Experiences with Nisargadatta Maharaj- Vanaja Narayanaswami

Edit – New Stories added on oct, 2020. New stories start from story number 7 

About Vanaja Narayanaswami

Vanaja Narayanaswami is an ardent follower of Nisargadatta Maharaj.  Born in 1940, she is a brilliant mathematician and has traveled the globe attending various mathematics conferences.

She met Nisargadatta Maharaj in 1978 and used to carry her tape recorder every day and with great devotion recorded the talks of Nisargadatta Maharaj, which are recorded in 500 audio tapes. Maharaj allowed her to place the microphone in front of him for the recordings. (This happened because of Jean Dunn’s suggestion.) Vanaja has been very generous with money and gave with an open heart to preserve and spread Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings.

Vanaja Narayanaswami

Meeting Vanaja

I first came in contact with her in 2004 and I was really touched by her simplicity, kindness and immense love. She always treated me like her son, and I affectionately called her Aunty.

In 2005, while I was working hard on digitization of Maharaj’s tapes, Aunty said- “You have been working so hard and doing all this wonderful work for Maharaj, I would like to pay you for your time and effort.”

I thought for a moment and then said- “Aunty, sure, you can pay me. But I would like to be paid in stories of Maharaj. I would like to hear from you about your experiences with him. That is something which is much more valuable than money for me.”

Thus started a beautiful relationship and over the years she told me some amazing stories. I have now complied some of the stories below. A special thanks to Louise Sterling for taking the time to edit the stories.

1. Oxygen & Consciousness

Six months before his Samadhi, Nisargadatta Maharaj was experiencing severe breathing problems due to his throat cancer. His suffering made me feel very sad. One day, I suggested to Maharaj that we can get an oxygen cylinder, which would help relive his breathing problems.

Maharaj immediately exploded in anger- “This consciousness will stay as long it has to stay & go when it has to go. You know that I don’t want to prolong this life even for one second. After hearing all my talks I am surprised you are saying this.”

He went on and on for some time, while I just stood there. To be honest I was upset and had tears in my eyes. When I went back the next day Maharaj exclaimed “Oh you have come again! I thought after my angry outburst yesterday, you will never come back”. I told him humbly “Maharaj, it doesn’t matter what you say and how angry you get. I will always come back to you”. Maharaj nodded and smiled at me.

2.Tigers and deers

Once when I was at Maharaj’s home in Khetwadi, there was an argument between the members of Maharaj’s family. I was quite disturbed by the heated exchange of words. I got up to leave for my home, thinking- “They say that the atmosphere around an enlightened master is so peaceful that even enemies like tigers and deer live as friends. Than why are all these heated arguments happening?

I was going down the steps, deeply disturbed by these thoughts. As I reached the bottom of the steps, I heard Maharaj calling me. I looked up and he was standing at the top of the stairs. With a firm voice he said – “There is no reality in this. Whatever is happening is just a happening. Your job is to be an observer and remain unaffected. “

3. Building an ashram

I used to have the thought that there should be an Ashram for Nisargadatta Maharaj, something similar to Ramanashram. My mother had a land in Chennai, and I had this thought that we could build an Asharm or a temple dedicated to him there. One day I was sitting at the talks, thinking about how wonderful it would be to have an ashram for him. Suddenly, Maharaj looked at me and said, “that is not the solution(samadhan). There is no point in building an ashram.  At the most you can build a temple with a golden statue of me in it. Do you think building it will bring an end to your desires? This will not lead you to the truth.

4.Leaving my job

Once after the Maharaj’s talks I was feeling very blissful, I felt a sense of being whole, as if whatever I had to do in this life, I had accomplished. I didn’t want to work anymore and wanted to deepen this state. I wanted to leave my job. The next day I told Maharaj about my intention of leaving my job.

“Who is doing the job, is it ‘you’ who is working?” Maharaj asked

I just looked at him, my mind completely blank. The thought of leaving my job completely vanished. I had this conversation with him in 1979. I worked for 21 years after that, finally retiring in 2000.

5.The illusion of time

There was a function at Banganga (Siddharameshwar Maharaj’s Samadhi) and Maharaj asked me to attend it. Since I was single and lived with my mom and brother, I was expected to be home 7 pm every day. That evening the program went on and on. I asked Maharaj for permission to leave early but he asked me to wait till the end. The program ended around 10pm at night and I had to travel alone in a taxi to south Bombay, which was rare and unsafe  for a single women.

