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Sage Yajnavalkya, the greatest of Upanishadic philosophers, taught the great doctrine of “neti-neti”, the view that truth can be found only through the negation of all thoughts about it (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6).
तस्य हैतस्य पुरुषस्य रूपम्।यथा माहारजनं वासः, यथा पाण्ड्वाविकम्, यथेन्द्रगोपः, यथाग्न्यर्चिः, यथापुण्डरीकम्, यथा सकृद्विद्युत्तम्; सकृद्विद्युत्तेव ह वा अस्य श्रीर्भवति य एवं वेद; अथात आदेशः—नेति नेति, न ह्येतस्मादिति नेत्यन्यत्परमस्ति; अथ नामधेयम्—सत्यस्य सत्यमिति; प्राणा वै सत्यम्, तेषामेष सत्यम्॥
Tasya haitasya puruṣasya rūpam | yathā māhārajanaṃ vāsaḥ, yathā pāṇḍvāvikam, yathendragopaḥ, yathāgnyarciḥ, yathā puṇḍarīkam, yathā sakṛdvidyuttam; sakṛdvidyutteva ha vā asya śrīrbhavati ya evaṃ veda; athāta ādeśaḥ—neti neti, na hyetasmāditi netyanyatparamasti; atha nāmadheyam—satyasya satyamiti; prāṇā vai satyam, teṣāmeṣa satyam ||
The form of that ‘being’ is as follows: Like a cloth dyed with turmeric, or like grey sheep’s wool, or like the (scarlet) insect called Indragopa, or like a tongue of fire, or like a white lotus, or like a flash of lightning. He who knows it as such attains splendour like a flash of lightning. Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this.’ Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this.’ Now Its name: ‘The Truth of truth.’ The vital force is truth, and It is the Truth of that.
Sage Yajnavalkya’s dialogues with his wife, Maitreyi are featured in the Muni Kanda or Yajnavalkya Kanda.
The doctrine of “Neti, Neti” in this Upanishad suggests it is possible to describe Brahman as what ‘It’ is not but not as to what ‘It’ is.
The three cardinal virtues of self-restraint (DAmana), alms giving (DAna) and compassion (DAya) are also mentioned here (the three ‘DA’s).
Atman is “neither this, nor this” (“Neti, neti”). The Self cannot be described in any way. “Na-iti” - that is “Neti”.
It is through this process of “Neti, neti” that you give up everything - the cosmos, the body, the mind and everything - to realise the Self.
After knowing the Atman in this manner, you will develop the attitude that the phenomenal world and all its creatures are made up of the same essence of bliss.
Brahman is infinite, amorphous, colorless, characterless and formless Universal Spirit which is omnipresent and omnipotent, and like cosmic energy, it is pervasive, unseen and indescribable.
Avadhuta Gita 1.25
तत्त्वमस्यादिवाक्येन स्वात्मा हि प्रतिपादितः।नेति नेति श्रुतिर्ब्रूयाद अनृतं पाञ्चभौतिकम्।।२५।।Tattvamasyādivākyena svātmā hi pratipāditaḥ /neti neti śrutirbrūyād anṛtaṁ pāñcabhautikam //25//By such sentences as "That thou art," our own Self is affirmed. Of that which is untrue and composed of the five elements - the Sruti (scripture) says, "Not this, not this."
Anupalabdi (अनुपलब्धि) is one of the six Vedic Pramans. It means non-perception, negative/cognitive proof.
Indian scholars refined Anupalabdi to four types: non-perception of the cause, non-perception of the effect, non-perception of object and non-perception of contradiction.
Only two schools of Hinduism accepted and developed the concept "non-perception" as a pramana. The schools that endorsed Anupalabdi affirmed that it is valid and useful when the other five pramanas fail in ones pursuit of knowledge and truth. Only Mimamsa and Advaita Vedanta schools of Hindu Philosophy agree with this as a Praman. Naya Sutras do not accept it as a valid method of proof.
Guru Arjan Dev: Shloka Sehshritee on page 1359 of the Granth Sahib.
- न संखं न चक्रं न गदा न सिआमं॥ God has no conch-shell, no religious mark, no paraphernalia; he does not have blue skin.
- अस्चरज रूपं रहंत जनमं॥His Form is Wondrous and Amazing. He is beyond incarnation.
- नेत नेत कथंति बेदा॥ The Vedas say that He is not this, and not that.
- ऊच मूच अपार गोबिंदह॥ The Lord of the Universe is Lofty and High, Great and Infinite.
- बसंति साध रिदयं अचुत बुझंति नानक बडभागी अह॥५७॥ The Imperishable Lord abides in the hearts of the Holy. He is understood, O Nanak, by those who are very fortunate. ||57||
Neti-Neti meditation: The principle of Neti-Neti has been used in meditation involving Gnana yoga. Whenever a thought or feeling, which is not the goal of the meditation or is not the soul or the inner self comes to the mind, the meditator simply has to say, “Not this, not this,” and dismiss the thought, image, concept, sound, or sense distraction. Any thought, any feeling, is discarded, patiently discarded, again and again if necessary, until the mind is clear and the soul/or the self is revealed.
Neti-Neti and the mind: When you get into the habit of “neti-neti,” you can also discard thoughts of worry, doubt, or fear, and become established in the light of your inner self. You can then look back at worries and fears with deep insight and handle them.
Neti-Neti and the medical profession: A basic medical teaching is to diagnose a condition by way of excluding other similar conditions. This is called differential diagnosis. This is the only scientific way of knowing the truth.
Neti-neti and multiple-choice questions: The principle of Neti- Neti also applies to any modern day examination, which uses the multiple choice questions (MCQs) format. In this, each question has about four nearly similar answers and the student must choose the correct one. He can do this only by the principle of negation; Neti-Neti, not this, not this.
Neti-Neti and police investigations: This principle is also used by the police during a criminal investigation. Many people are suspected of having committing the crime and the investigating tem starts eliminating them one by one.
The opposite of Neti-Neti is “All this is Brahman” - Sarvamkhalvidam brahma
Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1
सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्म तज्जलानिति शान्त उपासीत। अथ खलु क्रतुमयः पुरुषो यथाक्रतुरस्मिँल्लोके पुरुषो भवति तथेतः प्रेत्य भवति स क्रतुं कुर्वीत॥
sarvaṃ khalvidaṃ brahma tajjalāniti śānta upāsīta | atha khalu kratumayaḥ puruṣo yathākraturasmim̐lloke puruṣo bhavati tathetaḥ pretya bhavati sa kratuṃ kurvīta || 3.14.1 ||
All this is Brahman. Everything comes from Brahman, everything goes back to Brahman, and everything is sustained by Brahman. One should therefore quietly meditate on Brahman. Each person has a mind of his own.
What a person wills in his present life, he becomes when he leaves this world. One should bear this in mind and meditate accordingly.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA