mirror. Slightly to the side was a photograph of Sri Ramana Maharshi. On the other side of the mirror was a portrait of Sri Nisargadatta.Maharaj People were already sitting on the ground in front of Maharaj. Maharaj was already engaged in a dialogue with a young woman from Germany, who had recently come from Sri Ramanasramam.
Maharaj was talking about Vithoba and Tukaram, and the play of devotion. As time went on in this little room, I realized that Maharaj had a very direct way of pointing out our self nature, that he had practical instruction. He also was part of a lineage. We Westerners were eager for the instruction which was so direct. Maharaj had little patience for Western intellectualism, spiritual concepts and marketplace mentality and over the time I was there, he threw some people out. He was famous for throwing people out of his house. This was a method of instruction. But on my first day of Satsang, he was involved in the play of guru and disciple and he was encouraging Barbara to take mantra initiation. I was both jealous ( I thought that I would be the one getting this kind of attention) and puzzled. I Am That had no hint of devotion as part of his instruction. Yes, he spoke devotionally about his Guru, Sri Siddharameshwar, but not much else. Perhaps he knew that we Westerners were not really attuned to such feelings; that our form of non-duality: Self wisdom. We all were coming for the no-nonsense, rapid fire approach we had read in the book, and yet, here in front of me was a sweet divine reenactment of the play between guru and disciple and I did not quite get its implication. I am not trying to say that devotion is necessary for awakening to the truth of one’s self nature. But I believe it has figured in Maharaj’s lineage.
One morning I came early, early enough to catch a glimpse of Maharaj in his morning puja and devotional preparations. After reading from a holy book ( I do not know which one), he carefully cleaned and re-annointed each picture in Satsang room. He was very deliberate in placing the garlands around the pictures as well. I began to wonder who these personages were to command such love and respect from Maharaj himself.
Later, during my visit, I was “assigned” a translator for the duration of my visit. Suamitra Mullarpattan, became my translator and friend. He regaled me with stories about Sri Nisargadatta, and when I asked him about the lineage he told me that Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj had been a householder and his guru, Bhausaheb Maharaj, had been one too. Somehow, this made an impression on me because I had the image that most gurus were swamis or monks. But the idea that anyone could become enlightened, if they looked within, in earnest, became most compelling. Certainly, the immediacy of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s transmission had caught the attention of many seekers treading the spiritual path in the 1970’s. Although, for the entirety of the past twenty four years my attention has been focused on the liberating teachings of Sri Nisargadatta, in the last five years, the whole context in which he lived and the lineage from which he sprang, became more relevant to me. I became curious whether part of his relevance to us as Westerners ( he had Indian disciples, too, but his mode of transmission was different), had to do with the fact that he was a householder in the midst of a modern metropolitan city. Although many of us might consider a spiritual genius like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj an anomaly, I believe that it is no freak of nature that a practically illiterate cigarette seller from the back lanes of Bombay became awakened. This miraculous occurrence has to do somewhat with his lineage.
I learned that the lineage which Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was part of, the full flowering of, was called The Navnath Sampradaya, the lineage of the nine gurus. For the last twenty- four years I have been confused as to who the nine gurus were and what significance they had in the Maharaj’s teaching. Maharaj himself did not stress his lineage with most of his western devotees. However, he does speak about it in I Am That, Page 271 Part II, chapter 97:
Question: I see here picture of several saints and I am told that they are your spiritual ancestors. Who are they and how did it all begin?
Maharaj: We are called collectively the “Nine Masters”. The legend says that our first teacher was the Rishi Dattatreya, the great incarnation of the trinity of Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva. Even the ‘Nine Masters” are mythological.
Question: What is the peculiarity of their teaching?
Maharaj: Its simplicity, both in theory and in practice..
Question: How does one become a Navnath? By initiation or by succession?
Maharaj: Neither. the Nine Masters’ tradition (Navnath Parampara) is like a river—it flows into the ocean of reality and whoever enters it is carried along.
Question: Does it imply acceptance by a living master belonging to the same tradition?
Maharaj: Those who practice the sadhana of focusing their minds on “I am” may feel related to others who have followed the same sadhana and succeeded. they may decided to verbalize their sense of kinship by calling themselves Navnaths, It gives them the pleasure of belonging to an established lineage.
Question: Do they in anyway benefit by joining?
Maharaj: The circle of satsang, the company of saints expands as time passes.
Question: Do they get hold thereby a source of power and grace from which they would have been barred otherwise?
Maharaj: Power and Grace are for all and for the asking. Giving oneself a particular name does not help. Call yourself by any name—as long as you are intensely mindful of yourself, the accumulated obstacles to self-knowledge are bound to be swept away.
Question: If I like your teaching and accept your guidance, can I call myself a Navnath?
Maharaj: Please your word-addicted mind ! The name will not change you. At least it may remind you to behave. There is a succession of gurus and their disciples, who in turn train more disciples and thus the line is maintained. But the continuity of tradition is informal and voluntary. It is like a family name, but here the family is spiritual.
Question: Do you have to realize to join the Sampradaya?
Maharaj: The Navnath Sampradaya is only a tradition, a way of teaching an practice. It does not denote a level of consciousness. If you accept a Navnath Sampradaya teacher as your guru, you join his Sampradaya. Usually you receive a token of his grace—a look, a touch or a word, sometimes a vivid dream or a strong remembrance. Sometimes the only sign of grace is a significant and rapid change in character and behaviour.
Question: I know you now for some years and I meet you regularly. The thought of you is never far from my mind. Does it make me belong to your Sampradaya?
Maharaj: Your belonging is a matter of your own feeling and conviction. After all, it is all verbal and formal. In reality there is neither guru nor disciple, neither theory nor practice, neither ignorance nor realization, It all depends on what you take yourself to be. Know your self correctly, There is no substitute to self-knowledge.
We must take Maharaj’s stance of abiding beyond all manifestations of outer guru, all beliefs in dualisms when we look at his Sampradaya. This abidance in Self knowledge is imperative as we look at events that can only take place in the ephemeral passage of time.
With this as our perspective, we can delve into what the Navnath Sampradaya really is and was. The Navnath Sampradaya refers to the original nine gurus that came from the transmission of Dattatreya. As Maharaj has said, there is a definite mythological quality to these stories and many of them are quite miraculous.
