“Not This, Not That”-A Way to Let Go and Open Up Some Space in Your Heart

Steve Goodheart Essay

As readers of this blog know, from time to time, I like to share insights from non-Buddhist paths that I’ve found skillful in my own life. One of my very favorite non-Buddhist teachers is A. H. Almaas. His “diamond method” of self-inquiry is tremendously skillful, and I find his approach is especially effective at getting at deep psychological problems that are hard to uncover and deal with.

Here’s a short passage I recently found helpful:

Not This, Not That

“True reality is what appearance is not. So one way of knowing the true reality is to know that everything you see and experience, everything you think about, is not true. Just eliminate one thing after another: not this, not that. Everything goes. It all goes: everything you have experienced, everything you can experience, everything you can think, anything that can enter your mind. When all that goes, that, then, is the true reality. You cannot think of it, you cannot conceptualize it.”

A. H. Almaas (Diamond Heart Book 4, pg 176)

As many of you know, in Jnana Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, “neti neti” may be a chant or mantra, meaning “not this, not this”, or “neither this, nor that.” It is an analytical process for getting some sense for what something is by clearly seeing what it is not.

In Buddhism, in vipassana, or insight meditation, a similar process occurs in which anything that arises in the quiet awareness of meditation is seen as stressful, as impermanent, and as “not self,” and is let go of.

Even doing this “neti, neti” exercise at the intellectual level can be challenging. The discursive mind quickly grows tired of the endless, infinite regress “game” and concludes, “OK, I see, nothing is really ‘this’ or ‘that.’ I get it. What’s next?”  Uh, not so fast, know-it-all monkey-mind!  There’s so much more to “neti, neti” than setting up yet another concept, this one being that “not this, not that” is it!

To actually do this practice in a meditative state of quietness, with goodwill in one’s heart and the aspiration to be free and to help others be free of suffering, changes everything.  The investigation changes from a mere intellectual exercise into a profound kind of self-exploration and opening up.  It’s not always pleasant either.  Boundaries and rigid beliefs have to yield under a relentless, but gentle insistence that whatever the conceptual mind sees or thinks, that’s not “it.”

Our conceptions, beliefs, and views, even our best, deepest feelings and emotions, are not “it,” are not the truth, thought they may point to “it.”  Even “It” is not “it.” But we have to see this for ourselves. We not only have to intellectually grasp the “emptiness” of what can be conceived,, we have to see and feel the intrinsic “emptiness” of things, thoughts, feelings, even our sense of self, for ourselves. That usually takes meditative practice, and persistence, and right effort—the latter being qualities the Buddha extolled.  Looking deeply into things, not getting caught or stuck to anything that arises, is the way to genuine liberation.

As we let go of all the ways we hold on to and define and circumscribe “what is” by seeing more clearly “what is not,” we gain what called “clear seeing.” We are increasingly able to see without obstruction, without clinging to views, even right views, and look into the very heart of what is.  What is just reveals itself, because it’s already here.

Just remember—whatever impression or idea that comes to mind after the unveiling will only be the thought or memory of “it.” An experience, and yes, a very good one—but still not “it.” It isn’t it! It never will be. And yet, finally, “it” is knowable as our own true, open, spacious mind.  “It” is actually closer than our own breath, even closer than our own thoughts.  When we let go, that’s what we see and know.

The practice is now.  “Not this, not that”—look into it!

♥♥♥

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

3 Responses to ““Not This, Not That”-A Way to Let Go and Open Up Some Space in Your Heart”

  1. “True reality is what appearance is not. So one way of knowing the true reality is to know that everything you see and experience, everything you think about, is not true. Just eliminate one thing after another: not this, not that. Everything goes. It all goes: everything you have experienced, everything you can experience, everything you can think, anything that can enter your mind. When all that goes, that, then, is the true reality. You cannot think of it, you cannot conceptualize it.”

    I think the above formulation itself is not true, yet true enough to pay attention to. Related thoughts here:

    http://www.bookreader.org/m/page24.html
    http://www.bookreader.org/m/page17.html

  2. your blog is a beauriful refuge, but also a wonderful source of lessons. I added your link on my blogroll at walkswithyog.wordpress.com

  3. Steve, can this be done through Loving Kindness Meditation?

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