I Am That
7 min read ⌚
Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
What if you are not who you think you are?
And what if you are something much more and much different?
What if, instead of merely an “I” you are “We” and, even more, “Everything”?
In “I Am That” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj delves deep into questions of this kind.
And really makes you wonder.
Who Should Read “I Am That”? And Why?
There aren’t many books on mindfulness and spirituality that have been as widely acclaimed as “I Am That” by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
It brought Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj – before this book a humble Indian guru who believed only in the oral transmission of his teachings – worldwide recognition and numerous followers from Europe and the United States.
Today, spiritual authors such as Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra consider it “a modern spiritual classic.”
Should we say more?
About Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta Maharaj, born Maruti Shivrampant Kambli, was an Indian guru, who gained worldwide recognition after the English translation of his talks was compiled and published by Maurice Frydman.
Born on April 17, 1897, Maharaj was introduced to his guru Siddharameshwar Maharaj in 1933, after which he started practicing self-inquiry.
He lost his wife a decade later and his daughter in 1948. He died himself on September 8, 1981, from throat cancer, at the age of 84.
During his life, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj didn’t write any book. All of the books published under his name are compilations by some of his students of his talks which he regularly held in his home.
“I Am That” is the most famous among them.
A spiritual classic, that illuminates the path to find yourself through the Dr Wolinskys personal experience, interactions and understandings.
In the sixth chapter of the “Chandogya Upanishad,” the 24-year old Shvetaketu Aruneya returns home, 12 years after his father has sent him to school, the first one in his family to have that privilege.
The first question that Svetaketu’s father Uddalaka Aruni asks his son is whether he has returned with the knowledge of that by which “we perceive what cannot be perceived, we know what cannot be known.”
Svetaketu answers in the negative, asking his father what that actually is.
His father explains, using the famous Advaita precept: tat tvam asi.
Tat = That
Tvam = You
Asi = Are
“That thou art.”
But what is that exactly?
In “I Am That” – a collection of 101 short ruminations (actually Q&As) on many different deeply interrelated topics – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj tries to answer this question.
And already in the three epigraphs which precede the contemplations, the transcriber and English translator, Maurice Frydman, and the editor of the book, Sudhakar S. Dixit, give a tentative answer: that is everything that you don’t know that you are, the limitless existence, the absolute, God:
That in whom reside all beings and who resides in all beings, who is the giver of grace to all, the Supreme Soul of the universe, the limitless being – I am that. (Amritabindu Upanishad)
That which permeates all, which nothing transcends and which, like the universal space around us, fills everything completely from within and without, that Supreme non-dual Brahman – that thou art. (Sankaracharya)
Or in the words of Nisargadatta Maharaj himself:
The seeker is he who is in search of himself.
Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’ After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality.
To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not.
Discover all that you are not – body, feelings thoughts, time, space, this or that – nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive.
The clearer you understand on the level of mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker will you come to the end of your search and realize that you are the limitless being.
There is no better summary than the quote above of the contents of this book, which, on the face of it, is beyond summarizing.
Maharaj himself wouldn’t have wanted that, suspicious of any finality.
The book of my conversations,” he once said to a disciple, “should not be taken as the last word on my teachings. I had given some answers to questions of certain individuals. Those answers were intended for those people and not for all. Instruction can be on an individual basis only. The same medicine cannot be prescribed for all.
In other words, never forget that “I Am That” is not a panacea – it’s just a series of conversations with living/breathing people which Maurice Frydman, a Jewish refugee from Warsaw, wanted to preserve for eternity.
Everything that is said here is immediately lost,” he said to his teacher “though it could be of a great benefit for those looking for truth.
Nisargadatta Maharaj allowed Frydman to record the conversations and subsequently translate them into English.
But he wouldn’t allow anyone to think that these conversations are his final word on matters of spirituality and enlightenment.
Because even though the final destination is the same (surrendering to the limitless being), the path to reach it (giving up your identification with your body) differs between individuals.
Some may have to break through their physical greed, others through their spiritual materialism.
But all will have to stop thinking in terms of abstract intellectual concepts and start surrendering to the truth by way of earnestness, the surest sign of maturity.
Feel free to explore more by clicking on any of the 101 questions here and finding out Nisargadatta Maharaj’s answer.
Yes – that’s a PDF of the whole book.
So as to tickle your fancy, we’ll leave you with the most beautiful sentence you’ll read today, straight from the 57th chapter of this book, suggestively titled “Beyond Mind There Is No Suffering”:
Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both.
Key Lessons from “I Am That”
1. Stop Identifying Yourself with Your Body… and Everything Else
2. “Who Am I” Is the Only Question Which Really Matters
3. Complete Self-Surrender Is Liberation
Stop Identifying Yourself with Your Body… and Everything Else
You are not your body.
You are not your hands, your legs, your mouth, your eyes.
You are not even your own feelings.
Everything which you perceive is an illusion.
Or, to turn that around, the very fact that you can perceive something (see, smell, feel, touch, taste) is evidence of its illusory nature.
Only the eternal is real.
And the perceivable is ephemeral.
“Who Am I” Is the Only Question Which Really Matters
Channeling his best Descartes – which is interesting to think about – Nisargadatta Maharaj claims that the only thing you can be sure of in this world is that you are and that you can think about that which you are.
However, unlike Descartes, Maharaj doesn’t stop here. Even when you doubt that you are, he says, you are still here – and the very existence of doubt is the evidence of this.
You must transcend it = by eliminating every shred of evidence that you are this, i.e., the particular.
Because you are that, the absolute.
The place where your individual consciousness melds with the consciousness of God.
Complete Self-Surrender Is Liberation
When there is a total surrender,” says Nisargadatta Maharaj in the 84th chapter of “I Am That,” complete relinquishment of all concern with one’s past, presents, and future, with one’s physical and spiritual security and standing, a new life dawns, full of love and beauty.
In the Absolute, there is no such thing as time. And you can only experience it when you start caring about what you have been or what you will become.
And surrender what you currently are to the truth.
“Complete self-surrender by itself is liberation.”
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“I Am That Quotes”
Once you know that death happens to the body and not to you, you just watch your body falling off like a discarded garment. Click To Tweet
The real you is timeless and beyond birth and death. The body will survive as long as it is needed. It is not important that it should live long. Click To Tweet
Love says 'I am everything.' Wisdom says 'I am nothing.' Between the two, my life flows. Click To Tweet
You may die a hundred deaths without a break in the mental turmoil. Or, you may keep your body and die only in the mind. The death of the mind is the birth of wisdom. Click To Tweet
Have your being outside this body of birth and death and all your problems will be solved. They exist because you believe yourself born to die. Undeceive yourself and be free. You are not a person. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
As we said in the “Who Should Read” section, “I Am That” is considered “a modern spiritual classic” with Adyashanti (Steven Gray) going as far as saying that the book is “the clearest expression” one can find in the matters it talks about.
And true – even though you’ll be familiar with many of the ideas extrapolated in this book, you will certainly enjoy reading it, because Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj has a way of making clearer – even the things you know.
And the same goes for the things you don’t know as well.
Learn more and more, in the speed that the world demands.