In Just Three Years, A Singular Practice Led Him to Enlightenment

Can the path to self-realization be this simple?


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“When I met my Guru, he told me, ‘You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. In all my spare time, I would spend it looking at myself in silence. And what a difference it made, and how soon! It took me only three years to realize my true nature.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Nisargadatta’s direct, no-frills teaching has had a profound effect on many other spiritual teachers, including:

Ram Dass. Ram Dass was a close student of Nisargadatta Maharaj, and Maharaj’s teachings on self-inquiry and realizing one’s true nature significantly influenced Ram Dass’ teachings.

Gangaji: Gangaji is a spiritual teacher who teaches a direct and uncompromising self-inquiry style similar to Maharaj’s teachings.

Eckhart Tolle: Eckhart Tolle’s teachings on the present moment and the power of awareness are also influenced by Maharaj’s teachings.

Humble Beginnings

Nisargadatta, the only son of poor farmers in Maharashtra, India, had to work hard from a young age. He started working as a shopkeeper at 14. After his father's death in 1915, Nisargadatta moved to Bombay to support his family. He started working as a junior clerk but soon began a business venture. Although he had humble beginnings, he possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. He started a small retail shop specializing in selling beedis (leaf-rolled cigarettes), eventually leading to an eight-store chain.

It wasn’t long before he yearned for something deeper in life. In 1933, a friend introduced Nisargadatta to his Guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the head of the Inchegiri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya. A short three years later, his Guru died.

He had only been with his Guru for a short time. But the impact his Guru made on Nisargadatta was profound. Shortly after his Guru passed away, Nisargadatta became self-realized.

Nisargadatta Did Not Practice Any Particular Form of Breathing, Meditation, or Other Yogic Practices

“I did my best to follow his (my Guru’s) advice, and in a comparatively short time, I realized within myself the truth of his teaching. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, meditation, or study of scriptures.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Nisargadatta did not adhere to specific spiritual practices such as meditation, controlled breathing, or studying scriptures. Instead, he devoted himself to a single instruction that he received from his Guru. According to Nisargadatta, his Guru imparted the following instruction to him, and he followed it diligently.

“I simply followed my teacher’s instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being ‘I AM’ and stay in it…My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I AM’ and to give attention to nothing else…Watch the sense, ‘I AM,’ find your real Self.”

Whenever he had spare time, Nisargadatta focused on ‘I AM’ and nothing else.

Simple Does Not Mean Easy

Nisargadatta’s prescription for self-realization is simple: focus on ‘I AM.’ There are no complex yoga postures or breathing rituals. However, just because it is simple doesn’t mean it is easy. Try focusing on yourself, existing where you are sitting or standing, and time yourself. For most people, a thought will come up in just a few seconds, and they will have forgotten to focus only on Self (I AM).

The Mystic G. Gurdjieff’s Version of I AM

In the early 1900s, G. Gurdjieff formed the Fourth Way School. Gurdjieff taught that people are not conscious of themselves and thus live in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep.” However, it is possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness and serve our purpose as human beings. One of his core teachings was that of Self-Remembering.

P. D. Ouspensky was one of Gurdjieff’s primary students and teachers of The Fourth Way. According to Ouspensky, Self-Remembering is distinct from self-observation or witnessing the Self. It means to be aware of oneself, expressed as ‘I AM.’ This state of self-awareness is not a function, thought, or feeling but a unique state of consciousness.

Self-Remembering is not the same as mindfulness, but it takes mindfulness to a new level when brought into mindfulness. Self-Remembering propels mindfulness and being in the present moment to a new level of consciousness. It involves developing a consistent and constant awareness of one’s ‘I’ or Self, signified by the realization ‘I AM.’ This means being aware of one’s existence in every moment and sensing the presence of I AM. This heightened state of being is referred to as true Self-presence.

Identification Stops I AM

Self-Remembering can be challenging. It’s common for individuals to lose this Self-presence and become identified with something outside their Self. This could be an object or activity in the external world or even a thought or emotion in the internal world. This state of losing oneself is referred to as ‘identification.’

When one realizes they have become identified with something external, they can consciously redirect their attention back to Self-Remembering(I AM) and re-enter the state of Self-presence. By practicing Self-Remembering for extended periods, one can evolve to higher levels of consciousness, expand their awareness, and begin to perceive the world through the eyes of the Eternal Self that they authentically are.

Osho Talks About Gurdjieff’s Self-Remembering

The colorful Indian Guru Osho beautifully describes Self-Remembering, I AM, in the following:

“Gurdjieff used the method of Self-Remembering…Remember “I AM” — whatsoever you are doing. You are drinking water, you are eating your food — remember, “I AM…” It is difficult because you already think you know you are…it is a very potent technique…Do not be so much merged, involved, or identified…Let this “I AM” be a constant factor of awareness.

Suddenly, you are awake at your center one day, functioning for the first time. And then the whole world becomes a dream, then you can know that your dreaming is a dream. And when you know that your dreaming is a dream, dreaming stops…With this awakening, there is no misery; after this awakening, there is no death; through this awakening, there is no more fear. You become, for the first time, free of everything…You become just love. Not loving, you become just love!”

Self-Remembering, or, as Nisargadatta says, attending to the sense of I AM, goes by different terms such as Self-Abiding and Self-Presence. However one wishes to label it, it is a powerful component of self-realization that is sometimes overlooked. For example, as mentioned above, bringing Self-Remembering into the practice of mindfulness can propel one to states of consciousness that are difficult to reach without a firm sense of I AM. Bringing the I AM into yoga can take it to new levels. Because it is simple, Self-Remembering can be brought into almost any activity in life.

In the words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, “Give your heart and mind to the ‘I AM,’ what is it, how is it, what is its source, its life, its meaning. It is like digging a well. You reject all that is not water till you reach the life-giving spring.”

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Carl Gerber (aka Kristopher Raphael)
New Earth Consciousness

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