Many people think Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta shared a common message. This is absolutely not true. Ramana was life-affirming, and considered self-awareness of the I-sense the reality, while Nisargadatta considered the I, the I-Am, sonsciousness to be an illusion to be transcended so one could
escape “the mischief” of beingness or Consciouness into peace and quietude.
To me, they are both true but talk of different levels of Self. Ramana talks about the Manifest Self, the Atman, the immanent God within, while Nisargadatta talks about the Unmanifest Self, that knowing principle that exists prior to Consciousness, which for him was the only reality.
I supply quotes below from both Ramana and Nisargadatta to prove this point. They talk about two different levels of Self: Ramana about the Manifest Self, and Nisargadatta about the Unmanifest Self, the Witness, the Absolute, or in Kant’s term, the Noumenal Self.
RAMANA’S AWAKENING EXPERIENCE--3 DIFFERENT DESCRIPTIONS
He talks about the reality of the I. It is the only real thing, this Self-Awareness.
"It was a sudden fear of death. The actual enquiry and ascertainment or discovery of 'Who am I' was over on that very day. Instinctively I held my breath and began to think or dive inward with my inquiry into my own nature. 'This body is going to die', I said to myself, referring to the gross physical body. I came to the conclusion that when it was dead and rigid (then it seemed to me that my body had actually become rigid as I stretched myself like a corpse with rigor mortis, thinking this out), I was not dead. I was, on the other hand, conscious of being alive, in existence.
So, the question arose in me 'What is this l? Is it this body who calls himself the 'I'? ' so I held my mouth shut, determined not to allow it to pronounce 'I' or any other syllable. Still I felt within myself the 'I' was there the sound was there and the object calling or feeling itself 'I' was there. What was that?
I felt that it was a force or current, a centre of energy playing on the body, working on despite the rigidity or activity of the body, though existing in connection with it. It was that current, force, or
centre that constituted my personality, that kept me acting, moving, etc., as I came to know then and only then. I had no idea whatever of my self before that. Once I reached that conclusion, the fear of death dropped off. It had no place in my thoughts. 'I' being a subtle current had no death to fear. So, further development or activity was issuing from the new life and not from any fear.
I had at that time no idea of the identity of that current, or about its relationship to Personal God, or 'Iswara' as I used to term Him.. Later, when I was in the Arunachala temple, I learnt of the identity of my personality with Brahman, and later with Absolute Brahman, which I had heard of in 'Ribhu Gita' as underlying all. I was only feeling that everything was being done by the current and not by me. Since I wrote the parting chit, I had ceased to regard the current as my narrow 'I'.
That current or 'Avesam' was now felt as myself not a superimposition. he awakening gave me a continuous idea or feeling of my personality being a current, force, or Avesam, on which I was perpetually absorbed whatever I did, read, or when I walked, spoke or rested.."
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi
It was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good (to go to Tiruvannamalai/Arunachala) that this great change in my life took place. I was sitting alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle's house. I seldom had any sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there was any account for the fear.
I just felt I was going to die and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or any elders or friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there. The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: 'Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.' And at once I dramatised the occurrence of death.
I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, and that neither the word 'I' nor any word could be uttered. 'Well then,' I said to myself, 'this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body I? It is silent and inert, but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of I within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.' All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truths which I perceived directly almost without thought process.
I was something real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on that I. From that moment onwards, the "I" or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thought might come and go like the various notes of music, but the I continued like the fundamental sruti note ("that which is heard" i.e. the Vedas and Upanishads) a note which underlies and blends with all other notes.
In the vision of death, though all the senses were benumbed, the aham sphurana (Self-awareness) was clearly evident, and so I realised that it was that awareness that we call "I", and not the body. This Self-awareness never decays. It is unrelated to anything. It is Self-luminous. Even if this body is burnt, it will not be affected. Hence, I realised on that very day so clearly that that was "I".[web 6]
NISARGADATTA’S TEACHING ON THE I AND THE I AM SENSE FROM THE “NISARGADATTA GITA” AND FROM "CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE ABSOLUTE."
