God has no conch-shell, no religious mark, no Gadaa (ਗਦਾ: a mace, a club, etc.); he does not
have blue skin. His Form is indescribable. He is beyond incarnation. The Vedas say "Neta Neta" ("ਨੇਤ ਨੇਤ"):
(God is) "Not this, not this". God is Lofty and High, Great and Infinite. The Imperishable (God)
abides in the hearts of the Holy Ones (i.e. Gurmukhs, etc.). This is understood,
O Nanak, by those who are very fortunate. ||57|| (sggs 1359).

The material or the result-oriented man is curious to know about everything in the world but rarely pauses to inquire about his All-full-Nature, the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...). According to the Gurbani, it is a very rare person, the fortunate one (the Gurmukh), who directs his inquiry inward and persists till he discovers the Truth, his Unconditioned Nature ("Joti-Svaroopa"), within.

We are the Spirit Soul (Mool), which is Pure Consciousness, Blissful and Eternal in nature. However, the Jeeva (individual being) forgets this Truth because of the adjuncts that make his personality like the body, the mind, and the intellect. This  mistaken identity is the seed of the false ego-sense (Haumai), and arises because of the Cosmic illusion called Maya (or absence of Divine Knowledge or Aatam Giaan). Thus, due to ignorance of the True Nature of the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...), the attributes and the limitations of the body-mind-intellect are transferred to the Mool, and thereby imposed on it.

The Gurbani takes up such basic subjects for discussion to drive home the truth that the Infinite Consciousness is the Substratum (Adhaar) of everything. However, our conditioned senses can only see the plurality (duality or Doojaa Bhaav), not the underlying Substratum, the Homogenous Oneness. This underlying Reality behind all the diversity is reinforced by the Gurbani, Men of Light and other scriptural texts for our understanding through variety of methods, analogies, similes, allegories, metaphors and figurative or mystic representations.

One such common approach called "Neta Neta" (or "Neti Neti") is through the identification of the objective and the subjective levels. It is not possible to explain anything about the pure attributeless Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...), which is described as invisible, incorporeal, undefined, Infinite, etc. The Mool can only be experienced.

The scriptures, therefore, try to take the spiritual aspirant step by step through the process of negation of the non-self to indicate the nature of our Real Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...). This not only dispels the notion of duality but also enables the sincere seeker to realize the Infinite Consciousness as the Mool (Aatmaan). The process of "Neta Neta" (also known as "Neti Neti") simply means "Not this, not this". Through this process of negation, we learn to rise above that which we are not. When we have arrived at Pure Consciousness - when the real Mool is Realized - then all misapprehensions end.

