By Nic Higham
Nisargadatta Maharaj practice
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897 – 1981), renowned spiritual teacher and the founder of Nisarga Yoga, did not ask anybody to follow any particular path. He just told those who came to listen to him to be what they were, in their natural, spontaneous state. He taught his disciples to stabilise in their beingness (also called ‘I am-ness’, consciousness) for beingness to reveal its Source (the Self), our ultimate origin. This is the practice and purpose of Nisarga Yoga. The word ‘Nisarga’ means ‘natural’ or ‘innate’. Nisargadatta used the word to signify our natural state prior to erroneously identifying as a finite body and mind with its many struggles and ills.
We feel separate from our true Self, and we are trying to become reunited; that is Yoga. Yoga means ‘uniting’, it provides a bridge, a link, a fundamental means of connection. All of creation works naturally and spontaneously for protecting, perpetuating and expanding consciousness. This is life’s ultimate meaning and purpose and the very essence of Yoga. Living is itself, therefore, a natural Yoga. Nisargadatta emphasised Yoga was not required before the appearance of the ‘bridge’. Because the bridge (i.e. life) has appeared we feel separate and we are using the bridge to rediscover our wholeness. Therefore, living can either be seen as an absence of our natural state (wholeness) or a pathless path back to it. Either way, we must find out what our state was prior to the bridge. “Whatever the ipal or the state was before this linking, before the existence of the bridge, was the perfect state” said Nisargadatta Maharaj. Yoga is the science and art of liberation through self-knowledge.
Extraordinarily, Nisargadatta didn’t base his teaching on any particular theology, cosmology or psychology, or philosophy (although it resonates strongly with Advaita Vedanta). Maharaj even said himself that it might seem too simple, or even crude. Having not practiced any specific forms of meditation or spiritual practice himself, Maharaj didn’t prescribe a formal spiritual method or belief system. Everyone has their own means to truth and realisation, he affirmed, and there are no genuine ‘one-size-fits-all’ techniques for Self-realisation. Maharaj just lived his life and told others to do the same: “Your sadhana”—meaning practice— is to be. The doing happens. Just be watchful. Where is the difficulty in remembering that you are? You are all the time.”
Nisargadatta Maharaj’s guru
Following in his beloved Guru’s footsteps, Shri Samartha Siddharameshwar Maharaj (1888–1936), Nisargadatta Maharaj urged his disciples to delve into the ever-present sense of ‘I’ to reach its source and once and for all find lasting happiness within. Echoing the powerful instruction given to him by his teacher, he never grew tired of telling those who came to listen to him that there were not what they took themselves to be. They simply needed to find out what they were by focusing their minds on pure being, and staying in it. “Watch the sense ‘I am’” he said over and over, “Find your real self”, “You cannot part with it, but you can impart it to anything”, “Give your heart and mind to it, think of nothing else.”
“…I trusted my Guru. What he told me to do, I did. He told me to concentrate on ‘I am’ — I did. He told me that I am beyond all perceivables and conceivables — I believed. I gave him my heart and soul, my entire attention and the whole of my spare time (I had to work to keep my family alive). As a result of faith and earnest application, I realised my self (swarupa) within three years.”
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
“The Nisarga Yoga, the ‘natural’ Yoga of Maharaj, is disconcertingly simple – the mind, which is all-becoming, must recognise and penetrate its own being, not as being this or that, here or there, then or now, but just as timeless being… To delve into the sense of ‘I’ – so real and vital – in order to reach its source is the core of Nisarga Yoga.”
– Maurice Frydman, from the book ‘I Am That’
In the absence of beingness, there was non-duality
In the absence of beingness, there was non-duality. With beingness, duality began, along with pain and pleasure and the need for endless distraction. Without the sense of being, there is eternal peace. With consciousness comes the mind, which is invariably noisy. Nisargadatta asks us to inquire: what was our state before conception? Prior to having a body and mind, we had no consciousness, no being no sense of ‘I am’. To be more lucid, Nisargadatta Maharaj tells us to meditate, but again, our meditation should not on the body but on the consciousness, our ‘I am’ knowledge. With this meditation, we will come to know the origin of the consciousness, its maintenance, and also what happens after the consciousness vanishes. All this knowledge we will get without asking for it, just by meditation.
Perceived separateness is the cause of suffering
“There is no basic difference,” was Nisargadatta’s reply to a typical question asked by one of the many seekers who had traveled far and wide to Bombay to sit in the presence of this spiritual master: “Maharaj, you are sitting in front of me and I am here at your feet. What is the basic difference between us?”. Great though he was, Nisargadatta lived a modest and simple life up to his death in 1981, but his teaching, always delivered in a characteristically direct and uncompromising way, was extraordinarily profound. “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 self”. What Nisargadatta was pointing to is that our habit of inattention and inadvertence causes us to lose sight of our underlying Beingness. Because of this distortion, we perceive a world divided into separate parts, making us view ourselves as fundamentally isolated, incomplete, and insecure. Existence gets distorted by concepts and projections and from these springs the cycle of desire and fear: solitary confinement by way of an obscured lens.
