Monday, September 4, 2023

Water Mind, Honey Mind

Great spiritual teachers have a way with words. Jesus, Buddha, Laozi, and countless others use the vernacular of their times to make eternal truths relevant to the context of this moment, this culture, and these challenges. One such teacher is Indian guru Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981).

In a now classic collection of transcriptions of his talks called I Am That, a vivid portrait emerges of an ordinary man who, through a series of extraordinary experiences found himself in the role of spiritual teacher (guru) to seekers from all over the world. Nisargadatta never claimed special status, and assiduously avoided the trappings of spiritual stardom. He ran a humble tobacco shop in Mumbai, and received visitors in his tiny apartment above the store. A tape recorder preserved the dialogues, and I Am That was born.

            Nisargadatta taught non-duality, or Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu school of thought that claims that all is one. What sets him apart from other Vedanta teachers is the plain language and down-to-earth style of his message. While deeply indebted to his own guru, and respectful of the ancient lineage of which he is a part, his message was clear—teachers point the way, but in the end you are your own best guru. If we are one with the sacred ground of being, then we all carry within us that which we seek. Ceaselessly looking outside ourselves for wisdom only prolongs our confusion.

            “Gurus are like milestones,” he said. “It is natural to move from one to another. Each tells you the direction and the distance, while the sadguru, the eternal Guru, is the road itself. Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.” In an age when so many define themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” these words are like medicine. It’s okay to doubt, it’s okay to draw sustenance from different spiritual and religious sources, it’s okay to look back over your life and see a meandering path. Everywhere you went, and in every community you joined, you found milestones to mark the journey into the depths of your own authentic oneness.

            In one particularly striking image, Nisargadatta offers counsel to all of us who struggle with our meditation practice, and the persistent distractions of the thought-stream. Regarding our thoughts, Nisargadatta says, “Your very fighting them gives them life. Just disregard. Look through…It is disinterestedness that liberates. Don’t hold on, that is all. The world is made of rings. The hooks are all yours. Make straight your hooks and nothing can hold you.”

With the simple image of hooks and rings Nisargadatta quells our default addictive acquisitiveness—the strange habit we have of always holding onto everything as if we owned it. Simply straighten the hooks. Be deeply and intimately present with everything we love, but without the consciousness of ownership.

            In another image, Nisargadatta points to the possibility of true serenity available to us all. “The mind exists in two states: as water and as honey. The water vibrates at the least disturbance, while the honey, however disturbed, returns quickly to immobility.” As we move through this next busy week, reflect on your own reactivity to all of the triggers around us. Are we the water or are we the honey?


All quotes from:

Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That, Translated by Maurice Frydman, Edited by Sudhakar S. Dikshit (Acorn Press: Durham, North Carolina, 1973)

[This piece was first published in my "A to Zen" column in the September/October 2023 edition of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]

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