  • ਨ ਸੰਖੰ ਨ ਚਕ੍ਰੰ ਨ ਗਦਾ ਨ ਸਿਆਮੰ ॥ ਅਸ੍ਚਰਜ ਰੂਪੰ ਰਹੰਤ ਜਨਮੰ ॥ ਨੇਤ ਨੇਤ ਕਥੰਤਿ ਬੇਦਾ: Na sankham na chakram na gadaa na siaamam. Ascharch roopam rahatam janmam Neta Neta kathanti bedaa: God has no conch-shell, no religious mark, no Gadaa (ਗਦਾ: a mace, a club, etc.); he does not have blue skin. His Form is indescribable. He is beyond incarnation. The Vedas say "Neta Neta" ("ਨੇਤ ਨੇਤ"): (God is) "Not this, not this" (sggs 1359).
  • ਜਿਹ ਨੇਤ ਨੇਤ ਉਦਰੰਤ ਬੇਦ ॥ ਜਿਹ ਅਲਖ ਰੂਪ ਕੱਥਤ ਕਤੇਬ ॥੭॥੧੨੭॥: Jih neta neta uchrant Bed. Jih alakh roop katthat Kateb ||7||127||: Whom (i.e., God) the Vedas call ‘Neta, Neta’ (Not this, not this) and infinite. Whom the Semitic Scriptures call Incompre-hensible ||7||127|| (Dasam Granth 60).
  • ਜਿਹ ਲਖਤ ਚਤ੍ਰ ਨਹਿ ਭੇਦ ਬੇਦ ॥ ਆਭਾ ਅਨੰਤ ਮਹਿਮਾ ਅਛੇਦ ॥ ਗੁਨ ਗਨਤ ਚਤ੍ਰ ਮੁਖ ਪਰਾ ਹਾਰ ॥ ਤਬ ਨੇਤ ਨੇਤ ਕਿੱਨੋ ਉਚਾਰ ॥੧੦੪॥ Jih lakhat chatra nahi bhed Bed. aabhaa anant mahimaa achhed. Gun ganat chatra mukh paraa haar. Tab neta neta kinno uchaar||104||: His mystery cannot be known to all the four Vedas. His Glory is infinite and supreme. Even the wise one gets tired of counting God's virtues; he then seeks Him with the help of the declaration "Neta Neta" ||104|| (Dasam Granth 1236).
  • Nigam sekhaadik kathit Neti Neti kar ...: The Vedas and Sekhaadik describe saying Neti Neti (Bhai Gurdaas Jee, Kabit).
  • Neti neti nitaa nigam kahey Raam saroop kaa: The Vedas use 'Neti Neti' to describe Raam, the All-pervading Reality (Tulsidaas, Raam Charit Maanas).
  • He, the Self, is not this, not this -- "Neti Neti" (Vedas, Brhadaranyaka Upnishad).
  • Netiti vaakyairakhilam nishidhys ta ...: With the help of the declaration of negation -- "not this not this" -- one must learn to rise above one's body identity and realize the Self ....(Adhyaatma Raamaayana).
The aid offered by different methods to realize one's True Nature as Unconditioned Consciousness — Joti-Svaroopa — is not contradictory but complementary to each other. However, "Not this, not this" is a process of discrimination (Bibek Budhi ) which helps one to know the difference between the Sat (truth, eternal, real or permanent) and the Asat (false, ephemeral or unreal). In other words, Viveka is reasoning by which one knows that the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...) alone is Real (Sat) and all else is unreal (Asat or temporary).
  • ਆਪੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੇ ਸੁ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਹੋਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: App beechare so Giaanee hoi ||1||Rahaaou||: One who engages in Vichaar (ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਦੀ ਪੜਤਾਲ) becomes truely Wise or Giaanee (ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਦੀ ਸੂਝ ਵਾਲਾ) ||1||Pause|| (sggs 152).
  • ਆਤਮ ਰਾਮੁ ਰਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਆਤਮ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਈਐ ਸਬਦਿ ਵੀਚਾਰਾ ਹੇ ॥੭॥: Aatam Raam Raam hai aatam Hari paaeeai Sabad veechaaraa he ||7|| : The soul is God, and God is the soul; by engaging in the Shabad Vichaar, God is found ||7|| (sggs 1030).
  • ਬਸਤੁ ਮਾਹਿ ਲੇ ਬਸਤੁ ਗਡਾਈ ॥ ਤਾ ਕਉ ਭਿੰਨ ਨ ਕਹਨਾ ਜਾਈ ॥ ਬੂਝੈ ਬੂਝਨਹਾਰੁ ਬਿਬੇਕ ॥: Basat maahi le basat gadaaee. Taa kaou bhinn n kahanaa jaaee. Bujai bujjanhar bibek: When something blends with its own (ਉਸ ਕਿਸਮ ਦੀ ਚੀਜ ਵਿਚ ਰਲਣਾਂ), it cannot be said to be separate from it (ਦੋਹਾਂ ਦਾ ਕੋਈ ਫਰਕ ਨਹੀਂ ਰਹਿ ਜਾਂਦਾ, similarly, one whose heart is filled with God cannot be said separate from God - he and God are one and same). Only one with discriminating intellect understands it (sggs 285).
Thus, the practice of "Not this, not this" in particular relates to Giaan (also spelt Gian, Giyan, Jana, etc.) or Divine Knowledge, Spiritual Wisdom, Aatam Giaan — not knowledge in the intellectual sense — but the Knowledge of Aatamaan (Soul) and Parmaatam (Supreme Soul) and the Realization of their Oneness. We are time and again reminded by the Gurbani that the person who has acquired true discrimination (Bibek Budhi) through the Gurmat rises above one's body identity and realize his True Mool (Joti-Svaroopa) within.
  • ਤੋਹੀ ਮੋਹੀ ਮੋਹੀ ਤੋਹੀ ਅੰਤਰੁ ਕੈਸਾ ॥ ਕਨਕ ਕਟਿਕ ਜਲ ਤਰੰਗ ਜੈਸਾ ॥੧॥: Tohee mohee mohee tohee antar kaisaa. Kanak katik jal trang jaisaa ||1||: You are me, and I am You—what is the difference between us? We are like gold and the bracelet, or water and the waves ||1|| (sggs 93).
  • ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧੀ ਸੁਖਿ ਰੈਣਿ ਵਿਹਾਣੀ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਨਾਮਿ ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸਾ ॥: Bibek budhi sukh rain vihani gurmat nam pargas: Through the discriminating intellect, the life night passes in Peace and by the Guru's instructions, through the Name (one is) enlightened (ਅੰਦਰ ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਦਾ ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸ ਹੋਂਣਾ) (sggs 772).
We cannot directly reach the All-pervading Reality which is not an object-of-cognition, but is Itself the subjective Reality. Being One without-a-second, It ever illumines everything. This Indivisible, Unconditioned and Immutable Reality can be reached by a process of negation of what It is not and of assertion of what It is — the Immutable Substratum (Adhaar or Tek) that brings this universe of insentient and sentient beings into existence for It is the self-existing Reality.

