Though a Maharashtrian myself it was a matter of great shame for me that I had not known of this great Maharashtrian Gnani [a man of wisdom], Nisargadatta Maharaj till March 1992.
I was waiting for Bhagawan's morning darshan as usual at Brindavan ashram. A friend of mine sitting next to me was pouring over the pages of a fairly bulky book. I gave a sly glance at the book unwilling to disturb him. I found the title of the book "I Am That". This roused my curiosity about the author's name. I found the author to be Maurice Frydman whose name sounded very familiar to me. I was a frequent visitor to Sri Ramanasramam in the early years between 1944 and 1948, when I was a judicial officer there. I had seen him there though I had not talked to him.
My friend somehow sensed that I was anxious to look into the book, and to my great joy handed me the book. I poured over a few pages at random and found precious pearls of wisdom on the few pages I happened to browse. This is the genesis of this book, the seeds of which were sown about a year ago. I had no intention whatever of writing this book. My ceaseless remorse at not knowing about the existence of Maharaj earlier haunted me. Added to this was a sense of pride that he belonged to my community, the Maharashtrians.
Nearly about a lakh of Maharashtrians live scattered in places like Madras, Bangalore, Tanjore, North Arcot and Krishnagiri district and a few other places. A strange urge to write about this great Gnani took possession of me. I was anxious that I should make him known to the people of the South, Who were utterly unaware of his existence. They could scarcely believe that such a great soul lived in a bye-lane in the city of Bombay, avoiding publicity. It sounds somewhat paradoxical that people in the Western world knew more about him than his own countrymen in India. We have ourselves to blame for this situation.
If by publishing this book I have aroused some interest in him in the people of the South and dispelled the unpardonable ignorance about him, I will deem it, that I have achieved something. May the ever merciful Maharaj forgive us in his infinite grace, and make us aware of his sublime teachings.
It remains for me to express my gratitude to all my friends and well-wishers who were anxious that I should publish this book for the benefit of all concerned. I must first thank my very good friend Mr. Krishnamurthy who was instrumental in typing the manuscript for this book. He did it in such a perfect way that not a world needed correction. I must next thank Mr. Hans Bearholm and his wife Lilian from Denmark, a highly spiritual persons, for all the moral support they gave in encouraging me to write about this great Gnani. Next I must thank other friends and well-wishers who took a keen interest in the publication of this book. I must also thank my good friend Mr. C.S. Ramakrishnayya of the Gita Press.
- G.K. Damodara Row
EARLY LIFE HISTORY OF NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ
Vanamali Mansion, 10th lane, Khetwadi in Bombay became a landmark for many persons who were seekers of the spirit. Here lived Nisargadatta Maharaj, a great Gnani in relative obscurity, in the early years of his life. He was running a small beedi [cigarette] shop offering a variety of hand-rolled tobacco, which poor people smoke. In fact, Maharaj himself was a chain smoker.
It is to the credit of late Maurice Frydman that he discovered Maharaj in his wanderings in quest of a Guru. He visited Sri Ramanasramam and Ganeshpuri [ashram of Nityananda] and other spiritual centres until he came to Bombay having heard about Maharaj. With some difficulty he found the lane where Maharaj lived. He was very intrigued that a great soul like Maharaj should live in such squalor and stench in a bye-lane in Bombay instead of in the Himalayas. Maharaj was a pious man dressed in simple clothes, and steeped all the time in meditation and Atma vichara [Self-enquiry]. The surroundings in which he lived did not in the least bother him. He lived aloof in his loft room, totally detached from the noisy world around.
Visitors, both foreign and Indian, sought his company. It was an interesting sight to see gleaming Mercedes cars glide gracefully with their rich owners in search of N°10 Khetwadi Lane.
It is said that Maharaj refused to talk about himself and such information as could be got was only from the early devotees, most of whom were ordinary poor people who used to go to the shop to purchase beedis. During the course of the purchase, Maharaj used to draw them into conversation as shopkeepers often do. The peculiarity of Maharaj was that he would speak mainly on adhyathmic subjects and there will be no idle gossip as is the wont of poor villagers. He never used to encourage it with the result there used to be a small band of earnest seekers standing in front of the shop listening in awe to the pearls of wisdom that fell from his lips. It was indeed an unusual sight in those days to see persons who came to purchase beedis, stay for hours listening in rapt attention to Maharaj. Maharaj explained great truths in very simple language. Some of the old people living in the locality were almost daily visitors to his shop and were mesmerized by his talks and would not leave him until they were compelled to go, and attend to their daily avocations.
From the available materials we are able to gather that Maharaj was born on a full moon day in March 1897. His birthday coincided with the auspicious day of Hanuman Jayanthi [birthday] and he was therefore named as Maruthi. His childhood was spent in a village called Kandalgaon, a short distance from Bombay. It is said that his father moved to that village at the time of the plague. When somebody who was anxious to know about the date of birth of Maharaj, persisted in asking him about it, Maharaj replied bluntly that he "was never born" - a highly abstruse philosophical statement which most of us cannot understand. Thinking of his declaration deeply, one is led to think that Maharaj referred to the unborn, undying Atman [Self] and not to the body. Anyway, many of his devotees left it at that and did not try to find out the exact date of his birth.
In a reminiscent mood, Maharaj used to say, "I remember being carried on my father's shoulders which I greatly enjoyed". His father was a poor agriculturist and died in 1915. As the income of the family was found insufficient, the family had to go back to Bombay to earn their livelihood. Maruti joined a private firm as a clerk, but he had to leave it because of his independent temperament. He often used to say, "Better one day of independence than a lifetime without freedom". Being a Maharashtrian by birth and belonging as he did to the great Shivaji's clan, his view of life is not surprising.
Maruti grew up almost without education. As a boy, he tended cattle, worked in the fields with his father and was a real son of the soil. His pleasures were equally simple. But it is said by people who knew him as a young man that he had an inquisitive mind, anxious to know about the mysteries of life, its pleasures and sorrows. Maruti started a business venture in selling beedis in a shop owned by him in Khetwadi Lane. Luck smiled on him and he soon became the owner of eight more shops. Then he got married and had four children.
Though his business was prosperous and the life was comfortable, a vague sense of something missing in his life haunted him. He sought the help of his learned brahmin friend, Vishnu Gore who kindled in him questions regarding the world outside, man and God. Then he befriended another friend, Yashwanth Rao, who took him to the great and Holy Siddharameshwar Maharaj, a realised soul, who initiated him into the mysteries of life, God and karma and gave him a mantra [sacred words or syllables].
This was the turning point in his life and he took Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj as his Guru and clung to him till his Guru attained Mahasamadhi in 1936. The following year, Maruthi suddenly decided to abandon his family and also his prosperous business, and wandered about aimlessly visiting temples and places of religious interest. His mind was restless. He travelled north, determined to spend his time in the Himalayas and never to return home. It is said that he walked barefoot in the Himalayan region. There he happened to meet a fellow-disciple of his Guru who told him that such wandering was of no avail and was really not necessary for a spiritual aspirant. He suggested that Maharaj should go back home and live an active life as a house holder. He advised selfless service to the poor which was far more meaningful.
After deep thought Maruthi returned back to Bombay. He found all his shops taken away except one, but he was not in the least perturbed and got reconciled to the situation and calmly decided that one shop was enough for his worldly needs.
After some time when his son was able to look after the shop, he retired to his small loft room in the house, which later became an ashram to the devotees, both Indian and foreign who came to him. He lived in this small room, till his final Nirvana in 1981. It is of some importance to note that he did not yield to the persuasions of some of the rich Bombay devotees who owned palatial residences with marble flooring, to come and stay with them. He refused their request as only a Gnani would and continued to live in his small loft room in the lane.
DAILY ROUTINE OF MAHARAJ
Maharaj used to get up at 4 A.M. It is said that he used the public toilet in the street opposite to his residence, sometimes, not minding the stench emanating from such toilets, especially in Bombay bye-lanes.
We have to linger here and spend some thought on his courage and sense of detachment in using a public latrine which is commonly used by all poor folk living in the congested locality. He bathed in the kitchen as there was no bathroom.
