Now to start the move Northwards, my work here apparently
finished. But at the Bombay station there seems to be little chance of getting
on the Rajdhani Express to Delhi — unless there are last minute reservation
cancellations. I had arrived at the station in good time to beg my case; it
looks hopeless. I wait two hours until the train pulls out, only to find that
the night train is also full and that also has a waiting list for cancellations.
The official tells me to try again in three hours. I leave my luggage in the
baggage room and keep the small case with the recorder and camera.
Stations all over the world are frenetic places; I
look for a bookshop as I would like to buy Nisargadatta Maharaj’s book: I am That. Nisargadatta
was on my list for an Interview here in Bombay, but everyone has been telling
me he’s too ill to see anybody.
I ask a taxi-driver for the nearest bookshop; he says there’s one in Grant
Road, five minutes away. Grant Road? I look through my address book —
Yes — this is near Nisargadatta’s place! What can I lose as I have
so much time to spare?
As I arrive, someone is running down the dilapidated
stairway — this isn’t one of the better parts of Bombay.
Yes, yes — Maharaj is up there, he tells me, go
I find a small gathering at the feet of a simply clad
very ill-looking man of about 80. The room is tiny but I manage to sit down
on the floor. Nisargadatta is an Advaita
Master who has a small but devoted following. He is looking hard at me but appears
to be in too much pain to speak. The man I met on the stairs comes rushing back
saying: My wife says it’s all right to take the extra dose. This is brought;
within a few minutes the pain seems to have receded.
Nisargadatta keeps looking at me, and then through
an interpreter — he speaks no English — asks why I have come.
I reply: In front of the saints one can only ask for
This doesn’t impress him. He lets it pass. There
is no other talk. We bow and disperse down the staircase.
The man I met as I arrived speaks to me. He says:
If you have nowhere to stay the night you are welcome
to a room at my place.
In the taxi he explains it is his first visit to Nisargadatta,
his wife is a devotee. I am so moved; here I am being looked after by a stranger.
By the time we reach his apartment I learn he is the cousin of my landlord in
Rajpur where I lived for six years, and his wife is a doctor and it was she
who had advised by phone the extra dose of whatever Nisargadatta takes to relieve
But even more extraordinary, he explains that he is
the chief engineer of Western Railways here in Bombay, which means, he assures
me, he can get me a reservation on any train to Delhi!
We talk late into the early hours about the life of
the spirit; he wants to hear about my travels, about the gurus I have met, about my own guru. Here is a wonderful example of
a devotee living in the world, carrying out his worldly duties, but with his
inner attention fixed. I have met many such persons in India. In the West, as
we would take up a hobby and pursue it with passion, here there are enthusiasts
who give all their spare time to developing the inner spiritual life.
In the morning I am taken to Nisargadatta’s minute
house; I am to pick up my reservation on the night train at Mr. Malik’s
office at the station later. Upstairs there is the same small gathering, but
now Jean Dunn is present.
Nisargadatta seems to be better, so much so that he
begins by attacking me:
Why are you writing this book?
I try to explain.
Do you think — he yells — that you will
succeed where others have failed?
I say the outcome is not in my hands.
He makes dramatic, hostile gestures with his arms.
He wants me to ask questions.
I repeat what I said yesterday…one can only ask
There is more yelling. His disciples laugh. I keep
silence but am extremely surprised, uncomfortable.
He shouts: Say something!
The power — I reply — that brought me here
yesterday appears to be turning me away this morning.
He is now laughing at me.
Someone then asks Nisargadatta a question.
He replies. I am hoping the provocation-scene has passed
and I am spared more embarrassment.
There’s a brief pause, but then he comes back
to me again:
What did you make of the answer?
I have been thrown into the most unexpected of situations.
What can I make of anything now?
I reply: My intellect is telling me that what you have
said must be right, but as I haven’t attained enlightenment it is still
More yelling: GET-RID-OF-ALL-CONCEPTS!
I am deeply disconcerted. I try a weak reply by saying:
I am begining to think it is probably far better to
be shouted at by an enlightened person than to be ignored by him.
He manages a quarter smile, waves his hand, we all
rise, bow and struggle down the narrow staircase.
I am desperately trying to disappear, evaporate as
quickly as possible. I am physically very very tired…this is not the perfect
time to have to cope with Sufi-Zen situations.
But Jean Dunn is behind me, and to add to my bewilderment
We’ll go round the corner, I know a quiet restaurant
where we can do the Interview (she must be - MUST BE - joking!).
No, no, he wants us to do it — it’s only
his way, just follow me!
Only his way? I still can’t believe what is happening.
I need time to reflect on what has just taken place, probably of more significance
than I am able to even begin to understand at this moment.
But we are indeed now sitting in a quiet restaurant
where the interviewee has seen fit to take over; she has ordered coffee, and
is poised bright and ready to start.
