Nisargadatta Maharaj (17 April 1897 – 8 September 1981), born Maruti Shivrampant Kambli, was a Hindu guru of nondualism, belonging to the Inchagiri Sampradaya, a lineage of teachers from the Navnath Sampradaya.
Nisargadatta Maharaj was born on 17 April 1897 to Shivrampant Kambli and Parvati bai, in Bombay. The day was also Hanuman Jayanti, the birthday of Hanuman, hence the boy was named ‘Maruti’, after him. His parents were followers of the Varkari sampradaya, an egalitarian Vaishnavite bhakti tradition that worships Vithoba. His father, Shivrampant, worked as a domestic servant in Mumbai and later became a farmer in Kandalgaon.
Maruti Shivrampant Kambli was brought up in Kandalgaon, a small village in the Sindhudurga district of Maharashtra, with his two brothers, four sisters, and deeply religious parents. In 1915, after his father died, he moved to Bombay to support his family back home, following his elder brother. Initially, he worked as a junior clerk at an office but quickly he opened a small goods store, mainly selling beedis (leaf-rolled cigarettes), and soon owned a string of eight retail shops. In 1924 he married Sumatibai and they had three daughters and a son.
In 1933, he was introduced to his guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the head of the Inchegiri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya, by his friend Yashwantrao Baagkar. His guru told him, “You are not what you take yourself to be…”. Siddharameshwar Maharaj initiated him into the Inchegiri Sampradaya, giving him meditation-instruction and a mantra, which he immediately began to recite. Siddharameshwar Maharaj gave Nisargadatta Maharaj instructions for self-inquiry which he followed verbatim, as he himself recounted later:
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was an Indian spiritual teacher and philosopher of Advaita (Nondualism), and a Guru, belonging to the Navnath Sampradaya. Sri Nisargadatta, with his direct and minimalistic explanation of non-dualism, is considered the most famous teacher of Advaita since Ramana Maharshi. In 1973, the publication of his most famous and widely translated book, “I AM THAT”, an English translation of his talks in Marathi by Maurice Frydman, brought him worldwide recognition and followers.
My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I am and to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, I would turn away my attention from it and remain with the sense ‘I am’. It may look too simple, even crude. My only reason for doing it was that my Guru told me so. Yet it worked!
According to Shree Nisargadatta Maharaj, the purpose of spirituality is to know who you are. His discussions are not for academic scholars. He is a rebellious spirit, abrupt in his style of discussion, provocative, and immensely profound, cutting to the core and wasting little effort on inessentials. His terse but potent sayings are known for their ability to trigger radical shifts from philosophical mind-games to the purity of consciousness, just by hearing or even reading them.
He talked about the ‘direct way’ of knowing the Final Reality, in which one becomes aware of one’s original nature through mental discrimination, breaking the mind’s false identification with the ego, knowing that “You are already That”. The scene for these talks was a small upstairs room at his humble flat in Khetwadi, used for his own meditation and also for daily chantings. A simple man, Nisargadatta was a house-holder and a shop-keeper selling bidis – hand-made leaf-rolled cigarettes.