Persons who have some knowledge of these dirty public latrines with unbearable stench associated with them should ponder over his product in refusing the luxury of marble floors and posh bathrooms and preferring to be "himself" and live like a monk in a cell in his very small apartment with no relative comforts. Except for a loft room which can hardly accommodate 20 persons to which he escaped when devotees, both foreign and Indian came, there was hardly any decent accommodation in the modern sense. Devotees who have visited Maharaj often have told me that he was totally dead to his surroundings. If foreigners could come all the way from their country and hunt out the obscure 10th lane in the Khetwadi area, unmindful of the dirt and squalor, it only shows their genuine interest in Maharaj.
Maharaj did not wear saffron clothes or beads as sadhus [wandering renunciates] do. He had no particular pose at all. He was a humble house holder who dressed in ordinary clothes like the poor people in the locality. When we think of it, it is difficult to understand the personality of Maharaj. As for his food habits, he was a non-vegetarian initially and later became a vegetarian. It is said that he had an innocent fondness for sweets, such as pooran poli and srikand. Persons who were his neighbours somehow were reluctant to talk about his early days. Even Maharaj was reluctant to talk about himself as an individual.
One significant statement made by him is, "I consider myself as a male human being who got married and had children, then met my Guru and after this initiation I came to know I was Brahman [Absolute Impersonal Reality] ".
DAILY PROGRAMME OF MAHARAJ
Maharaj was a stickler for discipline and punctuality. The programme for the day will start and end on time. He used to get up at 4 A.M. and after finishing his ablutions he will do kakada aarthi [morning worship] to his Guru's photo. There will not be anyone in the loft room at the time and his veneration for his Guru was such that during the course of the aarthi he will go into a trance and will get back to his consciousness only after an hour. At 5 A.M. he will go down when the members of the household were still asleep and open his beedi shop. He will sell beedis and other articles like pan [betel-nut], supari and lottery tickets. After some time his son will come and take charge and then Maharaj will retire to the loft room.
At 7.30 A.M. there will be meditation, followed by reading of the great Marathi volume, "Dasbodh" by Swami Ramdas, and other books on the lives of saints like Eknath and Tukaram. At 8.30 A.M. there will be bhajans [devotional singing] for an hour with other devotees. The bhajans will be in Pandharpur-style, ecstatic, and Maharaj will join the bhajan-dance and forget himself. At 10 A.M., he will get ready to receive the visitors some of whom will be foreigners. It was an interesting sight to see Maharaj dance in ecstasy forgetting himself and the atmosphere will be surcharged with such great joy that some of the foreigners waiting will also join the bhajans and enjoy the company of Maharaj.
Maharaj, before starting his talk, will look round to see who have all come. He said once that he was not very happy with devotees who came there just to gaze at him mechanically without asking any questions, even though Maharaj would persuade him to do so. To such persons he used to say that instead of spending more time with him it is better for them to get into some ashram and start their sadhana [spiritual practice]. This he had to do because there was no space in the loft room for the earnest seekers, some of whom came from distant foreign countries. They felt disappointed and had to go down the stairs ad stand in the room below for want of space. Maharaj felt very sorry for such people and hence he devised a rule that persons other than earnest seekers should stay away after ten days with him and give room to the newcomers.
Very often the loft room will be packed to capacity, but Maharaj will be happy, and talk to them in his usual way with vigour. He mildly apologised for want of proper place. At noon, Maharaj will close the first session, and request the devotees to come at 3 P.M. for the second session. When they came back, he will again talk to them answering questions and very often put questions to draw them out. Maharaj's talks in Marathi used to be translated into English and Maharaj's answers were taped by many of the devotees gathered there. A few books written in Marathi mentioning Maharaj's answers to the various questions put by devotees have been made available to me. I am distinctly of the opinion that Maharaj's teachings are better understood in the Marathi language than in English. They have a beauty of their own.
Before I go to his teachings, I consider it necessary to mention that Maharaj did not encourage people who went to him for advice in regard to material benefits. He gave solace to any tormented soul and to such persons who were genuinely interested with adhyathmic matters.
Maharaj did not favour any one religion, either Hinduism, Christianity or Buddhism. He often said that "he is anxious to present a spiritual mirror in which we could, if only we seriously wished so, see our own true image". He did not encourage people, particularly foreigners coming everyday to his loft room, to sit gazing at him for hours on end without any participation in the discussion. However, he was sympathetic to them and spoke kindly asking them to attend his talks for ten days which he considered was enough for them, and that they should then go to an ashram, stay there and examine his teachings seriously, if really they desired to get any benefit at all.
I have a feeling that Maharaj did so for two reasons. His loft room was too small to accommodate the growing crowd of foreign and Indian devotees. The second reason which appeals to me is that Maharaj enjoyed questions put by real seekers who want their doubts to be cleared and did not want a dumb crowd of devotees who usually came to the ashram more to be in the presence of the great one than to get the benefit of the philosophical talk which emanated from Maharaj.
PEARLS FROM NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ'S LIPS
In one of the morning sessions when he found a local Marathi gentleman sitting in front of him in the crowded loft room, Maharaj mildly admonished him saying, "You only know how to sing bhajans. How could you understand what I am telling these visitors, some of whom have come from far distances". I must mention here that unless one is attuned to Maharaj's abstruse sayings on the subjects of "beingness", one will be lost in confusion when they read the questions and answers of Maharaj. No doubt it is a very slow process, involving critical study of Maharaj's way of thinking and his approach to the realities of life.
I will now proceed to give a few instances which will help us in understanding his teachings. I call it a preparatory course for my readers. I will first refer to Maharaj's concept of prana [vital breath]. When a visitor asked whether it is in the flowers also, Maharaj's answer was, "Not only in flowers but even in their colour and flagrance. It is everywhere".
"One should aspire for the desireless state and not bargain with God by doing penance and japa [repetition of sacred words or syllables] to acquire something spiritual". Maharaj called this desireless stage as "Poorna Brahmam, Paramathmam and Parameshwara".
At another stage while explaining the concept that "you are not the body nor the mind", he recited a verse of Guru Nanak which runs as follows : "O Mind. What are you searching inside and outside? It is One only. Once the earthen pot bearing the name "Nanak" is broken by getting rid of the concept that "I am the body", where then is the inside and outside? It is only "I" prevailing everywhere".
Guru Nanak further says, "Like the fragrance in a flower, like an image in a mirror, this sense of "I amness" is felt in the body. Therefore, give up your name "Nanak" and also your identity with the body and abide in the sense of "I amness". You shall be liberated."
Below are a selection of teachings from Maharaj : "It is a matter of actual experience that the Self has being independent of mind and body. It is beingawarenessbliss. Awareness of being is bliss. One must merge back into Atman [Self], which is the highest, most blissful state, a qualitative consciousness. "
"Do not get entangled in the branches and leaves. Go to the seed. Without the seed the tree will not be there. Find out where the tree comes from. This is where I am taking you back". "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." "Even among the crowd be alone. Abide in your own Self. Do not neglect this body. This is the house of God. Take care of it. Only in this body can God be realised." "It is the nature of mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind. 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."
"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 as they come and go, is an aspect of your real nature." "You people come here wanting something. What you want may be knowledge with a capital K - the higher truth. But none the less you do want something, most you have been coming here for quite some time. Why? If there had been a perception to what I have been saying you should have stopped coming here long ago." "You can find what you have lost. But you cannot find what you have not lost. When you are searching it shows that you believe you have lost something. But who believes it? And what is believed to be lost? Have you lost a person like yourself? What is this Self which you are in search of? What exactly do you expect to find?"
"What a fantastic subjects this is - the subject is illusive. The person who thinks he is listening is illusory and yet nobody believes that he does not exist. When you come here I welcome you and extend to you my humble hospitality, but in doing so I am fully aware of the exact position that there is neither a speaker nor a listener. Why is it that nobody can honestly say that he does not exist because he knows that he is present, or rather he is that intuitive sense of presence." "You people have been coming here hoping all the time that I would give you a programme of what you should do in order to get liberation. But what I keep telling you is that there is no entity as such and that the question of bondage does not arise. If one is not bound then there is no need for liberation. All I can do is to show you that what you are is not what you think you are".
"I repeat, I was not, am not, shall not be a body. To me this is a fact. I too was under the illusion of having been born, but my Guru made me see that birth and death are mere ideas - birth is merely the idea, "I have a body" and death is the idea, "I have lost my body". Now, when I know I am not a body, the body may be there or may not, what difference does it make? The body-mind is like a room. It is there, but I need not live in it all the time." "Until man can free himself from false identifications, from pretensions and delusions of various kinds, he can not come face to face with Eternal Verity that is latent within his own Self."
"The only awakening or enlightenment, the only illusory liberation or an illusory bondage the awakening from the living dream. What is it a Guru can do. A Self-realised Guru will do the only thing that could be done point towards the Satguru within. The Satguru is there always whether you remember him or not". "Direct experience of Self is by its very nature inexpressible. Images are built of words and by words they are also destroyed. You got yourself into your present state through verbal thinking; you must get out of it the same way."
"What has been attained may again be lost. Only when you realise the true peace, the peace you have never lost, that peace will remain with you for it was never away. Instead of searching for what you do not have, find out what is it that you have never lost. That which is there before the beginning and after the ending of everything, to That there is no birth nor death. That immovable state, which is not affected by the birth and death of a body or a mind, that state you must perceive."
SOME LESS KNOWN FACTS IN MARUTI'S LIFE
I have collected them from the sheaf of papers sent by Dr. Rashinker.
In the early childhood Maruti had very little formal education and one is amazed at the way he blossomed in later life into a great Gnani. Maharaj ascribed it to the grace of Siddharameshwar Maharaj.
As for his early childhood he used to go to the farm with his father and work in the fields. He was a very healthy young boy and was of great use to his father in ploughing the land, preparing the seed bed, etc... Deep down his father was full of remorse that his son was not attending school. The conflict was between sending him to a primary school in Khandalgaon where the education was only up to IV standard and the future well being of the family which primarily depended on agriculture. In those days, even for going to a school in a village in the rural areas the children had to walk 5 or 6 miles on foot daily and return late in the evening giving an anxious time for the parents, who will be awaiting their return. The age of Maruti was also not suitable for this kind of daily ordeal. Yet his father having lived in Bombay, knew the value of higher education but the circumstances were against sending him to a school in an urban area.
As such the daily routine of Maruti was to go with his father and his brothers, work in the farm, take the cattle for grazing in the nearby forest. In the evenings, regularly the father used to gather the family and tell them stories from "Navnath Bhaktisaar", "Ram Vijay" and "Bhaktivivay". Sometimes Vishnu Gore, the erudite Brahmin priest will join them and both he and Maruti's father used to discuss on adhyatma. Vishnu Gore was also an astrologer and Maruti in his formative years had great admiration for him. He was an example of piety, courage, perseverance, and hard work.
Though the brothers of Maruti had already seen life on Bombay, Maruti was out and out a product of a completely rural life. But yet a spirit of enquiry got possession of him even at the early age of 14 years and aroused his inquisitiveness. He used to think as follows: "We sow very little in the fields but we get back much more in quantity for a little effort of sowing when there was nothing but soil and water in the field. How was this possible? From where came the fruit and how did the sour ones ripen automatically into sweet ones. All fruit have seeds inside except in the case of the cashew nut in which the seed was protruding from the fruit".
These questions disturbed Maruti's mind and he could not get satisfactory answers. He put a question to his father about this and he said that it was the leela [play] of God. He then thought that God must be a very powerful person as everything depended on Him. He heard stories from Navnath Bhakthisaar that they could do and undo things if they willed it. It therefore troubled his mind how they could do and undo things, if all the creation was looked after by God. In his innocent way he thought that Navnaths were more powerful than God. Then the question arose in his mind, "Is there one God or many gods?" He could not get a satisfactory answer. It was then that he met his Satguru Siddharameswar Maharaj who explained to him in a convincing way that God manages everything, birth, death etc., and was more powerful that the Navnaths especially, Matchindranath.
Maruti was a healthy boy and used to do his best to help the needy persons on the occasion of funerals, fire fighting etc... Being very healthy and strong, on many occasions he helped the villagers to lift their cattle, which had fallen into a well while grazing. He had no distinction of caste and creed and felt very much for the poor families of the harijans [lower caste]. He used to question his father, "If there is a merciful God why should poverty be there and why should some people be born in a high family and others in a low family?"
His father, Shivaram Pant, though inwardly happy about the intelligent questions put by his son Maruti was, yet apprehensive that he had not given Maruti a decent education to survive in the battle of life. Maruti's father died in 1915 and a few hours before his death he had told Vishnu Gore that he was shedding his body that day. Maruti loved his father very intensely and his father died with his head on the lap of young Maruti who was plunged in sorrow.
Thus Maruti with his intuitive intelligence though his formal education was low, had the help of his father's friend Vishnu Gore who moulded in him a right frame of mind in his search of God. The unpolluted rural life in the village helped Maruti to pursue the questions with the help of his father's friend. It has got to be remembered that Maruti was a Bandari by caste, who where traditionally engaged in production and sale of country liquor, toddy etc... But Shivaram Pant had kept them away from this traditional business as he did not like his sons to continue in it.
It was in 1918 that Maruti decided to go to Bombay for work to support his family. In Bombay, he sued to work in the day time, and study in the night which was very taxing especially for young Maruti. He found that it was not possible to go to the school regularly. But the family needed money. So, he sought work as a clerk at the Princess Dock, in Bombay's harbour, thus ending his education forever. However, his mind was restless and as a young man he thought of the future and wanted to increase his income for the benefit of the family. He was ambitious and therefore decided to do some business of his own instead of serving others.
MARUTI BECOMES MARUTI RAO SHET
Though Maruti did not have any formal education he was intelligent and physically strong. As he had a family to maintain he had a necessity to think of other avenues which would get him substantial income to maintain the family in reasonable comfort. After great deliberation he decided to start some business of his own instead of working under masters. He collected some capital and started a small shop selling beedis, pan, tobacco, etc...
After it became popular, he realised the limitations of this shop in the matter of expansion. With the money he saved he decided to enter other lines of business. He started a cutlery shop and when it got him a sizable income, he started another shop selling ready-made garments. He was by nature very economical and when profits came, he did not squander them away. Then he started production of different kind of beedis, as the beedi business was very lucrative. His beedis in particular acquired a high reputation and were in great demand. Then he started a cloth shop. When he started earning sufficiently he got married to one Sumathibai in 1924. He often used to say that God was kind and merciful to him. He always wanted what really belonged to him. He used to ask his Guru, "Kindly tell me who I am and what is mine. I want what is mine. I will not touch anything that is not mine". When he pressed his Guru for an answer as to who he was, his Guru told him that he was the "Ultimate Truth". His business was very prosperous and he employed as many as 40 assistants to look after his shops which were located in different places in Bombay, from Khetwadi in Girgaum [district of Bommbay] to Boribunder. People finding him very prosperous, used to address him as "Shet", which is an appellation for moneyed people who had become prosperous in business. They now used to address him as Maruti Rao Shet.
He thus achieved a great deal of success in his material life but this could not solve the basic questions in his mind which had remained unanswered since his boyhood days. He often used to think on questions as, "What is this world? Who I am? Where is God? Can we see Him or talk to Him?" Day after day these questions agitated him and slowly he was losing interest in his business. He met so many sadhus and sannyasis who were only in appearance saffron clad sadhus, wearing a number of malas [beaded necklaces] and displaying prominently tilaks, but they were ignorant about God.
