Jean Dunn speaks about life with Nisargadatta Maharaj. This interview was recorded by Malcolm Tillis in 1981, while Jean was living in Bombay, India.
Jean Dunn: I am just a normal person of fifty-nine who has been searching all her life until, ten years ago, she heard of Ramana Maharshi. She visited his ashram, went back to the States, then returned to India, where she has been living for the past four years. Two years ago she met Nisargadatta Maharaj, and he became her guru.
Did he give you some form of initiation?
He gave me a mantra and initiation.
How did you first hear about him?
At Ramana Maharshi’s ashram. Many people come to see him; there seems to be a tie.
Is it because of the similarity of Self-Inquiry?
It’s no longer that. Maharaj has had cancer of the throat for the past year, so his teachings have been polished; he is saying he’s no longer the consciousness, he observes the consciousness—he’s the Absolute. His teachings are now on that line.
Can you tell me something about his book, I Am That?
It’s in the form of questions and answers. The fifth edition is just coming out. It came out in two volumes in 1973, having been collected and edited by Maurice Frydman, who in late life became a disciple of Maharaj. There has been no further book published. Last year I asked Maharaj—I had been recording all his question and answer periods—if he wanted me to put them together for a book. He said yes. So Seeds of Consciousness will come out this year. Another volume will appear later: Beyond Consciousness.
In spite of his illness he gives darshan every day?
He is in much pain at times but manages to talk twice a day. He is one of the hidden saints, so he only draws a few people at a time. His teachings aren’t for the general public—we are blessed to listen to him.
How does he usually teach?
Up until his illness, it was by questions and answers. Now he will no longer teach the ABCs—he doesn’t have the physical strength; he tells us the position, then it’s up to us.
He seemed to insist that I ask questions.
He wants questions to come out; then there will be silence so that remaining questions will be answered within yourself.
His following is mainly Western, by what I saw.
Westerners are in predominance; thousands have seen him—some for a few days, some stay for months. Some he makes leave at once. He says he doesn’t know why he sends people away, although they want to stay.
Are you living in India on a permanent basis?
Yes, I have a residency permit. I have finished work on the second book; the work is complete. Everything he has to say has been said.
Do you ever miss Western society, your home life?
Can you say something about your personal relationship to your guru?
There are no words to describe that . . .
Do you have an aim in life? For instance, to become one with him?
My aim in life is to lose an aim in life—that’s his teaching. There’s no purpose to this life; it’s just entertainment. That’s all.
That sounds rather Krishnamurthi-esque.
Many of Krishnamurthi’s followers come here—ten came recently.
How did Maharaj attain enlightenment?
You will find that in the first part of I Am That. I can tell you this: the first time he met his guru— his friend insisted on taking him; he even had to buy the garland to present to the guru—he never wanted to go.
Was he very young then?
He was in his thirties. The bidi (Indian cigarette) shop at the corner belongs to him; his son runs it. He had eight shops, but when his guru died, he left everything—his family and business. He wandered for months all over India, until he met a fellow disciple who convinced him it was better to live in the world. He returned to Bombay, but all the shops had gone except this one. He didn’t want anything; all worldly ambition had gone. When people started coming to him, he built that upstairs room.
It’s minute. What are the dimensions?
Oh, about nine by twelve. I’ve seen that room crowded, mostly by Westerners. He says Indians are not ready for his teachings.
Do you think it was because he didn’t want personal publicity that he appeared to be annoyed with me?
That’s correct. I feel sure that was the idea. He doesn’t want disciples—if they come, it’s fine; if not, that’s also fine. He gains nothing. He has reached the peak because he isn’t enamored of anything the world can offer.
Does he ever talk about other gurus and their methods?
He talks about the self-styled gurus who propagate their own concepts; but there’s nothing wrong with that at that level.
Does he admire any living teachers?
As far as I know, J. Krishnamurti. In the past, Ramana Maharshi. The other day he said, “Krishnamurti, Ramana and myself are one.”
Does he advocate a vegetarian diet?
That pertains to the body; he doesn’t teach anything to do with that. All he wants you to do is find out who you are.
His followers can drink and indulge in free relationships?
Whatever comes naturally to each person, he should do.
He gives no ethical guidance?
No. As long as you think you are a person and this world is real, then you live by certain rules. Once you understand the complete thing, your life lives itself … There are no rules, no good, no bad—I should do this, I shouldn’t do that. If you think about it, all this is taking place in this life span, in this span of consciousness, and when this consciousness goes, what difference does it make?