I breath deeply, unpack the little black case
I have been holding onto since yesterday like an unmasked conspirator cornered
awaiting the coup-de-grace.
I am just a normal person of 59 who has been
searching all her life, until ten years ago, when she heard of Ramana Maharshi.
She visited his Ashram, went back to the States, then returned to India where
she has been living for the past four years. Two years ago she met Nisargadatta
Maharaj, and he became her guru.
Did he give you some
form of initiation?
He gave me a mantra and initiation.
How did you first hear
At Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram many people come to see him — there
seems to be a tie.
Is it because of the
similarity of self-enquiry?
It’s no longer that. Maharaj has had cancer of the throat
for the past year, so his teachings have been polished; he is now saying he
is no longer the consciousness, he observes the consciousness – he’s
the Asolute. His teachings are now on that line.
Can you tell me something
about his book: I am That?
It’s in the form of questions and answers. The fifth edition is just coming
out. It came out in two volumes in 1973 having been collected and edited by
Maurice Frydman who in late life became a disciple of Maharaj. There has been no further book
published. Last year I asked Maharaj — I had been recording
all his question and answer periods — if he wanted me to put them together
for a book. He said yes. So Seeds of Consciousness will come out this year.
Another volume will appear later: Beyond Consciousness.
In spite of his illness
he gives darshan every day?
He is in much pain at times but manages to talk twice a day. He is one of the
hidden saints so he only draws a few people at a time. His teachings aren’t
for the general public — we are blessed to listen to him.
He himself arranged yesterday
for you to give this Interview. Can you say why he was so rough with me just
No, I can’t. No one can give a reason for what he does.
How does he usually teach?
Up until his illness it was by questions and answers. Now he will no longer
teach the ABCs — he doesn’t have the physical strength — he
tells us the position, then it’s up to us.
He seemed to insist that
I ask questions.
He wants questions to come out, then there will be silence so that remaining
questions will be answered within yourself.
His following is mainly
Western by what I saw.
Westerners are in predominance — thousands have seen him; some for a few
days, some stay months. Some he makes leave at once. He says he doesn’t
know why he sends people away although they want to stay.
Are you living in India
on a permanent basis?
Yes, I have a residency permit. I have finished work on the second book: the
work is complete… everything he has to say has been said.
Do you ever miss Western
society, your home life?
Can you say something
about your personal relationship to your guru?
There are no words to describe that…
Do you have an aim in
life? For instance, to become one with him?
My aim in life is to lose an aim in life — that’s his teaching:
there’s no purpose to this life, it’s just entertainment. That’s
That sounds rather Krishnamurtiesque.
Many of Krishnamurti’s followers come here — ten came recently.
How did Maharaj attain enlightenment?
You will find that in the first part of I am That. I can tell you this: the
first time he met his guru — his friend insisted on taking
him and even had to buy the garland to present to the guru — he never wanted to go.
Was he very young then?
He was in his thirties. The bidi(1)
shop at the corner belongs to him: his son runs it. He had eight shops, but
when his guru died he left everything, his family
and business. He wandered for months all over India until he met a fellow disciple
who convinced him it was better to live in the world. He returned to Bombay
but all the shops had gone except this one. He didn’t want anything; all
worldly ambition had gone. When people started coming to him, he built that
It’s minute. What
are the dimensions?
Oh, about 9 by 12. I’ve seen that room very crowded, mostly by Westerners.
He says Indians are not ready for his teachings.
Do you think it was because
he didn’t want personal publicity that he appeared to be annoyed with
That’s correct. I feel sure that was the idea. He doesn’t want disciples
— if they come, it’s fine; if not, that’s also fine. He gains
nothing. He has reached the peak because he isn’t enamored of anything
the world can offer.
Does he ever talk about
other gurus and their methods?
He talks about the self-styled gurus who propagate their own concepts.
Does he admire any living
As far as I know, J. Krishnamurti. In the past Ramana Maharshi. The other day
he said: Krishnamurti, Ramana and myself are one.
Does he advocate a vegetarian
That pertains to the body; he doesn’t teach anything to do with that.
All he wants you to do is find out who you are.
His followers can drink
and indulge in free relationships?
Whatever comes naturally to each person he should do.
He gives no ethical guidance?
No. As long as you think you are a person and this world is real, then you live
by certain rules. Once you understand the complete thing, your life lives itself…there
are no rules, no good, no bad: I should do this, I shouldn’t do that.
If you think about it, all this is taking place in this life span, in this span
of consciousness, and when this consciousness goes, what difference does it
Does he not advise detachment
from worldly activities?
This comes naturally. The main and only thing he teaches is to find out who
you are. The closer you come to this, the more detached you become from the
world; that will happen naturally. You can’t do anything to make that
happen. This idea of doing something is an ego idea: “I” can accomplish.
Maharaj says the consciousness drags
you there by the ear because it wants to know about itself, your true nature.
What has he said about
leaving the body at physical death?
For him it will be a great festival — he’s looking forward to it.
For those thinking they are the body it will be a traumatic experience. For
an enlightened person it’s a joyous time(2).
When he gives you meditation
does he ask what you see inside?
There has to be somebody to see something (laughter)… No, he doesn’t.
Visions and experiences take place in consciousness, they have no meaning whatsoever.
Before you were born, did you know anything about this world? When you die,
will you know anything about this world? You didn’t know you existed —
you exist as the Absolute, but you aren’t aware of your existence. When
this consciousness comes, spontaneously you know “I am”. You grab
a body and become identified with that. He wants you to go back, back, away
from this into your true nature. Right now it’s consciousness: the longer
we abide in that consciousness only and observe it, we see that everything we
see is not ours – there’s a “you” seeing this.
But what does he teach
Without “me”, there’s no God.
And he’s teaching
Yes. Was there a God before you were? Without you is there a God?
What brought me back
into this body?
Do you remember a previous body?
Many people have that
recollection. Are you saying we have never taken birth before?
There’s no “we”, there’s no entity; there’s universal
consciousness which is continually expressing itself through these bodies.
Ramana Maharshi taught
They will talk to you on this level if this is your level. But if you understand
what I’m saying: there’s only universal consciousness expressing
itself, there’s no individual, then he will bring you there. He will no
longer speak of this. If you die with concepts these concepts take another form;
but they will not be you — you don’t know what that form will be.
Concepts will come again and again until they are exhausted.
What does Maharaj teach about selfless service,
On their level it’s good. But his teaching is that there are no others,
no individual entities: everything happens spontaneously, there’s no doer.
He teaches: Let this life live itself and understand you are not this.
If we aren’t “this”,
we are “that”. What is “that”?
“That” is consciousness right now.
Right now? What will
it be when we leave the body?
Then what comes back?
Consciousness is continually renewing itself. You throw a piece of food into
a corner, within a few days worms will come — life, consciousness. The
same consciousness in that worm is in you. It’s not “my” consciousness,
“your” consciousness; it’s one universal consciousness, and
that universal consciousness is you.
At our level of understanding,
aren’t all these concepts? Didn’t you find these theories confusing
The first day I came to Maharaj he said: My beingness is a product
of food… and the same consciousness in the donkey was in SriKrishna. I went to get a reservation
back home; none was available, so as something inside knew this was true, I
went back. He had jerked the rug from under my feet and he kept on doing this
until I lost any place to put my feet. He forces you to let go of all concepts.
Does he often send people
away who come to see him?
Often. He never knows why, though. Every moment watching him is like a spectacular
movie: every person’s need is taken care of — I’ve watched
that happen. You can sit quietly but questions you have inside will be answered.
Everything happens according to your need. There’s no him, he has no pose
of his own… that’s why this can happen. There’s no ego there
to bump against.
Living so close to an
enlightened being can’t be easy.
It’s not easy if you have any ego left.
Can you say something
about the positive side?
There are no words for it; everything is taken care of automatically. There’s
no “you” to thank God for anything anymore. You let go of everything.
There’s no you, no separate entity, everything is happening spontaneously.
It’s like there’s quiet space where you are yet everything is happening
What work did you do
I worked on newspapers.
Is there a reason why
people get involved with imperfect teachers?
We as human beings think there’s a reason for everything; there are no
reasons, no causes — it’s a causeless happening. As long as we are
on this human level and think there’s a cause we will be able to come
up with one. If some people are taken for a ride by false gurus, you can say this is happening
to them to get rid of something — whatever happens is perfect. We are
just to understand there’s no personal consciousness, everything is impersonal,
But when we meet a perfect
teacher it’s our consciousness which recognizes that, surely?
Then our lives change.
That’s the new
That’s part of
the divine plan requiring no effort?
To round off, could you
say what are the benefits gained from coming into contact with your guru?
I’ve gotten rid of the idea that there’s somebody going to benefit
from something… (much hearty laughter). But let’s now have more
Nisargadatta Maharaj, during his last days (which
followed shortly after this unplanned meeting) became extremely weak,
consumed by cancer of the throat. He was still able to see people as his
spirit was indomitable until the end.
He continued to talk and teach with inherent
authority although weak in voice. Whatever he said was seminal in nature
and a catalyst for his listeners. He had to be brief but whatever came
out was now as if voiced from the Great Beyond, not spoken by a frail
old man in the clutches of death. He finally left his physical body in
September 1981 at the age of 84.
Jean Dunn's two books’s on her guru and his teachings, “Seeds
of Consciousness” and “Prior to Consciousness”, were
published by Acorn Press.
She was a dedicated chain smoker (as was Nisargadatta
Maharaj) and she suffered from emphasema.
She died in the mid-nineties