“Call it mindfulness, or witnessing, or just attention – it is for all. None is unripe for it and none can fail.”
“…there can be no defeat in Yoga. This battle is always won, for it is a battle between the true and the false. The false has no chance.”
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta Maharaj meditation
For lasting peace and contentment, we must dwell – that is, meditate – on the ‘I am’ and know, through inquiry, how it appeared. For Nisargadatta, the effort to understand ourselves is Yoga: “Be a Yogi, give your life to it, brood, wonder, search, till you come to the root of error and to the truth beyond the error.” We have many desires, but our fundamental desire is to know and be the Self. Because we misdirect our longing, we have become a slave to our many desires. Without self-knowledge, our experience is shaped by desire and fear, pleasure and pain. Desire and fear are the obscuring and distorting factors. To react from desire and fear is captivity, but to respond from love is freedom. When the mind is free of distortion the consciousness becomes accessible. Therefore a princple of Nisarga Yoga is to gain clarity. Our consciousness is mixed up with dualistic experiencing. All we need to do is unravel consciousness from the jumble of experiences, and for this Yoga is required. Once we have known pure ‘I am’, without being this or that, we will easily recognise it amid daily experiences and will be less preoccupied or convinced by temporary names and forms.
“…for all the gateway to reality, by whatever road one arrives to it, is the sense of ‘I am’. It is through grasping the full import of the ‘I am’, and going beyond it to its source, that one can realise the supreme state, which is also the primordial and the ultimate.”
– Maurice Frydman
What is Yoga? Nisargadatta Maharaj Yoga
Nisargadatta said that Yoga is about “levelling up all the mental ruts”. The highest objective of true spirituality is to free oneself entirely from one’s concepts and conditioning. It is within the nature of the mind to divide and oppose. But through Nisarga Yoga, a new ‘mind’ is born which unites and harmonises, which sees the whole in the apparently limited impermanent forms and the forms as perfectly connected. In the going beyond the limiting, dividing and opposing mind, in moving beyond mental process as we know it, that mind comes into fruition. Because it is suffering from severe misapprehension, the body-mind must set its vision right to operate correctly. We must clarify the mind, purify our heart, and sanctify your life. In Nisarga Yoga, we meet our very existence, be with our existence, listen to it, follow it, treasure it, and make it the main focus of our attention. Nisargadatta reassures us that we need no other guide. As long as our desire for truth affects our daily life, all is well. When we are led by desire and fear, and identify ourselves with our feelings, we manifest unhappiness and stuckness. When we manifest with love and wisdom, and stay detached from our manifestions, the effect is harmony and peace. This, Nisargadatta says, is the fastest way to change the world:
“Live your life without hurting anybody. Harmlessness is a most powerful form of Yoga and it will take you speedily to your goal. This is what I call nisarga yoga, the Natural yoga.”
How can we correct a tangle which is beneath the level of insight? Through Nisarga Yoga, by being with ourselves, the ‘I am’; by observing ourselves in our daily life with mindful interest. “Have a good look at yourself, and all these misapprehensions and misconceptions will dissolve,” said Nisargadatta. We can be interested in ourselves beyond all experience. We can be with ourselves, have compassion for ourselves. True refuge is found only in self-knowledge. The main thing is earnestness, said Nisargadatta. We must be honest with ourselves, and nothing will deceive us. We must see our world as it is, not as we imagine it to be. Discrimination leads to detachment; detachment ensures right action; right action creates the inner bridge to our true being. Nisarga Yoga is not at all difficult, but detachment is necessary. It is our attachment to the false that makes truth seem so unclear.
“To go beyond, you need alert immobility, quiet attention. If you want to live sanely, creatively and happily and have infinite riches to share, search for what you are.”
“Go to the ‘I am’ state, remain there, merge, and go beyond.”
“To reach this knowledge, there is no practice at all. No specific practice.”
“Call it mindfulness, or witnessing, or just attention — it is for all. None is unripe for it and none can fail.”
– Nisargadatta Maharaj quotes
Meditate on and inquire into the ‘I am’
The ‘I am’ has boundless potency: all of manifestation is born from it. Imagination and memory form a body-mind and an identity, and the manifest believes it is a body-mind and with an identity. However, we are always the Supreme (Self) which appears at a specific point of time and space as the observer, a link between the play of consciousness of the person and the pure Awareness of the Absolute.
Nisargadatta Maharaj taught no path, gave no instruction, no method, no technique. He said we are already whole. We feel we are two: there seems to be a ‘me’ here and a world out there. We must understand we are not two, we are “Advaita” (Sanskrit for ‘not two’). In Nisarga Yoga there is nothing to practise. To know our true Self, we need only be. To be what we are, we should stop imagining ourselves to be ‘this’ or ‘that’. Nisarga Yoga means to life our life as it unfolds, but alertly, mindfully, accepting all that happens, doing the natural things the natural way, both suffering and rejoicing. Nisargadatta tells us not to worry about the world, but to first start from the ‘I Am’. Find out the nature of this ‘I’ and the meaning of the world will become known. Seek to understand yourself as you are and don’t embellish the ‘I am’ with any qualifications, for all are illusory, unnecessary and short-lived.