If we are earnest in rediscovering our True Nature (Joti-Svaroopa), or if we are sincere and wholehearted to know what we truly are, then the Wise Ones (the Gurmukh) and the Gurbani urge us to know what we are not. After eliminating all that we are not (non-self), only one thing will remain: the Real Self, Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...). This is the process of first negation, and then affirmation. In other words, first we negate by saying "Not this, not this", and then ultimately comes the affirmation "I am He and He is me". This is the whole sum and substance of the "Neta Neta" process.

  • ਤਤੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਬਾਈ ਸੋਹੰ ਭੇਦੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ਜੀਉ ॥: Tat niranjan joti sabaaee soham bhed na koee jeeo: The essence, the immaculate Lord, the Light of all — I am He and He is me — there is no difference (sggs 599).
This Inner Inquiry of the Mool is to be conducted with the intellect that has been purified by the deeper understanding and realization of the Gur-Shabad through the Shabad-Vichaar. With the Inner Inquiry conducted in the light of such Pure Knowledge, the confused mind (psychological ego) is abandoned, and the Truth (the Mool) is realized at once. Thus, in the spirit of discrimination (Bibek Budhi) there is Realization of the Eternal and Timeless Reality; which is the Supreme Truth.

Some fruits, for instance, include hard shell, seeds, and then flesh. To get the flesh, first one needs discarding the hard shell and then seeds. Similarly, by the process of negation of the mental conditionings through the help of scriptural statements such as "Not this, not this", at first one discriminates and rejects all that is not-self until the oneness or non-dual identity between the Aatmaan and the Parmaatam is realized. To put it in other way, first one attains Spiritual-realization by negating the world and its gross objects (Maya). Then, after the attainment of Spiritual-realization one finds that Lord Himself has become everything, the Universe and its objects!

