Listener 1: What do we understand by ‘Neti-Neti’?
Speaker: ‘Neti’ is a Sanskrit word. It is a very simple word. All it means is ‘Not this’. ‘Neti’ means I will not take something to be what it is not. ‘Neti’ means I will not assume something to be what it is not. We all say that we want to know the truth, we want to know the realty. But before you can know the reality of anything, anybody, any person and any situation, you first must know that your beliefs or assumptions regarding that thing is misplaced. ‘Neti’ means ‘Oh! It is not what I thought it to be. I was thinking about it in a particular way.’ All thought comes with an assurance that I am alright. That thought is the truth. Thought comes with this assurance, this promise. It gives you this belief. ‘Neti-Neti’ is to challenge that belief. ‘Neti-Neti’ is to say, ‘I came close to it, I paid attention to it and in coming close and in paying attention, what do I see? It is not what I thought it to be. It is not that, it is not that at all.’ That is Neti-Neti.
Now why is important? It is important because till the time I am stubbornly holding on to the idea that my opinions reflect the truth, that the world is the same as my thought about it, there is no possibility of any honest inquiry. When I already know, why do I need to inquire? This person who already knows is totally closed to any kind of discovery. Even if the Truth stares him in the face, he will refuse to look at it because he will say that I already know. ‘Who are you? Mere truth? No Truth does not matter. I have my opinions, I already know. My opinion about Truth is more important than the Truth itself. My opinion about things like education, career, work, money, relationships, love, marriage and my life is more important than the reality of life itself.’ Now, such a person is bound to remain confused and suffer. That is why Neti-Neti is extremely important.
You cannot directly move into the truth. You first need to have some courage to challenge the false. Are you getting it? When I am holding on to the false with both my hands adamantly as if I am clinging to dear life, how will I embrace the true? When I am clutching to the false, how will I embrace the true? If both my hands are full of rubbish, even if a diamond is lying in front of me, how will I pick it up? In order pick up the diamond, I first need to free my hands. This freeing of hands is called Neti-Neti. I am getting rid of the rubbish so that now I am free to look at the Truth, when I come by it. And a wonderful thing happens. The moment your hands are free, the moment you are not saying that I already have it, and the moment you relax your beliefs, the Truth is not far away. You don’t have to search too long or too far for it. It is there.
There has been a Zen scholar called Sosan. There is a famous line by him. He said, “If you want to know the Truth, just get rid of your opinions.’ The Truth is not at all inaccessible. It is not at all a subject of deep inquiry. You don’t need to be a James Bond in order to detect the truth. It is there, omnipresent. Just that your eyes are covered by your opinion that you already know. Let us take an example. None of you or very few of you would have worked in a corporate, even for an internship. Right? But if right now we are asked to write on the topics like livelihood, career, work, money, we all would write like experts. We already have nicely cemented ideas about work and what is worth doing in life. There would be very few amongst us who would say, ‘Well sir, I don’t really know.’ And when you don’t really know, there is a possibility of knowing. When you already know so much, how can you know?
Excerpted from a ‘Shabd-Yog’ session. Edited for clarity.