Nisargadatta Was Not A Sage

Yesterday I set forth 3 propositions:

Proposition 1: Enlightenment is the realization of the most real.

Proposition 2: Full, or great, enlightenment is the realization that the most real is the highest good.

Proposition 3: Wisdom is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the highest good.

For good measure, let a fourth:

Proposition 4: Beauty is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the most fitting.

Alas, Proposition 4 has nothing to do with this post, which takes up something that Nisargadatta, that great Indian teacher, said.

In Seeds of Consciousness: The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, we read the following:

Q[uestioner]: What does one do about the practical side of this relative existence? That is, the working, the achieving, the goal-oriented society that we live in, the families we have; what is to be done for them?

M[aharaj]: This world expression is out of the five-elemental consciousness, whose responsibility is to take care of this manifest world. The world is the expression of your consciousness, but you [i.e., who you truly, ultimately are–AT] are not the consciousness. Understand this principle [of Awareness] and carry out your life as you like. (104)

In other words, just see your True Nature directly (Proposition 1) and establish yourself in and as your True Nature (Proposition 2) and let the rest take care of itself (“carry out your life as you like”).

Well, I don’t buy it. Yes (I might joke) to Prop. 1 and yes to Prop. 2, but Prop. 3 does not follow from 1 and 2.

This is where Nisargadatta, despite how great his teaching was, was wrong and the Ancient Greeks were right. Wisdom is concerned with the practical conduct of life. It is exactly where the rubber hits the road. And while it’s true that, as one Chan poem stated, “The Way needs no cultivation,” in matters of practical conduct cultivation is necessary.

In my definition (Prop. 3), wisdom is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the highest good. This is a question of forms, of modulated movements, of subtle adjustments, all of which require practice, experience, discernment, reflection, and humility.

It’s true that Maharaj really cared the most about Proposition 2. He was candid about the fact that the only reason to come to see him was to find out your True Self. Wonderful. But this is not enough.

A wise person is a transparent vessel through which the most real can easily, readily express itself in the form of the highest good. Many fields, as it were, will have to be cultivated in order for that expression to be precisely what is needed, mete, and just so right here and right now.

This is just to say, by implication, that an enlightened teacher is not necessarily a sage. A sage is something more. Which is just fine so long as we remain clear that this is so. Let’s stop asking the guru, the roshi, the rinpoche how best to live.