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Excerpts from I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj - Part 48

read by James Traverse

Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

 48. Awareness is Free

I have just arrived from Sri Ramanashram. I have spent seven months there.

What practice were you following at the Ashram?

As far as I could, I concentrated on the 'Who am l'?

Which way were you doing it? Verbally?

In my free moments during the course of the day. Sometimes I was murmuring to myself 'Who
am l?' 'I am, but who am l?' Or, I did it mentally. Occasionally I would have some nice feeling, or get
into moods of quiet happiness. On the whole I was trying to be quiet and receptive, rather than
labouring for experiences.


What were you actually experiencing when you were in the right mood?
A sense of inner stillness, peace and silence.

Did you notice yourself becoming unconscious?

Yes, occasionally and for a very short time. Otherwise I was just quiet, inwardly and outwardly.

What kind of quiet was it? Something akin to deep sleep, yet conscious all the same. A sort of
wakeful sleep?

Yes. Alertly asleep. (jagrit-sushupti).

The main thing is to be free of negative emotions -- desire, fear etc., the 'six enemies' of the
mind. Once the mind is free of them, the rest will come easily. Just as cloth kept in soap water will
become clean, so will the mind get purified in the stream of pure feeling.
When you sit quiet and watch yourself, all kinds of things may come to the surface. Do nothing
about them, don't react to them; as they have come so will they go, by themselves. All that matters
is mindfulness, total awareness of oneself or rather, of one's mind.

By 'oneself' do you mean the daily self?

Yes, the person, which alone is objectively observable. The observer is beyond observation.
What is observable is not the real self.

I can always observe the observer, in endless recession.

You can observe the observation, but not the observer. You know you are the ultimate observer
by direct insight, not by a logical process based on observation. You are what you are, but you
know what you are not. The self is known as being, the not-self is known as transient. But in reality
all is in the mind. The observed, observation and observer are mental constructs. The self alone

Why does the mind create all these divisions?

To divide and particularise is in the mind's very nature. There is no harm in dividing. But
separation goes against fact. Things and people are different, but they are not separate. Nature is
one, reality is one. There are opposites, but no opposition.

I find that by nature I am very active. Here I am advised to avoid activity. The more I try to
remain inactive, the greater the urge to do something. This makes me not only active outwardly, but
also struggling inwardly to be what by nature I am not. Is there a remedy against longing for work?

There is a difference between work and mere activity. All nature works. Work is nature, nature is
work. On the other hand, activity is based on desire and fear, on longing to possess and enjoy, on
fear of pain and annihilation. Work is by the whole for the whole, activity is by oneself for oneself.

Is there a remedy against activity?

Watch it, and it shall cease. Use every opportunity to remind yourself that you are in bondage,
that whatever happens to you is due to the fact of your bodily existence. Desire, fear, trouble, joy,
they cannot appear unless you are there to appear to. Yet, whatever happens, points to your
existence as a perceiving centre. Disregard the pointers and be aware of what they are pointing to.
It is quite simple, but it needs be done. What matters is the persistence with which you keep on
returning to yourself.

I do get into peculiar states of deep absorption into myself, but unpredictably and momentarily. I
do not feel myself to be in control of such states.

The body is a material thing and needs time to change. The mind is but a set of mental habits,
of ways of thinking and feeling, and to change they must be brought to the surface and examined.
This also takes time. Just resolve and persevere, the rest will take care of itself.

I seem to have a clear idea of what needs be done, but I find myself getting tired and
depressed and seeking human company and thus wasting time that should be given to solitude and

Do what you feel like doing. Don't bully yourself. Violence will make you hard and rigid. Do not
fight with what you take to be obstacles on your way. Just be interested in them, watch them,
observe, enquire. Let anything happen -- good or bad. But don't let yourself be submerged by what

What is the purpose in reminding oneself all the time that one is the watcher?

The mind must learn that beyond the moving mind there is the background of awareness, which
does not change. The mind must come to know the true self and respect it and cease covering it up,
like the moon which obscures the sun during solar eclipse. Just realise that nothing observable, or
experienceable is you, or binds you. Take no notice of what is not yourself.

To do what you tell me I must be ceaselessly aware.

To be aware is to be awake. Unaware means asleep. You are aware anyhow, you need not try
to be. What you need is to be aware of being aware. Be aware deliberately and consciously,
broaden and deepen the field of awareness. You are always conscious of the mind, but you are not
aware of yourself as being conscious.

