Two dialogues with Nisargadatta
Absolute Perfection is Here and Now
Questioner: The war is on. What is your attitude to it?
Maharaj: In some place or other, in some form or other, the war
is always on. Was there a time when there was no war? Some say it is the will of
God. Some say it is God’s play. It is another way of saying that wars are
inevitable and nobody is responsible.
Q: But what is your attitude?
M: Why impose attitudes on me? I have no attitude to call
Q: Surely somebody is responsible for this horrible and
senseless carnage. Why do people kill each other so readily?
M: Search for the culprit within. The ideas of ‘me’ and
‘mine’ are at the root of all conflict. Be free of them and you will be out
Q: What of it that I am out of conflict? It will not affect
the war. If I am the cause of war, I am ready to be destroyed. Yet, it stands to
reason that the disappearance of a thousand like me will not stop wars. They did
not start with my birth nor will end with my death. I am not responsible. Who
M: Strife and struggle are a part of existence. Why don’t
you inquire who is responsible for existence?
Q: Why do you say that existence and conflict are
inseparable? Can there be no existence without strife? I need not fight others
to be myself.
M: You fight others all the time for your survival as a
separate body-mind, a particular name and form. To live you must destroy. From
the moment you were conceived you started a war with your environment—a
merciless war of mutual extermination, until death sets you free.
Q: My question remains unanswered. You are merely
describing what I know—life and its sorrows. But who is responsible, you do
not say. When I press you, you throw the blame on God, or karma, or on my
own greed and fear—which merely invites further questions. Give me the final
M: The final answer is this: nothing is. All is a
momentary appearance in the field of the universal consciousness; continuity as
name and form is a mental formation only, easy to dispel.
Q: I am asking about the immediate, the transitory, the
appearance. Here is a picture of a child killed by soldiers. It is a
fact—staring at you. You cannot deny it. Now, who is responsible for the death
of the child?
M: Nobody and everybody. The world is what it contains and
each thing affects all others. We all kill the child and we all die with it.
Every event has innumerable causes and produces numberless effects. It is
useless to keep accounts; nothing is traceable.
Q: Your people speak of karma and retribution.
M: It is merely a gross approximation; in reality we are
all creators and creatures of each other, causing and bearing each other’s
Q: So, the innocent suffers for the guilty?
M: In our ignorance we are innocent; in our actions we are
guilty. We sin without knowing and suffer without understanding. Our only hope:
to stop, to look, to understand and to get out of the traps of memory. For
memory feeds imagination and imagination generates desire and fear.
Q: Why do I imagine at all?
M: The light of consciousness passes through the film of
memory and throws pictures on your brain. Because of the deficient and
disordered state of your brain, what you perceive is distorted and colored by
feelings of like and dislike. Make your thinking orderly and free from emotional
overtones, and you will see people and things as they are, with clarity
The Witness of birth, life and death is one and the same. It is the Witness of pain and of love. For while the existence in limitation and separation is sorrowful, we love it. We love it and hate it at the same time. We fight, we kill, we destroy life and property and yet we are affectionate and self-sacrificing. We nurse the child tenderly and orphan it too. Our life is full of contradictions. Yet we cling to it. This clinging is at the root of everything. Still, it is entirely superficial. We hold on to something or somebody with all our might and next moment we forget it; like a child that shapes its mud-pies and abandons them light-heartedly. Tough them—it will scream with anger; divert the child and he forgets them. For our life is now; and the love of it is now. We love variety, the play of pain and pleasure; we are fascinated by contrasts. For this we need the opposites and their apparent separation. We enjoy them for a time and then get tired and crave for the peace and silence of pure being. The cosmic heart beats ceaselessly. I am the Witness and the heart too.
Q: I can see the picture, but who is the painter? Who is
responsible for the terrible and yet adorable experience?
M: The painter is in the picture. You separate the painter
from the picture and look for him. Don’t separate and don’t put false
questions. Things are as they are and nobody in particular is responsible. The
idea of personal responsibility comes from the illusion of agency. “Somebody
must have done it, somebody is responsible.” Society as it is now, with its
framework of laws and customs, is based on the idea of separate and responsible
personality, but this not the only form a society can take. There may be other
forms, where the sense of separation is weak and responsibility diffused.
Q: An individual with a weak sense of personality—is he
M: Take the case of a young child. The sense of ‘I-am’
is not yet formed, the personality is rudimentary. The obstacles to
self-knowledge are few, but the power and the clarity of awareness, its width
and depth, are lacking. In the course of years awareness will grow stronger, but
also the latent personality will emerge and obscure and complicate. Just as the
harder the wood, the hotter the flame, so the stronger the personality, the
brighter the light generated from its destruction.
Q: Have you no problems?
M: I do have problems. I told you already. To be, to exist
with a name and form is painful; yet I love it.
Q: But you love everything!
M: In [my] existence everything is contained. My very
nature is to love; even the painful is lovable.
Q: It does not make it less painful. Why not remain in the
M: It is the instinct of exploration, the love of the
unknown, that brings me into existence. It is in the nature of being to seek
adventure in becoming, as it is in the very nature of becoming to seek peace in
being. This alteration of being and becoming is inevitable: but my home is
Q: Is you home in God?
M: To love and worship a god is also ignorance. My home is
beyond all notions, however sublime.
Q: But God is not a notion! It is the Reality beyond
M: You may use any word you like. Whatever you may think of, I am beyond it.
Q: Once you know your home, why not stay in it? What takes
you out of it?
M: Out of love for corporate existence one is born; and
once born, one gets involved in destiny. Destiny is inseparable from becoming.
The desire to be the particular makes you into a person with all its personal
past and future. Look at some great man—what a wonderful man he was! And yet
how troubled was his life and limited it fruits. How utterly dependent is the
personality of man and how indifferent is its world. And yet we love it and
protect it for its very insignificance.
Q: The war is on and there is chaos and you are being asked
to take charge of a feeding center. You are given what is needed; it is only a
question of getting through the job. Will you refuse it?
M: To work, or not to work, is one and the same to me. I
may take charge, or may not. There may be others, better endowed for such tasks
than I am—professional caterers for instance. But my attitude is different. I
do not look at death as a calamity, as I do not rejoice at the birth of a child.
The child is out for trouble while the dead is out of it. Attachment to life is
attachment to sorrow. We love what gives us pain. Such is our nature.
me the moment of death will be a moment of jubilation, not of fear. I cried when
I was born and I shall die laughing.
Q: What is the change in consciousness at the moment of
M: What change do you expect? When the film projection
ends, all remains the same as when it started. The state before you were born
was also the state after death, if you remember.
Q: I remember nothing.
M: Because you never tried. It is only a question of tuning
in the mind. It requires training, of course.
Q: Why don’t you take part in social work?
M: But I am doing nothing else all the time! And what is
the social work you want me to do? Patchwork is not for me. My stand is clear:
produce to distribute; feed before you eat; give before you take; think of
others before you think of yourself. Only a selfless society, based on sharing,
can be stable and happy. This is the only practical solution. If you do not want
Q: It is all a matter of gunas. Where tamas
and rajas predominate, there must be war. Where sattva rules,
there will be peace.
M: Put it whichever way you like, it comes to the same.
Society is built on motives. Put goodwill into the foundations and you will not
need specialized social workers.
Q: The world is not getting better.
M: The world had all the time to get better; yet it did
not. What hope is there for the future? Of course, there have been and will be
periods of harmony and peace, when sattva was in ascendance; but things
get destroyed by their own perfection. A perfect society is necessarily static
and, therefore, it stagnates and decays. From the summit all roads lead
downwards. Societies are like people—they are born, they grow to some point of
relative perfection and then decay and die.
Q: Is there not a state of absolute perfection which does
M: Whatever has a beginning must have an end. In the Timeless all is perfect, here and now.
Q: But shall we reach the timeless in due course?
M: In due course we shall come back to the starting point.
Time cannot take us out of time, as space cannot take us out of space. All you
get by waiting is more waiting. Absolute perfection is here and now, not
in some future, near or far. The secret is in action—here and now. It is your
behavior that blinds you to yourself. Disregard whatever you think yourself to
be and act as if you were absolutely perfect—whatever your idea of perfection
may be. All you need is courage.
Q: Where do I find such courage?
M: In yourself, of course. Look within.
Q: Your grace will help.
M: My grace is telling you now: look within. All you
need you have. Use it. Behave as best you know, do what you think you should.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes; you can always correct them. Only intentions
matter. The shape things take is not within your power; the motives of your
Q: How can action born from imperfection lead to
M: Action does not lead to perfection; perfection is
expressed in action. As long as you judge yourself by your expressions, give
them utmost attention; when you realize your own being, your behavior will be
Q: If I am timelessly perfect, then why was I born at all?
What is the purpose of this life?
M: It is like asking: what does it profit gold to be made
into an ornament? The ornament gets the color and the beauty of gold; gold is
not enriched. Similarly, reality expressed in action makes the action meaningful
Q: What does the real gain through its expressions?
M: What can it gain? Nothing whatsoever. But it is in the nature of love to express itself, to affirm itself, to overcome difficulties. Once you have understood that the world is love in action, you will look at it quite differently. But first your attitude to suffering must change. Suffering is primarily a call for attention, which itself is a movement of love. More than happiness, love wants growth, the widening and deepening of consciousness and being. Whatever prevents becomes a cause of pain and love does not shirk from pain. Sattva, the quality that works for righteousness and orderly development, must not be thwarted. When obstructed it turns against itself and becomes destructive. Whenever love is withheld and suffering allowed to spread, war becomes inevitable. Our indifference to our neighbor’s sorrow brings suffering to our door.
