Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
1897 ‒ 1981
From his living room in the slums of Bombay (Mumbai), this self-realized master became famous for brilliant, aphoristic, extemporized talks in which he taught an austere, minimalist Jnana Yoga based on his own experience. Many of these talks have been published in books. The earliest volume, I Am That, is widely regarded as a modern classic.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in Bombay (Mumbai) in March, 1897. His parents, who gave him the name Maruti, had a small farm at the village of Kandalgaon in Ratnagiri district in Mahrashtra. His father, Shivrampant, was a poor man who had been a servant in Bombay before turning to farming.
Maruti worked on the farm as a boy. Although he grew up with little or no formal education, he was exposed to religious ideas by his father’s friend Visnu Haribhau Gore, a pious Brahman.
Maruti’s father died when the boy was eighteen, leaving behind his wife and six children. Maruti and his older brother left the farm to look for work in Mumbai. After a brief stint as a clerk, Maruti opened a shop selling children’s clothes, tobacco, and leaf-rolled cigarettes, called beedies, which are popular in India. The shop was modestly successful and Maruti married in 1924. A son and three daughters soon followed.
When Maruti was 34, a friend of his, Yashwantrao Baagkar, introduced him to his guru, Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the head of the Inchegeri branch of the Navanath Sampradaya. The guru gave a mantra and some instructions to Maruti and died soon after. Sri Nisargadatta later recalled:
My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I am’ and to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, I would turn away my attention from it and remain with the sense ‘I am’. It may look too simple, even crude. My only reason for doing it was that my Guru told me so. Yet it worked! (I Am That, Chapter 75.)
Within three years, Maruti realized himself and took the new name Nisargadatta. He became a saddhu and walked barefoot to the Himalayas, but eventually returned to Mumbai where he lived for the rest of his life, working as a cigarette vendor and giving religious instruction in his home.
The success of I Am That, first published in 1973, made him internationally famous and brought many Western devotees to the tenement apartment where he gave satsangs.
At the time of his death in 1981 he was his guru’s successor as the head of the Inchegari branch of the Navanath Sampradaya. He was 84 years old.
Sri Nisargadatta’s teachings defy summarization, but he frequently recommended the practice that had led to his own realization in less than three years:
Just keep in mind the feeling “I am,” merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one. By repeated attempts you will stumble on the right balance of attention and affection and your mind will be firmly established in the thought-feeling “I am.” (I Am That, Chapter 16.)
One of Nisagadatta’s editors, Jean Dunn, has written a brief, condensed summary of the most important points of his teaching. We’ve printed it here.
The above biographical sketch was copied from Realization.org.
Some of Nisargadatta’s books are downloadable here.
Here you can find all of the posts concerning Nisargadatta Maharaj.