Sunday, June 02, 2013

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Nisargadatta Maharaj

I AM THAT, Talks with Nisargadatta Maharaj
Translated by Maurice Frydman
Revised and edited by Sudhakar S. Dikshit

I was 18 the first time I bought I AM THAT, but I was 39 before I was able to read it.  For this reason, I thought I might give a little advice about how to keep company with this book, a very beautiful and peculiar one, and unlike any other.

You will find your own way, as many others have before you.  After all, this is the favorite book of many of the strangest people you will ever meet.  In fact, there appear to be a significant number of people who do nothing, except read this book, and then accost strangers in cafés to tell them about it.

If you are new to this way of thinking, and you wish to read I AM THAT, or are struggling to read it now, it would help tremendously to first read a friendly introduction to Advaita Vedanta.  Nothing too ethereal, steer clear of the Neo-Advaitins for now, perhaps Arthur Osbourne’s Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge , or any basic text on the life and teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.  Sri Ramanasramam publishes a great number of useful books.  Aim for something rooted in the life of a person, preferably someone long-dead, and not a rarefied philosophical summary. 

If you seek a living teacher, please be wary.  These teachings have been commodified to a degree difficult to believe.  Advaita is now big business.  Genuine teachers are available, but you’ll need your wits about you!   

Above all, if you are struggling to read I AM THAT, I suggest abandoning a front-to-back reading for hopscotch.  (I do not doubt some people have attained enlightenment while hopscotching around this book.)

Where to begin?  I suggest Chapter 48: Awareness is Free.  Then turn to the chapters which focus on Sri Nisargadatta’s own experience, such as chapters 57 and 78.  Then you could turn to chapters which address essential matters in the clearest possible way, such as Chapter 25: Hold on to ‘I AM’, or Chapter 70, renouncing desire, or Chapters 95 and 8 on inner peace and cultivating acceptance.

Besides this, I found it very useful to create, among the end pages of the book, a personal index of what I found most useful and most inspiring.  A combination of reading and rereading is very well-suited to I AM THAT. 

At some point in the process, you may find your sense of life and yourself and the world disintegrating.  This is normal.  Just take it easy, OK?  Take long walks and, for goodness sake, keep your mouth shut!  Otherwise you’ll soon be cornering strangers in cafés.  “I read the most mind-blowing amazing book.  It’s called I AM THAT.  All the mysteries of life are in it!  I think I might be enlightened.  Shouldn’t we be sleeping together?”

The crazy people are not wrong about this book.  The mysteries are indeed here, with stunning clarity and endless determined good humor.  It’s an adventure to read I AM THAT.  But if you get stuck, don’t feel you have to read it back to front, play hopscotch.


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