Freedom from Self-Identification
This is one of my favorite chapters from I am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, Chapter 98.
Maharaj: Can you sit on the floor? Do you need a pillow? Have you any questions to ask? Not that you need to ask, you can as well be quiet. To be, just be, is important. You need not ask anything, nor do anything. Such apparently lazy way of spending time is highly regarded in India. It means that for the time being you are free from the obsession with 'what next'. When you are not in a hurry and the mind is free from anxieties, it becomes quiet and in the silence something may be heard which is ordinarily too fine and subtle for perception. The mind must be open and quiet to see. What we are trying to do here is to bring our minds into the right state for understanding what is real.
Questioner: How do we learn to cut out worries?
M: You need not worry about your worries. Just be. Do not try to be quiet. Do not make 'being quiet' into a task to be performed. Don't be restless about 'being quiet', miserable about 'being happy'. Just be aware that you are and remain aware. Don't say, 'Yes, I am. What next?' There is no next in 'I am'. It is a timeless state.
Q: If it is a timeless state, it will assert itself anyhow.
M: You are what you are, timelessly, but of what use is it to you unless you know it and act on it? Your begging bowl may be of pure gold, but as long as you do not know it, you are a pauper. You must know your inner worth and trust it and express it in the daily sacrifice of desire and fear.
Q: If I know myself, shall I not desire and fear?
M: For some time the mental habits may linger in spite of the new vision, the habit of longing for the known past and fearing the unknown future. When you know these are of the mind only, you can go beyond them. As long as you have all sorts of ideas about yourself, you know yourself through the mist of these ideas. To know yourself as you are, give up all ideas. You cannot imagine the taste of pure water, you can only discover it by abandoning all flavourings. As long as you are interested in your present way of living, you will not abandon it. Discovery cannot come as long as you cling to the familiar. It is only when you realise fully the immense sorrow of your life and revolt against it, that a way out can be found.
Q: I can now see that the secret of India's eternal life lies in these dimensions of existence, of which India was always the custodian.
M: It is an open secret and there were always people willing and ready to share it. Teachers there are many, fearless disciples, very few.
Q: I am quite willing to learn.
M: Learning words is not enough. You may know the theory, but without the actual experience of yourself as the impersonal and unqualified centre of being, love and bliss, mere verbal knowledge is sterile.
Q: Then what am I to do?
M: Try to be, only to be. The all-important word is 'try'. Allot enough time daily for sitting quietly and trying, just trying, to go beyond the personality, with its addictions and obsessions. Don't ask how, it cannot be explained. You just keep on trying until you succeed. If you persevere, there can be no failure. What matters supremely is sincerity, earnestness; you must really have had surfeit of being the person you are, now see the urgent need of being free of this unnecessary self-identification with a bundle of memories and habits. This steady resistance against the unnecessary is the secret of success. After all, you are what you are every moment of your life, but you are never conscious of it, except, maybe, at the point of awakening from sleep. All you need is to be aware of being, not as a verbal statement, but as an ever-present fact. The awareness that you are will open your eyes to what you are.It is all very simple. First of all, establish a constant contact with your self, be with yourself all the time. Into self-awareness all blessings flow. Begin as a centre of observation, deliberate cognisance, and grow into a centre of love in action. 'I am' is a tiny seed which will grow into a mighty tree quite naturally, without a trace of effort.
Q: I see so much evil in myself. Must I not change it?
M: Evil is the shadow of inattention. In the light of self-awareness it will wither and fall off. All dependence on another is futile, for what others can give, others will take away. Only what is your own at the start will remain your own in the end. Accept no guidance but from within, and even then sift out all memories for they will mislead you. Even if you are quite ignorant of the ways and the means, keep quiet and look within; guidance is sure to come. You are never left without knowing what your next step should be. The trouble is that you may shirk it. The guru is there for giving you courage because of his experience and success. But only what you discover through your own awareness, your own effort, will be of permanent use to you. Remember, nothing you perceive is your own. Nothing of value can come to you from outside. It is only your own feeling and understanding that are relevant and revealing. Words, heard or read, will only create images in your mind, but you are not a mental image. You are the power of perception and action behind and beyond the image.
Q: You seem to advise me to be self-centred to the point of egoism. Must I not yield even to my interest in other people?
M: Your interest in others is egoistic, self-concerned, self-oriented. You are not interested in others as persons, but only as far as they enrich or ennoble your own image of yourself. And the ultimate in selfishness is to care only for the protection, preservation and multiplication of one's own body. By body I mean all that is related to your name and shape: your family, tribe, country, race, etc. To be attached to one's name and shape is selfishness. A man who knows that he is neither body nor mind cannot be selfish, for he has nothing to be selfish for. Or, you may say, he is equally 'selfish' on behalf of everybody he meets. Everybody's welfare is his own. The feeling 'I am the world, the world is myself' becomes quite natural. Once it is established, there is just no way of being selfish. To be selfish means to covet, acquire, accumulate on behalf of the part against the whole.
Q: One may be rich with many possessions, by inheritance, or marriage, or just good luck.
M: If you do not hold on to, it will be taken away from you.
Q: In your present state can you love another person as a person?
M: I am the other person, the other person is myself. In name and shape we are different, but there is no separation. At the root of our being we are one.
Q: Is it not so whenever there is love between people?
M: It is, but they are not conscious of it. They feel the attraction, but do not know the reason.
Q: Why is love selective?
M: Love is not selective, desire is selective. In love there are no strangers. When the centre of selfishness is no longer, all desires for pleasure and fear of pain cease; one is no longer interested in being happy; beyond happiness there is pure intensity, inexhaustible energy, the ecstasy of giving from a perennial source.
Q: Mustn't I begin by solving for myself the problem of right and wrong?