Dattatreya’s parents were both extremely pious and practiced austerities for a long time in the hopes of gaining a boon, the birth of a son. His mother wanted a child who would be the incarnation of Nirguna Parabrahman (the formless infinite). As it is impossible to make the formless take form, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva all agreed to take incarnation as their child. Dattatreya was an Avadhut, one clothed in space, he was perceived as a naked ascetic. Dattatreya did not claim to have a traditional guru , he claimed to have twenty four gurus, such as water, the seas, an arrow maker, etc. He learned different kinds of virtues such as “Forbearance from the Earth, Luminosity from the fire, Unfathomableness from the Ocean, Seclusion from a forest, and so on until he ultimately synthesizes all these different virtues in his own unique life, (XI. 7 Srimad Bhagavata as quoted by R.D. Ranade in Mysticism in India: Poet-Saints of Maharashtra 1983:p. 9). He could find spiritual instruction in these and other naturally occurring phenomena. Dattatreya is considered the epitome of the renunciate. His Avadhut Gita considered so essential that sannyasins who have thrown everything else away are reported to have a copy of his Gita (H.P. Shastri). Yet, Dattatreya’s approach of using every possible thing and experience, for ones meditation is totally appropriate for those who tread the path of the householder. The Avadhut Gita itself is one of the most clear expositions of non-dual truth. Although the entire Avadhut Gita is of value in this study, there is not space enough to share all of it. In Chapter II,( p.1) he says. “ Hold not the immature, the credulous, the foolish, the slow,the layman and the fallen to have nothing good in them. They all teach something. Learn from them. Surely we do not give up a game although we have mastered it?” (Shastri, p.8) In keeping with Dattatreya’s use of all kinds of gurus, we find all these usually derogative are categories given some deference.and value. This theme is carried further in Chapter II, verse 2,” Think not lightly of thy guru should he lack letters and learning. Take the Truth he teaches and ignore the rest. Know well that a boat painted and adorned, will carry you across the river; so also will one that is plain and simple. (p.3).” Neither the guru nor the disciple need be erudite. They only need to be situated in the truth. It is interesting to find this teaching of Dattatreya as it perfectly describes Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj who was a simple and illiterate man, whose transmission was largely based on direct experience, not scriptural reference nor book knowledge.
In Chapter III verse 19 Dattatreya says.” When Atman, the absolute existence alone is and It is I, then where is transcendental Truth, where is bliss, where is knowledge, secular or spiritual?” (Shastri p.13) Truth beyond all dualities is for those who have spent time practicing and have an experiential grasp of what these words truly mean. The Avadhut is definitely encouraging us to go beyond our fondest spiritual concepts. To further stress this he says in Chapter III, verse 21.” Renounce, renounce the world, and also renounce renunciation, and even give up the absence of renunciation. By nature all -pervasive as space, knowledge absolute art thou.(P.13). This takes us beyond any dualism we can image about our station of life,whether that of renunciate or householderdetachment and situates us in the Absolute.
Dattatreya is depicted as an ascetic with the heads of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He encompasses the designation of god as creator, preserver and destroer. e holds in his six hands various spiritual objects, the japa mala (rosary), the water pot, the damaru (the drum of creation), the trident, the conch, and the discus. The damaru and the trident are always the accessories Shiva’s hands; the conch and the discus are usually Vishnu’s. The water pot is one of the few possessions of an ascetic, as is the japa mala. Dattatreya is also depicted with four dogs who represent the four Vedas.(Swamisamarth.com). Although the Navnath Sampradaya begins with a great ascetic sage, Dattatreya, his transmission is transcends any designation, renunciate or householder.
Dattatreya supposedly instructed Patanjali, I found a reference to this on a web site with biographies of non-dual sages, “Regarding the works by him, probably the most controversial is that it is mentioned in the Markandeya purana that he taught the Asthanga yoga to Patanjali, who then wrote the yoga sutras”,(1). Dattatreya is said to have initiated Matseyendra Natha (or Matchindra Nath).
According to my Nisargadatta Maharaj translator, Mr. Suamitra Mullarpattan,
the Navnath Sampradaya begins between the 9th century and lasts to the 14th Century. Mr Mullarpattan writes, “They were: “1) Matchindra-Nath (9th Century), who was said to be, initated by one of the three primary Hindu gods (Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma), namely by Shiva, in the science and teaching of Yoga. 2)Gorakha-Natha got initiation from the 1st Nath - Matchindra Nath, Gorakhnath was a very important Nath as he established a definite system of the tradition, picking up the best and ‘purest’ technics [technique, sic]of different other religious sects, prevailing during the period. This Nath was a spiritually powerful and mighty advanced (Realized )saint. The legend says He was responsible to ‘awaken and rescue’ his Guru, (the first Nath) from the clutches of a trap set by a Tantrik-sect, of women followers, having a kingdom ruled by the women only. Through his astral-body, the 1st Nath-Matchindranath, was having an enjoyable life, with the queen of the kingdom. Gorkh-Nath visited the palace of the Queen and recited the ‘awakening mystic-call’ of the Nath sect, synchronizing with the beats of / on a drum. 3) Jalandar-Nath, 4) Kanifanath, 5) Chapati-Nath, 6) Naganath, 7) Barbari-Nath, 8) Revan-Nath, 9) Gaininath..”
Matchindra- Natha appears to have also been called Matseyendrath. Though the lineage apparently started in the Nepal area it seems to have migrated to the western India. Even though Mr. Mullarpattan speaks about Matchindranath/Matyendranath being rescued from the clutches of some Tantric misadventure, I have also found that he is credited to having written some Tantras, among them the Kaulajnananirnaya Tantra. (2)
In fact, I found this, from George Feurerstein. “As the first of the siddhas, the Tibetan sources mention Luhi-pa (Luyi-pada) who is most probably identical with Matsyendranatha, the teacher of the famous Gorakshanatha...The natha-siddhas...deserve to be singled out for separate treatment by virtue of their enormous influence on the development of Yoga - (Textbook of Yoga, Georg Feuerstein,ch 10 (3) This is most interesting because the siddha tradition, being Tantric in orientation has both renunciate aand householderpractitioners, as I have described in my previous chapter, the Overview of Householders in the East. A site dedicated to hatha yoga speaks of Matseyendranath, “Matsyendranatha, the Lord of fish, probably lived in the early part of the tenth century A.D. He is regarded as the first human teacher of Hatha Yoga and may have been the originator of the Yogini branch of the Kaula School and the Nathapanth (sect.). Nath means master or lord and refers to a Yogi who enjoys both, liberation (mukti) and supernatural power (siddhi). Matsyendranatha is considered as one of the eighty-four great adepts (maha-siddhas) and is known also as Minanatha or Luipa. Luipa can be a short form of Lohipada. He is also venerated as the guardian deity of Nepal in the form of the transcendental bodhi sattva Avalokiteshwara”(4). Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the world protector. As we can see here, there are many perspectives as to who exactly Matchinendranath or Matsyendranath was, but we can see that he was pivotal in Tantra, Yoga, and the Natha traditions. How these practices are viewed depends on the perspective of the commentator. From the perspective of my translator friend, Mr. Mullarpattan, Matsyendranath (Matchindranath), his venture into the world of Tantra needed rescuing, but it seems evident to me, that the transmutational aspect of Tantra was transmitted through the Navnath lineage, even if the sexual aspects were purged.
