Nisargadatta Maharaj was born as Maruti Shivrampant Kambli in the city of Bombay. His father Shivrampant Kambli and mother Parvati bai were followers of the Varkari Sampradaya, which is an egalitarian Vaishnavite bhakti tradition worshipping Vithoba. He was born on Hanuman Jayanti therefore he was named Maruti after Lord Hanuman. He was a guru of non-dualism. He belonged to the Icchagiri Sampradaya.
These are a lineage of teachers from the Navnath Sampradaya and Lingayat Shaivism. Maruti Kambli was brought up in Kandalgaon, where his father had become a petty farmer. In the year 1915, after his father expired, he moved to Bombay to work and support his family back home.
In his early years in Bombay, he worked as a junior clerk at an office but later he opened a small goods store, mainly selling Beedis (leaf-rolled cigarettes). Soon he owned a string of eight retail shops. In 1924 he married Sumati Bai and they brought three daughters and a son into this world.
In the year 1933, he came face to face with his guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj. He was the head of the Icchagiri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya. His guru explained to Maruti that “You are not what you take yourself to be”. Siddharameshwar Maharaj introduced him to the Icchegiri Sampradaya, giving him instructions for meditation and a mantra. Maruti immediately began reciting the mantra. His guru gave Maruti instructions for self-inquiry which he followed verbatim.
Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj
Following his guru’s instructions to concentrate on the feeling “I am”, Nisargadatta used all his spare time looking at himself in silence and maintaining that state for the coming years. He practiced meditation and sang devotional bhajans. Nisargadatta had a unique way of teaching what he learned from his guru Siddharameshwar.
He gave talks and answered questions in his humble abode in Khetwadi, Mumbai. Here a mezzanine floor was created for him to receive his disciples and visitors. This room was also utilized for daily chantings, bhajans, meditational sessions, and discourses. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj gave mantra initiation, whose underlying point was that the mantra was more than the sound. It was the Absolute itself which could be repeated throughout life in all circumstances.
For his western disciples, Nisargadatta followed a question and answer mode of instruction. Many of his discourses were recorded and they formed the basis of ‘I am that’ as well as several other books which are attributed to him.
“The profound but important words of this excellent leader are so designed that we will be jolted into awareness of our own nature. As the Zen master’s of old, Nisargadatta’s style was provocative, abrupt, and immensely profound cutting to the core and wasting little effort on essentials. His potent and terse sayings are known for their ability to trigger shifts in consciousness, just by hearing or even reading them.”