Maruti continued the traditional pujas [ritual worship], fasts, and vrathas as per the command of his father. He also went to the Shiva temple at Bhuleshwar and Walkeshwarand and observed all the necessary fasts as per the command of his mother. Everyday, before going to the temple he would offer flowers to his mother, make a deep bow and then go out in search of a cow to feed it with green grass. His favourite deity in those days was Panduranga of Pandarpur and the great saint Dhyaneshwar of Alandi. He used to read the Venkates Wara strotra every morning and while doing so, he stood on one leg by way of penance. Though born in a family eating non-vegetarian food, he gave up eating it and turned out to a very strict vegetarian.
Days went on without any spiritual progress, but finding momentary satisfaction in pujas and vrathas. The business was not affected as very trusted servants were looking after it. He had read stories from Navnath Bhakthisaar in his childhood. The incredible ways in which the Navnaths had undergone the tapas [arduous spiritual practice] raised doubts in him but yet he had great respect for Matchindranath. He decided to meet sadhus who knew this ways of tapas. This made him bring home regularly sadhus and sannyasis, offer them bath, puja and food and also money and prostrate before them so that they may show him the way to God. This also did not help him.
Then he turned to Hatha Yoga. In Girgaum, there lived a Hatha Yogi by the name of Athavle. Maruti learned this Yoga from him and practice it on the loft of his residence, especially the pranayama [breath control] and kumbaka [standing on one leg]. The practice of kumbaka swelled his body like a frog and his hope that this would awaken his kundalini [creative coiled power of Shiva] and bring him siddhis [supernatural powers] did not materialise. Then he made up his mind not to go to anybody in search of God and decided that he himself would find Him and talk to Him.
MARUTI SHET MEETS HIS GURU
Maruti Shet had a trader friend by the name of Yashwant Rao Baagkar. He was a highly religious man and often used to discuss bhakti sadhana [devotion]. He used to go to a saint in Karnataka, named Sri Satguru Siddharameshwar Maharaj, for his darshan regularly whenever the Guru was staying in Bombay for two or three months. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj was from the famous Naath Sampradaya with Sri Revan Siddha as the original Siddha Purusha. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj was a disciple of the famous Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj Umadikar [Deshpande]. Maruti's friend, Baagkar, used to attend regularly the bhajans and the daily discourses. After some time, Sri Baagkar was blessed with spiritual initiation by the grace of his Guru.
Naturally in the discussions with Maruti Shet, Sri Baagkar told him the gist of the discourses given by the Guru. He wanted Maruti Shet to accompany him for the discourse. At this point in time there was a change in the outlook of Maruti Shet and he was given the name of Nisargadatta. His mind was now ripe and he had read about many saints in Maharashtra, like Gajanan Maharaj, Akalkot Swami Maharaj, Gondavalekar Maharaj and Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi who preached prem bhakti. Nisargadatta had high regards for them but, in spite of that, there was a lurking disbelief in the existence of such saints in a city like Bombay. Moreover he was sadly disillusioned when he saw many so called sadhus and sannyasis who observed it as a way of life for getting their "dal-roti" [daily food] and also for some money without leading a spiritual life. He was therefore not interested in takibg initiation from Siddharameshwar Maharaj or even attending his lectures. Sri Baagkar felt very sad at this, and made a plaintive request to Nisargadatta one day to come and attend the discourses at least for his sake. He agreed reluctantly. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj was then staying with one of his disciples, Sri Pathare. One evening, Nisargadatta and Sri Baagkar started to attend a bhajan and discourses of Siddharameshwar. His brother also accompanied them. They had to go to a place in Tara Temple lane where Siddharameshwar was staying then and at the entrance of the lane they found some young boys making fun of Siddharameshwar and laughing loudly and asking people to go back.
Nisargadatta's brother refused to go further and asked his brother also not to go. But as he had given his word to Baagkar he told his brother to go back home if he was not inclined and he would accompany Baagkar. The discourse that evening was on "The Yoga Vasistha", which was somewhat difficult to understand and more so to follow as the type of sadhana preached by the Maharaj was beyond his capacity. But the words of Maharaj haunted him and would not leave his mind. After the next three or four days Sri Maharaj called him and told Nisargadatta that he wanted to give him initiation. He had read about the gurusishya relations where the disciple has to meticulously follow the orders of the Guru if he accepted Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj as his Guru. Maharaj sensed the difficulty in Nisargadatta's mind and told him, "Don't worry. If you feel afterwards that you do not want to continue, you can leave it there". After this, Nisargadatta felt relieved and agreed to become his disciple with a very clear mind and in a happy mood as it was on his own terms. This again brings into sharp focus his uncompromising nature, in his honest search for God. Slowly the persons who were in business contact with him or in social or religious life he dropped away as they found him somewhat odd. They could nor realise that he was always in meditation having taken adhyathma seriously.
When Maruti prostrated before his Guru, the latter asked him to sit in front of him. He heard his Guru's words and felt something unusual happening to him and then went into samadhi [a direct but temporary experience of the Self]. About this unique experience he told his friends in Marathi, "Bambaal Zala", which means that his identity has changed and he became the whole universe and in the process so many colourful lights intermingled. Ultimately the universal identity also vanished and he became conscious of his surroundings only when his Guru brought him back from the state of samadhi.
It is not known at what point of time the name Maruti was changed into Nisargadatta. The surmise of the devotees is that this Guru himself had renamed him as Nisargadatta. But anyway the puzzling questions which troubled him and which nobody could answer were solved at the feet of his great Guru. This was in 1933.
Nisargadatta was continuing his business and also doing sadhana. He had a feeling that he was being taken away slowly from his family and his relations and friends and felt a sort of "aloofness" from everyone. After the initiation by his Guru his mind changed radically. He gave up all pujas, vrathas and ignored the idols which he was worshipping. Now his only God was his Guru and obeyed Him without question. Even his brother went away and only his mother stayed with him till the last as she was in a position to understand the change wrought on her son.
But most unfortunately his wife could not understand him, even though he treated her with respect and like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa put her on the onward path. The teachings of Swami Ramdas greatly appealed to him. It is well known that Swami Ramdas was a saint of Maharashtra in the 17th century and was the Guru of Shivaji Maharaj. "Dasbodh" became the sampradaik "grantha" of this Siddha sampradaya and was daily read in the month of Shravana. When rich and learned people used to visit his Guru, Nisargadatta used to stand in a corner with a note book and a pencil and write down whatever fell from the lips of his Guru. He used to say that his Guru's words were his food and he used to eat them and not hear them, as the whole of his body turned into "Shravan-Yantra" and the bhajans were the meals offered to his Guru who needed nothing else.
On one occasion when he was alone with his Guru, he told Him very respectfully that he had a doubt in his mind about adhyathma. On hearing this, his Guru said, "You will never have a doubt nor get any doubt hereafter", and a change came over him and he found no difficulty in following his Guru's words or the teachings in the scriptures.
Along with other gurubandhus [co-disciples] he accompanied his Guru to his village Bhagewadi, in Karnakata, on the occasion of the Jayanthi of his Guru's Guru Bhausaheb Maharaj, for whom his Guru had built a samadhi. It is said many Gods used to give darshan to Nisargadatta and he experienced "Divya Prakash" on many occasions. Surprisingly when he went to his home town, he was in a position to give offhand a series of twelve discourses. For the first time he surprised everybody who heard them. His Guru Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj attained samadhi in 1936 just before Deepawali festival. Nisargadatta became very unhappy as he loved his Guru very much. He was grief-stricken and used to remember his Guru's words, of which he had taken copious notes. Nisargadatta however consoled himself and decided to follow his Guru's teachings in thought, word and deed.
NISARGADATTA LEAVES FOR PANDARPUR
Every year Deepawali is celebrated with great joy in Bombay and the whole city is agog and the sky will be lit with fireworks. But to Nasargadatta it had no joy and his mind was mentally absent to welcome Deepawali. He was constantly thinking of the death of his Guru Maharaj and decided that he should renounce everything that he had in life and go away to the Himalayas. For a gurubhakta there could not have been a more suspicious occasion than Deepawali. On the first day of Deepawali he left his house without informing anybody; family and friends could not locate him. He started walking towards Pandarpur on foot and reached the place in about four days. He prostrated before Panduranga, and prayed for His Blessings for his future life. He purchased two saffron lungis and rudrakshamalas and a rug, removed his clothes and gave them to a poor person. He found that he had one anna left in his pocket which he threw into the river Chandrabagha which flows by Pandarpur.
