neti neti

“Once you label me you negate me.”
Søren Kierkegaard


“The more you abandon all images, all words, all imaginings and the more you allow the silence to overwhelm you … the more powerful you become.”

Via Negativa

My favourite guru in the annual spiritual supermarket sweeps in Tiruvanamalai in Tamil Nadu every December and January was a dreadlocked Jamaican kindly bear of a man from Brixton called Mooji.

I chose to spend most of my seven weeks in Tiru attending his ‘satsangs’ – open meetings in a rice mill including a five day silent retreat.

One of the little exercises he set us was to walk about town observing everything but resisting the temptation to label anything … ‘tuck-tuck’, ‘cow’, ‘chapati’ … but rather seeing things for what they are. As soon as you name anything you negate its true essence – a bit like the collapse of the wave function in quantum physics when an object is observed. It was playing hide and seek with you until the very moment you observed it when it crystallises into the familiar object you give a name. Names are useful but merely socially conducted concepts or taxonomies to help us impress a matrix of meaning on an otherwise chaotic sense-world.

In every mystic tradition there is a form of meditation called apophatic – from the Greek ἀπόφασις from ἀπόφημι – apophēmi, “to deny” – which takes as its starting point the fact that God is not what you can say about him. “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.” John Scot Erigena (9th century)

In India this is called ‘neti neti’ which is a Sanskrit expression which means “not this, not this”, or “neither this, nor that”. You arrive at a closer affinity with God by a process of taking away. In the Christian mystic tradition this is called the Via Negativa. Try observing without naming; reducing everything to its ‘isness’ which is God.

“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.