Does he not advise detachment from worldly activities?
This comes naturally. The main and only thing he teaches is to find out who you are. The closer you come to this, the more detached you become from the world; that will happen naturally. You can’t do anything to make that happen. This idea of doing something is an ego idea “I” can accomplish. Maharaj says the consciousness drags you there by the ear because it wants to know about itself, your true nature.
What has he said about leaving the body at physical death?
For him, it will be a great festival— he’s looking forward to it. For those thinking they are the body, it will be a traumatic experience. For an enlightened person, it’s a joyous time.
When he gives you meditation, does he ask what you see inside?
There has to be somebody to see something! (laughter) . . . No, he doesn’t. Visions and experiences take place in consciousness; they have no meaning whatsoever. Before you were born, did you know anything about this world? When you die—will you know anything about this world? You didn’t know you existed—you exist as the Absolute, but you aren’t aware of your existence. When this consciousness comes, spontaneously, you know “I am.” You grab a body and become identified with that. He wants you to go back, back, away from this into your true nature. Right now it’s consciousness; the longer we abide in that consciousness only and observe it, we see that everything we see is not ours—there’s a “you” seeing this.
But what does he teach about God?
Without me, there’s no God.
And he’s teaching that?
Yes. Was there a God before you were? Without you, is there a God?
What brought me back into this body?
Do you remember a previous body?
Many people have that recollection. Are you saying we have never taken birth before?
There’s no “we”; there’s no entity; there is universal consciousness, which is continually expressing itself through these bodies.
Maharaj doesn’t believe in karma and reincarnation?
Ramana Maharshi taught that, surely?
They will talk to you on this level if this is your level. But if you understand what I’m saying—there’s only universal consciousness expressing itself; there’s no individual—then he will bring you there. He will no longer speak of this. If you die with concepts, these concepts take another form, but they will not be you— you don’t know what that form will be. Concepts will come again until they are all gone.
What does Maharaj teach about selfless service, helping others?
On their level, it’s good. But his teaching is that there are no others, no individual entities; everything happens spontaneously; there’s no doer. He teaches: Let this life live itself and understand you are not this.
We are not “this”— then we are “that.” What is “that”?
“That” is consciousness right now.
Right now? What will it be when we leave the body?
Then what comes back?
Consciousness is continually renewing itself. You throw a piece of food into a corner; within a few days, worms will come—life, consciousness. The same consciousness in that worm is in you. It’s not “my” consciousness, “your” consciousness; it’s one universal consciousness, and that universal consciousness is you.
At our level of understanding, aren’t all these concepts? Didn’t you find these theories confusing at first?
The first day I came to Maharaj, he said, “My beingness is a product of food . . . and the same consciousness in the donkey was in Sri Krishna.” I went to get a reservation back home; none was available, so as something inside knew this was true, I went back. He had jerked the rug from under my feet, and he kept ondoing this until I lost any place to put my feet. He forces you to let go of all concepts.
Does he often send people away who come to see him?
Often. He never knows why, though. Every moment watching him is like a spectacular movie; every person’s need is taken care of. I’ve watched that happen. You can sit quietly, but questions you have inside will be answered. Everything happens according to your need. There’s no him; he has no purpose of his own: that’s why this can happen. There’s no ego there to bump against.
Living so close to an enlightened being can’t be easy.
It’s not easy if you have any ego left.
Can you say something about the positive side?
There are no words for it; everything is taken care of automatically. There’s no “you” to thank God for anything anymore. You let go of everything. There’s no you, no separate entity; everything is happening spontaneously. It’s like there’s a quiet space where you are, yet everything is happening around you.
What work did you do in America?
I worked on newspapers.
Is there a reason why people get involved with imperfect teachers?
We as human beings think there’s a reason for everything; there are no reasons, no causes—it’s a causeless happening. As long as we are on this human level and think there’s a cause, we will be able to come up with one. If some people are taken for a ride by false gurus, you can say this is happening to them to get rid of something—whatever happens is perfect. We are just to understand there’s no personal consciousness; everything is impersonal, you see.
But when we meet a perfect teacher, it’s our consciousness which recognizes that, surely?
Then our lives change.
That’s the new life?
That’s part of the divine plan requiring no effort?
To round off, could you say what are the benefits gained from coming into contact with your guru.
I’ve gotten rid of the idea there’s somebody going to benefit from something . . . (much laughter)
From Turning East: New Lives in India. ©1989 by Paragon House. Reprinted by arrangement with Paragon House, New York, New York.