Neti neti

A friend of a friend studied French by reciting sentences like these:

‘Buenos días’ is not French.

‘அறிவே நான்’ is not French.

‘Ausgezeichnet’ is not French.

‘夫妻肺片’ is not French.

And so on.

He worked hard at it but his French was always awful.

That’s neti neti.

If you don’t know anything about neti neti, you may be thinking that it can’t really be like that. Well, check it out.

Actually, neti neti teaches at least one useful lesson. It makes the practitioner understand that consciousness isn’t any of the things it sees. That’s a very important fact.

But after you understand that fact, you still have to find out what consciousness is. You can’t learn what it is by thinking about what it isn’t. In fact you can’t learn what it is by thinking.

One of the weaknesses of my analogy between French and the thing we want to study, consciousness, is that French, Spanish, Tamil, German, and Mandarin are all languages, but consciousness is utterly unlike everything else.

Consciousness is so unlike everything else that in order to pay attention to it, we have to use a different method of paying attention than the one we employ with other things.

If you want to learn French, speak French. If you want to know consciousness, be conscious.

Parvati once told me, “You should meet my husband.”

Be conscious.

Photo: Children learning French in New Guinea by Pete Muller

3 thoughts to “Neti neti”

  1. Thank you very much for your articles! Your simple and practical approach to advaita is very helpful in our practice.

  2. This was helpful. It brings this up… I’ve found the Neti-neti tool is not about learning. It is about unlearning. Because our entire childhood experience was full of naming and information and few of us were fortunate to be pointed towards the Unnamed, Neti-neti is a way of illiminating all this relative knowledge from our awareness, and then perhaps once our awareness is empty, we can realize or know or experience the pure awareness that remains, free of the names that have been crammed down Its throat.

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