The following excerpt from an interview between Jean Dunn and The Inner Directions Journal. It’s followed by a selection from the personal (unpublished) journal she kept of additional dialogues during the period of 1977-1981.
Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981) was born in the city of Bombay, as Maruti Shivrampant Kampli. As a child, Maruti displayed an introspective, independent and resourceful nature which eventually led him to open several shops in Bombay, selling bidis (hand-made cigarettes). Like all young Hindu men, his marriage was arranged, and he and his wife had four children. The successful bidi businesses were enough to keep the family in moderate comfort. However, that was not enough to satisfy the inner contentment that Maruti longed for. Imbued with a deeply religious temperament, he adopted several practices designed to fulfill this inner longing. One of Maruti’s friends had been visiting a holy man in Bombay and convinced Maruti to join him on the next visit. This was the turning point in Maruti’s life. His thirst for Truth ultimately lead him to Siddharmareshwar Maharaj. Accepting the holy man as his teacher, Maruti began his spiritual practice with great faith and determination.
In 1936, after the death of Siddharmareshwar Maharaj, Maruti suddenly abandoned his family and prosperous businesses and began wandering as a mendicant throughout India. During these wanderings, Maruti chanced to meet a fellow disciple who persuaded him that an active life of dispassionate action was far more meaningful than such wanderings. Maruti took this advice and returned to Bombay to find only one of his businesses still thriving. Feeling that this was enough for his modest needs, he worked during the day at the bidi shop while devoting himself to the quest for Self-Realization. Maruti felt the need to have separate quarters to intensify his quest, so he constructed an upper floor to his modest Bombay flat. He would retire to this residential loft to spend time in inner solitude. Later, when the depths of his Realization could no longer be hidden, visitors came from all over the world to visit Nisargadatta Maharaj and have their doubts cleared. This small upstairs room is the place where Maharaj would meet seekers throughout the balance of his life.
Maharaj spoke from his own direct experience, hammering away at visitors’ conceptions and “intellectual” understanding of truth and freedom. Maharaj taught that one is already free and has never been bound. By turning within, one will see that the mind is a collection of thoughts, simply a shadow on the screen of consciousness. His was an intense look that pierced into the very depths of the soul, infinitely compassionate to those who desired to wake up from the dream of ignorance. Repeatedly, Maharaj asks those who seek to find the “seeker” and discover their real nature.
IDJ: Was your introduction to spiritual life through Ramana Maharshi or were there other influences?
Jean Dunn: Well, yes. That’s a long story. I was interested in Joel Goldsmith. All my life, it seems I have been searching for something. We all are searching but usually in the wrong places; it does lead us on.
IDJ: Did Joel mention Ramana Maharshi’s name to you?
Jean: No. I was told that he was preparing to visit India when he died.
IDJ: When did you first hear about Nisargadatta Maharaj?
Jean: About one year before I first saw him. I was staying in Sri Ramanasramam (the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi), and friends were regularly going to see him (Maharaj) in Bombay. I felt there was no need to see anyone else since the Maharshi was my teacher. I put off the trip twice. The third time friends came and asked me to go, I agreed. So I did, and that was it.
IDJ: After seeing Maharaj did you return to Ramanasramam?
Jean: Yes, I continued to stay at the Ashram. When Maharaj got very sick, during the last couple of years of his life, I moved to Bombay.
IDJ: Can you give me a brief description of what took place daily in Maharaj’s flat? Did he have a special routine?
Jean: Early in the morning, about 6:00 a.m., there was arati (offering of lights) with a group of us. I would arrive before it started and help clean up the room from the day before. After arati I went out for coffee and returned to help Maharaj hang the garlands and put kumkum (vermilion) on the pictures of different saints hanging in the room. There was a meditation for an hour, then bhajans (devotional singing). From 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon Maharaj answered questions from visitors. When the visitors left, we usually went out for tea or buttermilk. Maharaj would usually buy something for his granddaughter; he was crazy about her. When Maharaj rested in the afternoon, I would often go and just sit with him. There wasn’t another meeting until 5:00 p.m. and this lasted until 7:00 p.m. Following the evening session there were bhajans, then Maharaj read from various Hindu scriptures, explaining the meaning in Marathi, the local language.
IDJ: Maharaj did not use traditional Vedantic terminology to describe the approach to truth and the removal of ignorance. Would you say that was one of the unique aspects of his teachings?
Jean: To me it was. He was so natural, and yet you knew that he knew he was not that body. He let that body do whatever it was doing, whatever its nature was. I don’t know how to explain it.
IDJ: Did Maharaj provide any type of initiation to those who accepted him as a teacher?
