Someone recently sent me an email with a question that I found very useful:
First of all, I would like to say "Thank you" with great sincerity and deep gratitude. I enjoy listening to your talks due to your sincerity, honesty and, above all, your simplicity. I would like to ask you one question and I hope you can find the time to answer. It would be much appreciated. Many years ago, I came across Nisargadatta Maharaj's book 'I Am That' and although I couldn't understand most of it, certain parts spoke to me. If you will bear with me, I would like to give two quotes that really struck home:
"My advice to you is very simple: just remember yourself "I am", it is enough to heal your mind and take you beyond, just have some trust. I don't mislead you. Why should I? Do I want anything from you? I wish you well - such is my nature. Why should I mislead you? Commonsense too will tell you that to fulfill a desire you must keep your mind on it. If you want to know your nature, you must have yourself in mind all the time, until the secret of your being stands revealed."
"All the glories will come with the mere dwelling on the feeling "I am". It is the simple that is certain, not the complicated. Somehow people do not trust the simple, the easy, the always available. Why not give an honest trial to what I say? It may look very small and insignificant, but it is like a seed that grows into a mighty tree. Give yourself a chance."
I have been following his advice in looking at the feeling of I am, and I love doing it. And now I have stumbled across you and your message. My question is, Is there is any difference in what you say to what Nisargadatta says and, if so, what is it?
Thank you so very much for your time and understanding.
Here is my response:
The main difference between what I say and what Nisargadatta said in your quote is a simple matter of nomenclature. I believe he is pointing to exactly the same thing, but his advice is excessively abstract (mine is also an abstraction, but less so). The concept "I am" is steeped in religious and spiritual assumptions, and open to a wide range of different understandings as to its meaning. While Nisargadatta says to dwell on the feeling 'I am', I tell you to look just once at what it feels like to be 'me'. 'Me', the personal pronoun, is unequivocal in naming the actual experience that we seek here.
That may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but if you understand what we are trying to accomplish here, and what premises our work is based upon, you will see why we make that distinction.
We see the problem of the human experience of existence to be unrelated to the deep nature of reality, or consciousness, or the oneness of being or lack thereof. It seems obvious that the locus of the experience of human life is the human mind, which consists in the entire array of psychological apparatuses that, taken together, form the individual personality and determine the entirety of life for the individual human being living that life.
So, to me, the problem is not very deep at all, but merely a matter of the individual psychology which is, for most of us, sickened by a context of fearfulness and distrust of life itself and by the way this disease relates to the experience of being human moment by moment. We call it the fear-of-life disease and think of it as a kind of psychological autoimmune disease. I am convinced that the great majority of human beings are infected by this disease, which strikes almost all of us, most likely at birth or soon after. This would account for the nearly universal dissatisfaction with life that plagues humanity and gives rise to all the horror of our collective attempts to escape from, destroy, or deny the misery.
We see our work here to be much different from the spiritual approach to this problem.
We have seen for ourselves that a single moment of trying to get the feel of 'me' reliably snuffs out that fearful silent assumption, and cures the disease. When that happens, the mind begins to regenerate itself. That regeneration process can be long or short, and may include much or little misery in the process. This period of misery and confusion, we call it the recovery period. We are beginning to see just how accurate that term is, as those who have taken the medicine and embarked on a period of recovery after a while report back to us. They tell us that now they are much more effective in dealing with the difficulties in their lives and that their relationship to the people around them is becoming much more intelligent and skillful. They no longer see life as a burden to overcome, but as an adventure of self-reliant engagement.
So, our job as we see it is not to awaken people to the oneness or the wonder of being, or even provide them with a means to experience peace and the love of experience itself. Our job is merely to show them how easy it is to cure the disease that is the only thing standing in the way of true satisfaction with life as a human being, just exactly as it is.
There is one more aspect I would like to mention, regarding awake beings who try, and mostly fail, to provide help to others and bring them out of the darkness. It seems clear to us that these good people (and I include Nisargadatta, Ramana Maharshi, Gautama Buddha, and a number of others, ancient and modern, in this group) have woken while following practices and understandings deeply rooted in a religious/spiritual context. I believe that, because of that, their minds have regenerated true to that context, which left them unable to understand and therefore unable to reveal to people the more worldly nature of the disease and its cure.
If you are interested, you might want to read a paper written by a psychiatrist and two psychological therapists on the psychological soundness of this view. They are now submitting it to peer reviewed journals, but it is already available as a free ebook on our website:
You might also be interested in the conversations in our forums. It is free of charge and registration is not required to browse the forums and read the postings there.