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Excerpts from I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj - Part 18

read by James Traverse





I AM THAT
Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

 
   
18. To Know What you Are, Find What you Are Not

   Questioner:
Your way of describing the universe as consisting of matter, mind and spirit is one of
the many. There are other patterns to which the universe is expected to conform, and one is at a
loss to know which pattern is true and which is not. One ends in suspecting that all patterns are only
verbal and that no pattern can contain reality. According to you, reality consists of three expanses:
The expanse of matter-energy (mahadakash), the expanse of consciousness (chidakash) and of
pure spirit (paramakash). The first is something that has both movement and inertia. That we
perceive. We also know that we perceive -- we are conscious and also aware of being conscious.
Thus, we have two: matter-energy and consciousness. Matter seems to be in space while energy is
always in time, being connected with change and measured by the rate of change. Consciousness
seems to be somehow here and now, in a single point of time and space. But you seem to suggest
that consciousness too is universal -- which makes it timeless, spaceless and impersonal. I can
somehow understand that there is no contradiction between the timeless and spaceless and the
here and now, but impersonal consciousness I cannot fathom. To me consciousness is always
focalised, centred, individualised, a person. You seem to say that there can be perceiving without a
perceiver, knowing without a knower, loving without a lover, acting without an actor. I feel that the
trinity of knowing, knower and known can be seen in every movement of life. Consciousness implies
a conscious being, an object of consciousness and the fact of being conscious. That which is
conscious I call a person. A person lives in the world, is a part of it, affects it and is affected by it.

Nisargadatta:
Why don't you enquire how real are the world and the person?

Questioner:
Oh, no! I need not enquire. Enough if the person is not less real than the world in which the
person exists.

Nisargadatta:
Then what is the question?

Questioner:
Are persons real, and universals conceptual, or are universals real and persons imaginary?

Nisargadatta:
Neither are real.

Questioner:
Surely, I am real enough to merit your reply and I am a person.

Nisargadatta:
Not when asleep.

Questioner:
Submergence is not absence. Even though asleep, I am.

Nisargadatta:
To be a person you must be self-conscious. Are you so always?

Questioner:
Not when I sleep, of course, nor when I am in a swoon, or drugged.

Nisargadatta:
During your waking hours are you continually self-conscious?

Questioner:
No, Sometimes I am absent-minded, or just absorbed.

Nisargadatta:
Are you a person during the gaps in self-consciousness?

Questioner:
Of course I am the same person throughout. I remember myself as I was yesterday and yester
year -- definitely, I am the same person.

Nisargadatta:
So, to be a person, you need memory?

Questioner:
Of course.

Nisargadatta:
And without memory, what are you?

Questioner:
Incomplete memory entails incomplete personality. Without memory I cannot exist as a person.

Nisargadatta:
Surely you can exist without memory. You do so -- in sleep.

Questioner:
Only in the sense of remaining alive. Not as a person.

Nisargadatta:
Since you admit that as a person you have only intermittent existence, can you tell me what are
you in the intervals in between experiencing yourself as a person?

Questioner:
I am, but not as a person. Since I am not conscious of myself in the intervals, I can only say
that I exist, but not as a person.

Nisargadatta:
Shall we call it impersonal existence?

Questioner:
I would call it rather unconscious existence; I am, but I do not know that I am.

Nisargadatta:
You have said just now: 'I am, but I do not know that I am'. Could you possibly say it about your
being in an unconscious state?

Questioner:
No, I could not.

Nisargadatta:
You can only describe it in the past tense: 'I did not know. I was unconscious', in the sense of
not remembering.

Questioner:
Having been unconscious, how could I remember and what?

Nisargadatta:
Were you really unconscious, or you just do not remember?

Questioner:
How am I to make out?

Nisargadatta:
Consider. Do you remember every second of yesterday?

Questioner:
Of course, not.

Nisargadatta:
Were you then unconscious?

Questioner:
Of course, not.

Nisargadatta:
So, you are conscious and yet you do not remember?

Questioner:
Yes.

Nisargadatta:
Maybe you were conscious in sleep and just do not remember.

Questioner:
No, I was not conscious. I was asleep. I did not behave like a conscious person.

Nisargadatta:
Again, how do you know?

Questioner:
I was told so by those who saw me asleep.

Nisargadatta:
All they can testify to is that they saw you lying quietly with closed eyes and breathing regularly.
They could not make out whether you were conscious or not. Your only proof is your own memory.
A very uncertain proof it is!

Questioner:
Yes, I admit that on my own terms I am a person only during my waking hours. What I am in
between, I do not know.

Nisargadatta:
At least you know that you do not know! Since you pretend not to be conscious in the intervals
between the waking hours, leave the intervals alone. Let us consider the waking hours only.

Questioner:
I am the same person in my dreams.

Nisargadatta:
Agreed. Let us consider them together waking and dreaming. The difference is merely in
continuity. Were your dreams consistently continuous, bringing back night after night the same
surroundings and the same people, you would be at a loss to know which is the waking and which
is the dream. Henceforward, when we talk of the waking state, we shall include the dream state too.

Questioner:
Agreed. I am a person in a conscious relation with a world.

Nisargadatta:
Are the world and the conscious relation with it essential to your being a person?

Questioner:
Even immersed in a cave, I remain a person.

Nisargadatta:
It implies a body and a cave. And a world in which they can exist.

Questioner:
Yes. I can see. The world and the consciousness of the world are essential to my existence as
a person.

Nisargadatta:
This makes the person a part and parcel of the world, or vice versa. The two are one.

Questioner:
Consciousness stands alone. The person and the world appear in consciousness.

Nisargadatta:
You said: appear. Could you add: disappear?

Questioner:
No, I cannot. I can only be aware of my and my world's appearance. As a person, I cannot say:
'the world is not'. Without a world I would not be there to say it. Because there is a world, I am there
to say: 'there is a world'.

Nisargadatta:
Maybe it is the other way round. Because of you, there is a world.

Questioner:
To me such statement appears meaningless.

Nisargadatta:
Its meaninglessness may disappear on investigation.

Questioner:
Where do we begin?

Nisargadatta:
All I know is that whatever depends, is not real. The real is truly independent. Since the
existence of the person depends on the existence of the world and it is circumscribed and defined
by the world, it cannot be real.

Questioner:
It cannot be a dream, surely.

Nisargadatta:
Even a dream has existence, when it is cognised and enjoyed, or endured. Whatever you think
and feel has being. But it may not be what you take it to be. What you think to be a person may be
something quite different.

Questioner:
I am what I know myself to be.

Nisargadatta:
You cannot possibly say that you are what you think yourself to be! Your ideas about yourself
change from day to day and from moment to moment. Your self-image is the most changeful thing
you have. It is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of a passer by. A bereavement, the loss of a job, an
insult, and your image of yourself, which you call your person, changes deeply. To know what you
are you must first investigate and know what you are not. And to know what you are not you must
watch yourself carefully, rejecting all that does not necessarily go with the basic fact: 'I am'. The
ideas: I am born at a given place, at a given time, from my parents and now I am so-and-so, living
at, married to, father of, employed by, and so on, are not inherent in the sense 'I am'. Our usual
attitude is of 'I am this'. Separate consistently and perseveringly the 'I am' from 'this' or 'that', and try
to feel what it means to be, just to be, without being 'this' or 'that'. All our habits go against it and the
task of fighting them is long and hard sometimes, but clear understanding helps a lot. The clearer
you understand that on the level of the mind you can be described in negative terms only, the
quicker you will come to the end of your search and realise your limitless being.