Questioner: Without God’s power nothing can be done. Even you
would not be sitting here and talking to us without Him.
Maharaj: All is His doing, no doubt. What is it to me, since I
want nothing? What can God give me, or take away from me? What is mine is mine
and was mine even when God was not. Of course, it is a very tiny little thing, a
speck—the sense ‘I am,’ the fact of being. This is my own place, nobody
gave it to me. The earth is mine; what grows on it is God’s.
Q: Did God take the earth on rent from you?
M: God is my devotee and did all this for me.
Q: Is there no God apart from you?
M: How can there be? ‘I am’ is the root; God is the
tree. Whom am I to worship, and what for?
Q: Are you the devotee or the object of devotion?
M: I am neither; I am devotion itself.
Q: There is not enough devotion in the world.
M: You are always after the improvement of the world. Do
you really believe that the world is waiting for you to be saved?
Q: I just do not know how much I can do for the world. All
I can do is to try. Is there anything else you would like me to do?
M: Without you is there a world? You know all about the
world, but about yourself you know nothing. You yourself are the tools of your
work; you have no other tools. Why don’t you take care of the tools before you
think of the work?
Q: I can wait, while the world cannot.
M: By not inquiring you keep the world waiting.
Q: Waiting for what?
M: For somebody who can save it.
Q: God runs the world; God will save it.
M: That’s what you say! Did God come and tell you
that the world is His creation and concern and not yours?
Q: Why should it be my sole concern?
M: Consider. The world in which you live, who else knows
Q: You know. Everybody knows.
M: Did anybody come from outside of your world to tell you?
Myself and everybody else appear and disappear in your world. We are all at your
Q: It cannot be so bad—I exist in your world as you exist
M: You have no evidence of my world. You are completely
wrapped up in the world of your own making.
Q: I see. Completely, but—hopelessly?
M: Within the prison of your world appears a man who tells
you that the world of painful contradictions, which you have created, is neither
continuous nor permanent and is based on a misapprehension. He pleads with you
to get out of it, by the same way by which you got into it. You got into it by
forgetting what you are and you will get out of it by knowing yourself as you
Q: In what way does it affect the world?
M: When you are free of the world, you can do something
about it. As long as you are a prisoner of it, you are helpless to change it. On
the contrary, whatever you do will aggravate the situation.
Q: Righteousness will set me free.
M: Righteousness will undoubtedly make you and your world a
comfortable, even happy place. But what is the use? There is no reality in it.
It cannot last.
Q: God will help.
M: To help you God must know your existence. But you and
your world are dream states. In dream you may suffer agonies. None knows them
and none can help you.
Q: So all my questions, my search and study are of no use?
M: These are but the stirrings of a man who is tired of
sleeping. They are not the causes of awakening, but its early signs. But you
must not ask idle questions, to which you already know the answers.
Q: How am I to get a true answer?
M: By asking a true question—non-verbally, but by daring
to live according to your lights. A man willing to die for Truth will get it.
Q: Another question. There is the person. There is the
knower of the person. There is the Witness. Are the knower and the Witness the
same, or are they separate states?
M: The knower and the Witness are two or one? When the
knower is seen as separate from the known, the Witness stands alone. When the
known and the knower are seen as one, the Witness becomes one with them.
Q: Who is the jnani? The Witness or the Supreme?
M: The jnani is the Supreme and also the Witness. He
is both being and awareness. In relation to consciousness he is awareness. In
relation to the universe he is pure being.
Q: And what about the person? What comes first, the person
or the knower?
M: The person is a very small thing. Actually it is a
composite; it cannot be said to exist by itself. Unperceived, it is just not
there. It is but the shadow of the mind, the sum total of memories. Pure being
is reflected in the mirror of the mind, as knowing. What is known takes the
shape of a person, based on memory and habit. It is but a shadow, or a
projection of the knower onto the screen of the mind.
Q: The mirror is there; the reflection is there. But where
is the sun?
M: The Supreme is the sun.
Q: It must be conscious.
M: It is neither conscious nor unconscious. Don’t think
of it in terms of consciousness or unconsciousness. It is the life, which
contains both and is beyond both.
Q: Life is so intelligent. How can it be unconscious?
M: You talk of the unconscious when there is a lapse in
memory. In reality there is only consciousness. All life is conscious, all
Q: Even stones?
M: Even stones are conscious and alive.
Q: The worry with me is that I am prone to denying
existence to what I cannot imagine.
M: You would be wiser to deny existence of what you
imagine. It is the imagined that is unreal.
Q: Is all imaginable unreal?
M: Imagination based on memories is unreal. The future is
not entirely unreal.
Q: Which part of the future is real and which is not?
M: The unexpected and unpredictable is real.