Tag Archives: purusha

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


Listening to your practice: Asanas will tattle on you


I was fortunate enough to start my work week with a home practice. That has been rare for me lately as I started a new job which demands that I be in the office more often. My practice felt strong this morning, but when I got to Halasana (plow pose) my legs felt stiff and my hamstrings felt “short.” Then I heard a whisper: “your legs are stiff because you are sitting too much and not doing enough Supta Padangusthasa.”

Before you think I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, I don’t hear this “whisper” all the time. But when I am doing Asana with a sattvic mind, like it is after a good night’s rest, I tend to be bit more aware of what my body is telling me.

The body has a perfect memory unlike our mind. It “remembers” all the bad stuff you did to it all week: sitting too long in a bad posture, eating greasy food, and staying up too late. The body in its wisdom does not tell you right away when you are not ready to “hear” it. It waits until Asana practice to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong and tells you exactly how to fix it.

On a deeper level, the body then tells the mind what it’s doing wrong and how to fix it. By using the breath and Asanas, the body puts the mind in its place. It douses the constant shouting of the sensory organs with prana flowing through purified and aligned nadic channels.

So our job as Yoga practitioners is to listen. Listen deeply. Our body tells us all kinds of things. We just have to get the mind out of the way. Once we advance enough in our practice, then our purusha then starts to tell us things. To listen to the purusha is the highest form of Yoga.

After my practice I felt refreshed and ready to start the week. I am very grateful I got a chance to do Asanas today.

The Solar System


People come to Yoga for various reasons. The overwhelming majority come to the practice to address health concerns, followed by a few who come to the practice to address mental concerns. All paths which lead the practitioner to Yoga are valid.

Today I was thinking about the Solar system and how it relates to this concept. Imagine the Sun represents the merging of Purusha (the True Self) with Ishvara (God). Each planet represents our motivation to come to Yoga practice and how far away we are from the “Sun.”

Pluto is the farthest planet from the Sun. It is so small that there is a debate among astronomers whether it should even be classified as a planet. This can be representative of the student who is motivated to do Yoga because it is a means of making quick money.

The next closest to the sun is Neptune. It is a large planet, but still far away from the Sun. This can be represented of the student who is motivated to do Yoga because it is the latest fitness trend.

This is followed by Uranus. The next closest planet to the Sun. This represents the student who comes to the practice because of health concerns and that there are no other means of bring relief to his/her ailment aside from Yoga.

Then comes Saturn. Mighty planet with large rings made from ice. This represents the physically healthy student who comes to Yoga to develop refinement in his/her physicality.

Next is Jupiter, the largest planet of the solar system. This can represent the student who realizes that Yoga can address mental stress in addition to it’s physical benefits.

Then comes Mars, the red planet. This can represent the student who comes to Yoga because he/she is curious about the philosophical aspects of Yoga.

Our planet Earth is next. This can represent the student who comes to Yoga for its traditional aspects.

The next plant is Venus. This can represent the student who comes to Yoga to gain wisdom.

The last planet closest to the sun is Mercury. This is for the student who comes to the practice to be be closer to God.

Lastly, the Sun. This represents attainment in Yoga and realization of the practitioner.

Our Universe is much larger than we originally thought. There are an estimated 100-200 billion galaxies. Some of those galaxies merge into one. This shows that the practice goes beyond what we can comprehend or perceive.

merging galaxies


The point of the essay is that our motivation changes with continued practice. The more we practice Yoga, the more we get a “glimpse” of our True Selves and hence get a step closer to the Sun. May you all one day “merge” your True Self with the divine in your practice.