Shining World

What Does ‘Neti Neti’ Mean and Why is it Used?

            The term ‘neti, neti’ is a compound term in Sanskrit, meaning ‘not this, not this’. The root words for ‘neti’ are ‘na iti’. According to certain grammar rules, in Sanskrit, two vowels in proximity to each other change the meaning.  ‘Na’ means ‘not’. The word ‘iti’ means ‘this’. So, the compound word ‘neti’ means ‘not this’.
            Equivalent English terms for ‘neti neti’ are ‘cognitively negated’, mentally removed, mentally put in their proper place, understood to be something other than the ostensible meaning. Anything cognitively negated is as good as not actually present.
Vedanta negates all tangible and intangible objects which includes the body and physical objects outside the body.  It negates , possessions, obligations, relationships, transactions, discrete experiences, movements, the intellect, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, ignorance, the emotions, desires, likes, dislikes, moods, etc.  Taken together, all these things form one’s personality, which means it too is negated as “not self” or  “not-this.”  To say that an object is negated is to say that it is seemingly real.  It looks like it is real, but when the teaching reveals the logic that supports one’s attachment to objects, all objects are known to be unreal or mithya in Sanskrit
            These objects are only cognitively negated, not destroyed nor physically removed. They continue to be present but are “seen through” or “looked past,” which shifts one’s attention away from them to the ever-present witness of them.  This shifting implies that one is vigilant and observant, present and mindful of them as they arise in one’s daily life.

When all these are negated, what is left?  That! That!

            After negation, what should arise is the recognition of ‘That’.  It is the backdrop, the context, background, matrix, substrate in which everything which was negated exists. Those objects come into existence from That, are supported by That, finally resolve into That. To recognise ‘That’ requires proper mental preparation and accurate teaching. Without them, correct recognition will not happen.
            Inquiry is not asking who am I.  It is shifting one’s attention  from the observed objects to oneself, the Subject, the unobserved Observer, the unseen Seer, the unwitnessed Witness.  It is affirming one’s inherent nature as Consciousness, Atma.  I am pure Presence of Be-ing, unconditioned Awareness, complete Fulfilment, innate Peace, absolute Happiness. So, practising ‘neti neti’ leads to the recognition of ‘That’, in Sanskrit ‘Tat’. Hence the well-known teaching, “Tat, tvam asi” … “That, you are”.   Or the great proclamation, Aham Brahmasmi,  “I am That.” The word ‘That’ means Consciousness, ‘I’, satyam.
What I am, is Consciousness, here and now. I abide as Consciousness in my human form and continue to live my life using my personality to act, interact, serve.  If you are peaceful within and see harmony all around, “neti neti” has served its purpose.

Ben de Silva

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