As I can make out, you give distinct meanings to the words 'mind', 'consciousness', and

Look at it this way. The mind produces thoughts ceaselessly, even when you do not look at
them. When you know what is going on in your mind, you call it consciousness. This is your waking
state -- your consciousness shifts from sensation to sensation, from perception to perception, from
idea to idea, in endless succession. Then comes awareness, the direct insight into the whole of
consciousness, the totality of the mind. The mind is like a river, flowing ceaselessly in the bed of the
body; you identify yourself for a moment with some particular ripple and call it: 'my thought'. All you
are conscious of is your mind; awareness is the cognisance of consciousness as a whole.

Everybody is conscious, but not everybody is aware.

Don't say: 'everybody is conscious'. Say: 'there is consciousness', in which everything appears
and disappears. Our minds are just waves on the ocean of consciousness. As waves they come
and go. As ocean they are infinite and eternal. Know yourself as the ocean of being, the womb of all
existence. These are all metaphors of course; the reality is beyond description. You can know it
only by being it.

Is the search for it worth the trouble?

Without it all is trouble. If you want to live sanely, creatively and happily and have infinite riches
to share, search for what you are.

While the mind is centred in the body and consciousness is centred in the mind, awareness is free.
The body has its urges and mind its pains and pleasures. Awareness is unattached and unshaken.
It is lucid, silent, peaceful, alert and unafraid, without desire and fear. Meditate on it as your true
being and try to be it in your daily life, and you shall realise it in its fullness.
Mind is interested in what happens, while awareness is interested in the mind itself. The child is
after the toy, but the mother watches the child, not the toy.

By looking tirelessly, I became quite empty and with that emptiness all came back to me except the
mind. I find I have lost the mind irretrievably.

As you talk to us just now, are you unconscious?

I am neither conscious nor unconscious, I am beyond the mind and its various states and
conditions. Distinctions are created by the mind and apply to the mind only. I am pure
Consciousness itself, unbroken awareness of all that is. I am in a more real state than yours. I am
undistracted by the distinctions and separations which constitute a person. As long as the body
lasts, it has its needs like any other, but my mental process has come to an end.

You behave like a person who thinks.

Why not? But my thinking, like my digestion, is unconscious and purposeful.

If your thinking is unconscious, how do you know that it is right?

There is no desire, nor fear to thwart it. What can make it wrong? Once I know myself and what
I stand for, I do not need to check on myself all the time. When you know that your watch shows
correct time, you do not hesitate each time you consult it.

At this very moment who talks, if not the mind?

That which hears the question, answers it.

But who is it?

Not who, but what. I'm not a person in your sense of the word, though I may appear a person to
you. I am that infinite ocean of consciousness in which all happens. I am also beyond all existence
and cognition, pure bliss of being. There is nothing I feel separate from, hence I am all. No thing is
me, so I am nothing.

The same power that makes the fire burn and the water flow, the seeds sprout and the trees grow,
makes me answer your questions. There is nothing personal about me, though the language and
the style may appear personal. A person is a set pattern of desires and thoughts and resulting
actions; there is no such pattern in my case. There is nothing I desire or fear -- how can there be a

Surely, you will die.

Life will escape, the body will die, but it will not affect me in the least. Beyond space and time I
am, uncaused, uncausing, yet the very matrix of existence.

May I be permitted to ask how did you arrive at your present condition?

My teacher told me to hold on to the sense 'I am' tenaciously and not to swerve from it even for
a moment. I did my best to follow his advice and in a comparatively short time I realised within
myself the truth of his teaching. All I did was to remember his teaching, his face, his words
constantly. This brought an end to the mind; in the stillness of the mind I saw myself as I am --

Was your realisation sudden or gradual.

Neither. One is what one is timelessly. It is the mind that realises as and when it get cleared of
desires and fears.

Even the desire for realisation?

The desire to put an end to all desires is a most peculiar desire, just like the fear of being afraid
is a most peculiar fear. One stops you from grabbing and the other from running. You may use the
same words, but the states are not the same. The man who seeks realisation is not addicted to
desires; he is a seeker who goes against desire, not with it. A general longing for liberation is only
the beginning; to find the proper means and use them is the next step. The seeker has only one
goal in view: to find his own true being. Of all desires it is the most ambitious, for nothing and
nobody can satisfy it; the seeker and the sought are one and the search alone matters.

The search will come to an end. The seeker will remain.

No, the seeker will dissolve, the search will remain. The search is the ultimate and timeless

Search means lacking, wanting, incompleteness and imperfection.

No, it means refusal and rejection of the incomplete and the imperfect. The search for reality is
itself the movement of reality. In a way all search is for the real bliss, or the bliss of the real. But
here we mean by search the search for oneself as the root of being conscious, as the light beyond
the mind. This search will never end, while the restless craving for all else must end, for real
progress to take place.

One has to understand that the search for reality, or God, or Guru and the search for the self are
the same; when one is found, all are found. When 'I am' and 'God is' become in your mind
indistinguishable, then something will happen and you will know without a trace of doubt that God is
because you are, you are because God is. The two are one.

Since all is preordained, is our self-realisation also preordained? Or are we free there at least?

Destiny refers only to name and shape. Since you are neither body nor mind, destiny has no
control over you. You are completely free. The cup is conditioned by its shape, material, use and so
on. But the space within the cup is free. It happens to be in the cup only when viewed in connection
with the cup. Otherwise it is just space. As long as there is a body, you appear to be embodied.
Without the body you are not disembodied -- you Just are.

Even destiny is but an idea. Words can be put together in so many ways! Statements can differ, but
do they make any change in the actual? There are so many theories devised for explaining things --
all are plausible, none is true. When you drive a car, you are subjected to the laws of mechanics
and chemistry: step out of the car and you are under the laws of physiology and biochemistry.

What is meditation and what are its uses?
As long as you are a beginner certain formalised meditations, or prayers may be good for you.
But for a seeker for reality there is only one meditation -- the rigorous refusal to harbour thoughts.
To be free from thoughts is itself meditation.

How is it done?

You begin by letting thoughts flow and watching them. The very observation slows down the
mind till it stops altogether. Once the mind is quiet, keep it quiet. Don't get bored with peace, be in it,
go deeper into it.

I heard of holding on to one thought in order to keep other thoughts away. But how to keep all
thoughts away? The very idea is also a thought.

Experiment anew, don't go by past experience. Watch your thoughts and watch yourself
watching the thoughts. The state of freedom from all thoughts will happen suddenly and by the bliss
of it you shall recognise it.


Are you not at all concerned about the state of the world? Look at the horrors in East Pakistan
[1971, now Bangla Desh]. Do they not touch you at all?

I am reading newspapers, I know what is going on! But my reaction is not like yours. You are
looking for a cure, while I am concerned with prevention. As long as there are causes, there must
also be results. As long as people are bent on dividing and separating, as long as they are selfish
and aggressive, such things will happen. If you want peace and harmony in the world, you must
have peace and harmony in your hearts and minds. Such change cannot be imposed; it must come
from within. Those who abhor war must get war out of their system. Without peaceful people how
can you have peace in the world? As long as people are as they are, the world must be as it is. I am
doing my part in trying to help people to know themselves as the only cause of their own misery. In
that sense I am a useful man. But what I am in myself, what is my normal state cannot be
expressed in terms of social consciousness and usefulness.

I may talk about it, use metaphors or parables, but I am acutely aware that it is just not so. Not that
it cannot be experienced. It is experiencing itself! But it cannot be described in the terms of a mind
that must separate and oppose in order to know.

The world is like a sheet of paper on which something is typed. The reading and the meaning will
vary with the reader, but the paper is the common factor, always present, rarely perceived. When
the ribbon is removed, typing leaves no trace on the paper. So is my mind -- the impressions keep
on coming, but no trace is left.

Why do you sit here talking to people? What is your real motive?

No motive. You say I must have a motive. I am not sitting here, nor talking: no need to search
for motives. Don't confuse me with the body. I have no work to do, no duties to perform. That part of
me which you may call God will look after the world. This world of yours, that so much needs
looking after, lives and moves in your mind. Delve into it, you will find your answers there and there
only. Where else do you expect them to come from? Outside your consciousness does anything

It may exist without my ever knowing it.

What kind of existence would it be? Can being be divorced from knowing? All being, like all
knowing, relates to you. A thing is because you know it to be either in your experience or in your
being. Your body and your mind exist as long as you believe so. Cease to think that they are yours
and they will just dissolve. By all means let your body and mind function, but do not let them limit
you. If you notice imperfections, just keep on noticing: your very giving attention to them will set
your heart and mind and body right.

Can I cure myself of a serious illness by merely taking cognisance of it?

Take cognisance of the whole of it, not only of the outer symptoms. All illness begins in the
mind. Take care of the mind first, by tracing and eliminating all wrong ideas and emotions. Then live
and work disregarding illness and think no more of it. With the removal of causes the effect is bound
to depart.

Man becomes what he believes himself to be. Abandon all ideas about yourself and you will find
yourself to be the pure witness, beyond all that can happen to the body or the mind.

If I become anything I think myself to be, and I start thinking that I am the Supreme Reality, will
not my Supreme Reality remain a mere idea?

First reach that state and then ask the question.