I was afraid that my mother would be anxiously waiting for me and I would be severely reprimanded and scolded. Surprisingly we had some guests at home at that late hour and when I entered nobody even mentioned the time. It was as if nothing had happened.

6.Don’t let it go waste

During the last days, when Nisargadatta Maharaj was very sick, he didn’t stop talking about consciousness. He wanted to convey the truth to everyone, even when he was suffering from throat cancer. He used to say – “Publish the discourses; otherwise all my talking will go to waste. Let seekers know the truth about their own consciousness.” He used to urge Jean Dunn again and again to publish the teachings. He wanted all seekers of truth to benefit from them.

Edit October, 2020 – New Stories

7. Everything is a blessing

This incident was told to me by Ms. Jaishree Gaitonde. She and her husband usually attended Nisargadatta Maharaj’s evening talks and acted as the translators. On this particular evening, they were driving to Nisargadatta Maharaj’s place and on the way, they stopped the car to buy some fruit. Jaishree inadvertently left her hand bag on the car bonnet and while they were buying the fruit someone stole her bag. They were very worried as the car keys, house keys and money were inside the hand bag. Just then, some onlookers pointed to a hand bag on the road some distance away from the wayside fruit shop. They were very glad – especially when they realised that the thief has taken the money only and left the other items intact.

When they arrived at Nisargadatta Maharaj’s place, they prostrated to him, narrated the happenings on the way, and said that only because of His grace they got the hand bag back. Can you guess what Maharaj replied? He said, “Yes, and it was because of my grace the bag was stolen and the money was lost”.

Nisargadatta Maharaj had taken the opportunity to shine light on this happening – showing that this was just a happening. Only the interpretations of the mind made it “good” or “bad”.

8. Steam inhaler

When Nisargadatta Maharaj’s body was suffering from cancer, he had breathing problems. I used to go early from my work to do some seva (service) for him. Because of his breathing trouble, he used to inhale hot water vapours from a porcelain pot. The pot had an opening on the top to pour in hot water and two openings on the sides –one for inhaling the steam and the other for the steam to escape.

One day, I inadvertently put the opening through which the steam escapes near his mouth, and the boiling water splashed on him. I was terrified and started crying and apologising. The wonder is that Nisargadatta Maharaj was not affected. Instead he said to me: “Be careful here.” I was relieved but could not control my tears. This incident showed me clearly that Nisargadatta Maharaj is apart from the body.

9. Take care of your Mother

My mother had to undergo an operation. I informed Maharaj about it and said that I would not be coming to his ashram for a few days. I did not go to Kethwadi Ashram for the next three days and I felt restless. Seeing this, my sister-in-law said that she would take care of my mother for a day so that I could visit Nisargadatta Maharaj.

When I did namaskar to Maharaj, he enquired whether my mother had returned home from the hospital. I replied in the negative. He asked, “Why did you come here when your mother is in the hospital? Go and look after her and come here only after she returns home.” Such was his kindness! He never liked his disciples to forego their samsarik (worldly) duties to come to his place. The motto of the lineage is that we should not leave our worldly duties to pursue the spiritual path.

9. Offering Prasad

I used to take a large amount of fruit as Prasad (offering of sweets) for the morning bhajan. Usually half of it was returned to me and half was distributed as Prasad.

Many times, only a few people would attend the morning bhajan and hence a lot of Prasad would remain. Nisargadatta Maharaj told me that it is enough if I came and there was no need to bring Prasad. Seeing my crestfallen face, he said, “Ok, bring Prasad, but just a small quantity”.

10. Accepting the gift given with kindness

Once I had to go to Calcutta for an interview. I did not want to go as I did not want to miss the satsang with Nisargadatta Maharaj. I told Maharaj that my family did not want me to miss this opportunity, but I did not want to go to Calcutta. I asked him whether I should attend the interview. Nisargadatta Maharaj did not reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but kept quiet instead.

I went to Calcutta and got a present for Nisargadatta Maharaj from there. My cousin helped me to purchase a dhoti and kurta, which Nisargadatta Maharaj could wear. When I presented it to him, he said that the dhoti was okay, but the kurta had embroidery near the sleeve and he did not wear such clothes. When he saw that I was a little upset, he wore the kurta for the evening session, showing his magnanimous nature.

Just to add, I did not get the job in Calcutta and continued in Bombay.

11. Taking care of worldly responsibilities

My cousin Vaidhyanathan, called Vaithy for short, was studying for his Master’s degree in the Bombay (now called Mumbai) University, where I was teaching. I took him one day for Darshana of Nisargadatta Maharaj. Vaithy took along his friend, Kasbekar, a blind man, who was also studying at Mumbai University. Nisargadatta Maharaj blessed Kasbekar and also gave him some money.