From Pandarpur he started walking southwards without any plans. All the time he was only concentrating on his guruvachan, the "naam" with his identity. He had tremendous faith in his Guru and he narrated an experience to his gurubandhus about the power of Guru Maharaj. He was a vegetarian in a family which was eating meat. Once he went to his Guru to Bhagewadi in Biljapur District and in the course of the spiritual discussions his Guru Maharaj suddenly changed the subject and looking at him asked whether he ate mutton to which he replied in the negative.
After hearing this his Guru said that he would make him eat mutton the next day and he felt very confused and shocked. He bowed down to him and requested him to excuse him because it was likely that he would vomit. But Guru Maharaj told him not to worry about it and said if any such thing happened he himself would clean the floor. Unable to go against the dictates of Guru Maharaj he ate mutton and he experienced Brahmananda the whole day. Obviously Maharaj knew about it and asked him with a smile as to how he felt. Speaking about this Nisargadatta used to say, "If one type of food can restrict your spiritual progress, it would mean some other type of food can accelerate it".
His faith in his Guru was such that he had no fear whatsoever about his future and walked on foot from place to place. He went first to Gangapur and then to Tirupati en-route to Rameswaram. He did not know any of the South Indian languages but this created no difficulty for him in getting food whenever necessary. Actually he did not care for food as he was mentally ready to throw away his body if necessary. He had great faith in his Guru's words that he will shoulder the responsibility for the well being of the disciples.
It often happened that somebody in the garb of a sadhu would come and give him whatever he needed: food, railway fare and bus tickets for his journey which he politely refused. He walked on foot and when tired used to get into a train without a ticket but surprisingly nobody checked him for a ticket even though he walked past the ticket examiner along with other passengers who were being interrogated. It looked as though some power made him invisible to the eyes of the ticket examiner. He had similar experience in the night when walking on the footpath in Bombay where curfew had been ordered due to communal riots. Armed guards were patrolling the streets but they used to walk past him without any interrogation though other persons were interrogated. He was somewhat intrigued about this incident and came to the conclusion that his Guru was protecting him in his own invisible way.
Very curiously he was not harassed by the police who allowed him to go about freely without any interrogation. On one occasion when he was taking shelter under a tree for rest he clearly saw his Guru's image on his feet and the feeling of loneliness vanished. After sometime he practiced the most difficult mantra called "Trataka", looking at the Sun with the naked eye for hours. After some days he found that the Sun started looking like a ball of ice. Then he gave up practicing Trataka.
During his wanderings, an extraordinary incident happened. One day around noon, he felt tired, hungry and thirsty. He looked around for some human habitation nearby and could not find any house nearby. Still he kept on walking, looking around for a possible source of water at least. To his surprise he saw a hut in a lonely field and he walked towards it. The owner of the hut welcomed him, gave him water first as he was thirsty and made him sit down on a bench and served him food saying that he has been waiting for him for the past few days. This added to his confusion and after eating the food he made a low bow, thanked him and left the place. When he reached the road he looked back, but found that the hut which provided him food and water had vanished and he could see only fields all around.
NISARGADATTA RETURNS HOME
On his return journey he met a gurubandhu at Sholapur who gave him a saffron lungi and a photograph of Siddharameshwar Maharaj, a copy of "Dasbodh" and some agarbhathis [incense sticks]. After walking some distance, Nisargadatta sat under a tree and after reading "Dasbodh", started singing bhajans in front of his Guru's picture. He had grown a lot of hair and a beard and looked like a sannyasi. He came to Bombay, but decided not to go home. He was roaming in the forest of Borivli where he met a college lecturer who was in search of a Guru who could teach him adhyathma. The lecturer stayed with Nisargadatta for some days, asked many questions and got his doubts cleared from Nisargadatta. In the sampradaya of a disciple he followed him, carried his bag and wanted to serve him which Nisargadatta refused.
Due to the divine grace of Nisargadatta, he was offered the principalship of a college in Bombay and he left his Guru and did not care to meet him afterwards.
Nobody ever knew where he had gone and Nisargadatta did not bother about it at all.
While in the Borivli jungle, Nisargadatta had a burning desire to go to the Himalayas and settle down there. With this in mind he went to Delhi via Mathura and Brindavan. At Delhi he unexpectedly met another gurubandhu who was anxious to listen to Nisargadatta's story. After listening to him he praised him for his courage and his resolute nature and with great hesitation advised him not to go to the Himalayas. He told him that this was against his Guru's advice as also directions in the "Dasbodh". Nisargadatta replied, "Yes, I know all this. But once I have left everything I no longer wish to return to the family". However he started thinking over the gurubandhu's advice and then came to the conclusion that there was no harm in returning home as his sannyas [renunciation] was not based on physical abandonment but rather on viveka [discernment]. The inner voice told him to go back and then he decided to go home and meet the members of his family.
When he arrived home the members of the family, though very happy, found to their shock that he had vastly changed, with matted long hair, beard, saffron cloth and beads? He removed them and threw them into the sea and joined his family. His prosperous business enterprises had gone and were closed. His original pan-beedi shop alone remained. The loss of all the investment did not in the least trouble him as he had become very rich in the athmic sense, though not by the yardstick of material possessions. He slid back to where he started some 18 years ago. He sat in the shop as usual and conducted the business, but a change had come over him. His talks centered not on worldly things but only on adhyathma. After a year or so, due to the wandering and extreme sadhana, his physical frame had became very weak, even though he looked cheerful. He refused to go to a doctor though the family members insisted that he should consult one. He yielded to their persuasion and a doctor was brought who examined him and diagnosed that he was suffering from tuberculosis. But Nisargadatta smiled and refused to take any medicine and prayed intensely to his Guru. After a few days of intense tapas, he started the Indian exercise of "Dand Paithaka". Surprisingly his health improved and in two years time he looked like a wrestler, much to the surprise of his relatives and friends. This was in the year 1940.
Nisargadatta used to attend the programme of bhajans arranged by the gurubandhus and the talk will be on adhyathmic matters. During this period, he came in close contact with one of his gurubandhus by the name of Bainath. Bainath was a devout soul and before meeting his Guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj, he used to go to a Hanuman temple in a lane almost daily and pray there intensely. One day Sri Hanuman appeared to him during his dhyana [meditation] and told him to go to Siddharameshwar Maharaj and have his darshan. Bainath got many of his doubts cleared from Him. As they had not enough time for discussion, they both used to go to the beach at Girgaon. In the rainy season they used to sit on the planks of the closed shops and their discussions continued till 2 A.M. After this, they would return home and complete their night bhajans and aarthi, which took almost an hour. This practice continued for nearly two and half decades, till 1966.
Tragedy overtook Nisargadatta between 1942 and 1948. He lost one of his daughters, his wife and also his mother. The daughter was of a marriageable age and he concealed his sorrow and told people assembled that the Paramatma [Absolute] Himself had married her. His wife, though a religious woman, was not very happy with the life Nisargadatta was leading. A few days before her death she told her husband that she was tired of her life and wanted to die. All his attempts to console her were of no avail and one day when she stated that she wanted to die, Nisargadatta said, "If that is your wish let it be", and she passed away a few days thereafter. Sorrow did not touch him and his relations and disciples found him very different from what he used to be. When relatives gathered to offer condolence, one Sri Kholapure, a disciple of Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj happened to come there. Forgetting the sorrow in the house, Nisargadatta talked to him on spiritual matters. To the utter surprise of Kholapure, after the discussions were over, Nisargadatta told him of the death of his wife and requested him to attend the funeral. As the relations were coming or condolence, Nisargadatta plunged himself into singing bhajans in the loft room unconcerned about the funeral arrangements for his wife. His soul had blossomed. By the time he had lost his business and also some property in Konkan. When one of his friends tried to console him over the tragedy that had overtaken him, he smiled and said like a true Gnani, "One must be lucky to be the recipient of such calamities and welcome more such calamities".