“Your consciousness is the only instrument required for liberation. Befriend it and surrender it to Brahman… Your consciousness is the centre of all things in the world. It has millions and millions of names, but remains unstained by even a single name.”
“Your most important asset is the knowledge that you are prior to emanation of mind. Hold on to this knowledge and meditate. Nothing is superior to this…”
“Just be. Let your true nature emerge. Don’t disturb your mind with seeking.”
“…the mind will get purified and consciousness will be free of the body-identity. Thereafter, you will know clearly what you are. Your spontaneous nature, which is free of all practices, becomes known to you… When you become most comfortable with your consciousness, without doing anything you are already the Eternal.”
False Yoga, true Yoga
Nisargadatta didn’t deal with any physical disciplines. He said by performing physical Yoga, such as asanas, certain satisfaction can be experienced, but this is not spiritual knowledge. ‘Asana’ means a yogic posture and the most reliable asana is the conviction of one’s non-dual Self. While performing our daily activities, we can stay firm in our spiritual asana. In meditation, our “posture should be of thoughts and consciousness, by making them steady. Mere body posture is inferior and not adequate” advised Nisargadatta. According to Nisargadatta, real meditation is to abide in this sense of being. In fact, he said that meditation means “the sense of being holding on to itself”. The union of our natural state with consciousness is a great Yoga. In fact, Nisargadatta said that union with the body through consciousness is false Yoga. However, consciousness united with the Self is true Yoga, and beyond this is the Pure Awareness or Reality, the Self.
“Forget all about physical disciplines in this connection. I am telling you that the indwelling iple I am, the knowledge that you are, you have to be that. Just be that. With that knowledge I am, hold on to the knowledge I am.”
“Keep the ‘I am’ in the focus of awareness, remember that you are, watch yourself ceaselessly and the unconscious will flow into the conscious without any special effort on your part… The person merges into the witness, the witness into awareness, awareness into pure being, yet identity is not lost, only its limitations are lost. It is transfigured, and becomes the real Self, the sadguru, the eternal friend and guide.”
Self-love, the primary illusion
The knowledge ‘I am’ itself is only a temporary guide, albeit a very attractive one. When consciousness appears, our love for existence is the product of the primary illusion, Maya. Once we come to know we exist, we want to endure eternally, and so suffering starts. According to Nisargadatta, all of this is because of Maya. Therefore, with Nisarga Yoga we come to know consciousness intimately and gradually see it as useless, because it simply represents truth; it itself is not the ultimate state.
“I have gone beyond Brahma or the yogi state (the state of union), for in my Natural [Nisarga] state there was never any separation so how can there be yoga (union) or reunion? I know that it is illusion and that I am beyond and apart from these things. Although you are still experiencing the world in duality, you and the experience are really one.”
“In that [nisarga] state you will be beyond any needs and wants; you will have no use for anything. No desires will be left, because they are all fulfilled…
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
“The Nisarga Yoga, when persevered in and brought to its fruition, results in one becoming conscious and active in what one always was unconsciously and passively. There is no difference in kind — only in manner — the difference between a lump of gold and a glorious ornament shaped out of it. Life goes on, but it is spontaneous and free, meaningful and happy.”
– Maurice Frydman, from the book ‘I Am That’
The continual encounter of Self-intimacy
As his affectionate yet direct guidance suggests, Nisargadatta’s Yoga means to stay attentive to one’s beingness. This is most effective and transformative when we’re attentive to being without effort or pretence, when we naturally live meditatively and inquiringly and are familiar with shifting the focus of Consciousness. This is the continual encounter of Self-intimacy: to surrender our “small” lives to our vast lives and to let them be our teacher, to wonder earnestly, to investigate, until we arrive at the crux of the mind’s misunderstanding and thus to the clarity of non-dual Knowing beyond the illusory. Then we discover that it’s impossible to be isolated or afraid because we are everything. What is there to be scared of? Who is missing from our lives? Yes, loneliness and fear may fleetingly pass through us, and we feel them fully, but we aren’t fooled into claiming them. We know the difference between superficial experience and truth. This is the utmost secure human existence; it’s true friendship, harmony, and wholeness, real intimacy of Self-with-Self.
– Nic Higham, author of ‘Living The Life That You Are: Finding Wholeness When You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’
The Seven Principles of Nisarga Yoga (as identified by Nic Higham, 2018)
Nisarga Yoga is the name of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teaching and approach to non-dual / advaita spirituality. There are several references to Nisarga Yoga in Nisargadatta’s book ‘I Am That’ (1973) which includes an appendix on the subject by the book’s translator Maurice Frydman. The seven key principles of Nisarga Yoga were identified by non-duality author and therapist Nic Higham in 2018.
– Non-identification and right understanding
– Interest and earnestness
– Spontaneity and effortlessness
– Attentiveness to being
– Right action
– Going within to go beyond
– Awareness of Self