Nisargadatta terminology

A frequent contributor to the site, Vijay Pargaonkar has provided the following valuable information rearding the terminology of Nisargadatta Maharaj:

When references to Nisargadatta Maharaj and his teachings come up at the AV forum during discussions, the arguments often seem to become tangential. I think this is mainly due to the differences in terminologies and definitions used by the followers of Nisragadatta and the ones used in traditional Advaita forums.

Last week I came across a rare Satsang tape in Marathi where Maharaj clearly lays out his version of the Creation Model and Prakriyas while explaining various Advaita terms according to his definitions. I have excerpts of this Satsang translation (as I heard and understood) below, where I have indicated the Sanskrit/Marathi terms along with the English terms used by the translator – the translator has actually chopped the live recording and inserted his English translation in between.

Creation Model

Prior to your waking is Nirguna, the substratum of Waking. The Nirguna is not at all bothered by this samara (samara = ‘war (of life)’). In Nirguna appeared knowledge (Bodha).  This is pure Consciousness or Beingness or the Sense “I am” that has no shape or form. In this pure Consciousness there appeared a slight perturbation or movement and the pure Consciousness then grabbed a body-form (deharupa). After wearing this body form it started calling itself a man or woman while bound by different concepts (I am this; I am that; I am going; I am coming etc.). These concepts are all imaginary (Kalpana) and not real.

What is this Kalpana (imaginary concepts)?

It appears in space spontaneously and starts taking form. I (Maharaj) call this form “Infant” (Mula). This infant is pure ignorance and root of all world and activities. It grows along with Consciousness and starts recognizing body, things and world.

Atma & Paramatma

Consciousness/Beingness is known by various names – Atma, Antaratma, Vasudev, Ishswar,


In the morning, Beingness appeared as “I”. The one who came to know about the Beingness or Consciousness is Nirguna. If we call sense of Being Atma then the other one is ParamAtma. Remember that the Word is only a pointer and it vanishes immediately but the actual ParBrahma or ParamAtma lasts.

(“janiv”, “antaratma”, “atma”, ‘me” are often translated as Consciousness or Beingness)

Purusha & Prakrati

The world and its activities are all nothing but Prakrati. Purusha is just a witness of this Prakrati. It is Pure Consciousness or Beingness that does not take part in any activity.

The belief “I am this body” is Maya or Ajnan (ignorance) and the one who has this belief is Ahamkar (Ego). Ahamkar is the knight or protector that guards the fort called Prakrati. Please remember that Maya, Prakrati & Ahamkara are all not real. When the Knowledge “I am not this body” shines, the ignorance “I am this body” vanishes without any effort like night disappearing upon sunrise.

The world is made of nothing but Panchabhutas (five basic elements). This body is made of the food essence (annarasa) derived from bhutas and the Consciousness/Beingness is the quality (Satvaguna) of the body (just the way sugar syrup is the form and sweetness is the quality). Without this food essence neither the body nor Consciousness can exist.

So now you know that Beingness is only a quality of this body and not the true Atmaswaupa (true I). A true being is beyond this food-essence body and Consciousness – only a Sadguru will tell you this!

When one is engulfed in ignorance “I am this body”, the Prakrati fort is standing rock solid and one has to face the miseries of life and death.  When through the grace of Sadguru one KNOWS that “I am neither this body nor the quality of this body”, one transcends the Prakrati fort; one is kayarahit (without body); one is gunarahit (without gunas); one crosses birth & death cycle; one will lose all of the worldly desires.

This knowledge is only possible through the grace of a Sadguru. Drop everything and just remember and follow your Sadguru more than your life.

(To me, Maharaj clearly shows a three step prakriya: I am not the body; I am not the Consciousness; I am that .. beyond body and Consciousness.

Another interesting question Maharaj answers is : Who receives knowledge?

The initiation mantra is Knowledge and nothing but Consciousness –  call it Sadguru. And the one who receives is also Consciousness – Consciousness receives Consciousness.)

11 thoughts on “Nisargadatta terminology

  1. After being criticized by several of the posters here for saying that Maharaj referred to That being beyond Consciousness, I see it clearly mentioned in this article by someone who is a native speaker? and not translating it wrongly according to these posters?

    For me, this is the only transcendental possibility that could exist beyond name and form, self and not self, being and not being.

  2. Surely everyone here in AV knows that ‘That’ was the meaning accepted and employed by Nisargadatta for ultimate reality. It would have been impossible (not just preposterous) for him not to do so. The above also know that Nisargadatta gave a meaning to ‘Consciousness’ which is at variance with the more common use in advaitist circles, including AV.

    I stated here in at least two occasions that the term NM used habitually to refer to ultimate reality, i.e., beyond Consciousness, beyond beingness, beyond ‘I am’, is (as was translated into English) AWARENESS. To make things a little more complicated for advaitists, NM also called awareness or ultimate reality ‘static Consciousness’, contrasting it with ‘dynamic consciousness’, an expression which, for him, played the role of ‘beingness’ – ‘being’ – ‘Consciousness’ – ‘I am’. Given what I said in the first paragraph, it is immaterial whether any or most of the contributors here know or not these, quite secondary, facts.

  3. Vijay,

    I am inclined to go with what Martin says.

    We know that there were several translators/interlocutors for Maharaj who did not know English.

    Some of the more popularly known people who were his translators / interpreters were Maurice Frydman (Because of “I am That” in the 70s), Ramesh Balsekar (much later) and some others.

    It will be useful if you can tell us who was the face behind the tapes you mentioned and also the date of the specific tape you are referring to.

    Secondly, do you think all the interpreters of Maharaj’s dialogs followed a standardized terminology to take the word meanings across all the publications – Frydman, Dunn, Powell?

    I remember to have read somewhere that the interpreters sometimes used, on the spot, words and expressions of their own though they were not actually used by Maharaj in his talks.


  4. Ramesam
    I do not have the date of this tape. The voice is certainly Maharaj and I have no idea who the translator is. I can certainly post the mp-3 recordings link if anyone wants it.

    I don’t know how Maurice could translate the Satsang in English since he did not know the colloquial Marathi and Maharaj did not give his Satsang in English (as far as I know). Ramesh Balsekar certainly could, since he spoke Marathi.

    One basic difference I noticed that may cause some confusion in the discussions :
    The term “I” used by Maharaj and translated as Consciousness is the Guna/property of the Sharira or Body. And the true Atmaswarupa for which there is no name(sometimes he calls it Turyatita) is beyond “I” and the body.
    Where as the term “I” also known as jiva as explained by Swami Parmarthanand (used in some Advaita forums) is a mixture of OC (original consciousness), RC (reflected consciousness) and RM (reflecting medium). And through Bhaga-Tyaga a Jnani drops RC/RM and claims OC as I.
    Some argued that what Maharaj meant by Consciouness is really Chidabhasa or the RC but that also does not fit.
    I agree with Dennis and you (in your e-mails) that one should stick to one’s model understanding that it is only a model and focus on what is beyond the model. Maharaj also expressed the same opinion in this tape.

  5. 2nd and 3rd party interpreters will always try to fit what is said to what they already think ‘reality’ is and the model that they’ve chose to express this in. For me, the argument is not what Maharaj really meant, which is impossible to know, but the way each person interprets all this in their subjective way. We have no way of knowing what the transcendental is or how it works. We are only stuck with models and models don’t resolve anything.

  6. This might help, from I am That. It is worth noting that I am That was translated into Marathi, which Nisargadatta read and approved of.

    “Take note of the peculiar nature of pure awareness, its natural self-identity, without the least trace of self-consciousness, and go to the root of it and you will soon realize that awareness is your true nature, and nothing you may be aware of, you can call your own. When the content is viewed without likes and dislikes, the consciousness of it is awareness. But still there is a difference between awareness as reflected in consciousness and pure awareness beyond consciousness. Reflected awareness, the sense “I am aware” is the witness, while pure awareness is the essence of reality. Reflection of the sun in a drop of water is a reflection of the sun, no doubt, but not the sun itself. Between awareness reflected in consciousness as the witness and pure awareness there is a gap, which the mind cannot cross.”

    Also, from one of Jean Dunn’s books:
    “In the Paramatman there is no awareness of existence, there is awareness of awareness only. As soon as awareness of existence comes there is a duality and the manifestation comes.”

  7. The first quotation is very clear, once you make the awareness-consciousness substitution.

    Don’t know what the second one means, though! Is it his own attempt to add to the catalog of creation myths? In fact, isn’t he doing exactly what he just warned against in the first quote, namely trying to cross the gap with his mind?!

  8. Dennis, I think the second quote is equivalent to Ramana’s v.26 in Ulladu Narpadu:
    “When the one named ‘I’ – the ego – is born, all else is born along with it (the world of manifold appearance and the world of ideas). When the ego is not, all these go out of existence. Hence the ego ‘I’ by itself is the all. Therefore to enquire and know the truth of the ego is tantamount to giving up everything.”

    And the first part of v.27:
    “The state where the ego-sense (‘I am the body’ sense) rises not, is that state wherein we are that One Reality, the form of Being and Awareness”

  9. From Chapter 50: Self-awareness is the Witness, I am That, July 1981 (Available as a free download on the Internet):

    “Q: What comes first: consciousness or awareness?

    M: Awareness becomes consciousness when it has an object. The object changes all the time. In consciousness there is movement; awareness by itself is motionless and timeless, here and now.

    Q: There is suffering and bloodshed in East Pakistan at the present moment. How do you look at it? How does it appear to you, how do you react to it?

    M: In pure consciousness nothing ever happens.”

    The above quote, I believe, should bring to rest any doubt on how Maurice Frydman used the terms consciousness and Awareness.


  10. Just came across this from Ramana, in Talks:

    External samadhi is holding on to the Reality while witnessing the world, without reacting to it from within. There is the stillness of a waveless ocean. The internal samadhi involves loss of body-consciousness.
    What is body-consciousness? Analyse it. There must be a body and consciousness limited to it which together make up body-consciousness. These must lie in another Consciousness which is absolute and unaffected. Hold it. That is samadhi. It exists when there is no body-consciousness because it transcends the latter, it also exists when there is the body-consciousness. What does it matter whether body-consciousness is lost or retained?

  11. Try not to get lost in the imagery, dear Venkat. There is nothing to hold on to, or to understand/attain. You must learn to be present, freeing up your attention from unnecessary mental activity. This mind is distracted with its content, its activity. When your attention is freed up from this activity, there is no problem. Whatever you need is already present. This moment is filled with love. Just step into it.

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