On a site dedicated to travel in the Mangalore I find mention of Matseyendranath. “...Goddess Mangaladevi who is enshrined in a temple at Bolar built in the tenth century in memory of a famous princess of Kerala who is said to have accompanied Matseyendranath, the protagonist of the Nath cult .” Eventually, this lineage made its way West flourishing in Maharashtra. In Mysticism in Maharashtra, R.D. Ranade ( he himself a member of the Navnath Sampradaya) writes, “When and how Matsyendrantha and Gorkshanatha actually lived and flourished, it is impossible to determine. But it remains clear that they cannot be unhistorical names. behind Matsyendranatha, we have mythology, but after Matsyendra, we have history ...” (1983:P. 19). Professor Ranade also makes it clear that the Natha lineage flows right into the ocean of the Maharashtran Saints, like Jnanadev. He writes “ ..It is certain that Nirvritinatha and Jnandeva came from the spiritual line of the great Gahininatha, as more than once authentically evidenced by the writings of both Nivritti and Jnanadeva themselves. That Nivrittinatha was instructed by Gahininatha in spiritual knowledge, that Gahininatha derived his spiritual knowledge from Goraksha and Boraksha from Matsyendra, it is needless to reiterate.” (P19). Mr. Mullarpattan says that the “The 2nd Nath, i.e. Gorakh-Nath, purified the spiritual ‘sadhana’ or practice/technic[ technique], by getting rid of redundant and complicated rituals , and recommended dhyana-yoga/raja-yoga, by which mind is purified, leading to its liquidation, neutalisation which results in abidance in pure-consciousness/beingness (bereft of ego/individuality, and subsequently transcends or subsides into Nirgun-Par-Brahman...”
Of the nine natha gurus, it is the eighth guru which begins the Navnath Sampradaya, Revan-Nath. My correspondence with Mr. Mullarpattan reveals “ Revan-Nath, who as an infant was discovered on the sandbeds of the river Reva.” His established headquarters is on the heights of the Revagiri Mountain. Then came 2) Kad-Siddheshwar Maharaj, 3) Guru Lingam-Jangam Maharaj who was also known as Nimbargi Maharaj (1789/1875),4) Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj (-1914), 5) Siddharameshwar Maharaj (1875-1936), 6)Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1987-1981) Mr. Mullarpattan tells me that the first two gurus were not householders, but renunciates. In the Sociology of Religion -The Navnath Sampradaya, there is an account of Revan-nath meeting Dattatreya and Matchindranath, “ One day while engaged in agricultural work he had the vision of Sri Dattatreya and by his grace he attained mahimasiddi (occult power) on the basis of which he had performed several miracles. Therefore he became famous as ‘Revanasiddha’ in that region. After sometime Matchindaranath paid a visit to that region. Owing to the occult power tiger, lion and other such wild animals forgetting their enmities were found to be with Matchinderanath. On seeing this, Revananath was flabbergasted. Revananath realized that his mahimasiddhi was of no help. This could be accomplished by Brahamjnana (realization of God). According to his wish Matchindaranath took Revananath to Sri Dattatraya. Sri Dattatraya initiated Revananath into spiritual life and Revananath spent sometime in penance under the guidance of Sri Dattaraya”( P.50). Although the sequence of events and the flow of time is obviously not that clear, there is a definite spiritual connection with Dattatreya and the Navnath lineage Although it does not make sence to me chronologically, I do know that after Revananath there was Kad-Siddeshwar Maharaj. He was also known as Muppina Muni. K.B. Dabade , in his Sociology of religion: a Case Study of Nimbargi Sampradaya, writes, “The Saint of Nimbargi was born in 1790 in Solapur (Maharashtra) but spent his life in Devar Nimbargi, a village in Bijapur distric (Karnataka). He belonged to a Nellawai sub-caste of Lingayat caste. His surname was Misalkar and Narayana or Nagappa was his horoscopic name. His disciples used to address him as Narayan Rao or Bhasaheb. He was also known as Juangam Mahara which was in fact the name of his Guru 9the spiritual preceptor). But he used this as his ensign, in the songs composed by him” (p.49) . Virasaiva or Lingayat affiliations were and are prevalent in Karnataka and Western India. In the introduction of Sociology of Religion of the Navnath Sampradaya we find an explanation of the Veerasaivist movement, “ Veerasaivism [Virasaivism] is a twelfth century reformist movement in Karnataka led by Basava - a charismatic leader and his followers. The core of Veerasaiva teachings is its refusal to recognize the principal of ritual pollution and purity, basic to Brahminical Hinduism. The biological processes such as birth, death, menstruation, spittle and jati (caste) cause ritual pollution necessitating segregation of persons for a fixed period before purification is effected. Veerasaivism proclaims non-observance of five kinds of pollution. Veerasaivism does not recognize ritual pollution and in practice it is considerably diluted. Veerasaivism refuses to make a distinction between auspicious and inauspicious occasions on the ground that the Linga emblem of Siva knows no pollution “ (Introduction,?: P41 ).
Lingayats wear a lingam on a chain, they need no other external representation of the diety. It is significant that some of the founders of the Navnath Sampradaya are Lingayat or Virasaiva because this was a revolutionary movement, allowing people of all walks of life, and both sexes to find Shiva immanent within themselves. Part of this democratizing movement, I believe, is a reaction of Western India’s contact with Islam, which embraces people of all class, creed and gender. The iconoclasm, which is at the heart of Virasaivism actually comes down to us in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as something we can easily relate to. The breaking down of taboos, of certain parts of India's spiritual structure makes it possible for us as modern people to partake of these teachings. We do not even have to be practicing Hindus, in the traditional sense, in order to hear it. This attitude was most evident in the Satsang room of Sri Nisargaddatta Maharaj.
Going back to Nimbargi Maharaj, we return to his history. Once in a dream, Vittal (Vishnu) appeared to Nimabargi Maharaj and told him to go to the town of Siddhagiri (Deshpande,2). He went to the temple where he saw a yogi who gave him a mantra and told him to meditate regularly on it. (Deshpand,p.2.) But he returned home and forgot about it. Realizing the negligence of his chosen disciple, the yogi one day came to the house. The guru was welcomed into the house and he asked for two rupees as an offering. Nimbargi Maharaj had to borrow them as he did not have them himself. The guru returned them and said that he should use one for his family life and one for his spiritual life. Sri Nimbargi Maharaj asked. “ Can the worldly be made happy, by meditation on God?” The Sage replied “Nothing is impossible to the grace of God?” (Suresh Gajendragadkar pg 11). This was the start of Nimbargi Maharaj’s practice in earnest. He was a dyer of cloth but he felt that being a shepherd would be more conducive to his spiritual practice. His practice took thirty-six years, from the age of 31 to 67. His life was apparently uneventful, a normal family life. At the age of sixty seven he became Awakened and turned over his mundane affairs to his son. He initiated people and lived the life of a Jivanmukta until the ripe age of 95. (Despande,p. 3).
During the lifetime of Nimbargi Maharaj it seems that the moral issues which were of greatest concern were, adultery,greed, theft and misuse of yogic powers. Nimbargi Maharaj does address these issues in his book, Bodhe-Sudhe. In Chapter II, verse 9 Women, Wealth and Lands he writes :
All people are caught in the meshes of the three qualities. These are woman, wealth and lands. These three qualities are granted to every one by God. One should be content with these till one’s death You should not treat your possessions with contempt and regard them as non existent. You should not covet these three possessions of others, day and night and long for them. The eyes that gaze will get scorched and burnt. And the mind that lusts for the possessions of others will be charred. These three alone are your enemies. You will perish if you follow their orders. They should not be allowed any liberty.
If the craving of the mind cannot be controlled, then you should pray to God for these. But never should you hanker after the belongings of others. the property, riches and lands of others should be regarded as the worst types of hell and you should be content with whatever has been granted by God.(P38)
Although, this sounds like traditional moral instruction, it is interesting to note his admonishment “You should not treat your possessions with contempt and regard them as non-existent.” Perhaps he is saying that one should not negate what one has, feeling that the other persons possessions are better, yet, there is something profound because many times spiritual people put themselves in a double bind, simultaneously caught in attachment and aversion towards possessions without gaining insight into the nature of manifestation. This is probably attributing more to the statement than the moralizing tone of this chapter would indicate, but maybe there is some of this in it. Some of these moralistic issues do not seem that relevant for this study and must be taken in the context of village life in the eighteenth century.
Sri Nimbargi Maharaj says on page 21 of his Bodhe-Sudhe. “Verse 14 - Hypocrisy means outward show of meditation on the Self (Atman) while inwardly one is engrossed in thought of worldly objects. We should never entertain hypocrisy because God is omniscient and omnipresent, He knows all. Therefore never try to deceive Him by means of hypocrisy”(Deshpande, p.21. He also talks about not being a burden to others and that one should not be a beggar . He says in verse 29, (Desphande) called Do not hold down your hand (like a beggar):
One should never lower one’s hand for the one’s needs. If one takes thus from others, one’s wants would ever remain unsatisfied. The begging hand would be cursed and polluted. Therefore, one should always have one’s hand raised up (for giving).
Priests and Jangams get their hands cursed by their greed for other’s property and by lowering their hands for that purpose. they will therefore never succeed in their undertakings; their poverty will not cease and their wans would remain unsatisfied. Therefore, one should not accept from others anything gratis or in charity. On e should be giving to others with one’s means.
This is obviousl a criticism of renunciates who make a big show of their austerity and yet remain attached within. I personally witnessed Sri Nisargadatta’s disgust of a swami, dressed in ocher robes with whom he had shared a podium. After the talk, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj got up, picked up the offerings of money that he had received and placed them before the swami. The next morning Sri Nisargadatta said that the swami only spoke to feed his belly and needed the money more than he did. So one can surmise that this distrust of behaving spiritually onstentiously and the mistrust of certain kinds of renunciates was transmitted from guru to disciple and still pervades the sampradaya. It also makes a point that being a householder with interior renunciation was more virtuous than that of a sannyasin who was not inwardly renounced.
Spiritual practice while living the life of a householder was challenging for Sri Nimbagi Maharaj and demanded internal renunciation . In Verse 16, of his Bodhe-Sudhe, he says, “ Wife, children and grandchildren, involve us in infatuation and that is known as “Maya”, (attachment). We should avoid that trap of i.e. temptations. We should not love our children too much. At the same time, we must not fail to arrange their food and clothing. We should behave with them as though they are the children of others. if we bestow extra care on them out of selfishness, it will harm them. Getting the way they do, we should not involve ourselves into the trap of their maya-attachment and become partners in their joys and sorrows.” The approach that Sri Nimbargi Maharaj took was to remain detached while in the midst of life. From the modern western perspective, his approach may seem insensitive, however, there is truth in his stance toward family life in as much as one tries to be fully participatory and yet vigilant towards attachment. Perhaps this is a warning against spoiling children, a point that strikes me deeply at heart!
His book of teaching contains advice on how to work, its proper attitude, the danger of idleness, the uselessness of anxiety. He writes about meditating while working in chapter 49 titled Meditation while Working with Hands:
On getting initiated by Sadguru in spiritual life, you should continue to work with hands and repeat the name of God in your mind. Work with your hands, meditate on God Hari, like thread in the spider’s web, watch your breath-inhaling and exhaling (i.e. weave name God through every breath, as the spider weaves the web with its thread).
You should live the domestic life like a labourer, who does his work always with an eye on his wages. In the same way you should work sincerely for the wages, that is , earn enough money to maintain your family, but all the time you should meditate on God. The body alone should be engaged in work while the mind and soul should be completely engrossed in Atman. (Sri Nimbargi Maharaj: Life and Teachings,1978: p. 39)
Mantra initiation was, and has been part of the transmission, although the emphasis is not so much on the sound but the mantra itself becoming God. As I observed during my visit to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, mantra initiation was still a part of initiation that he occasionally used. Sri Nisargadatta did not initiate all who came to him; I do not know the criteria he used in deciding who he would give mantra initiation to. In the introduction to the collection of letters written by Bhausaheb Maharaj, disciple of Sri Nimbargi Maharaj, is an explanation which clarifies the issue of the use of mantras:
“Nama-Yoga” is a word specially coined by us to designate the Spiritual Philosophy and Discipline of Sri Maharaj. He himself called it Jnana-Marga-or Path of self-realisation. We have , however, used “Nama-Yoga” in a double sense. In fact, both the words - Nama and Yoga carry double meaning. Nama means i)Meditation on Divine Name and ii) Divinity in posse. Like many other saints, to Sri Maharaj also, Nama (name) and Rupa (form) of God were identical. the Name itself was God. Yoga means Spiritual union or realisation of god. In the first sense, Nama-Yoga represents the Path, while in the second sense, it represents the Goal, as meditation, on Divine Name, if properly practiced, will lead to the realisation of the vision and bliss of the lord. ( (Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj: Life and Nama Yoga,1978: p. 4)
This quote both explains and surpasses what Nimbargi was referring to in his suggestion to meditate on the name of God. The merger of Jnana-Yoga and Nama-Yoga is passed on down through the lineage, however, in modern times, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj did not always bestow a mantra on those who came him for darshan, he seemed to prefer pure Jnana Marga.
Sri Nimbargi Maharaj, having practiced long and hard as a householder, has lots of advice on how to practice. He feels that one has to keep aware of the Self at all times, which is no easy thing to accomplish, particularly if involved in daily affairs, which tend to require the mind. Although his tone is somewhat moralistic, it is still possible to find applicable advice in verse 51 of his Bode Sude, Relinquishment of forgetfulness and living in constant wakefulness:
Awakening is remembering Atman and forgetfulness is not-remembering Atman. Remembrance of Atman easily renders all work holy and excellent. Impossibles are made possible; while good turns into evil due to forgetfulness and whatever is desired, done communicated , or heard is made null and void. So if you always rememer Atman, se and think of Him unceasingly, every thing will be secured and one will attain Peace -Swa-sthata, ‘Swa’ means ones’s own form i.e. Swarupa and Stha means ‘steadiness’’ i.e. Sthirata. If you become steady in Self, you would be steady everywhere.