  • ਆਸਾ ਬਾਣੀ ਸ੍ਰੀ ਨਾਮਦੇਉ ਜੀ ਕੀ     ਏਕ ਅਨੇਕ ਬਿਆਪਕ ਪੂਰਕ ਜਤ ਦੇਖਉ ਤਤ ਸੋਈ ॥ ਮਾਇਆ ਚਿਤ੍ਰ ਬਚਿਤ੍ਰ ਬਿਮੋਹਿਤ ਬਿਰਲਾ ਬੂਝੈ ਕੋਈ ॥੧॥ ਸਭੁ ਗੋਬਿੰਦੁ ਹੈ ਸਭੁ ਗੋਬਿੰਦੁ ਹੈ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਬਿਨੁ ਨਹੀ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਸੂਤੁ ਏਕੁ ਮਣਿ ਸਤ ਸਹੰਸ ਜੈਸੇ ਓਤਿ ਪੋਤਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਸੋਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਜਲ ਤਰੰਗ ਅਰੁ ਫੇਨ ਬੁਦਬੁਦਾ ਜਲ ਤੇ ਭਿੰਨ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਇਹੁ ਪਰਪੰਚੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਕੀ ਲੀਲਾ ਬਿਚਰਤ ਆਨ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥੨॥ ਮਿਥਿਆ ਭਰਮੁ ਅਰੁ ਸੁਪਨ ਮਨੋਰਥ ਸਤਿ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਜਾਨਿਆ ॥ ਸੁਕ੍ਰਿਤ ਮਨਸਾ ਗੁਰ ਉਪਦੇਸੀ ਜਾਗਤ ਹੀ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨਿਆ ॥੩॥ ਕਹਤ ਨਾਮਦੇਉ ਹਰਿ ਕੀ ਰਚਨਾ ਦੇਖਹੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਬੀਚਾਰੀ ॥ ਘਟ ਘਟ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸਰਬ ਨਿਰੰਤਰਿ ਕੇਵਲ ਏਕ ਮੁਰਾਰੀ ॥੪॥੧॥: Aasaa baanee sree Naamadeou jee kee: Ek anek biaapak poorak jatt dekho tatt soee. Maya chitr bachitr bimohit biralaa boojhai koee ||1|| Sabh Gobind hai sabh Gobind hai Gobind bin nahee koyee. Soot ek man sat sahans jaise ot pot prabh soee ||1|| Rahaaou || Jal trang ar phen budbudaa jal te bhinn na hoyee. Ih parpanch paarbrahm kee leelaa bichrat aan na hoyee ||2|| Mithiya bharam ar supan manorath sat padaarath jaaniaa. Sukirat manasaa gur oupadesee jaagat hee man maaniaa ||3|| Kahat Naamadeou har kee rachanaa dekhahu ridai beechaaree. Ghat ghat antari sarab niranti keval ek muraaree ||4||1||: Aasaa baanee sree Naamadeou jee kee: In the one and in the many, God is pervading and permeating; wherever I look, there He is. (But) a rare person understands this (ਭੇਦ), because (generally the Jeeva - the individual beings) are fascinated (deluded) by the Maya's colorful imagery. ||1|| God is All (i.e., everywhere and everything), God is All (i.e., everywhere and everything); without God, there is nothing at all. As one thread holds hundreds and thousands of beads, So is (God) woven into All (i.e., everywhere and everything). ||1||Pause|| The waves of the water, the foam and bubbles, are not distinct from the water. (Similarly) this manifested world is the Play (Leelaa) of the Supreme Being; reflecting upon it, we find that it is not different from Him. ||2|| (Watching this Leelaa) the man believes worldly objects (ਪਦਾਰਥ) to be True (permanent, etc.), but they are like objects (ਪਦਾਰਥ) seen in the dream (i.e., untrue) - "ਮਿਥਿਆ ਭਰਮੁ " (Mitthiyaa Bharam). Un to whom the Guru bestows Good Understanding (ਭਲੀ ਸਮਝ), his mind stands awakened (from delusion, untruth, "ਮਿਥਿਆ ਭਰਮੁ", etc.), and his mind accepts this (that the worldly objects are Mithiya, unreal, impermanent, etc.). ||3|| Says Naam Dev, reflect upon this in your heart that this is the Creation of the Lord. In each and every heart, and deep within the very nucleus of all, is the One God (i.e., in this entire Creation, only One Lord pervades in everyone and everywhere). ||4||1|| (sggs 485).
By thus negating the world of gross objects, one experiences the spiritual evolution and the mystic Vision of the Reality; which is ultimate Realization that the Soul is in its own real nature nothing but the true image of Parmaatam, the Truth-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. Eternal happiness results when the Knowledge that it is the One Reality that has become everything dawns on a person. Those who are under the spell of the senses, mind, intellect, false ego, time, space, causation, etc., see only the diversity which alienates the person from intuiting the Unity which lies behind this manifold creation.