Jean: Yes. He gave me a mantra.
IDJ: Did Maharaj recognize a formal Guru-disciple relationship?
Jean: Well, you see we’re not separate. There’s no separation; we are one. For the sake of conversation he may have said so, but he told me and the others there, “Don’t imagine any separation; we are one.”
Maharaj left everything after his Guru died; he was going to the Himalayas and decided to stay there until he got Realization. Along the way he was walking barefoot in an area where there were no houses to be seen. As soon as he felt hungry, he noticed smoke coming from a house on his left, so he approached it to ask the residents for food. The residents fed him and he drank water from their well. When he went back to the road and turned to look behind, from where he had just come, there was no house there at all.
Later, in the Himalayas, he met a fellow disciple who persuaded him that it was more fruitful spiritually to go back into the world. So he did and he returned to Bombay.
IDJ: At the time Maharaj returned to Bombay was that what we would call a period of sadhana or spiritual practice?
Jean: Yes. That’s when he built the room upstairs where we all met. He only had one business left out of eight, so he took care of that business while all of his spare time was spent upstairs in meditation. It took him three years, after his teacher died, to realize his true nature.
IDJ: Is there anything Maharaj specifically said or did that helped to transform your own life spiritually?
Jean: It was simply what he was. I probably needed all the teachings; just being in his presence was the key.
IDJ: Is it correct to say that Maharaj didn’t stress any preconditions for serious seekers?
Jean: He said you must do your homework.
IDJ: What do you think he meant by homework?
Jean: I think he meant one must have been on a spiritual path and have studied the various teachings.
IDJ: Were there any other restrictions such as diet, etc.?
Jean: No, Maharaj was not a vegetarian.
IDJ: What about traditional practices?
Jean: No, though he did them at one time when he was young. The only thing he continued to carry on, in a traditional sense, were bhajans.
IDJ: Maurice Frydman said that “simplicity and humility are keynotes of his life and teachings.” How would you summarize his message to someone who is reading this for the first time?
Jean: If you’re seeking the Truth, this is it. But it’s not something everyone wants. Most people want something to make their life better: money, a better house, and so forth. This has nothing to do with the world. That’s why loving a Guru is so helpful. That love is your own Self.
IDJ: We don’t often find, in reading Maharaj’s teachings, the integration of Love and Wisdom that were manifest in him. Do you find that this understanding may be missing on the part of the reader?
Jean: Yes, particularly in European or Western countries. Until you meet your Guru or become one with the Guru within, the understanding is mostly intellectual. Maharaj said that this generation is ready for this teaching. There was a time when devotion to a God was prevalent; now people want Truth and the search is with the intellect.
IDJ: Could you expand on this further?
Jean: When you become one with your Self, it’s pure love. You can’t help but feel love and that love flows out. This love combines with knowledge, and you yourself are that knowledge. We have been seeking knowledge outside, but it’s right here where we are.
IDJ: Did Maharaj encourage you to record his conversations, or did he have any direct participation in their subsequent publication?
Jean: No. I had been home to visit my family, and when I came back, there was no recording taking place. The talks were so deep that Suresh Mehta and I got a tape recorder and asked Vanaja, who attended daily, to record the talks for us. When she sent me the completed tapes, I just started transcribing them. It was continuing without anyone mentioning it until Maharaj discovered what I was doing. He then gave me his blessings, and it just developed into the books.
IDJ: Are there certain aspects of Maharaj’s teachings that you would hold forth for those here in the West?
Jean: He stressed meditation and being your true Self.
There is no need for effort, only understanding. What effort can give you that which you already are? Simply observe that which you have been identifying with, with detachment, make no judgments; do not try to change anything. What is this thing which you have identified with? You will find that it is just like a robot or computer, which has been programmed by others. A child lives in pure Consciousness at a very young age. The mother tells it: “You are a boy (or girl), your name is ——, I am your mother, this is your father.” The programming starts. Others, such as teachers, friends, etc. also program the child. The actions and reactions of that “person” are based on this programming.
The following selection is from Jean’s Journals: Being with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
December 5, 1980 (5:00 pm)
Questioner: In meditation, there is interference from my senses.
Maharaj: Don’t worry about the interference from your senses . . .
Focus your attention on the knowledge you are. You know you are. You are sitting here. You know you are sitting here. Without words you know you are. Put your attention there. Abide in that and the interference will become less and less.
Questioner: How do I do in order to put attention on my own Self?
Maharaj: Right now, you know you are. You don’t have to interpret yourself by any words. Just be that to the exclusion of everything else, which you are not. You know you are not the body, so you need not focus your attention on the body. You are not the mind because you can watch the mind, so exclude the mind and the body and just be.
Questioner: When we exclude all that what will remain?
Mullarpattan (translator): You.
Questioner: Then where am I?
Maharaj: Wherever you were, there only you are. Remember one thing firmly, you are not the body. This question “where am I” arises from the standpoint of body. You are not the body.
Questioner: When I think where am I?
Maharaj: Location is with reference to the body. First try to understand, assimilate it.
Questioner: I listen to what M. says with my senses, but my senses may be wrong.
Maharaj: That motive force you are behind the senses is missing. Can your senses listen to the talks? If you are not behind the senses can the senses receive the talks? Is it clear to you?
Questioner: When I listen does it come from outside or do I listen to my own ear?
Maharaj: You listen from all sides, don’t worry about the ear, the eyes or the nose. The knowledge you are is the primary principle, because of that you listen, you see, you talk, everything.
Questioner: And with what do I listen? From my eyes, my ears, from my nose?
Mullarpattan: Are you inquiring about your senses or about your own Self? The point is you must know about your own Self. You are looking away from the Self.
Questioner: Then do I remove the body?
Maharaj: No, you cannot remove it. This is fuel or fodder to sustain your “I AMNESS.” All the food which you consume is put into a digestible form which is called the body and because of the consumption of the body, “I AMNESS” is sustained . . . If your body is removed, “I AMNESS” will not be there.
Questioner: Where does it go?
Maharaj: Don’t worry as to where it goes. First of all, try to know what you are, what is that principle?
Questioner: The Self is not an imagination. One is what one thinks of oneself. But with what does one think of oneself?
Maharaj: It is beyond the grasp of your thoughts. You cannot think about your Self. Keep aside the thoughts.
Questioner: With what do I experience?
Mullarpattan: With feelings.
Questioner: Where are the feelings?
Mullarpattan: Words are not going to convey to you what you are. You are sitting here, you know you are, it is very subtle—you have to be prior to the mind.
Questioner: Nothing can be understood about this if my body is not there. This is the highest teaching here. Where does the teaching come from?
Maharaj: It is all over. This is only a mouthpiece . . . like the radio waves are all over but only when you have a radio it gives the sound. It is latent everywhere—even in inert material, but gradually it comes into the body, becomes very mature, and then it bursts out. It is not any person talking. It is the nature, spontaneously.
Questioner: When you remain centered in that, is there a method?
Maharaj: There are umpteen methods but I give only one method. I am telling you—you know you are—to the exclusion of everything. Just be. That is the only method. Why do you want to start this practice or that practice?
Questioner: I know that I am. But that changes.
Maharaj: Who knows that the changes take place?
Questioner: Something that remains quiet. Sometimes I am more quiet than others.
Mullarpattan: That means there is some principle which watches all types of quietude. Recede, recede, go behind that. Very quiet also, that is. You are apart from that very quiet also. Be that you which watches that very quiet also.
Questioner: I am quiet . . .
Mullarpattan: You say “I” am quiet—who says, “I am quiet?”
Questioner: That is quiet.
Mullarpattan: Who says That is quiet? Who told you about That?
Questioner: I am always moving towards quietness.
Maharaj: You watch quietude. You are still here. Be this you.
Questioner: I no longer pay attention to the body. I seem to become aware that I am moving towards quietude.
Maharaj: Very good.
Questioner: What I am searching for is quietness. Is there a necessary approach to arrive at quietness?
Mullarpattan: A state will come where there will be no you and no quietness.
Questioner: In the meantime, I observe this movement towards quietness.
Mullarpattan: Oh, yes, that is to be done for a long time. Then knowledge will sprout in you. Whatever necessary will come out of you.
Questioner: Knowledge then is quiet. I just witness the quiet?
Maharaj: You can go. You are graduated.
Mullarpattan: Remain in that state.
Questioner: If I am and I know I am, then why do I have to go into any formal meditation. All the time I know I am, so what is meditation for?
Maharaj: Do you realize it? This teaching is for mature people. You understand through your intellect. That is not you.
NOTE: Maharaj normally does not use the common spiritual vocabulary. He talks in ordinary language. He does not drive home sublime sentences, he drives home the truth.
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Jean Dunn lived in India for several years before she met Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. During those years, she lived at Sri Ramanasramam as a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. In 1977, after numerous invitations to go to meet the great sage Nisargadatta, she made the trip from Tiruvannamalai to Bombay and met her Guru.
Jean had the rare opportunity of being close to Nisargadatta Maharaj. Over the years, she published three books that contain transcripts of Maharaj’s talks that were recorded during the years she was with him.