I AM THAT
Dialogues with Nisargadatta Maharaj
8. The Self Stands Beyond Mind
Questioner: As a child fairly often I experienced states of complete happiness, verging on ecstasy: later, they ceased, but since I came to India they reappeared, particularly after I met you. Yet these states, however wonderful, are not lasting. They come and go and there is no knowing when they will come back.
Maharaj: How can anything be steady in a mind which itself is not steady?
Q: How can I make my mind steady?
M: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.
Q: How is it done?
M: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought 'I am'. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part.
Q: Can I avoid this protracted battle with my mind?
M: Yes, you can. Just live your life as it comes, but alertly, watchfully, allowing everything to happen as it happens, doing the natural things the natural way, suffering, rejoicing -- as life brings. This also is a way.
Q: Well, then I can as well marry, have children, run a business… be happy.
M: Sure. You may or may not be happy, take it in your stride.
Q: Yet I want happiness.
M: True happiness cannot be found in things that change and pass away. Pleasure and pain alternate inexorably. Happiness comes from the self and can be found in the self only. Find your real self (swarupa) and all else will come with it.
Q: If my real self is peace and love, why is it so restless?
M: It is not your real being that is restless, but its reflection in the mind appears restless because the mind is restless. It is just like the reflection of the moon in the water stirred by the wind. The wind of desire stirs the mind and the 'me', which is but a reflection of the Self in the mind, appears changeful. But these ideas of movement, of restlessness, of pleasure and pain are all in the mind. The Self stands beyond the mind, aware, but unconcerned.
Q: How to reach it?
M: You are the Self, here and now Leave the mind alone, stand aware and unconcerned and you will realise that to stand alert but detached, watching events come and go, is an aspect of your real nature.
Q: What are the other aspects?
M: The aspects are infinite in number. Realise one, and you will realise all.
Q: Tell me some thing that would help me.
M: You know best what you need!
Q: I am restless. How can I gain peace?
M: For what do you need peace?
Q: To be happy.
M: Are you not happy now?
Q: No, I am not.
M: What makes you unhappy?
Q: I have what I don’t want, and want what I don’t have.
M: Why don’t you invert it: want what you have and care not for what you don’t have?
Q: I want what is pleasant and don’t want what is painful.
M: How do you know what is pleasant and what is not?
Q: From past experience, of course.
M: Guided by memory you have been pursuing the pleasant and shunning the unpleasant. Have you succeeded?
Q: No, I have not. The pleasant does not last. Pain sets in again.
M: Which pain?
Q: The desire for pleasure, the fear of pain, both are states of distress. Is there a state of unalloyed pleasure?
M: Every pleasure, physical or mental, needs an instrument. Both the physical and mental instruments are material, they get tired and worn out. The pleasure they yield is necessarily limited in intensity and duration. Pain is the background of all your pleasures. You want them because you suffer. On the other hand, the very search for pleasure is the cause of pain. It is a vicious circle.
Q: I can see the mechanism of my confusion, but I do not see my way out of it.
M: The very examination of the mechanism shows the way. After all, your confusion is only in your mind, which never rebelled so far against confusion and never got to grips with it. It rebelled only against pain.
Q: So, all I can do is to stay confused?
M: Be alert. Question, observe, investigate, learn all you can about confusion, how it operates, what it does to you and others. By being clear about confusion you become clear of confusion.
Q: When I look into myself, I find my strongest desire is to create a monument, to build something which will outlast me. Even when I think of a home, wife and child, it is because it is a lasting, solid, testimony to myself.
M: Right, build yourself a monument. How do you propose to do it?
Q: It matters little what I build, as long as it is permanent.
M: Surely, you can see for yourself that nothing is permanent. All wears out, breaks down, dissolves. The very ground on which you build gives way. What can you build that will outlast all?
Q: Intellectually, verbally, I am aware that all is transient. Yet, somehow my heart wants permanency. I want to create something that lasts.
M: Then you must build it of something lasting. What have you that is lasting? Neither your body nor mind will last. You must look elsewhere.
Q: I long for permanency, but I find it nowhere.
M: Are you, yourself, not permanent?
Q: I was born, I shall die.
M: Can you truly say you were not before you were born and can you possibly say when dead: ‘Now I am no more’? You cannot say from your own experience that you are not. You can only say ‘I am’. Others too cannot tell you ‘you are not’.
