2

Is Neti-neti a practice of negation, or an expression of inneffability? I'm curious because I've heard it described in both ways.

1

Neti-neti is the best description of brahman.It eliminates the possibility of brahman having any attributes what-so-ever.

https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/the-brihadaranyaka-upanishad/d/doc117948.html

Brihadaranyaka upanishad 2.3.6

....Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this.’ Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this.’...

Note: iti actually means "like this" or "thus" or "in this manner" rather than "this".

Commentary by Shankara

It is by the elimination of these limiting adjuncts that the Śruti wishes to define the nature of Brahman negatively, saying, ‘Not this, not this.’ ...

That same Brahman, again, is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the object of intuition, birthless, undecaying, immortal, fearless, and beyond the reach of even speech and mind, being above duality, and is described as ‘Not this, not this.’ ....

How through these two terms ‘Not this, not this’ is it sought to describe the Truth of truth? By the elimination of all differences due to limiting adjuncts, the words refer to something that has no distinguishing mark such as name, or form, or action, or heterogeneity, or species, or qualities. Words denote things through one or other of these. But Brahman has none of these distinguishing marks. Hence It cannot be described as, ‘It. is such and such,’ as we can describe a cow by saying,. ‘There moves a white cow with horns.’ Brahman is described by means of name, form and action superimposed on It, in such terms as, ‘Knowledge, Bliss, Brahman’ (III. ix. 28), and ‘Pure Intelligence’ (II. iv. 12), ‘Brahman,’ and ‘Atman.’ When, however, we wish to describe Its true nature, free from all differences due to limiting adjuncts, then it is an utter impossibility. Then there is only one way left, viz. to describe It as ‘Not this, not this,’ by eliminating all possible specifications of It that one may know of.....

These two negative particles are for conveying all-inclusiveness through repetition so as to eliminate every specification whatsoever that may occur to us. Such being the case, the doubt that Brahman has not been described is removed. If, on the other hand, the two negative particles merely eliminated just the two aspects of Brahman that are being discussed (viz. the gross and subtle), then other aspects of It besides these two would not be described, and there would still be a doubt as to what exactly Brahman is like. So that description of Brahman would be useless, for it would not satisfy one's desire to know It. And the purpose of the sentence, T will instruct you about Brahman’ (II. i. 15), would remain unfulfilled. But when through the elimination of all limiting adjuncts the desire to know about space, time and everything else (that is not Brahman) is removed, one realises one's identity with Brahman, the Truth of truth, which is homogeneous like a lump of salt, is Pure Intelligence, and is without interior or exterior; his desire to know is completely satisfied, and his intellect is centred in 1 the Self alone. Therefore the two negative particles in 'Not this, not this' are used in an all-inclusive sense.....

Objection: Well, after buckling to with such ado is it fair to describe Brahman thus?

Reply: Yes. Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this, not this,’ therefore this is the only description of Brahman. The particle ‘iti’ covers all possible predications that are to be eliminated by the two negative particles, as when we say, ‘Every village is beautiful.’..

| improve this answer | |
  • Anything that can be conceived of is an obstacle to liberation. – S K Feb 19 at 11:48
1

The via negativa path is the neti neti (not this, not this) path of Jnana Marga. It of course assumes that Brahman can not be described by any human model.

No one can say with finality that God is only ‘this’ and nothing else. He is formless and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world as another. Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani – the Vedantist, for instance – always reasons, applying the process of ‘Not this, not this’. Through this discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He can not describe what Brahman is. Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of the bhakta’s love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn’t feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God’s forms. What He is can not be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his ‘I’ anymore.

If one analyzes oneself, one doesn’t find any such thing as ‘I’. Take an onion, for instance. First of all peel off the red outer skin; then you find thick white skins. Peel these off one after the other, and you won’t find anything inside.

In that state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state – in his own Pure Consciousness – about the real nature of Brahman? There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. Man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the ‘I’, which may be likened to the salt doll, melts in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest distinction is left.

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master with the Brahmo Devotees (I) [October 28, 1882]

| improve this answer | |
1

Yes. 'Neti, Neti' is an expression of Ineffability - kind of description of Nirguna aspect. Read/understand the following links and discussions for more details in the same order below...

https://www.tamilbrahmins.com/threads/nature-of-the-self.38233/

Consciousness as vrittis themselves

https://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/104631/discussion-between-weezy-and-gopal-anantharaman

Understanding Nirguna Brahman

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .