I Am That

“What does that mean?” “Does it have any meaning?” “I am what?” “Who or What exactly is the That that I am supposed to be?” “If I am That, am I still myself?” “How can I know the That that is me?”

 

The very title of Nisargadatta Maharaj’s great book begins to do the work of the book. It cuts through the normal chains of thinking, and thrusts us into another mysterious world of genuine spiritual inquiry.
There is no way we can regard these words from a conventional conceptual point of view – they don’t make any sense. But from the ultimate perspective they make beautiful and breathtaking sense. I am That? It is the expression that this self who sits reading (or writing) these words, when truly known, is constituted of ultimacy. If we are ‘Betzelem Elohim’, then to see the vast sacredness we need to direct our gaze inward, at this self. There is a similar shocking sense in one of the phrases from the book which runs repeatedly across the screen of my computer as a screen saver – ‘Die Now Into the Now’. It cannot be understood with the normal mind. But look deep and it is so clear. It shatters our normal state of mind. It is an invitation to let go of the controller, the owner, the centre, the self that thinks it is running things, choosing things and doing things, and to drop into another space of mind. This cannot be done by decision; it cannot be done by wishing for spiritual experiences; it cannot be done by New Age beliefs; it cannot be done by busyness. All these are still in the territory of me myself that wants things and is afraid of things. It requires a process of dying to all of that, and the dying is like falling into an abyss that actually turns into a soft landing – the loving embrace of the Now.

 


I find that somehow by shifting the focus of attention, I become the very thing I look at and experience the kind of consciousness it has; I become the inner witness of the thing. I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness – love; you may give it any name you like. Love says: ‘I am everything’. Wisdom says: ‘I am nothing’. Between the two my life flows.  


 


 This book is one of the greatest spiritual texts of the 20th. Century. If I was asked to take a handful of spiritual masterpieces with me onto a desert island, this would certainly be one of them. I read the book constantly. At any moment of day or night I open it at any page and read a sentence or two and bask in the transcendental wisdom that the words carry. They shake us, they move us, they don’t leave us, they liberate us. They are not teachings about spirituality, like virtually all the spiritual literature today. They are spirituality itself and act directly on our being as initiation, transmission and revelation. Whenever I read something changes, a space opens up, an inspiration arrives, a teaching is transmitted. Can a book be a guru? Of course. If a cloud, a dog crossing the street, a lined face of an old lady in the street, or the lined face of the trunk of an olive tree can be your gurus, this book certainly can.


 


But naturally it is the man, not the book. Nisargadatta was simple and unsophisticated. He went off to stay with his guru, and in three short years broke through. His way is the way of direct non –dual awareness. What I find quite remarkable is the confidence, utter clarity and consistency with which he expresses the non-dual spiritual view. His language is direct and forceful, as if the infinite is entirely obvious, and how come you cannot see it. Indeed, to watch him talk he seems almost angry, shouting, and yet when you hear his words they are so sublime, so deep, so mind-expanding, that it is a shout that carries you away. He is utterly consistent. More than that, he insists that liberation is bound to happen to anyone who seriously commits themselves to it. There is no doubt about it. No place here for hesitation. And his language is crystal clear, clearer, more penetrating and easier to understand than any other non-dual teacher that I know of. Even the great Ramana Maharshi, probably the greatest non-dual spiritual teacher of the 20th. Century, does not have in his verbal teachings, that level of easy, direct clarity. However it must be said that Ramana Maharshi taught mostly in silence.

 

Have your being outside this body of birth and death and all your problems will be solved. They exist because you believe yourself born to die. Undeceive yourself and be free. You are not a person.


The way that he taught is the way of effortless self-realization. It is beyond formal practices, yogas, beliefs, prayers and so on. Beyond even samadhi. The practice, if it can be called by such a name, is to be persistently but effortlessly aware of the sense of ‘I am’, the sense of being, that is deeper than any specific mental content. This opens door after door to thee source of the awareness that is looking at itself. The teaching is effortless, but it requires a great deal of commitment. There is often a confusion in the minds of students of non-dual teachers, that since the truth is everywhere, there is nothing to be attained, and therefore there is nothing to do except hang around enjoying life. This is a misunderstanding. There is nothing so easy but there is also nothing so difficult. Because it does not require effort, but it does require unwavering purpose and what Nisargadatta describes as ‘earnestness’. How long, can you, the reader of this article remain in complete self-awareness? Now at this moment?


Give your heart and mind to brooding over the ‘I am’, what it is, how is it, what is its source, its life, its meaning. It is very much like digging a well. You reject all that is not water, till you reach the life giving spring.

The translator of the book, Maurice Frydman, is also of interest to us. He was an ultra orthodox Polish Jew, who spent much of his early life in Yeshiva, and was regarded as one of the most brilliant Yeshiva students of his age. He was sent during the 1920’s, to Paris to learn a regular profession of electrical engineering. In Paris he met the Rajah of Mysore, who asked him to visit Mysore and help with the beginnings of an electrical grid that was being set up in the State. He agreed and went off to India. While there he visited Ramana Maharashi, in Tiruvanamalai and was so taken by him that he begged him to become a disciple. Ramana Maharshi, of course, told him that he had no disciples, and the only way to be a disciple was to practice deep self-inquiry into the self. But Maurice Frydman nevertheless persisted, and eventually Ramana Maharshi agreed to call him a disciple. He was close to several of the great non-dual Indian teachers of that time, including Krishnamurti and Nisargadatta Maharaj. For many years he was heading the Krishnamurti Study Center in Rajghat, Varanasi, which is where I heard about him when I was working there as a teacher for a year.


Dr. Stephen Fulder is a scientist who has devoted his life to exploring inner and outer healing and spirituality. He has been practising Vipassana meditation for 30 years, and is the founder of Amuta Tovana, the main Theravada Buddhist organisation in Israel. Stephen teaches meditation retreats and dharma teachings throughout Israel He is also one of the founders of Shvil Zahav, a charity that carries out peace-related activities.  

 

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