After listening to Nisargadatta Maharaj’s for a few months, Vaithy started understanding the teachings. However, he was afraid that he may run away from home, leaving his duties for spirituality. Maharaj used to tell me to not bring Vaithy to the talks as he would become spiritually inclined later in life. Nisargadatta Maharaj always insisted that one should study well and settle in life and only then dive deep into spiritual matters.

Now, Vaithy says he is very much indebted to Nisargadatta Maharaj: it was only because of Maharaj’s blessing that he could get a good job at Chennai and take care of his parents until they passed away.

12. Accepting gifts with humility

When Nisargadatta Maharaj was very ill due to cancer, someone suggested that soaking and grinding almonds and taking them with milk may improve his health. In those days, almonds were costly and were not freely available. My brother, who had been working in Afghanistan, brought back some almonds. I offered them to Nisargadatta Maharaj and he accepted them.

After a few days, he asked me whether it would be alright if his family members used the almonds it as they did not suit his body. I was really moved that Maharaj asked me such a question, as he didn’t need my permission for this. I told him that when I gave the almonds to him, they were for all his family members.

13. Mantra Diksha

I had a deep yearning to get Mantra Diksha(initiation). In my family, boys are given sacred thread and the Gayatri mantra is imparted to them by their father. I kept pestering my father for a Mantra Diksha, arguing with him that there is no difference between girls and boys. At last he gave me the Gayatri mantra initiation and I was happy.

When I met Nisargadatta Maharaj, after reading the article in Mountain Path, I started going for the meditation hour in the morning. I was under the impression that like Ramana Maharishi and Shirdi Sai Baba, Nisargadatta Maharaj also would not give Mantra Diksha.

One morning when I went to the ashram, Maharaj enquired whether I have taken Nam from any one (Mantra Diksha is called Nam Lena in Marathi). At first, I could not understand what he meant, and then it struck me that he meant Mantra Diksha. I told him I have been given Gayatri mantra by my father. He said: “It is ok” and asked me sit near the altar. I told him I have not brought the usual offerings of fruits, flowers, etc. Maharaj said that it did not matter and gave me the Nama Mantra. Unexpectedly, I had received the initiation from Maharaj and I was thrilled.

Later I brought my mother, my sister and my niece (just ten years old!) to receive Nama Mantra from Nisargadatta Maharaj. Maharaj was kind enough to give them Diksha and asked me why I should bring so many family members to receive the Mantra. I told him that when we receive a dessert and enjoy it, we would like to share it with everyone.

14. Garlands for Maharaj

I often used to take a garland of flowers to offer to Nisargadatta Maharaj. Maharaj would show me the photo of his guru Sri Siddharameswara Maharaj and instruct me to offer the garland to him. Thereafter, whenever I want to offer a garland to Nisargadatta Maharaj, I took along two garlands – one for him and one for his teacher.

During festival days, many people used to bring garlands. On one of these festival days, I had the feeling that I should have brought my garland on some other day. Nisargadatta Maharaj read my thoughts and told me that he was keeping my garland in the fridge and would use it the next day, if that was alright with me.

Do you have any stories of Nisargadatta Maharaj or did his teachings touch you in a special way?  If you would like them to be published, please email them- rajiv@innerspiritualawakening.com

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22 thoughts on “Experiences with Nisargadatta Maharaj- Vanaja Narayanaswami”

  1. Deeply Illuminating. Thank you so very much to you both for sharing. With much Love from the Philippines!

  2. These little stories are very enriching and give the reader a little glimpse of the Masters life.
    Thank you.

  3. Now that I think I know you : Please notify me when more stories about Nisargadatta Maharaj are added or that of anybody else.Love and Regards .

  4. Thank you.
    I was fortunate being in Nisargadatta’s presence in 1978, and I took a photo in his mezzanine room. In the middle of this picture you see her sitting. Until yesterday I had no idea who she was, but someone recognized her and told me that she is Vanata Narayanaswami. I googled her name and just now I am reading these stories. You can imagine how special this is. Here I am in Amsterdam, so many years later, making this wonderful connection, and bringing to mind most vividly the times I was with Nisargadatta, not understanding a word what he was saying but silently absorbing his profound message anyway. If posdible I would like to send this photo to Vanata. Thank you again.

    1. Frans, could you please post that photo here so we can see it too? Thank you. I love Maharaj and it would be great to see him with his disciples.

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