NISARGADATTA BECOMES KNOWN AS "MAHARAJ" TO HIS DISCIPLES
I was often wondering as to who conferred the name of Nisargadatta on the socially popular Maruti Shet. I could not get information from any of the devotees and surprisingly from an unknown source I came to know that Nisarga means "natural" and as such Nisargadatta Maharaj's path is a natural one along which the earnest aspirant can walk safely to the goal Supreme. I will refer to Nisargadatta hereafter as Maharaj, as he had become popular with his gurubandhus and hosts of devotees who started calling him Maharaj.
Maharaj did not observe any "varnabheda" or casteism. To set an example, amidst protests from the family he got his son and his daughter married outside his caste. The protest died down ultimately and many of the devotees followed his lead, as he used to proclaim in many of his talks that there is only one caste, namely, the caste of Humanity. While selling pan and beedis he used to be so detached that he did not count the money and oftentimes used to pay more to the purchasers, who however with great humility returned back to the correct amount due to Maharaj.
He was pursuing the sale of beedis which had sustained him and his family for over five decades, as a "kulachara" than as a business venture. Very often, from the poor people, he will not take any money and give a bundle of beedis free as a gift. His name as a Gnani spread far and wide beyond the frontiers of the Khetwadi area and many people started coming, among whom were a number of foreigners. Maharaj did not allow his devotees to discuss anything relating to family problems or to sidhis. One of the listeners started taking down notes of what he spoke and later compiled a book in Marathi and it was sold widely in some of the bookshops in the local area.
Day after day the number of disciples started increasing. The loft where he held his sadhana was converted into a sort of a mezzanine floor where he installed a magnificent picture of Siddharameshwar Maharaj. This place was later known as Nisargadatta Ashram. Almost everyday, after the aarthi, bhajan and puja were over he used to give a discourse for about an hour. After this discourse he would go out for a walk, to the Girgaum sea shore where he would sit with his chosen disciples, Bhainath and others and talk on religious practices and return home at about 11 P.M. Oftentimes he would not take any food and his daughter had to coax him to eat a little food at least. He did not relish eating and mechanically he will mix all that was put on the plate, make it into a ball and swallow it in matter of few minutes. He did not enjoy any taste but he never failed to praise the preparations made by his devoted daughter.
MAHARAJ PERFORMS "SAPTHAHA"
The sampradaya of the Guru entailed the practice of observing sapthaha [pilgrimage] at different times of the year and at different places known as Gurusthan. Among them were Inchegiri, Baswan Bagawadi, Siddhagiri in Kolhapur district and Nimpal in Karnataka. Siddhagiri is the place of a well known saint Kade Siddeshwar Maharaj. Nimpal is known for the ashram of Gurudev Ranade. The ashram in Karnataka is named after Yargattikar Maharaj. Every year Nisargadatta, along with his gurubandhus used to go for sapthaha at some of these places.
The daily programme for sapthaha was the same as prevailed in Nisargadatta ashram. The only addition was reading and explaining "Dasbodh". Even during the course of the sapthaha, Nisargadatta never skipped any of the daily bhajans, even when he was running high temperature of 102°. While travelling, he carried with him a photograph of Siddharameshwar Maharaj and Bhausaheb Maharaj. He used to carry with him puja articles like agarbhathis etc. Maharaj was a chain smoker much to the consternation of his devotees. When asked about it he said, "For others it contains tobacco. For me it is a good fomentation".
As the number of disciples increased, activities also increased. There was persistent request from some of the disciples that Maharaj should visit their houses. So till 1974 he obliged some of them by visiting their houses. Slowly, he became a Guru himself, and some of his gurubandhus were jealous and did not approve of it. In fact, they expressed their disapproval and doubted whether he had the authority from Siddharameshwar Maharaj at all to initiate the disciples. They had the courage even to ask him to stop the practice more out of jealousy than of a genuine desire.
Nisargadatta had to explain to them that he cannot stop giving initiation to disciples and disobey his Guru's mandate. He also told them that if perchance they thought by keeping the big picture of Siddharameshwar Maharaj, they thought that the authority to give initiation, he boldly told them that he did not need the picture of his Guru at all and that they could come and take it and immerse it in the sea.
Thereafter, he observed the practice of making the sadhakas [devotees] stand before a big mirror and ask them to prostate before it before taking their initiation. Nisargadatta was in the habit of taking copious notes during the talks by his Guru. He published two books compiled from these talks which also the gurubandhus did not like.
His disciples wanted to celebrate his birthday, but he agreed on one condition that he should be very simple and that there should be no waste of money. He insisted on bhajans and discourses to which he invited all his gurubandhus in Bombay. When they arrived he used to garland them, offer them sweets and prostate before them. One extraordinary practice of Maharaj was that he would never accept any gift either in cash or in any kind from his disciples. On their vehement persuasion and out of his love for them he accepted a dhoti [loincloth], a kurta [long shirt], a khadar cap and a pair of chappals [sandals] on the occasion of his birthday. But some of his disciples did not feel happy and without his knowledge left in the ashram pieces of cloth, chaddars etc. as tokens of their love. But Nisargadatta would distribute them to some of his poor disciples, as his prasad [consecrated offering].
ARRIVAL OF MAURICE FRYDMAN
Maurice Frydman a Polish engineer, visited Nisargadatta Maharaj after locating him with some difficulty. He is now well-known as the author of the great book, "I Am That". He was a highly evolved spiritual soul. He first went to the ashram of Ramana Maharishi and followed Mahatma Gandhi in his tour and also attended the meetings of J. Krishnamurti. After a lot of wandering he finally arrived at Nisargadatta Maharaj's ashram in or about 1965. he was greatly attached to him and used to stay in Bombay and visit him as often as possible. Maharaj cleared many of his doubts and he started the practice of taping the discussions, typing them and after showing them to Maharaj and with his approval he produced his monumental book, "I Am That", which became the best seller in all the countries. It is to the credit of Maurice Frydman that he projected Maharaj and his teachings with great precision. It will be surprising to note that he learnt both Hindi and Marathi so that he might be in a better position to understand the message of Maharaj.
After reading this great book, one young German girl, whom Maharaj named as Krishna used to fly from Germany for his birthday function. She will shed copious tears at the sight of Maharaj and after the function is over she used to fly back to Germany from Bombay and reach there in the night. She used to sing a Marathi bhajan which Maharaj greatly loved. She had the blessing of Maharaj in abundance as she had blossomed into a great spiritual soul early in life and her face radiated peace and serenity.
One of the well-known dignitaries of Bombay, a great social worker, used to visit Maharaj and have discussions with him. He was none other than late V.S. Page, a well-known Maharashtrian. He had remarkable experiences. When he went home he found Maharaj very avidly listening to his discourses in homely Marathi. He used to call them Upanishads. He finally took initiation from Maharaj and could not visit him as before due to extreme old age.
MIRACLES OF MAHARAJ
On Maharaj's birthday, one of his devotees requested Maharaj to permit him to publish a souvenir as it would give him adequate publicity. He sharply rebuked him and said, "I am only seeing the reality as others do and pointing out the obvious truth. What is the use of publicity?". Pointing to the picture of his Guru and others in the ashram he said, "If all this is responsible for bringing publicity to me I would rather pay Rs. 100/- to somebody to take away all these photos from here and drown in the deep sea". Though Maharaj was not known for miracles and was usually very shy even to talk about them, many miracles have been reported.
I would mention only a few of them as they find a place in the sheaf of papers given to me. Maharaj's niece was almost dying and doctors had given up hope and told the relatives that it was a matter of an hour. The life of the girl was slowly ebbing away and her husband and relatives and friends were anxiously waiting outside the house thinking about the preparations to be made for her funeral.
Maharaj who normally used to visit their house, had gone there on a courtesy call. When he heard that she was dying, he entered the room where her body lay and said loudly, "What is this? Why are you sleeping at this hour? Get up. Your Mama has come [Maharaj] after a long time. Will you not give him a cup of tea?" Hearing his voice, she got up from the bed much to the amazement of her husband and others surrounding her and made tea for Maharaj who enjoyed it.
