The be-all & end-all of spiritual books — this Sunday I am featuring a few pages from I Am That, by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. The book is written in a question & answer format. What I have posted here is only part of the Maharaj’s answer to a question. If you would like to continue reading I posted a link at the end of the text.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj ( 1897-1981), one of the most important spiritual preceptors of the twentieth century, lived and taught in a small apartment in the slums of Bombay, India. For many years, he supported himself and his family by selling cheap goods in a small booth on the streets outside his tenement. His life was a telling parable of the absolute non-duality of being. The profound yet simple words of this extraordinary teacher are designed to jolt us into awareness of our original nature. Like the Zen masters of Old, Nisargadatta’s style is abrupt, provocative, and immensely profound cutting to the core and wasting little effort on the inessentials.
Page 104, Question #32
Questioner: We two came from far off countries; one of us is British, the other American. The world in which we were born is falling apart and, being young, we are concerned. The old people hope they will die their own death, but the young have no such hope. Some of us may refuse to kill, but none can refuse to be killed. Can we hope to set the world right within our lifetime?
Maharaj: What makes you think that the world is going to perish?
Q: The instruments of destruction have become unbelievably potent. Also, our very productivity has become destructive of nature and of our cultural and social values.
M: You are talking of the present times. It has been so everywhere and always. But the distressing situation may be temporary and local. Once over, it will be forgotten.
Q: The scale of the impending catastrophe is unbelievably big. We live in the midst of an explosion.
M: Each man suffers alone and dies alone. Numbers are irrelevant. There is as much death when a million die as when one perishes.
Q: Nature kills by the millions, but this does not frighten me. There may be tragedy or mystery in it, but no cruelty. What horrifies me is man-made suffering, destruction and desolation. Nature is magnificent in its doings and undoings. But there is meanness and madness in the acts of man.
M: Right. So, it is not suffering and death that are your problem, but the meanness and madness at their root. Is not meanness also a form of madness? And is not madness the misuse of the mind? Humanity’s problem lies in this misuse of the mind only. All the treasures of nature and spirit are open to man who will use his mind rightly.
Q: What is the right use of mind?
M: Fear and greed cause the misuse of the mind. The right use of mind is in the service of love, of life, of truth, of beauty.
Q: Easier said than done. Love of truth, of man, goodwill — what luxury! We need plenty of it to set the world right, but who will provide?
M: You can spend an eternity looking elsewhere for truth and love, intelligence and goodwill, imploring God and man — all in vain. You must begin in yourself, with yourself — this is the inexorable law. You cannot change the image without changing the face. First realize that your world is only a reflection of yourself and stop finding fault with the reflection. Attend to yourself, set yourself right — mentally and emotionally. The physical will follow automatically. You talk so much of reforms: economic, social, political. Leave alone the reforms and mind the reformer. What kind of world can a man create who is stupid, greedy, heartless?
Q: If we have to wait for a change of heart, we shall have to wait indefinitely. Yours is a counsel of perfection, which is also a counsel of despair. When all are perfect, the world will be perfect. What useless truism!
M: I did not say it. I only said: You cannot change the world before changing yourself. I did not say — before changing everybody. It is neither necessary, nor possible to change others. But if you can change yourself you will find that no other change is needed. To change the picture you merely change the film, you do not attack the cinema screen!
Q: How can you be so sure of yourself? How do you know that what you say is true?
M: It is not of myself that I am sure, I am sure of you. All you need is to stop searching outside what can be found only within. Set your vision right before you operate. You are suffering from acute misapprehension. Clarify your mind, purify your heart, sanctify your life — this is the quickest way to a change of your world.
Q: So many saints and mystics lived and died. They did not change my world.
M: How could they? Your world is not theirs, nor is their yours.
Q: Surely there is a factual world common to all.
M: The world of things, of energy and matter? Even if there were such a common world of things and forces, it is not the world in which we live. Ours is a world of feelings and ideas, of attractions and repulsions, of scales of values, of motives and incentives, a mental world altogether. Biologically we need very little, our problems are of a different order. Problems created by desires and fears and wrong ideas can be solved only on the level of the mind. You must conquer your own mind and for this you must go beyond it.
Q: What does it mean to go beyond the mind.
M: You have gone beyond the body, haven’t you? You do not closely follow your digestion, circulation or elimination. These have become automatic. In the same way the mind should work automatically, without calling for attention. This will not happen unless the mind works faultlessly. We are, most of our time mind and body-conscious, because they constantly call for help. Pain and suffering are only the body and the mind screaming for attention. To go beyond the body you must be healthy: To go beyond the mind, you must have your mind in perfect order. You cannot leave a mess behind and go beyond. The mess will bog you up. ‘Pick up your rubbish’ seems to be the universal law. And a just law too.
If you would like to read the book, this is a link to receive a free copy in PDF format.