Vanity thought #1075. No to neti

Yesterday I kind of suggested using neti neti method in our self realization. Obviously, I tried to present arguments for it while downplaying arguments against it. Today I want to straighten it out a bit.

First of all, pro-anti dichotomy is easy to understand but often it does not describe the situation adequately. Every method has its own uses and reaches its own goals. While we have a single goal, attaining devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, there are many intermediate goals and milestones on this path and they could be served by all kinds of methods.

Nothing is absolute in this world, everything looks good or bad or something in between depending on one’s angle and so it’s not the method that should be deemed acceptable or not but the results of practicing it. If they help us advance in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness then the method used to achieve them should be acceptable, if not, the method should be rejected, right? Wrong.

Same method that brings one set of results in one situation might bring a different set of results in another. So nothing is absolute again, it all depends on application and it all depends on our consciousness. Everything done for Kṛṣṇa is okay and we shouldn’t worry about anything else.

There’s one cardinal rule, though – always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget, but even that is open to interpretation. What does “remember” mean here? Is it a function of one’s mind? Or a function of one’s intelligence? Or some kind of awareness?

We know how things can occupy our minds and usually we work hard to purge them. We could have a similar obsession with Kṛṣṇa but then we must admit that we can’t maintain it at will and it will never be “always”.

Remembrance itself is a function of intelligence but in this case memories are like storage – we have them, we can access them, but we don’t have an “always on” connection, we pull them out on demand.

Awareness of Kṛṣṇa seems like the best answer but it’s such a vague term we can’t describe it with any precision. At its heart, such awareness is a function of the soul and this awareness is what we call Kṛṣṇa consciousness but if defined like that it turns into a catch 22 – to become Kṛṣṇa conscious we need to follow one rule, which is to be Kṛṣṇa conscious.

We just have try whichever way we can, maybe Kṛṣṇa will eventually supply me with intelligence to understand this subject properly.

Now, the problem with neti neti is that this method seeks to differentiate matter from spirit. It’s goal is to prove that material energy is separate from the Lord or from Brahman, as per advaita vāda philosophy. As devotees we seek exactly the opposite – we want to connect everything to the Lord, not separate things from Him.

This means that this method should be unacceptable to us but, as I said, if we use this method to achieve different goals then our assessment must change accordingly.

If you think about it, everything follows from philosophy. We follow Lord Caitanya’s acintya bheda abheda tattva, inconceivable oneness and difference, and so the method of neti neti brings inconceivably contradictory results.

As a principle, we know that material energy is inferior and that we should seek shelter of the superior, spiritual energy of the Lord. This means that differentiating matter from spirit is a useful exercise. That was the point I was citing as a pro argument yesterday.

When we don’t see the difference between matter and spirit, between devotion and self-enjoyment, we tend to take shelter of the wrong things, and so i this situation neti neti approach should help.

Actually, my yesterday’s argument was a little different. I suggested that we use neti neti logic to avoid the same trap atheists fall into when they try to find the proof of God.

Whatever is deemed as material is not spiritual and so should be rejected. If we find envy, pride, lust, desire for fame etc we should reject those material aspirations and we should avoid association with their sources. Those things are neti.

Another category of neti are things that appear as spiritual but actually hide ulterior motives. As soon as we detect hypocrisy we should reject it and avoid association with its source. Neti neti method should help here, too.

These applications are perfect for aspiring madhyama adhikārī vaiṣṇavas. They should differentiate between devotees and non-devotees and they should differentiate between devotees at various stages of advancement.

Ultimately, however, we know that everything is connected or can be connected with Kṛṣṇa and so there’s no such thing as neti at all. This is the vision of paramahaṃsas, the perfect, the only correct vision of the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t imitate it. We should be aware of everything being connected with the Lord and be ready to respect this connection but we shouldn’t judge everything as spiritual if we don’t actually see it that way.

Just like with devotees – we should always offer them respect, no matter what they do, but we shouldn’t accept some of their clearly non-devotional practices as spiritual. Not unless we see their connection with Kṛṣṇa all the time.

Interestingly, when we don’t see things or people as eternally connected with the Lord we can try reverse neti neti, which I don’t even know what to call. I mean we should try and engage our brains in identifying that inseparable connection.

How? By asking this same question – “How is it possible that what this person does is a manifestation of his eternal relationship with the Lord?”

Sometimes the answers are obvious, sometimes they escape us at the moment, sometimes they escape us for years and decades, and sometimes the answers might not even exist unless we actually attain paramahaṃsa vision ourselves.

Here is a clue – everything in this world, all kinds of sense enjoyment are provided by the Lord to the spirit souls as a sign of His deep love and care for all His spiritual particles. Whatever we want, He provides.

Kṛṣṇa fulfills everybody’s desires, whichever particular way we want to enjoy He has a suitable body and karma for it. Even people who want to molest children, rape and murder innocents have their desires fulfilled by the Lord.

Atheists would immediately object – why is God so cruel as to permit these clearly sick activities and make innocent victims suffer? I don’t think I have time to answer that today but there’s a perfectly good explanation for this.

What I wanted to stress today is the skillful navigation of seemingly immutable rules.

The corollary of this suggestion is that we shouldn’t be quick to judge anybody. With sufficient knowledge we should see Kṛṣṇa’s loving hand everywhere and if we don’t see it then it’s our fault, not of those seemingly bad people

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