“Returning to the Source: I Am” from Listening to the Heart

Posted by – May 18, 2015
Categories: Excerpt Spirituality & Religion

by Kittisara9781583948392

Here is a brief, beautiful excerpt from Kittisaro and Thanissara’s Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism. Kittisaro explains how a simple practice for self reflection, and a newfound understanding of awareness and its relationship to consciousness, enhanced his spiritual journey.


Returning to the Source: I Am

An important breakthrough occurred early in my monastic life when I received some tips from Sri Nisagardatta, whose teachings are recorded in a wonderful book called I Am That. My dear friend Ajahn Anando sent this book to me when I was a young monk at Ajahn Jun’s monastery in Thailand. It had a revolutionary effect on my practice. Up until then I had been the one “polishing a brick to make a mirror.” I kept trying to get my meditation right, my states of mind peaceful, and my body compliant with my will. None of that was working particularly well. Instead it led me into despair. In retrospect the despair was important, because it helped me give up. It helped me to recognize the perpetual burden of trying to get somewhere. When the book I Am That arrived, I was ready to hear what Sri Nisagardatta had to say.

Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginning-less, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful, awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience.… Interest in your stream of consciousness takes you to awareness.

I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

He encourages practitioners to continually return to the thought “I am,” to reflect on the transitory nature of the thought itself, and give attention to the ever-present background of awareness where all thoughts, good and bad, dissolve. The “I am” habitually attaches to an object, a this or that, but do we ever reflect on the awareness itself?

For the first time I shifted my attention from the objects of consciousness to awareness. I practiced with the “I am,” noticing its ephemeral bubble-like nature, letting it dissolve, resting in the effortless ground of knowing. I started welcoming into the heart all the thoughts I was afraid of, and those I habitually cherished, observing them rise and cease back into unmoving presence. This was my first taste of radical reflection, returning to the source. I was set on a new course, which resonated perfectly with the ongoing teachings I received in the monastery around suffering and the end of suffering. Throughout my sabbatical retreat at Dharmagiri, the words of Sri Nisargadatta were a great inspiration, always pointing me back from the endless complexity of the world to the unifying field of awareness.


Excerpted from Listening to the Heart by Kittisaro and Thanissara. (c) 2014, North Atlantic Books.

Tags: Buddhism Sacred Activism Thanissara Kittisaro
About the Author

Marina is the Marketing & Digital Programs Coordinator at North Atlantic Books. After living in New Orleans and Amsterdam, and exploring a couple of continents, she returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to work at NAB. She's passionate about astrology, nonfiction books, and sustainable living, as well as all things metaphysical.