Only then the relatives told Maharaj about her serious condition and how Maharaj had saved her life.
A lady disciple had gone to the ashram after a long absence. She was somewhat nervous as to what Maharaj would think of her. Adding to her embarrassment and shock, Maharaj asked her, "Why have you come here now? Go back immediately. Don't stay even for a minute". On hearing this, the lady left very miserable and unhappy, and she rightly thought that the Guru was angry with her. She did not understand the ways of a saint. With tears in her eyes, she prostrated before Maharaj who was unmoved and she went back home. She found that her husband had suddenly taken seriously ill and that her presence was very urgently required, as he had to be taken to the hospital for treatment. It was then that she realised the strange behaviour of Maharaj which had a divine purpose.
Another instance is that of a disciple who was admitted into the hospital for some very serious illness. Maharaj was informed about it and he was very found of that disciple for his purity of heart. He completed the bhajan at the home and then left for the hospital to see the disciple. In a place like Bombay where the hospitals are scattered at distant places, it was not easy to reach within time. Maharaj, a simple man would not take a taxi. Instead, he waited for the bus and got into it. It is well known in Bombay that they are long queues for the buses and one has to take his turn. Though Maharaj was informed that the disciple was dead he was not perturbed. He reached the hospital after some delay and went straight to the mortuary where the body was wrapped up in a cloth and was waiting to be removed by the relatives. On seeing the body, Maharaj said, "How can you go away without my permission?" He then removed the cloth covering the body, put his hand on his chest and called the disciple by name and asked him to get up. The disciple came back to life.
Another instance reported is when Maharaj was walking through the streets of Pune along with his disciples. He suddenly stooped in front of a bank and asked one of his disciples whether he would like to be employed in the said bank. The disciple, a young man, who was badly in need of a job was overjoyed at the compassion of Maharaj. With great humility he touched Maharaj's feet and said, "As per your will Maharaj". Maharaj and the disciples walked along giving no thought and the young disciple did not in the last dream that he would get a job in the bank as nothing was known for a month. But surprisingly later, he got a letter form the bank appointing him in a clerical post. He could scarcely believe it and jumping with joy he went straight to Bombay, prostrated before Maharaj and conveyed the happy news.
Yet another instance is that of 20 year old girl who suffered form tuberculosis. Her operation was fixed at Bombay. Apprehensive that she may not live, she went to Maharaj for darshan, prostrated before him along with her father who had accompanied her. But in an un-understandable way, Maharaj said, "Go immediately to Nasik. No operation is necessary. If perhaps your father has fixed it, have it cancelled". It will be of some importance to note that Nasik is a great pilgrim centre and the famous temple of Triambak is situated there. It is said that Sri Rama cut the nose of Surpanakha when he was staying in Panchavati. And the word Nasik [nose] reflected this incident and the place came to be known by the name. Maharaj evidently had a purpose in asking her to go and stay in Nasik leaving Bombay and it is needless to state that she got cured.
Many disciples had other wonderful experiences, but Maharaj used to advise them not to publicize the miracles. He used to say very cryptically, "Don't come here as you would go to a shop or a bazaar. Do as I tell you. Give yourself up completely to the Guru inside and your problems will disappear".
Such was Maharaj, the great Gnani, a simple unassuming person, repository of vast knowledge, living in a crowded lane in Khetwadi area in a humble abode. From his dress and appearance nobody would say that he was a spiritual dynamo. He had bright powerful eyes and to draw a parallel one is reminded of Bhagawan Ramana.
Maharaj spoke only in homely Marathi, though he knew English. He spoke it with perfect ease and composure. Though the truths he presented were all high dynamite, he stunned publicity, formed no organisation, did not accept gifts. He worked alone. It will be of some importance to note that he refused to be treated as a Guru. To quote a Review in "The Hindu" on Maharaj, with an impish glint in his bright eyes and with a sweeping wave of his expressive hand he would say, "When I go about I am just an old man out for a walk. So nobody bothers me and I can go as I pleased".
The purpose of life as Maharaj points out is to be free from suffering, and all suffering results from our deep-rooted identification with the body-mind complex. I am tempted to quote some more words of Maharaj which express his simple philosophy. "Only the Self is, it is impersonal, pure awareness beyond time and space. Unattached to anything it is ineffable bliss. Desire is the villain of the piece".
Fueled by the memory of the dead past and dreaming for a rosy future, we do not live in the intense present which is the only Reality. Abide not in the future but the simple "I am" and give up thinking "I am this" or "I am that". "Love and do what you will and when all the false self-identifications are thrown away, what remains is all-embracing love. You are no longer separate from the world. You are not in the world but the world is in you".
Maharaj's sayings were priceless pearls. "Liberation is never of the person. It is always from the person. Discard every self-seeking motive. Do not search for truth will find you."
Such were the teachings of the great saint Nisargadatta Maharaj, who lived in a crowded lane in Bombay, in a humble abode, wearing the dress of a common man. It is difficult to make him out in a crowd unless you have already known him. He was found of his grandchildren who called him "Bappa", i.e. God in Marathi, and they used to scramble for a place in his lap. They used to tease him by snatching the cigarette lighter or sometimes spilling the water kept for him while he was in a serious discussion with Maurice Frydman, the Polish engineer. On his birthdays and other festive days, he faithfully used to go to the samadhi [tomb] of his Guru situated at Banganga burial ground in Bombay to offer prayers. One could easily find him travelling in a bus along with others.
It is said that Maharaj would not forget to vote and exercise his franchise as a voter in the elections. As is well known, one has got to stand in a queue. Maharaj untiringly sometimes even in the hot Sun would wait in the queue for long hours and exercise his franchise. The simplicity of his nature baffles all analysis. Oftentimes when he needed a haircut he would quietly go to a hair cutting saloon, either for a shave or a hair cut without any discomfiture. It was an interesting sight to see Maharaj taking his grandchildren along with him and buy them a lassi [milkshake] in a wayside shop and teach them how to drink it properly.
Maharaj loved some of his disciples very dearly, and even in pouring rain he would walk with them to Chowpathy seashore and discuss with them about the easy path to Self-realisation. Unmindful of the great stature he occupied as a Gnani, he would sit on the benches on the seashore in the pouring rain holding an umbrella and enjoying his beedis. The talk will go on till 11.30 P.M. sometimes till late in the night. They will be only on athmic matters and the few chosen disciples who accompanied there to hear him would get their doubts cleared. Sometimes on the wayside at the pressing request of his disciples, that he should enjoy a cup of tea with them, he would walk into the nearby Irani hotel so common in Bombay, enjoy a cup of tea and also eat a few biscuits.
When Mercedes and Contessa cars were ready to take him wherever he wanted, his grim determination not to accept such obligation but to "walk along" in communion with the Self is somewhat astonishing. One has also got to remember that he was over 80 years then and not in good health. The dreaded cancer was showing its hood, but he would not go to a doctor. Even the disciples could not understand him and found it difficult to change his iron will.
It is of very importance to note that despite the cancer for which he was not taking any treatment, he was cheerful and went through his usual rounds: selling beedis in the shop for an hour, morning bhajan in the loft room, meditation with the disciples without any indication of the deterioration in his physical health. His simple abode, more particularly the loft room was so peaceful and quiet, despite the noise from the street traffic outside. One did not know in what period of human history Maharaj lived. It is said that his affection for his family did not dry up and his grandchildren clambered up the stairs into the loft room and crawling along used to sit on his lap and sometimes divert his attention from the serious talk in which he was engaged. He will call the daughter-in-law, and ask her to come and take the children away.
Maharaj was not a learned man, but he talked in homely Marathi without quoting scriptures. Though his disciples were anxious to build an ashram, he would not permit it and stoutly opposed it. He was easily accessible to everyone rich or poor provided they showed a spirit of enquiry in his teachings. Doctors who were brought by some of the disciples were baffled as Maharaj did not show any signs of suffering or pain especially in the region of the throat. He explained away the absence of suffering by saying, "All this happens in consciousness. I do not feel any pain". But one could see that as the last days were nearing, Maharaj was showing signs of weakness, even though his face did not lose its radiance and his eyes particularly sparkled.
