Nisargadatta’s Amendment To Self-Inquiry

The late teaching of Nisargadatta is very precious. I offer but one example:

So I want you [he tells one visitor] to go back to the source from where you seem to have come. Stop there and find out. Look back, and see what is happening there. Don’t go with the current [allowing the mind to go outward] and then see what is what [objectively]. You will never be able to find out, because your travel in the stream is only conditioned… with concepts. You have heard things from people, you have read about it in books. That is why you are passing along the stream, is it not? Go back. Go to the source and find out where there is anything. That is the beauty of my teaching. It takes you back to the source and does not allow you to leave that source at all.

Ultimate Medicine, pp. 107-8

The Zen of Nisargadatta

Nisargadatta sounds like a true Zen master here!

Like a Zen master, he presents the visitor with a “challenge,” with a natural koan: find the source from which I Amness has arisen! And in a vein similar to that of Zen, he rejects book reading and mere study of the scriptures, arguing instead for the centrality of direct experience. Finally, he urges you, as any great Chan teaching master would, to stick to This (it “does not allow you to leave that source at all” [my emphasis]).

Self-inquiry in Nisargadatta’s Hands

And now I’d like to show how Nisargadatta’s teaching chimes with, while bringing out something implicit in, Ramana Maharshi’s teaching. For Ramana, Self-inquiry begins with the arising of thought. The first question, “To whom has this thought arisen?,” takes one back to the I-thought, or ego thought. From there, one then asks about the source from which the ego-I has arisen: “Who am I?” Or: “What is the source (i.e., the Absolute) of this rising ego-I?”

This is great, but we can use Nisargadatta to enhance Self-inquiry. Here’s how: Nisargadatta wants us not to start with thoughts but with I Amness. I know that I am. I am the conscious presence or the “sense of presence as such.” I know that I am, therefore, prior to the arising of egoity.

And he wants us not just to start with I Amness but to hold onto I Amness. This is key. Starting our meditations with I Amness, we can rest into I Amness, and then ask, “Who am I?,” therefrom. In this way, the investigation already starts way up the trail, so to speak. Hence, whenever thoughts arise, so long as there is no budging from I Amness, they are immediately attenuated.

Really, the inquiry operates fiercely, concentratedly, gently, wondrously in “this very tight space”: in the space ‘from’ I Amness ‘to’ the Absolute (parabrahman). The inquiry, in brief, is–remains, presses, abides–“at the very edge” of I Amness.

For an elaboration of this approach, listen to this guided meditation: