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Excerpts from I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj - Part 73

read by James Traverse

Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

 73. Death of the Mind is Birth of Wisdom

Before one can realise one's true nature need not one be a person? Does not the ego
have its value?

The person is of little use. It is deeply involved in its own affairs and is completely ignorant
of its true being. Unless the witnessing consciousness begins to play on the person and it becomes
the object of observation rather than the subject, realisation is not feasible. It is the witness that
makes realisation desirable and attainable.

There comes a point in a person's life when it becomes the witness.

Oh, no. The person by itself will not become the witness. It is like expecting a cold candle to
start burning in the course of time. The person can stay in the darkness of ignorance forever, unless
the flame of awareness touches it.

Who lights the candle?

The Guru. His words, his presence. In India it is very often the mantra. Once the candle is
lighted, the flame will consume the candle.

Why is the mantra so effective?

Constant repetition of the mantra is something the person does not do for one's own sake. The
beneficiary is not the person. Just like the candle which does not increase by burning.

Can the person become aware of itself by itself?

Yes, it happens sometimes as a result of much suffering The Guru wants to save you the
endless pain. Such is his grace. Even when there is no discoverable outer Guru, there is always the
sadguru, the inner Guru, who directs and helps from within. The words 'outer' and 'inner' are relative
to the body only; in reality all is one, the outer being merely a projection of the inner. Awareness
comes as if from a higher dimension.

Before the spark is lit and after, what is the difference?

Before the spark is lit there is no witness to perceive the difference. The person may be
conscious, but is not aware of being conscious. It is completely identified with what it thinks and
feels and experiences. The darkness that is in it is of its own creation. When the darkness is
questioned, it dissolves. The desire to question is planted by the Guru. In other words, the
difference between the person and the witness is as between not knowing and knowing oneself.
The world seen in consciousness is to be of the nature of consciousness, when there is harmony
(sattva); but when activity and passivity (rajas and tamas) appear, they obscure and distort and you
see the false as real.

What can the person do to prepare itself for the coming of the Guru.

The very desire to be ready means that the Guru had come and the flame is lighted. It may be a
stray word, or a page in a book; the Guru's grace works mysteriously.

Is there no such thing as self-preparation? We hear so much about yoga sadhana?

It is not the person that is doing sadhana. The person is in unrest and resistance to the very
end. It is the witness that works on the person, on the totality of its illusions, past, present and future.

How can we know that what you say is true? While it is self contained and free from inner
contradictions, how can we know that it is not a product of fertile imagination, nurtured and enriched
by constant repetition?

The proof of the truth lies in its effect on the listener.

Words can have a most powerful effect. By hearing, or repeating words, one can experience
various kinds of trances. The listener's experiences may be induced and cannot be considered as a

The effect need not necessarily be an experience. It can be a change in character, in
motivation, in relationship to people and one's self. Trances and visions induced by words, or drugs,
or any other sensory or mental means are temporary and inconclusive. The truth of what is said
here is immovable and everlasting. And the proof of it is in the listener, in the deep and permanent
changes in his entire being. It is not something he can doubt, unless he doubts his own existence,
which is unthinkable. When my experience becomes your own experience also, what better proof
do you want?

The experiencer is the proof of his experience.

Quite, but the experiencer needs no proof. 'I am, and I know I am'. You cannot ask for further

Can there be true knowledge of things?

Relatively -- yes. Absolutely -- there are no things. To know that nothing is is true knowledge.

What is the link between the relative and the absolute?

They are identical.

From which point of view are they identical?

When the words are spoken, there is silence. When the relative is over, the absolute remains.
The silence before the words were spoken, is it different from the silence that comes after? The
silence is one and without it the words could not have been heard. It is always there -- at the back of
the words. Shift your attention from words to silence and you will hear it. The mind craves for
experience, the memory of which it takes for knowledge. The jnani is beyond all experience and his
memory is empty of the past. He is entirely unrelated to anything in particular. But the mind craves
for formulations and definitions, always eager to squeeze reality into a verbal shape. Of everything it
wants an idea, for without ideas the mind is not. Reality is essentially alone, but the mind will not
leave it alone -- and deals instead with the unreal. And yet it is all the mind can do -- discover the
unreal as unreal.

And seeing the real as real?

There is no such state as seeing the real. Who is to see what? You can only be the real -- which
you are, anyhow. The problem is only mental. Abandon false ideas, that is all. There is no need of
true ideas. There aren't any.

Why then are we encouraged to seek the real?

The mind must have a purpose. To encourage it to free itself from the unreal it is promised
something in return. In reality, there is no need of purpose. Being free from the false is good in
itself, it wants no reward. It is just like being clean -- which is its own reward.

Is not self-knowledge the reward?

The reward of self-knowledge is freedom from the personal self. You cannot know the knower,
for you are the knower. The fact of knowing proves the knower. You need no other proof. The
knower of the known is not knowable. Just like the light is known in colours only, so is the knower
known in knowledge.

Is the knower an inference only?

You know your body, mind and feelings. Are you an inference only?

I am an inference to others. but not to myself.

So am I. An inference to you, but not to myself. I know myself by being myself. As you know
yourself to be a man by being one. You do not keep on reminding yourself that you are a man. It is
only when your humanity is questioned that you assert it. Similarly, I know that I am all. I do not
need to keep on repeating: 'I am all, I am all'. Only when you take me to be a particular, a person, I
protest. As you are a man all the time, so I am what I am -- all the time. Whatever you are
changelessly, that you are beyond all doubt.

When I ask how do you know that you are a jnani, you answer: 'I find no desire in me. Is this
not a proof?'

Were I full of desires, I would have still been what I am.

Myself, full of desires and you, full of desires; what difference would there be?

You identify yourself with your desires and become their slave. To me desires are things among
other things, mere clouds in the mental sky, and I do not feel compelled to act on them.

The knower and his knowledge, are they one or two?

They are both. The knower is the unmanifested, the known is the manifested. The known is
always on the move, it changes, it has no shape of its own, no dwelling place. The knower is the
immutable support of all knowledge; Each needs the other, but reality lies beyond. The jnani
cannot be known, because there is nobody to be known. When there is a person, you can tell something
about it, but when there is no self-identification with the particular, what can be said? You may tell a
jnani anything; his question will always be: 'about whom are you talking? There is no such person'.
Just as you cannot say anything about the universe because it includes everything, so nothing can
be said about a jnani, for he is all and yet nothing in particular. You need a hook to hang your
picture on; when there is no hook, on what will the picture hang? To locate a thing you need space,
to place an event you need time; but the timeless and spaceless defies all handling. It makes
everything perceivable, yet itself it is beyond perception. The mind cannot know what is beyond the
mind, but the mind is known by what is beyond it. The jnani knows neither birth nor death; existence
and non-existence are the same to him.

When your body dies, you remain.

Nothing dies. The body is just imagined. There is no such thing.

Before another century will pass, you will be dead to all around you. Your body will be covered
with flowers, then burnt and the ashes scattered. That will be our experience. What will be yours?

Time will come to an end. This is called the Great Death (mahamrityu), the death of time.

Does it mean that the universe and its contents will come to an end?

The universe is your personal experience. How can it be affected? You might have been
delivering a lecture for two hours; where has it gone when it is over? It has merged into silence in
which the beginning, middle and end of the lecture are all together. Time has come to a stop, it was,
but is no more. The silence after a life of talking and the silence after a life of silence is the same
silence. Immortality is freedom from the feeling: 'I am'. Yet it is not extinction. On the contrary, it is a
state infinitely more real, aware and happy than you can possibly think of. Only self-consciousness
is no more.

Why does the Great Death of the mind coincide with the 'small death' of the body?

It does not! You may die a hundred deaths without a break in the mental turmoil. Or, you may
keep your body and die only in the mind. The death of the mind is the birth of wisdom.

The person goes and only the witness remains.

Who remains to say: 'I am the witness'. When there is no 'I am', where is the witness? In the
timeless state there is no self to take refuge in.

The man who carries a parcel is anxious not to lose it -- he is parcel-conscious. The man who
cherishes the feeling 'I am' is self-conscious. The jnani holds on to nothing and cannot be said to be
conscious. And yet he is not unconscious. He is the very heart of awareness. We call him digambara
clothed in space, the Naked One, beyond all appearance. There is no name and shape under
which he may be said to exist, yet he is the only one that truly is.

I cannot grasp it.

Who can? The mind has its limits. It is enough to bring you to the very frontiers of knowledge
and make you face the immensity of the unknown. To dive in it is up to you.

What about the witness? Is it real or unreal?

It is both. The last remnant of illusion, the first touch of the real. To say: I am only the witness is
both false and true: false because of the 'I am', true because of the witness. It is better to say: 'there
is witnessing'. The moment you say: 'I am', the entire universe comes into being along with its

Another question: can we visualise the person and the self as two brothers small and big? The
little brother is mischievous and selfish, rude and restless, while the big brother is intelligent and
kind, reasonable and considerate, free from body consciousness with its desires and fears. The big
brother knows the little one. but the small one is ignorant of the big one and thinks itself to be
entirely on its own. The Guru comes and tells the smaller one: 'You are not alone, you come from a
very good family, your brother is a very remarkable man, wise and kind, and he loves you very
much. Remember him, think of him, find him, serve him, and you will become one with him'. Now,
the question is are there two in us, the personal and the individual, the false self and the true self, or
is it only a simile?

It is both. They appear to be two, but on investigation they are found to be one. Duality lasts
only as long as it is not questioned. The trinity: mind, self and spirit (vyakti, vyakta, avyakta), when
looked into, becomes unity. These are only modes of experiencing: of attachment, of detachment,
of transcendence.

Your assumption that we are in a dream state makes your position unassailable. Whatever
objection we raise, you just deny its validity. One cannot discuss with you!

The desire to discuss is also mere desire. The desire to know, to have the power, even the
desire to exist are desires only. Everybody desires to be, to survive, to continue, for no one is sure
of himself. But everybody is immortal. You make yourself mortal by taking yourself to be the body.

Since you have found your freedom, will you not give me a little of it?

Why little? Take the whole. Take it, it is there for the taking. But you are afraid of freedom!

Swami Ramdas had to deal with a similar request. Some devotees collected round him one day
and began to ask for liberation. Ramdas listened smilingly and then suddenly he became serious
and said: You can have it, here and now, freedom absolute and permanent. Who wants it, come
forward. Nobody moved. Thrice he repeated the offer. None accepted. Then he said: 'The offer is

Attachment destroys courage. The giver is always ready to give. The taker is absent. Freedom
means letting go. People just do not care to let go everything. They do not know that the finite is the
price of the infinite, as death is the price of immortality. Spiritual maturity lies in the readiness to let
go everything. The giving up is the first step. But the real giving up is in realising that there is
nothing to give up, for nothing is your own. It is like deep sleep -- you do not give up your bed when
you fall sleep -- you just forget it.