Understanding “Neti, Neti”

Hi Ted,


How does one separate, differentiate or discriminate between the awareness that is shining though the subtle body and the subtle body itself?


Ted: The subtle body isn’t a thing per se. It is a group of functions that exist within the scope of awareness. It is basically what we refer to as the mind (i.e., antahkarana, which includes manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta). The mind, therefore, is not only the locus where thoughts (including memories, conjectures, and conceptions) occur, but sensations and emotions as well. So, the best way to discriminate between awareness and the subtle body is to simply recognize that anything perceivable, conceivable, or experienceable in any way whatsoever is not pure awareness. In other words, all sensatons, emotions, and cognitions are “not self,” while the “light” that illumines the mind and thereby enables it to experience these phenomena is the self.


Be clear that the self is not the relative knower. Awareness-as-such does not know things. It is not a personal entity endowed with a mind. Though we refer to it as the knower or the witness, it should be understood that these are only pointers. Awareness is simply the illumining factor by means of which the mind is lent sentiency and thereby performs the functions—i.e., perceiving, integrating sense data, doubting, deliberating, discriminating, remembering, deciding, directing, conceiving, etc.—that we refer to as knowing. Thus, the apparent individual person is a knower, so to speak, and it is only by virtue of the presence of awareness that he is so, but awareness itself is simply the knowing-principle, consciousness-as-such, that enables the mind to know objects, including itself, as well as lending it the capacity to register the recognition of its true nature as awareness by means of self-inquiry.


Frederick: I understand that I, as awareness, am witnessing the sensations, emotions and thoughts of the subtle body, but is there more to it?


Ted: No. That’s it.


Frederick: I have read that it’s so close and so ever-present that it is therefore difficult to know, experience, realize—like gravity for the jiva or water for the fish.


Ted: You can’t experience it. Whatever the mind conceives it to be is only a reflection of its true nature. When the mind is sufficiently purified (i.e., introverted and peaceful due to its agitating desires and extroverting vasanas having been neutralized), however, it can serve as a “mirror” for pure awareness, and one can recognize or intuitively “glimpse” one’s limitless nature. Understand that this intuition is not like a hunch or an educated guess, but is a direct recognition of the unmodified, limitless, attributeless, non-objectifiable substrate that is the fundamental reality of all that is. Though this recognition itself is a thought (i.e., reflected awareness), because the mind is a sufficiently “smooth” and “clean” mirror, the reflection is accurate and, thus, as good as the original.


Just as we don’t see light, so to speak, but only the objects it illumines, so we will never see awareness, but only the objective phenomena—both subtle and gross—arising within its scope of being. Nevertheless, one can realize that it is ever-present and that it is the fundamental reality of both the whole and the apparent person whom one takes one’s self to be.


Frederick: Is it neti neti until all that remains is self?


Ted: Yes. But the negation indicated by the phrase “neti, neti” should be understood properly. We are not denying the existence of objects. We are simply negating their reality. The mind will always experience objects. And, in fact, we ultimately recognize and acknowledge that the essential nature of all objects is nothing other than awareness.


The discrimination between the self and the “not self,” between the real and the apparent, between the subject (not the relative subject, mind you, but the awareness that illumines even the relative subject and, thus, renders it an object) and the objects, is a provisional distinction used for the purposes of breaking one’s identity with the body-mind-sense complex, an identification that is a by-product of the belief that objects are independently existent entities with their own self-nature.


Once we are thoroughly convinced (i.e., know without the slightest trace of a doubt) that all objects are dependent on awareness for their existence—that is, they are not only made of awareness (given the non-dual nature of reality what other source for their material make-up could there be?), but also are only recognized as existent by virtue of being illumined by awareness—then we no longer have to distinguish between the self and the “not self,” for we will never again mistake the apparent for the real and will never again suffer as the result of thinking that what happens to body-mind-sense complex has any essential impact on our true nature.


Frederick: Is there a way to separate or untie the knot, so to speak, between awareness and the objects that appear within me as awareness?


Ted: As I said, the objects and experiences will always appear within the scope of the mind. The only way to separate or untie the know between awareness and objects is to understand that no object or even the collective array of all objects can comprehensively delineate you and, thus, all objects are nothing more than apparent entities arising within the scope of your being. Though they are modifications of awareness, their forms (including the subtle forms of sensations, emotions, perceptions, beliefs, knowledge, memories, etc.) have no impact on the essential nature of their substrate. Just as the essential nature of gold is not changed by the form of any ornament into which it is shaped, so the essential nature of awareness remains entirely unaffected by whatever objects appear or events transpire within the scope of its being.


Frederick: Is there a time when I will know beyond the shadow of doubt that I am the self and the appearances will be known as such and provide little disturbance?


Ted: Yes. Once the mind is sufficiently purified, the mind will assimilate the knowledge, and you will recognize your true nature as limitless conscious existence and will know that nothing can enhance or diminish you. Thereafter, you will remain fundamentally undisturbed by anything that arises within your mind or appears in the world around you. Be clear that even after assimilating self-knowledge you will still experience human emotions and have non-binding preferences/desires that motivate your apparent actions. The difference will be that you know that nothing can enhance or diminish your essential nature. Thus, while feelings of pleasure and pain will persist, the deep-rooted suffering that ensues from the feeling that objects and experiences are affecting me and can define who I am will cease.


Frederick: I know other factors apply such as the level of sattva guna present, qualifications such as discernment and dispassion, and Isvara’s will. Karma Yoga, Bhakti/Meditation, Triguna Vibhava Yoga, and Self-Inquiry too.


I will continue to study and practice until my sudden awakening happens.


Ted: Good plan.


Frederick: What a mystery this is.


Ted: Seems that way until you realize it’s you.


Frederick: I just listened very intently to James’ Westerwald offering several times and found it quite profound. I have read both his books several times each and read your satsangs regularly. I am planning on Trout Lake this summer. What do you recommend next?


Ted: You could try reading James’ commentary on Panchadasi. Otherwise, watch or listen to the 2012 Bhagavad Gita seminar from Tiruvannamalai. You can also watch the videos or listen to the audios of the Bhagavad Gita seminar I just conducted when they are available.


Frederick: Blessings and gratitude to both you and James.


Ted: All the best to you J