Tag Archives: nisargadatta maharaj

Book Review: I Am That, by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I just finished all 531 pages of I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, translated by Maurice Frydman. I started reading it in late May and just finished now in mid-September. Why did it take me so long? It certainly wasn’t that he used complicated words. Any high school student could understand it if they have the patience to decipher some the Sanskrit terminology that can be found in the book’s appendix. It certainly wasn’t long drawn out chapters. The book contains 101 chapters which are two to four pages long. It took me so long because the concepts in the book, when thought about and considered, are among the deepest one may experience.

The book is in the the typical question and answer format one reads in most of the non-dualist genre. Nisargadatta Maharaj gave satsang, or spiritual teachings, based out his Bombay (Mumbai) apartment until his death in 1981. He wasn’t a typical yoga practitioner. He made a living making and selling cigarettes on the street and chain smoked them as he gave his teachings. He liked to argue with his disciples, and would kick them out if he felt they have overstayed their welcome after receiving the essence of his teachings. He only spoke in Marathi, and would employ translators for Westerners.

In all of his eccentricities, his teachings get to the heart of the matter: we are not what we take ourselves to be, we are the very universe itself. He foremost rejects that he is his body which is repeated ad nauseum in this text. He rejects that he is his mind, which he says belongs to the body. “As long as one is burdened with a personality, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.” He says he is that which does not change: the purusha. Purusha can be translated as “soul” but Maharaj gives it a much more nuanced and textured meaning throughout his book.

His basic teaching is summed up in this dialogue:

Maharaj: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.

Questioner: How is it done?

Maharaj: 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. (page 17)

This may sound a lot like the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Maharaj’s teachings are very similar with the exception that Maharaj was not silent the way Ramana Maharshi was (Maharshi said very few words to his devotees). But by using his preferred format of argument, the teachings of Nisargadatta yield more concrete “instructions” that are well suited for the Western mind.

I would recommend this book after one is familiarized with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, as many of the concepts draw from that classic text. In fact if you struggle with the Sutra-s in terms of how prakriti and purusha interplay, I Am That offers elegant explanations and possible solutions. To read this book properly, I wouldn’t advise taking on more than a chapter a day (3-4 pages), and really think about the words. You won’t be the same after reading it.

Linked below is a pdf of the book, and also a video which can be viewed as a primer to the teachings.

Click to access 1-I-Am-That-Nisargadatta-Maharaj-Resumo.pdf

 

Fictional negative Yelp reviews of yesterday’s yoga masters (humor)

Probably one of the most simultaneously amusing and irritating things for me are when people Yelp yoga studios and trash teachers who have been teaching for decades. People who walk in off the street with no prior yoga experience are suddenly an “expert” on what yoga should provide them. These social media parasites aren’t looking for classical teaching, enlightenment, or any type of discipline. They are just looking for a glorified workout. For lampoon purposes here are some “reviews” from the lens of fictional popular elite yelpers who went back and time and attended a class with the great masters of yesterday. (Disclaimer: these do not reflect the author’s views).

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Ramanashram (Arunanchala, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.42.43 PM Becky “good hair” S.

OMG! I HAD THE MOST NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE OF MY YOGINI LIFE HERE! Just a little about me. I am an advanced yogini who just completed her 200 hour training at Core Fitness Powered Yoga™. Well I get to this ashram and give my donation, and the teacher, this creepy old man (Ramana Maharshi) is just sitting there in a loin cloth staring at me not saying a word…ewwww! Finally I ask him if we are going to do a vinyasa flow and he just keeps asking me “who am I?” I mean WTF!? Can’t you read? My name tag says “Becky.” They wouldn’t even refund my donation!

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Nisargadatta Maharaj (Mumbai, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.56.50 PM Biff B.

As I braved through the crowded streets of Mumbai, I finally made it to this teacher’s class. There are a bunch of people sitting in this guy’s apartment where he teaches and nobody is doing yoga postures. He didn’t even speak English! Good thing he had a translator. He saw I was new and made me come to the front of the room and introduce myself to him and asked me about my yoga practice. I told him I am an advanced teacher at Broga Flow© and I am here to get CE’s for my Yoga Alliance registry. He then blasted me on how my practice only supports my ego and that I am not really my body and if I want to make any progress, I have to imagine myself outside of my body to be greater than the universe. Talk about a total jerk! He didn’t even notice my chiseled six pack abs. Then he did the most unyogic thing I have ever seen in my life: he started smoking cigarettes! Definitely not for the fitness minded. After I told him this, he threw me out! This didn’t even count towards my Yoga Alliance CE hours 😦

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Papaji Satsang (Lucknow, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.47.17 PM Ashleigh F.

 I would give this place zero stars if Yelp would let me. First of all they don’t accept payment through mindbodyonline.com, so I had to pay in cash. The teacher is some fat old man who just keeps telling people to “keep quiet.” Then he takes people up one by one and tells them that they are “special” or something and then they start cracking up. I mean who can take this guy seriously?! But the real thing that made this a sub par experience is everyone was chanting to Shiva. I mean, talk about being insensitive to people with non-Hindu beliefs!

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Sadhu Yoga (Ujjain, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 2.29.23 PM Anne “RYT” T.

These guys don’t know anything about yoga. All they do is stand around for 20 years with their arm in the air saying “Ram, Ram, Ram…” Talk about boring! One guy just sits on a bed of nails. In my yoga teacher training, my teacher said never sit on anything that could hurt you, and here these guys are just waiting to be injured. Not to mention these guys aren’t wearing any clothes. I have been to a few coed naked yoga classes in NYC, but at least those students had the decency to get dressed before they went out again in public. Plus they were filthy all covered in ashes or something. My YTT told me you always have to be clean when teaching. One more note about this style, is it is only in Sanskrit. I mean c’mon! Don’t they realize all the paying customers speak English! No wonder they can’t afford a studio and have to practice outside…

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Disclaimer (again) these are not actual reviews and not actual people.