M: What is pleasant people take it to be good, and what is painful they take it to be bad.
Q: Yes, that is how it is with us, ordinary people. But how is it with you, at the level of oneness? For you what is good and what is bad?
M: What increases suffering is bad and what removes it is good.
Q: So you deny goodness to suffering itself. There are religions in which suffering is considered good and noble.
M: Karma, or destiny, is an expression of a beneficial law: the universal trend towards balance, harmony and unity. At every moment, whatever happens now, is for the best. It may appear painful and ugly, a suffering bitter and meaningless, yet considering the past and the future it is for the best, as the only way out of a disastrous situation.
Q: Does one suffer only for one's own sins?
M: One suffers along with what one thinks oneself to be. If you feel one with humanity, you suffer with humanity.
Q: And since you claim to be one with the sufferers, there is no limit in time or space to your suffering!
M: To be is to suffer. The narrower the circle of my self-identification, the more acute the suffering caused by desire and fear.
Q: Christianity accepts suffering as purifying and ennobling, while Hinduism looks at it with distaste.
M: Christianity is one way of putting words together and Hinduism is another. The real is behind and beyond words, incommunicable, directly experienced, explosive in its effect on the mind. It is easily had when nothing else is wanted. The unreal is created by imagination and perpetuated by desire.
Q: Can there be no suffering that is necessary and good?
M: Accidental or incidental pain is inevitable and transitory. Deliberate pain, inflicted with even the best of intentions, is meaningless and cruel.
Q: You would not punish crime?
M: Punishment is but legalised crime. In a society built on prevention, rather than retaliation, there would be very little crime. The few exceptions, as of unsound mind and body, would be treated medically.
Q: You seem to have little use for religion.
M: What is religion? A cloud in the sky. I live in the sky, not in the clouds, which are so many words held together. Remove the verbiage and what remains? Truth remains. My home is in the unchangeable, which appears to be a state of constant reconciliation and integration of opposites. People come here to learn about the actual existence of such a state, the obstacles to its emergence, and, once perceived, the art of stabilising it in consciousness, so that there is no clash between understanding and living. The state itself is beyond the mind and need not be learnt. The mind can only focus the obstacles. Seeing an obstacle as an obstacle is effective, because it is the mind acting on the mind. Begin from the beginning: give attention to the fact that you are. At no time can you say 'I was not' all you can say is, 'I do not remember'. You know how unreliable memory is. Accept that, engrossed in petty personal affairs you have forgotten what you are. Try to bring back the lost memory through the elimination of the known. You cannot be told what will happen, nor is it desirable. Anticipation will create illusions. In the inner search the unexpected is inevitable. The discovery is invariably beyond all imagination. Just as an unborn child cannot know life after birth, for it has nothing in its mind with which to form a valid picture, so is the mind unable to think of the real in terms of the unreal, except by negation: 'Not this, not that'. The acceptance of the unreal as real is the obstacle. To see the false as false and abandon the false brings reality into being. The states of utter clarity, immense love, utter fearlessness, these are mere words at the present, outlines without colour, hints at what can be. You are like a blind man expecting to see as a result of an operation, provided you do not shirk the operation! In the state that I am in, words do not matter at all. Nor is there any addiction to words. Only facts matter.
Q: There can be no religion without words.
M: Recorded religions are mere heaps of verbiage. Religions show their true face in action, in silent action. To know what a man believes, watch how he acts. For most people, service of their bodies and their minds is their religion. They may have religious ideas, but they do not act on them. They play with them and are often very fond of them, but they will not act on them.
Q: Words are needed for communication.
M: For exchange of information, yes, but real communication between people is not verbal. For establishing and maintaining relationship, affectionate awareness expressed in direct action is required. Not what you say, but what you do is that matters. Words are made by the mind and are meaningful only on the level of the mind. Take the word 'bread'. You can neither eat it nor live by it. It merely conveys an idea. It acquires meaning only with the actual eating. In the same sense I am telling you that the Normal State is not verbal. I may say it is wise love expressed in action, but these words convey little, unless you experience them in their fullness and beauty. Words have their limited usefulness, but we put no limits to them and bring ourselves to the brink of disaster. Our noble ideas are finely balanced by ignoble actions. We talk of God, Truth and Love, but instead of direct experience we have definitions. Instead of enlarging and deepening action we chisel our definitions. And we imagine that we know what we can define!
Q: How can one convey experience except through words?
M: Experience cannot be conveyed through words. It comes with action. A man who is intense in his experience will radiate confidence and courage. Others too will act and gain experience born out of action. Verbal teaching has its use, it prepares the mind for voiding itself of its accumulations. A level of mental maturity is reached when nothing external is of any value and the heart is ready to relinquish all. Then the real has a chance and it grasps it. Delays, if any, are caused by the mind being unwilling to see or to discard.
Q: Are we so totally alone?
M: Oh, no, we are not. Those who have, can give. And such givers are many. The world itself is a supreme gift, maintained by loving sacrifice. But the right receivers, wise and humble, are so few. 'Ask and you shall be given' is the eternal law. So many words you have learnt, so many you have spoken. You know everything, but you do not know yourself. For the self is not known through words. Only direct insight will reveal it. Look within, search within.
Q: It is very difficult to abandon words. Our mental life is one continuous stream of words.
M: It is not a matter of easy or difficult. You have no alternative. Either you try or you don't. It is up to you.
Q: I have tried many times and failed.
M: Try again. If you keep on trying, something may happen. But if you don't, you are stuck. You may know all the right words, quote the scriptures, be brilliant in your discussions, and yet remain a bag of bones. Or you may be inconspicuous and humble, an insignificant person altogether, yet glowing with loving kindness and deep wisdom.