Several quotes are cited out of many almost identical quotes; they prove the point that Nisargadatta thought the I-sense, the I, the I-Am was illusory, and that what you really are was that which was before the I, which he calls Witness or the Absolute, which is also prior to Consciousness--the witness of Consciousness.
1. The ‘I am’ is the sum total of all that you perceive, it’s time-bound, the ‘I am’ itself is an illusion, you are not the ‘I am’ you are prior to it.
1. Your Guru, your God, is the ‘I am’, with its coming came duality and all activity, stay on the ‘I am’, you are before the ‘I am’ appeared.
1. Only be the ‘I am’, just be, the ‘I am’ has appeared on your homogenous state, the one free of the ‘I am’ is liberated, you are prior to the ‘I am’.
1. Worship the indwelling ‘I am’ in you, it is the ‘I am’ that is born, it is the ‘I am’ that will die, you are not that ‘I am’.
1. Remain focused on the ‘I am’ till it goes into oblivion, then the eternal is, Absolute is, Parabrahman is.
1. All knowledge including the ‘I am’ is formless, throw out the ‘I am’ and stay put in quietude.
1. With the dropping off of the primary experience ‘I am’ all experiences would vanish and only the Absolute remains.
1. Keep focused on the ‘I am’ till you become a witness to it, then you stand apart, you have reached the highest.
FROM CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE ABSOLUTE:
In deep sleep, consciousness was in a dormant condition; there were no bodies, no concepts, no encumbrances. Upon the arrival of this apparently wakeful state, with the arrival of the concept "I Am", the love of "I Am" woke up. That itself is Maya, illusion.
Q: Does Maharaj mean that the experiencer of the three states is the Self?
M: That is the Saguna Brahman state; because of your beingness the other states are. The dream world is very old, it is not new. You see old monuments in your dreams. Your beingness is very powerful.
The emergence of this beingness itself constitutes time. Everything is beingness, but I, the Absolute, am not that.
Consciousness is time flowing continuously. But I, the Absolute, will not have its company eternally because consciousness is time bound. When this beingness goes, the Absolute will not know "I Am". Appearance and disappearance, birth and death, these are the qualities of beingness; they are not your qualities. You have urinated and odor is coming from that - are you that odor?
Q: No, I am not.
M: This beingness is like that urine.
Maharaj: The principle which can know itself is in the organism. In a worm crawling, it is there, because the worm knows itself instinctively.
By listening to my talks you will be transformed back to your original state, prior to your birth. Right now, in spite of your present life, it will happen. My present talk is quite different now, at a higher level; therefore I do not invite anybody to listen to my present talks. I recommend that nobody should come and listen because they will develop a dispassion for their family or daily life.
When beingness forgets itself, that state is Parabrahman. This knowingness is not your true state, it is the outcome of the food essence body, and you, the Absolute, are not that.
My point is that Nisargadatta and Ramana have two entirely different teachings. For Ramana, all that there is is Consciousness, awareness of the I. The I is real.
For Nisargadatta, the I, the I Am, Beingness, Consciousness, are all unreal. Only the Absolute is prior to Consciousness as real. Beingness is not real. I is not real. Only the Absolute, the Witness beyond Consciousness is, and that cannot be an object of knowledge because it is the source of all knowledge.
Nisargadatta’s “truth” is the truth of Robert Adams, that the I does not exist. That who you are is that which witnesses and is aware, or awareness itself. This is the truth of my first two awakenings in 1995, outlined in my book, Self-Realization and Other Awakenings, and my website, http://wearesentience.com.
The truth of Ramana is the same as revealed to me by my third awakening in 2015, awakening to what I call the Manifest Self, self-awareness of the life-energy.
In the largest sense, you can say that Ramana was life-affirming, while Nisargadatta characterized life, beingness, Consciousness, the I-sense, as illusion, as the mischief to be transcended.
These are both true but each has a very different message, a different feel. One is life-affirming while the other is life ignoring.
For a long time I taught Nisargadatta’s life ignoring and to abide in that which was prior to Consciousness. But after my third awakening to the divine within, to God, to the I-sense, I changed completely to a life-loving orientation.