The disciples were anxiously hovering round his bed but he used to ask them to go back later. The disciples knew very well that they would not see him again and were unwilling to leave him but with a show of his hand he asked them to leave, saying that he was feeling sleepy. Maharaj told his disciples that they need not be worried, that he was not going anywhere and that he would be with them right through. The disciples reluctantly went home knowing that a dream was about to end.
THE LAST DAYS OF MAHARAJ
Edith Powel who has compiled the final teachings of Maharaj in her beautiful book, "The Nectar of the Lord's Feet", says with great authority, "The message which comes through loud and clear from Nisargadatta Maharaj's final teachings is to turn to what you were before your so called birth the emergence of a particular body which you have identified yourself so willingly and unthinkingly". He advises, "Be in that Eternity which is a stage of wholeness even though your body may be broken, even though you may have no earthly possessions, even though the world around you may go up in flames".
Ever since the disciples came to know that Maharaj was seriously ill, a pall of gloom descended on the occupants of the loft room. They came to know that Maharaj was suffering from cancer of the throat, a disease Bhagawan Ramakrishna Paramahamsa suffered from in his last days. Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi similarly suffered from cancer of the left arm [sarcoma]. Finding the devotees moody and with no cheer on their faces, he told them in his jocular way, "There is no difference at all between life and death. Were you not dead before you were born? What is darkness other than the absence of light? What is death other than the absence of life?" To relieve them of the fear he said, "The fear of death is actually a product of the desire to live, the desire to perpetuate one's identity with the elusive entity of "I". Those who know Reality also will know the falsity of life and death.
Coming to know that Maharaj's life might end at any time, the disciples, not all but a few who were permitted in the loft room were keen to tape record Maharaj's last words as they were very precious. The irrevocability of death lent it a sinister image. As Sri Balsekar puts it in his own inimitable language, "Dark and dismal clouds overhung the horizon and there was the distant rumbling of the thunder and lightning. We knew the storm was coming, the inexorable finality, the relentless leveller who holds nothing as sacrosanct. The disciples were in a very unenviable position. They knew that their beloved master's vitals had been consumed by cancer and that the frail body cannot hold out longer. But they did not want to show their fear to Maharaj for the reason that he would be hurt to find that his teachings were wasted on them. They had heard Maharaj say that "death was an ecstasy and treat it as only the body that is subject to birth and death and not the imperishable Atma."
Though the disciples had assimilated the teachings and were fully aware of the prospects of his passing away, intellectually they accepted it, but emotionally found it very difficult. The last talks, though brief, were full of light and wisdom and like the candle which burns bright before it burns out, they were Upanishadic in nature. As Sri Balsekar puts it, "It was a Great Beyond speaking and not a frail old man in the clutches of death".
Sri Mullarpatan told me that he was constantly attending on Maharaj during his last days and found to his sorrow that Maharaj was not able to talk to his disciples with his old zest. As he found that talking drained his energy he had to make a humble request to Maharaj to talk for half an hour and not more as it exhausted him physically so much so that he was unable to sit up thereafter. He said that the visitors also responded in an intelligent way in view of the extremely weak condition of Maharaj finding their discomfiture tried to encourage them by saying, "Get your difficulties cleared up. There is so little time left now."
I must mention here of the sorrow of the poor crowd of beedi buyers. They found that Maharaj was critically ill and they could not gain entry into his apartment even to stand from a distance and have their last darshan. In their innocent way, from rumours afloat outside the house they thought that Maharaj was dying and will not be seen anymore by them. They could not reconcile themselves to the finality of death and the impermanence of the body. They grew to love Maharaj by their association with him for many many days in the morning over the purchase of beedis and the half hour talk by Maharaj. Emotionally they found themselves unable to contain their feelings of separation from Maharaj.
On one day, Maharaj was informed that his old customers, most of them poor old people of the locality, were anxious to have a glimpse of him and that they were not allowed inside by the people guarding the entrance restricting the admission not to disturb Maharaj who needed a lot of rest and to prevent him from having an emotional outburst. On seeing his dear and poor customers, Maharaj, with his instinctive compassion allowed them to climb up to the loft room in small batches to have a glimpse of him and then go down. Maharaj consoled them saying that he was not going away anywhere and that he will be with them and that he will be soon selling them beedis. Maharaj's love for them became a legend and they were the fist callers on Maharaj.
One day when the number of visitors was small, Maharaj was inclined to talk to he assembled crowd on the problem of suffering. When someone asked him why one has to suffer and waited for Maharaj's answers, after closing his eyes for a few moments, he softly answered the question, though his reserve energy was low and though the doctors had told him that he is suffering from the vile disease of cancer. He was not perturbed at all. The very mention of the disease cancer - would normally put a patient into a state of shock, but Maharaj asserted most emphatically, though in a feeble voice that his reaction was totally different. He asked the assembled crowd, "Who is ill?" and added that whatever was born should die in the appointed time and the only thing that will survive will be the consciousness. In his enigmatic way, he said that his "relative absence will be his absolute presence and that the moment of death will be the moment of the highest ecstasy".
During the last days when the crowd was restricted and only the relations and a few intimate friends were allowed to stay in the loft room under doctor's advice Maharaj continued to talk, though in a low voice, half-reclining in his bed with his eyes closed. The persons in constant attendance on Maharaj were Sri Mullarpatan and Sri Balsekar and a few family members. Maharaj suddenly opened his eyes and started to talk in a spirit of admonition. He told them, "You have been coming here of your own volition to see another individual a Guru who you expect will give you liberation from bondage. Do you not see how ridiculous all this is. Your coming here day after day only shows that you are not prepared to accept my word that there is no such thing as an individual!" He then added, "Whatever I say is being tape recorded by some people and some others take down their own notes. For what purpose?" On another occasion Maharaj said, "People have been coming to me wanting knowledge. What is this knowledge that you want? This knowledge about which you take down notes. What use will be made of those notes? Have you given any thought to this aspect of the matter?" Maharaj talked on other things also on that day and one could see that he was visibly exhausted and lay back again on his bed and with a wave of his hand asked them to go, adding with a light touch of humour that it was perhaps just as well that he could now only give out "capsules of knowledge".
THE LAST MOMENTS OF MAHARAJ
At 10 A.M. on the 8th of September 1981, the day Maharaj attained Mahasamadhi, he appeared to be considerably better than he was the previous day. One could see that his face had better colour and his eyes were bright with the usual radiance. The doctors observed that his chest was heavily congested, that the administration of oxygen was necessary. The doctor quickly arranged for an oxygen cylinder. Sri Mullarpatan and Sri Balsekar were by his bedside along with his relatives. They also left a little later. Then Maharaj had a cup of milk and a little later a cup of tea and was feeling more comfortable.
They both left Maharaj hoping to come again in the afternoon as usual. Sri Mullarpatan came back in the afternoon and found Maharaj's condition had deteriorated and gave room for anxiety. He immediately phoned up Sri Balsekar who rushed to Maharaj's residence. He found that oxygen was being administered and Maharaj's eyes were open but with a blank expression which indicated that he was in the no-mind state. His breathing was laboured and it seemed to the people around that his end could come at any time. Those moments, when the disciples and the family members watched Maharaj breathing very heavily were the saddest moments in their lives. The end came at 7.32 P.M. and Maharaj made the transition from the relative to the Absolute with the greatest ease and peace.
The funeral was arranged to take place the next day. The next day, the 9th of September 1981, Maharaj's body was placed in a reclining position and taken to the Banganga cremation ground in a procession which comprised several thousand people. When the body reached the cremation ground at 2.45 P.M. the crowd had swelled. The funeral pyre was lit by Maharaj's son at the end of a simple but moving ceremony which started with the usual bhajans before Maharaj's Guru's Shrine which was nearby. The flames consumed the body of Maharaj and the physical frame of Maharaj got merged in the elements of which it was made.