If you annihilate forgetfulness, and are steady in remembrance, life in qualityless Absolute, you would suffer from nothing in this world and will attain absolution in your own self. You should therefore, meditate without wasting a single moment, incessantly. the real meaning of life subsists in your own self Atman. All that is done without Atman and without seeing and remembering Him is meaningless, valueless and fruitless. ( (Sri Nimbargi Maharaj: Life and Teachings,1978: p.87)
Sri Nimbargi Maharaj articulates here, some very important points which are equally relevent for the Western aspirant as they were for his disciples two hundred years ago. In saying that”remembrace of Atman easily renders all work holy and excellent” he transforms the daily lives of all who endevour to remain centered in the Absolute and validates the householder path. He re-iterates this by reminding us, “If you become steady in Self, you would be steady eveywhere.” This emphasis comes right through the lineage and can be echoed in the words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, in a dialogue in Vol I, Chapter 26, September 5th, 1971:
Question:...Since two and a half years I am traveling, restless, seeking. I want to live a good life, a holy life. What am I to do?
Maharaj: Go home, take charge of your father’s business, look after your parents in their old age. Marry the girl who is waiting for you, be loyal, be simple, be humble. Hide your virtue, live silently. The five senses and the three qualities (gunas) are your eight steps in yoga. And ‘I am’ is the Great Reminder (mahamantra). You can learn from them all you need to know. Be attentive, enquire ceaselessly.That is all.
This dialogue has many of the instructions that Sri Nimbargi Maharaj imparted long ago and it is still relevant today. Once again, the Self is the mahamantra and all of life constitutes the steps of yoga. Here, Sri Nisargadatta is passing on this path to a young westerner. By sending us back home to the mundane life we sought to escape we are being instructiedus to transmute the senses and gunas, discovering our own sense of being to be the unceasing mantra. This dialogue is deceptively simple but it contains the complete transmission from Sri Nimbargi down to Sri Nisargadatta.
Continuing historically, we look to Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj , who was born Shri Venkatesh Kanderao Deshpande (1843-1914 ). Sri Bhausaheb met Sri Nimbargi at the age of 14 and was given mantra initiation by Sri Sadhubua at the instance of the saint of Nimbargi. As Sri Bhausaheb was from a Deshastha Brahmin caaste and Sri Nimbargi Maharaj was a Lingaya, Bhausaheb received opposition from within and without hisfamily. But that did not deter him from his enthusiasm to practice and awaken under the tutelage of Sri Nimbargi Maharaj. He awakened and was authorized by Sri Nimbargi to carry on the lineage (Deshpande1978:p2). In the introduction of Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj: Life Sketch and Nama-Yoga, published by the Academy of Comparative Philosophy and Religion, we find more evidence of internal detachment and the use of life in the world as an approach to spiritual practice, “To denounce and renounce worthless things” is his Vairagya [dispassion]. To attain the essential we must eschew the non-essential. Still like Sri Ramadas, the renunciation advocated by Sri Maharaj was internal and not external. Like Sage Vasistha, Sri Maharaj preferred ‘Antastyaga’, mental renunciation. He advised his disciples to perform worldly duties with perfect diligence. But he warned them that they should consider spiritual discipline to be the be-all-and-end-all of life and hat it should claim their highest loyalty. Hence, while they are engaged in the daily work they should not fail to meditate on the Divine Name. “(Deshpandep.5-6). He was a householder and some of his instruction is found in letters written to his sons. He established a Math, [ monastery] in the village of Inchagiri. He had several realized disciples but the Navnath Sampradaya seems to split into two major groups, those of Sri Amburao Maharaj, who was the guru of Professor R.D. Ranade (who made possible most of the existing works about the lineage and also the Maratha Poet Saints), and Sri Siddharameshwar, who was the guru of both Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ranjit Maharaj among others.
Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj wrote to his sons and disciples about different aspects of spiritual life and practice. His letters and teachings have been gathered in a book called Nama-Yoga. As mentioned earlier, the compilers and translators of this book have coined this term Nama-Yoga, even thought, Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj, himself called it Jnana Marga. Even though Nama Yoga seems to have been a component of instruction coming down from Sri Nimbargi Maharaj, both Sri Nimbargi and Sri Bhausaheb vidently intended for it to be a practice of Jnana, which is wisdom, enquiry into truth. Sri Bhausaheb said :
A seeker should live in this world like a lotus-leaf in the lake, untouched by its mud. He should perform meditation while engaged in his worldly affairs. He should , however be very cautious here and should never fall a prey to the attractions of woman and gold belonging to others. He should be satisfied with what God has granted to him and steadily continue his spiritual sadhana. Moreover, he should perform his worldly duties, with utmost care and diligence. He should not shun them through idleness. He should constantly observe and examine his conduct at every step, and should always behave prudently. Imprudence is the source of misery. Still, with all our prudence we must not fail to realize that God’s will alone ultimately prevails. Hence we should be ever ready to abide by His will. When we are overwhelmed with dangers, we should not fail to remember Him and perform our duty. (1978:P11-12)
Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj does put the emphasis in life on one-pointed meditation on God,
he does not believe that one has to remove oneself from life’s circumstances but live life with this meditation as its purpose:
A person is required to worship God for success in his worldly business as well. That would form his Worldly Religion, useful for his worldly life. but that is not all in all. That alone will not bring about fulfillment in his life. On the other hand, he should adopt the path of Spiritual Religion and try to identify himself with God through proper devotion. He should learn to adapt himself even to (adverse) places and (trying) circumstances in which he would be called upon to live through the will of God and should never give up meditation on the Divine Name on any account... (18)
Although the moralistic tone of both Sri Nimbargi Maharaj and Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj may be hard to relate to in the twenty-first century, the advice given above would be useful meditation for any modern man or women.
