Neti-Neti: Who Am I?
Updated: Apr 7
In this post I would like to propose another practical technique to make you conscious about how many assumptions you are currently holding about your true nature. I will try to get right to the point without too much “theory” in order to make this exercise as much powerful and experiential as possible for you.
You do exist, but as who or what?
Answering this question is the moment of enlightenment,
That is the moment that you become for the first time
an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.
- Adapted from Osho -
Your goal is to find yourself. Your goal is to find the subject, whoever or whatever it is. That which right now is experiencing life.
Neti-Neti is a Sanskrit expression that indicates “not this, not that”. Put it simply Neti-Neti can be considered a technique to recognize what can be held as a subject and what can be held as an object. It is the process that guides you toward the realization of your true nature by discarding everything that is not you.
The first critical and important point for this realization is to grasp that whatever you can perceive through your senses cannot be you but it represents an object of your perception. To be even more clear, if you can see, touch, smell, hear, taste or be aware of anything, if you can recognize something, this automatically make this something falling into the category of being an object. For object I do not mean only physical things, but anything that can be perceived. For example the sensation of itchiness on your nose is an object because I can point to it, I am aware of it.
The second and last important point is that whatever you are, it cannot disappear and change its nature every moment. Whatever appears and disappears and whatever changes its nature cannot be you. What does changes are the dresses that can be put on and off by you, but who is wearing them? Your goal is to identify within your experience what or who is permanently present and never changes its form.
The realization of what I am talking about can happen right now while you are reading this post, so do not hold this exercise as something too difficult to achieve. It is who you are that we are trying to shed light on. I am just trying to remove all the clouds that have been accumulating along these years that are hiding your true nature.
Let’s start with the exercise. Doing the exercise I want you to remember:
a) Whatever you can perceive, point or identify is not you, but an object in your experience. What you are aware of is not you. You are that which is aware.
b) You cannot disappear or change but always be present and unchanged while doing this exercise.
1. Write down in a paper what you can clearly identify as an object, that is, what you are clearly perceiving in your current experience as something distinct from you. Practice Neti-Neti, I am not this, I am not that.
2. Probably you have written down things that are outside your body because instinctively those are the objects we clearly do not identify as our self. Now I want you to recognize within the body anything that can be held as an object, anything that can be perceived. To be more efficient, focus on a specific part of the body and write down what you can identify as an object in that specific area. Practice Neti-Neti, I am not this, I am not that.
3. Always focusing on one area at time, I want you to realize that whatever you have identified comes and goes. I want you to realize that whatever feeling or emotion you could put your attention on is impermanent and therefore cannot be you but something you are experiencing. I want you to focus on whatever part of your body and experience directly that a sensation or a feeling comes and goes but you, whatever you are, are always there witnessing this movement. Practice Neti-Neti, I am not this, I am not that.
4. Now focus your attention to your mind and write down whatever you can identify as an object within it. Write down in few words any sound, image, dialogue or memory you can recognize. Make sure to realize that whatever you are, you are that which is aware of all these objects. Again focus on a specific image or sound in your mind and become directly conscious that these things are all coming and going but you, whatever you are, are always there witnessing this movement. Practice Neti-Neti, I am not this, I am not that.
5. Now I want you to clear your mind for a second, close your eyes, breath and ask yourself: “Who Am I?”. I do not want you to do it quickly but focusing on the process. Can you track the movement of the thought “Who Am I?” arising and disappearing in your mind like a silent voice? Repeat this point several times as long as it is clear that this sound can be held as an object in the mind. Practice Neti-Neti, I am not this, I am not that on this single question.
6. After having explored carefully the external body and the internal body can you find in your experience something that cannot be held as an object? Can you write down one thing that cannot be perceived as something specific and distinct? Remember that whatever you are able to identify become automatically an object that can be perceived by you, whatever you are.
7. Write down who or what is left, write down who you are.
This exercise can be practiced at any time during your day and by doing it you will be able to grasp your true nature. Practice it not only by sitting in a comfy position but also when you are actively engaged in your daily life. This exercise not only will allow you with time to grasp your true nature but it will help you to detach yourself from anything you are currently holding as yourself but that are actually objects.
By doing this exercise I want you to hold physical and non-physical objects in the same category. Do not get lost in thinking that emotions and feelings are yours, as something you own. Just be focus on finding who is the subject. I want you to realize that whatever you become aware of within the inner and outer world appears and disappears. I want you to point that which is always present.
As soon as you find something that can be perceived, you put it in the basket labelled “object” and you move on until you are left with that which is perceiving. You.
You do not get offended or influenced by a car appearing and disappearing at the end of the road. So why do you get so touchy about emotions or feelings that like the car are appearing and disappearing? The fact is that you learnt to treat these manifestations as special, because you attached to them the label "mine". Before taking possession of something or be influenced by "your" emotions and feelings make clear what to write down on your passport. Make clear about your identity to be sure that those emotions and feelings are truly yours. Only after having clear who you are, you have the right to take them personal.
So, who are you?
Thanks for reading and see you next week!