Q: There is no ‘I am’ in sleep.
M: Before you make such sweeping statements, examine carefully your waking state. You will soon discover that it is full of gaps, when the min blanks out. Notice how little you remember even when fully awake. You just don’t remember. A gap in memory is not necessarily a gap in consciousness.
Q: Can I make myself remember my state of deep sleep?
M: Of course! By eliminating the intervals of inadvertence during your waking hours you will gradually eliminate the long interval of absent-mindedness, which you call sleep. You will be aware that you are asleep.
Q: Yet, the problem of permanency, of continuity of being, is not solved.
M: Permanency is a mere idea, born of the action of time. Time again depends of memory. By permanency you mean unfailing memory through endless time. You want to eternalise the mind, which is not possible.
Q: Then what is eternal?
M: That which does not change with time. You cannot eternalise a transient thing -- only the changeless is eternal.
Q: I am familiar with the general sense of what you say. I do not crave for more knowledge. All I want is peace.
M: You can have for the asking all the peace you want.
Q: I am asking.
M: You must ask with an undivided heart and live an integrated life.
M: Detach yourself from all that makes your mind restless. Renounce all that disturbs its peace. If you want peace, deserve it.
Q: Surely everybody deserves peace.
M: Those only deserve it, who don't disturb it.
Q: In what way do I disturb peace?
M: By being a slave to your desires and fears.
Q: Even when they are justified?
M: Emotional reactions, born of ignorance or inadvertence, are never justified. Seek a clear mind and a clean heart. All you need is to keep quietly alert, enquiring into the real nature of yourself. This is the only way to peace.
9. Responses of Memory
Questioner: Some say the universe was created. Others say that it always existed and is for ever undergoing transformation. Some say it is subject to eternal laws. Others deny even causality. Some say the world is real. Others -- that it has no being whatsoever.
Maharaj: Which world are you enquiring about?
Q: The world of my perceptions, of course.
M: The world you can perceive is a very small world indeed. And it is entirely private. Take it to be a dream and be done with it.
Q: How can I take it to be a dream? A dream does not last.
M: How long will your own world last?
Q: After all, my little world is but a part of the total.
M: Is not the idea of a total world a part of your personal world? The universe does not come to tell you that you are a part of it. It is you who have invented a totality to contain you as a part. In fact all you know is your own private world, however well you have furnished it with your imaginations and expectations.
Q: Surely, perception is not imagination!
M: What else? Perception is recognition, is it not? Something entirely unfamiliar can be sensed, but cannot be perceived. Perception involves memory.
Q: Granted, but memory does not make it illusion.
M: Perception, imagination, expectation, anticipation, illusion -- all are based on memory. There are hardly any border lines between them. They just merge into each other. All are responses of memory.
Q: Still, memory is there to prove the reality of my world.
M: How much do you remember? Try to write down from memory what you were thinking, saying and doing on the 30th of the last month.
Q: Yes, there is a blank.
M: It is not so bad. You do remember a lot -- unconscious memory makes the world in which you live so familiar.
Q: Admitted that the world in which I live is subjective and partial. What about you? In what kind of world do you live?
M: My world is just like yours. I see, I hear, I feel, I think, I speak and act in a world I perceive, just like you. But with you it is all, with me it is nothing. Knowing the world to be a part of myself, I pay it no more attention than you pay to the food you have eaten. While being prepared and eaten, the food is separate from you and your mind is on it; once swallowed, you become totally unconscious of it. I have eaten up the world and I need not think of it any more.
Q: Don’t you become completely irresponsible?
M: How could I? How can I hurt something which is one with me. On the contrary, without thinking of the world, whatever I do will be of benefit to it. Just as the body sets itself right unconsciously, so am I ceaselessly active in setting the world right.
Q: Nevertheless, you are aware of the immense suffering of the world?
M: Of course I am, much more than you are.
Q: Then what do you do?
M: I look at it through the eyes of God and find that all is well.
Q: How can you say that all is well? Look at the wars, the exploitation, the cruel strife between the citizen and the state.
M: All these sufferings are man-made and it is within man's power to put an end to them. God helps by facing man with the results of his actions and demanding that the balance should be restored. Karma is the law that works for righteousness; it is the healing hand of God.