17 April Today India History
Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian spiritual guru who taught the philosophy of Advaita (Nondualism), was born on 17 April 1897.
As a child he was originally called Maruti Shivrampant Kambli.
Born in Bombay, he was raised in a village in present-day Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. He had four sisters and two brothers. His father, who worked in Bombay as a domestic help, died in 1915, after which Maruti went to Bombay. He did odd jobs, including selling beedis and working as a clerk. He married Sumatibai in 1924.
A life-changing event occurred in 1933 when he met Siddharameshwar Maharaj, his guru. Almost instantly, there was a connection between the two. Maruti became Siddharameshwar’s beloved disciple, and obeyed his guru in totality.
His guru urged him to focus on the sense of the words “I am”. Nisargadatta Maharaj would spend many days in silence and meditation.
Much later, he recalled: “My teacher told me to hold on to the sense ‘I am’ tenaciously and not to swerve from it even for a moment. I did my best to follow his advice and in a comparatively short time I realised within myself the truth of his teaching. All I did was to remember his teaching, his face, his words constantly. This brought an end to the mind; in the stillness of the mind I saw myself as I am — unbound.”
A new awakening
After Siddharameshwar’s death in a few years, Nisargadatta became the spiritual leader of the Inchegeri wing of Navnath Sampradaya. He started to visit places across the country in 1937 but came back to his family in Bombay next year. For the rest of his life he would remain in Bombay.
From the early 1950s his following started growing.
According to Nisargadatta Maharaj, all personalities and memories of oneself are ultimately illusions, and only the Divine Self is real. Therefore, he would tell disciples and visitors, when quizzed about his past, that nothing of the sort had really happened.
In 1973 the book I Am That: Conversations with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was published in Marathi and English. It is considered to be an important work on his teachings.
Throughout his life he remained committed to the teachings of his own guru. As Nisargadatta Maharaj once said: “The guru and shishya [disciple] are like two kernels in one jack-fruit, one raw, the other ripe. The raw one wants to be ripe; the ripe one is ripe and wants nothing more. While the raw one feels different it will continue to demand, to want something. But there is no difference—it is all jackfruit, all the same stuff. The difference is only felt by the unripe.”
Nisargadatta Maharaj continued to teach from his house in Bombay. Many westerners were among his disciples. He died on 8 September 1981.
According to Edith Powel, a disciple who compiled his final teachings in a book: “The message which comes through loud and clear . . . is to turn to what you were before your so-called birth, the emergence of a particular body which you have identified yourself so willingly and unthinkingly.”
Indeed, one of the Maharaj’s central philosophies was: “Nothing is wrong with you, but the ideas you have of yourself are altogether wrong. It is not you who desires, fears and suffers, it is the person built on the foundation of your body by circumstances and influences. You are not that person.”
Also on this day:
1975 — Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, second President of India, passed away
1977 — Dinesh Mongia, Indian cricketer, was born