On Meditation: Neti Neti, or Not this, Not that. 3


Photomeditation cc-by lemasney

Photomeditation cc-by lemasney

There is another meditation technique that I have learned about recently that I am very interested in, but that I am not quite ready to try. I want to write about it here in preparation because I want to have a better sense of it, and writing helps me to do that.

One calls this technique Neti Neti, or Not this, Not That, or Neither this nor that, and it is a highly structured method that whittles away the self’s understandings of you that you add on in life, and in the best case scenario, leaves you knowing your true self. It is a reductive method, like many meditation practices, and according to what I’ve read, is more practical to do after you have achieved success with more straightforward methods, such as breath counting or walking meditation.

One description is as follows:

“After you’ve allowed some space from the immediate concerns of life, focus upon your foot with as much mental clarity as possible, but certainly don’t allow frustration to develop over lack of absolute clarity. Once the idea of your foot occupies your mind, mentally say to yourself: “This foot is not me. If I was without this foot I would still be me. What then am I?” During the final part of this mental statement, imagine that your foot disappears. Repeat this sequence with each area of the body: the other foot, the calves, the thighs, etc., up to and including the head, face and brain.”

– The Neti Neti Meditation | The Meditation Blog at

However, I was first introduced to this method in the book How to Meditate, by Lawrence LeShan (1975), which describes it quite differently:

“In this meditation, we ask the question ‘Who am I?’ and respond to each answer we find in a highly structured manner. If a name seems to be the answer, we (inwardly) reply, ‘No, that is a name I have given myself. Who is the I who I gave that name to?’ If it is felt or perceived, as in ‘I am the person who feels tired,’ the reply is ‘No, that is a sensation I feel. Who is the I who has that sensation?’ If it is a memory, as in ‘I am the person who once…, ‘ the reply is ‘No, that is a memory I have, Who is the I that has that memory?’ If it is an image or picture of yourself, the reply is ‘No, that is an image I have of myself. Who is the I who has this image?’… All answers that arise to the question are responded to in this way. After each response, there is an active, dynamic search for the next answer. There is no rest in this meditation.” (p. 70)

I think that the first interpretation seems much more straightforward, but the second seems much more useful and insightful. I’ll likely try them both, and stay with each for a while.

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