Sri Bhausaheb takes us beyond the duality of spiritual and worldly. Here he sounds like his descendent, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj:
Worldly life and Spiritual life, Duality and Identity, Censure and Praise are pairs of opposites in which, without the help of one we cannot understand the other. Identity can not be understood without duality; in the absence of censure the value of praise would not be realized. Likewise, without the help of worldly life, spiritual life cannot be properly realized. Worldly life is reprehensible no doubt. But its aid is quite necessary for attaining the commendable spiritual life. We must realize all this properly and through the proper practice of meditation attain love and bliss of spiritual life. (Nama-Yoga p.183-184) (29)
One wonders whether Sri Bhausaheb finds Worldly life reprehensible because it is so easy to get enmeshed in all manner of attachment and desire or because it takes up so much of one’s time and attention? He does however stress “its aid is quite necessary for attaining the commendable spiritual life. The worldly life does provide financial sustenance and more than that, it provides opportunities for detachment, for compassion and for seeing the Absolute nature of all apparent manifestation. He even shows us that the illusion we get entangled in, is only God’s Maya:
Man desires that the Lord should not throw him— entangle him, in the meshes of Maya. But it is futile to entertain this desire. Even the Lord Himself incarnates in the Maya, carries on-displays His sport in it. How, then can we be freed from Maya? When we are residing in the domain of Maya, we should develop devotion for the Lord, by remaining unaffected by Maya. Maya then could not affect us. We should learn to participate in the sport of the Lord, in the Maya of the Lord, like the Lord Himself. Never should we forget that Maya belongs to the Lord Himself. then we won’t be troubled by Maya. (p.24) (36)
Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj, also known as the saint of Umadi, had disciples who were Lingayat, Muslim as well as Brahmin. He had a disciple named Sri Shivalingavva who was a poetess saint of Jat. He had both Harijan (untouchable) and Brahmin disciples. One of these Brahmin disciples, Sri Bagewadi Maharaj, was the spiritual teacher of Sri B.D. Jatti - former Chief Minister of Karnataka, Vice President and Acting President of India. This lineage became quite ecumenical as more disciples came into its fold. (Sociology of Religion, Dabadde p. 60)
According to the Sociology of Religion: a Case Study of Nimbargi Sampradaya by K.B. Dabade, “Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, guru was born in Patri, a village near Solapur in Maharshtra in 1888. Although he had little schooling he earned a name as a clerk under a famous merchant named Narayana Das at Bijapur. He came in contact with the Saint of Umadi through his friend and got initiated. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj belongs to a Kunbi caste. A Jati called Kunbi is generally ranked below the farmer - military Jatis called Maratha (Mandelbaum 1972:19). He is a widely traveled person in India and has disciples from far off places. He is said to have initiated thousands of people. He knew Marathi, Hindi, Gujarathi, Kannada and was a powerful orator. He is said to have attained a great spiritual height and spread Vedanta as told by the saint of Umadi and left his mortal coil in Bombay in 1936” ( Debadde 1998:P99) In the Preface to Sri Siddharameshwar’s Master Key to Self-Realisation it also affirms that he was a bright young man. “ He did not study much at the school level but he was very intelligent, clever and smart in all his behaviors. He was always very straight forward and spoke with a thoughtful idea. He retorted his answers to every question with a full meaning. At the age of 16 , even though he was premature to work, he took up a job of an accountant (Munim) in a Marwadi firm at Bijapur. he did his work with earnestness and with full responsibility. Thus he was successful as an accountant ( a Munim) and settled down in Bijapur. here he met his Master Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj, who has built a monastery (Math) in the small village called Inchgiri in Karnataka State of India which started in the year 1885.’(1994:Pv)
Sri Nimbargi Maharaj died in 1914 and in 1918. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, along with four other disciples of Sri Bhausaheb decided to renounce the world. He joined his brother disciples and went on tour popularizing their guru’s teaching. (Dabade p.vi) He then got the idea “that one should go beyond meditation, because meditation is an initial stage to Final Reality. Brother disciples disagreed with Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj saying that their Master Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj has not told them so. He agreed with them, but reiterated, ‘Okay! Can one not go beyond that?” He decided to set on the arduous path on his own and left them and returned to Bijapur at his home. He started his meditation in bijapur on a raised platform like a minaret (upli buruj) sitting over an old gun and he meditated for nine months without a break. Since his Master had taught him only meditation there was no alternative for him to find out he way to attain the Final Reality without meditation. His efforts were finally rewarded and his Master blessed him. He then explained that one can achieve the Final Reality via Vihangam Marg (the bird’s way) which is by thinking.”(vi) This thinking can only be the fine discernment and discrimmination of the real from the unreal,, which will take a sincere aspirant to their true Self-nature. The Sampradaya was evolving again.
Even though within the Sampradaya, all castes and jatis (occupational divisions) were accepted, it was not always that way outside of it. The fact that Sri Siddharmeshwar was a Kunbi (Tukaram was one too, and referred to himself as a Shudra) disturbed some Lingayats. K. B. Dabader reports that, “Shivappa disciple of Siddharameshwar Maharaj, once paid a visit to Siddhagiri muth. He went to Siddhagiri without wearing a ‘Linga’ (phallic) even though he was a Lingayat.The present pontiff asked Shivappa regarding this. Shivappa replied that his spiritual teacher has given him Sukshama Linga and that has to be worn by him internally. On hearing this reply, the present pontiff made an inquiry about Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj and met him at Inchagiri. In the course of argument and discussion with Sri Siddharameshwar all the doubts of the present pontiff were clarified and the present pontiff, a Lingayat Jangam accepted Sri Siddharameshwar- a Kunbi by caste as his spiritual teacher. Once a procession was taken out in which Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj was made to sit in Palaki. A Lingayat Jangam Mathadipati of Siddhagiri’s acceptance of a Kumbi as his spiritual teacher and his procession in Palaki were strongly opposed by some orthodox people. The present pontiff at one stage was prepared to even to quit Kaneri muth and the position of the Mathadhipati. Later, he was able to convince his opponents that in real spiritual world, there was no discrimination in the name of caste, class, sex, age etc.” (1998:P100)
Sri Siddharameshwar believed that the Truth should be transmitted in simple, straightforward language. He used examples from daily life. He went beyond the teachings of his Guru, in order to make it ever more accessible to the common man. From 1935 to 1936 he shared his way with disciples and died in 1936 in Bombay (p.vii) Sri Siddharameshwar encouraged inner renunciation and took a non-dual approach:
This world is like a dream and hence in this dreamworld, whatever is good or bad, Dharma or Adharma, merit or sin, morality — are of no consequence for the awakening of the Self. And therefore renunciation of both
auspicious and unauspicious, good and bad, is necessary to get the knowledge of Self. (Master Key, p.9)
In taking Shri Bhausaheb’s teaching, what Sri Siddharameshwar called the Ant’s Path or the slow way, and making it more expedient, into the Bird’s Way, he starts to use forms of enquiry, somewhat akin to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Inquiry. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, in MasterKey to Realization, Chapter II, Investigation of the Four Bodies in Search of the “I” says:
Everyone should begin the search for this “I” at his own centre if he is keen to search it out. This ‘I’ will never be found outside of us. In every human being this ‘I’ or ‘ego’ sense of ‘mine’ and possessions is filled up to the brim. All the action in the world is carried out on the strength of this ‘ego’ and sense of ‘mine’. The theorem is taken for granted by all human beings, but the totality of action can be carried out even without this ‘ego’ or this sense of ‘mineness’... (p.18)
Sri Siddharameshwar goes on to show his disciples how they can carry on their life, take care of their duty without a sense of “I” and “mine”, saying:
...However, if the aspirant understands (intellectually), which is easier than experiencing the self, he raises a question “After the knowledge of the self is attained and the possessive pride of the body and mind is left behind, could the worldly duties be performed?” The Saguru, to console him answers “Dear one, even after realizing the utter uselessness of body and mind, one can establish a household and have children, without bringing in the pride of the body and the mind. these both can be looked after very well. all the relevant duties one did earlier, could be diligently performed.”(p.25)
He then goes on and illustrates how a nurse will lovingly but dispassionately take care of her charge, or a manager the property of which he is responsible (p.25). Household life then can be an opportunity to become ruthlessly selfless and detached.
In the end one can not separate from the Absolute. Sri Siddharameshwar says:
Whatever actions are being done by your gross body, whatever dreams or desires, ideas or doubts have crossed your mind, all these happen for the sake of this God and in order to please Him. If you recognize this much your work is done. All of you are doing something through your body or mind. If you say, “We do not want to do it”, you cannot stop from doing it; but whatever you do, the doer and enjoyer of all your deeds is only Hari. This fact alone must be recognized in every movement. (p.54)
This becomes a practice in itself, without separating from life, without controlling it, but proceeding with the understanding that every dream, action happens in and for the Absolute. By opening to this practice, one does not have to physically renounce to stand in the Absolute. There is no place in mind, or body where the Absolute does not prevail.
When an aspirant has no doubt of any kind left in him and he achieves knowledge of the Self, he becomes free. Though true, as yet he cannot experience the glory of real liberation. Richness is one thing, but the joy of the status after getting rich is another thing. In the same way, unless a feeling of Oneness of all comes to the Dnyani [jnani], his knowledge does not develop or spread out, like a stingy rich man’s wealth, and he cannot get the bliss of Liberation while alive.
Even if one achieves the knowledge of Self, unless one experiences a feeling of oneness with all, fearlessness does not come his way - while “Full bliss” is only “Fearlessness”. In quality, -Fear is a concomitant of Duality. Fear is a very great impediment in the way of bliss arising out of liberation. So after achieving Self Knowledge, the aspirant should worship the Paratman in the way explained above.Thus, dry knowledge gets moistened with devotion. A jalebi (kind of sweet) which has been fried in ghee, becomes juicy and sweet when it is fried and put in the syrup of sugar. In the same way, the Dnayani gets fullness of life through devotion after the knowledge.
Perhaps this is why Sri Nisargadatta continued with his devotional practices, moistening his Wisdom with the sweetness of devotion.
Sri Nisargadatta was born on Hanuman’s birthday, in March 1897, He was given the name, Maruti, in honor of Hanuman. His father worked as a servant and then later bought some land and became small time farmer. After Maruti’s father died, in 1915, Maruti followed his oldest brother to Bombay. In 1924 he married Sumatibai and with her became the parents of three daughters and a son. He started out as a clerk in an office but that did not suit him tempermentally and he soon took to petty trading. He opened a bidi shop (shop for hand rolled coarse cigarettes) and began selling them. He became prosperous. (I Am That, Part I, p.xxvii)
He had a friend named Yashwantrao Bagkar, an intellegent seeker of truth. They would have discussions and one day his friend brought him to meet his Sadguru, Sri Siddharameshwar. Although Maruti was moved by Sri Siddharameshwar, he felt the teaching was beyond him (p.xxvii). Maruti was given a mantra initiation, which is totally in keeping with the Navnath tradition, and instructions on how to meditate. His practice really started to take off between 1933-1936 (p.xxvii).
Sri Siddharameshwar died in 1936 and evoked in Maruti a strong feeling of renunciation which he acted upon. He abandoned his family and bidi businesses and took off for the Himalayas.(pxxviii) Srikant Gogte and P.T. Phadol , in the introduction of I am That say of this, “On his way to the Himalayas, where he was planning to spend the rest of his life, he met a brother-dsciple, who convinced him about the shortcomings of a totally unworldly life and the greater spiritual fruitfulness of dispassion in action..” (p.xxviii) When he returned he found that out of six shops only one remained, but that was enough for the sustenance of his family, Maruti became Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, devoting all his free time to meditation on his guru’s instruction. He actually explained how the name came to him in Consciousness and the Absolute: the final talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, edited by Jean Dunn:
Q. How did Maharaj get the name Nisargadatta?
M. At one time I was composing poems. Poems used to flow out of me and, in this flow, I just added Nisargadatta. I was revelling in coposing poems until my Guru cautioned me, “You are enjoying composing these poems too mcuh; give them up!”
What was he driving at? His objective was for me to merge in the Absolute state insteadof revelling in my beingness.
This was the way I realized knowledge, not through mental manipulation. My Guru said, “this is so,” and for me, it was finished! (p.7-8)
So, after a relatively short time he Awoke to the truth. People would line up at the shop to ask spiritual questions and later, his son took over the business and he began to hold Satsang (association with the truth.).
The tranformation begun with Sri Siddharameshwar, of taking a more relative, moralistic path of meditation and making it more direct and piercing transmission was finished by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s transmission became a beacon of non-dual liberation the world over and in the few years after I Am That was published, Westerners made a beeline for his house on Ketwadi Lane. Although the most erudite Western people came to see him, he was always the simple but brilliantly illuminated Sage.
Up until I had met Sri Nisargadatta, my concept of a Self-Realized sage was that of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, who was totally removed from worldly life. Meeting Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj on a noisy street in Bombay would shatter most of my concepts about what a realised sage was like or how my life could be utilized to become enlightened. I was completely made welcome and invited to ask questions and discourse with him. I noticed early on that I was not the only woman present. Both Indian women and Western women alike were more than welcome to sit at His feet. There were some very sharp ladies there and I believe that this is also in keeping with the Navnath tradition of inclusiveness.
Sri Nisargadatta reached out with great compassion to the many confused travelers who arrived at his door. He showed great patience and restrait in his dealings with them, or should I say, us. He would explain what the world was like for him, or more precisely that there was no one to experience a non-existent world. He freely gave of his freedom:
Question: Give us at least some insight into the content of your mind while you live your daily life. To eat, to drink, to talk, to sleep—how does it feel at your end?
Maharaj: The common things of life I experience then just as you do.The difference lies in what I do not experience. I do not experience fear or greed, hate or anger. I ask nothing, refuse nothing. In these matters I do not compromise. May be this is the outstanding difference between us. I will not compromise. I am true to myself, while you are afraid of reality.
It is not that being a householder was advocated as a path, but in the context of the Navnath Sampradaya of Sri Nisargadatta, being a householder was not an obstruction, rather it was an opportunity for renunciation in action. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was not emamored with being a householder, he did not take himself to be any designation whatsoever. On the otherhand, he had no patience for people who had cloked themselves in spiritual imagery, he was ruthless about tearing down all images and attachments. If he was leery of householders it was of the opportunity for attachment and ego involvement that would ensnare them. He felt that householders could discharge their duties with complete dispassion and compassion.:
Maharaj: There is only life. there is nobody who lives a life.
Question: That we understand, yet constantly we make attempts to live our lives instead of just living. Making plans for the future seems to be an inveterate habit with us.
Maharaj: Whether you plan or don’t, life goes on. But in life itself a little whorl arises in the mind which indulges in fantasies and imagines itself dominating and controlling life.
Life itself is desireless. But the false self wants to continue—pleasantly. Therefore it is always engaged in ensuring one’s continuity. Life is unafraid and free. As long as you have the idea of influencing events, liberation is not for you: The very notion of doership, of being a cause, is bondage.
Question: How can we overcome the duality of the doer and done.
Maharaj: Comtemplate life as infinite, undivided, ever present, ever active, until you realise yourself as one with it. It is not even very difficult for you will be returning only to your own natural condition.
Once you realise that all comes from within, that the world in which you live not has been projected onto you but by you, your fear comes to an end. Without this realisation you identify yourself with externals, like body, mind, society, nation, humanity, even God or the Absolute, but these are all escapes from fear. It is only when you fully accept your responsibility for the little world in which you live and watch the process of its creation, preservation and destruction that (p43)
This dialogue illustrates how Maharaj stands beyond all concepts, even spiritual ones in the course of living life. Meditations such as this are the core of the practice of the householder.
Many Westerners came to meet Sri Nisargadatta in India, holding certain preferences for spiritual life in India, over life in the United States and Europe. Sri Nisargadatta would send many home to confront these issues. He felt that one was able to realise and abide as the Self, anywhere , in any circumstance. He would push the Westerner to look deeply within his/her own circumstance,:
Question: What is it that brings me again and again to India? It cannot be only the comparative cheapness of life here? Nor the colourfulness and variety of impressions. There must be some more important factor.
Maharaj: There is also the spiritual aspect. The division between the outer and the inner is less in India. It is easier here to express the inner in the outer. Integration is easier. Society is not so oppressive.
Question: Yes, in the west it is all tamas and rajas. In India there is more of sattva, of harmony and balance?
Maharaj: Can’t you go beyond the gunas? Why choose the sattva? Be what you are wherever you are and worry not about gunas.
Question: I have not the strength.
Maharaj: It merely shows that you have gained little in India. What you truly have you cannot lose. Were you well grounded in your self, change of place would not affect it.
Question: In India spiritual life is easy. It is not so in the west. One has to conform to environment to a much greater extent.
Maharaj: Why don’t you create your own environment? The world has only as much power over you as you give it. Rebel. Go beyond duality, make no difference between east and west. (Part I I:p. 104)
He wanted us to understand t hat we could practice and Realise at home. That we did not have to continue these dualisms at all. With such encouragement, Maharaj literally pushed people out his door. He had no desire to have an ashram, his only desire was to show people how to be as they truly Are.
Sri Nisargadatta having been innundated with Western seekers in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He became both affectionate toward them and critical of their approaches. He critiqued our approach and at the same time showed us the way to deal with our particular temperment in this dialogue, :
Question: Am I allowed to smoke in your presence? I know that is is not the custom to smoke before a sage and more so for a woman.
Maharaj: By all means, smoke, nobody will mind. We understand.
Question: I feel the need for cooling down.
Maharaj: It is very often so with Europeans. After a stretch of sadhana they become charged with energy and frantically seek an outlet. They organize communities, become teachers of yoga, marry, write books anything except keeping quite and turning their energies within, to find the source of the inexhaustible energy and learn the art of keeping it under control.
Question: I admit that now I want ot go back and live a very active life, becaue I feel full of energy.
Maharaj: You can do what you like as long as you do not take yourself to be the body and the mind. It is not so much a question of actual giving up the body and all that goes with it, as a clear understaning that you are not the body, a sense of aloofness, of emotional non-involvement.
Question: I know what you mean. I have passed some four years ago, through a period of rejection of the physical; I would not buy myself clothes, would eat the simplest of foods, sleep on bare planks. It is the acceptance of the privations that matters, not the actual discomfort. Now I have realized that welcoming life as it comes and loving all it offers is the best of it. I shall accept whatever comes with a glad heart and make the best of it. If I can do nothing more than give life and true culture to a few children— good enough; though my heart goes out to every child, I cannot reach all.
Maharaj: You are married and a mother only when you are man-woman conscious. When you do not take yourself to be the body, then the family life of the body, however intense and interesting , is seen only as a play on the screen of the mind, with the light of awareness as the only reality.
(PartII: P 233-234)
Maharaj is critical here, and is unerringly accurate in describing how Western spiritual aspirants behave after a dose of intense spiritual practice. He keeps pointing us to complete disidentification. He wants us to go deeper. He does not want us to appear disidentified, he wants us to see and be only That. He is speaking here from his own experience, how he handled being businessman, husband and the father of four.
Sri Nisargadatta also speaks alot about desire and fear. People seem tossed about by desire and fear, even in relation to the Absolute. He encouraged people to directly look at what the Truth is and not fret unneccesarily. This actually is also found in the teaching of Sri Bhausaheb and Sri Siddharmeshwar, as well. As an inordinant amount of life’s energy can be wasted by anxiety and fear,:
Question: How do we learn to cut out worries?
Maharaj: You need not worry about your worries. Just be. Do not try to be quiet; do not make ‘being quiet’ into a taks to be performed. Don’t be restless about ‘being quiet’ , miserable about ‘being happy’. Just be aware that your are and remain aware— don’t say ‘yes, I am; what next?’ there is no ‘next’ in ‘I am’. It is the timeless state.
Sri Nisargadatta has had enough experience to know how easily one can get caught up in endless concerns, both worldly and spiritual. He puts them all to rest.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj communicated his direct experience to all who came to see him. He continued to live his life based on Self-knowledge. He was not enamoured by any aspect of life, he dealt with life as it was necessary, always situated in complete Self-knowledge. This spontaneous dealing with life, in full detachment and wisdom was perfectly in keeping with the transmission down through the ages. Each guru in the Navnath Sampradaya transmitted the Truth in ways that those around him would be able to assimilate, in ways that were in accord with the societal influences of the time. Sri Siddharameshwar made the transmission more direct, a form of Inquiry, of discrimination with , more emphasis on Vedanta. This transmission made an impact on Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sri Ranjit Maharaj and Sri Bhainath Maharaj, his three enlightened disciples who ived in Bombay. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, seemed to potentiate the transmission, yet carryi on certain traditions, especially for his Indian disciples. He still gave mantra initiation, with the underlying point being that the mantra was more than sound, it was the Absolute Itself which could be reverberated throughout life in all circumstance. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was somewhat of a departure from the traditional Navnath Sampraday because he came in contact with many European and American seekers. However, the Navnath Sampradaya had always embraced people of differernt castes, classes, genders and even religions.
Maurice Frydman brought Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj to the attention of the world. Although Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj did adapt a different mode of instruction for his Western disciples, through the question and answer format, his transmission was the same for all. The irony of a totally unlettered man being one of the most eloquent exponents of non-duality was not lost on those who came to see him. He was a perfect teacher for those who came to see him because he was accessible in so many ways. He was accessible by being in the midst of the noisiest city on earth. He was accessible in that he had freely given of himself, spiritually, while selling bidis and this free offering of himself continued unabated in his home on Ketwadi Lane. He was available because he had no pretense whatsoever and was intent on unmasking all spiritual fraud. He was available because at the heart of his detachment was unconditional love.
After Sri Nisargadatta became sick in the late 1970’s, his transmission continued but he lost all patience with spiritual imagery and intellectual fencing. His later discourses are piercing and diamond-like in their ability to dismiss the disengenuous and dillitante questioner. Most of all, he truly wanted us to awaken as he had. In Consciousness and the Absolute, edited by Jean Dunn, in one of his last talks, Maharaj said:
I do not want meek and humble disciples, I want them to be powerful as I am. I do not make disciples, I make Gurus. (1994: P100)
These powerful words are a reminder of the true purpose of the Navnath Sampraday. Perhaps, the Navnath Sampraday will take root here in the United States and Europe, amongst those who are quietly inquiring amidst their busy daily lives.
A study of the Navnath Sampradaya
By Cathy Boucher