Nisargadatta’s Guru

On every nondualist’s bookshelf stands a dog-eared copy of I AM THAT. From time to time in the dialogues, Nisargadatta mentions his guru. But who was this guru, and what lineage did he come out of?

About a thousand years ago, India developed a tradition based around spiritual masters. Its generic-sounding name was the Nath Sampradaya or Master Tradition.

One branch of this tradition revered a lineage of nine particular masters, though the precise names of the nine vary from source to source. Not surprisingly, this branch is known as the Navnath Sampradaya or Nine-Master Tradition.

In the nineteenth-century, a man named Venkatesh Khanderao Deshpande was initiated into the Navnath Sampradaya. On his initiation, he took the name Bhausaheb. Since Bhausaheb lived in the village of Inchgiri, the branch of the Navnath Sampradaya that descended from him is known as the Inchegiri Sampradaya.

In 1906 Bhausaheb initiated a youth named Siddharameshwar. Siddharameshwar was a bright young man who left school at the age of sixteen to become an accountant. After two years of laboring at this profession, Siddharameshwar abandoned worldly life to become an initiate of the Inchegiri Sampradaya.

When Siddharameshwar joined the Inchegiri Sampradaya, it was a mantra tradition. But Siddharameshwar judged mantra to be too slow. After his realization, he had his own students work with mantra for only a few weeks, just to build their powers of attentiveness. Then he would direct them inward toward consciousness itself — the practice we know from the teachings of Siddharameshwar’s student Nisargadatta.

A selection of Siddharameshwar’s teachings appears in Amrut Laya. This book is really three volumes in one:

The “Master Key to Self-Realization” goes in depth into the four-body theory. First it dives inward, guiding the reader through a sort of neti-neti or direct pointing approach to nonduality. Then it works outward to explain how Brahman gives rise to maya in the first place. The teachings seem almost academic in comparison with the punchy exchanges we’re familiar with from Nisargadatta.

In the talks, though, Siddharameshwar speaks in more ordinary language. The note-takers did an excellent job of turning each full lecture into a couple of pages of very readable notes. Siddharameshwar’s metaphors have every bit as much power as Nisargadatta’s. Here he is on the need to avoid slipping back after reaching realization:

To become an individual after understanding that one is Brahman is ridiculous. What is the sense of one who is a king taking a position as a sweeper who cleans gutters?

The second set of talks in the book is dated 1933. That was the year Nisargadatta met Siddharameshwar. I wonder if a young Nisargadatta (then known as Maruti) was in the audience for some of the talks in this book.