  • ਆਤਮ ਮਹਿ ਰਾਮੁ ਰਾਮ ਮਹਿ ਆਤਮੁ ਚੀਨਸਿ ਗੁਰ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ॥: Aatam mahi Raam Raam mahi aatam cheenas Gur beechaaraa: God is in the Soul, and the Soul is in God. This is realized through Reflecting (on the Teachings) of the Guru (1153).
How does the process of negation begin? Not easy at all! It is a difficult path which leads the aspirant on by negating the non-self. For example, following the "I'' consciousness closely, the aspirant inquires: "Am I this body, or the breadth (Praan), or the senses, or this blood, or this marrow, or this mind, or the thoughts-stuff, or this intellect, or this ego, or the five elements, or this world and its gross objects? I am not exclusively what I am today or was yesterday or will be tomorrow. Who am I?", and so on. Analyzing thus one realizes at last that he is none of these. When the true Source of "Haume" or "I-thought" is reached it vanishes, and what remains over is the Pure Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...), the Real State of Absolute Silence or Peace. In other words, upon giving up at once, with determination, all what we know to be unreal, then we come to say: "Ah, I am not this, not this — I am the Pure Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...)."
  • ਜਬ ਹਮ ਹੋਤੇ ਤਬ ਤੁਮ ਨਾਹੀ ਅਬ ਤੁਮ ਹਹੁ ਹਮ ਨਾਹੀ ॥ ਅਬ ਹਮ ਤੁਮ ਏਕ ਭਏ ਹਹਿ ਏਕੈ ਦੇਖਤ ਮਨੁ ਪਤੀਆਹੀ ॥੧॥: Jab ham hote tab tum naahee ab tum hahu ham naahee. Ab ham tum ek bhaye hahi ekai dekhat man pateeaahee ||1||: (O Lord) So long we are in Haume (ਹਉਮੈ - false ego-sense), until then You are not (awakened within - ਤਦ ਤਕ ਤੂੰ ਸਾਡੇ ਅੰਦਰ ਪਰਗਟ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੁੰਦਾ / ਆਪਣਾ ਚਾਨਣ ਨਹੀਂ ਕਰਦਾ); now that You are (awakened within), we are not in Haume (ਹਉਮੈ). Now that You and we have become one; seeing this, our minds have faith (that You and we are one and the same - ਕਿ ਤੂੰ ਹੀ ਤੂੰ ਹੈਂ, ਤੈਥੋਂ ਵੱਖਰੇ ਅਸੀ ਕੁਝ ਭੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਹਾਂ). ||1|| (sggs 339).
  • ਤਤੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਬਾਈ ਸੋਹੰ ਭੇਦੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ਜੀਉ ॥: Tat niranjan joti sabaaee soham bhed na koee jeeo: The essence, the immaculate Lord, the Light of all — I am He and He is me — there is no difference (sggs 599).
  • ਵਾਟ ਹਮਾਰੀ ਖਰੀ ਉਡੀਣੀ ॥ ਖੰਨਿਅਹੁ ਤਿਖੀ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਪਿਈਣੀ ॥ ਉਸੁ ਊਪਰਿ ਹੈ ਮਾਰਗੁ ਮੇਰਾ ॥ ਸੇਖ ਫਰੀਦਾ ਪੰਥੁ ਸਮ੍ਹ੍ਹਾਰਿ ਸਵੇਰਾ ॥੪॥੧॥: Vaat hammaree kharee udeenee... (sggs 794).
Looking at it from an another angle, in ignorance we wrongly identify the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...) with the body-mind-intellect apparatus. Through the process of negation, we reject these false concepts and percepts. Time, space, and causality are also rejected as perception of the mind and intellect. This is what the scriptures call "Not this, not this". After discarding these limiting factors of the individual what remains over is one's True Nature, the Unconditioned Consciousness ("Joti-Svaroopa").

The inward Divine Realization is complete only when we come to assert and actually live the Truth. Without such positive assertion, the seeker may reach only the dull void which in itself is not the fulfillment of man's inward Realization of the Eternal Reality. For removing thirst is not the fulfillment of drinking water, but it must provide to the drinker the positive joy of fulness and comfort. Baabaa Nanak says:

  • ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਆਚਾਰ ॥੫॥: Sachahu orai sabh kayu upari sach aachaar ||5||: Everything is underneath (lower than, ਉਰ੍ਹੇ, …) Truth; the truthful living (living with Truth) is the highest (i.e., the superior form of living, ਸਭ ਤੇ ਉੱਪਰ …) ||5|| (sggs 62).
As we can see, the aphorism such as "Not this, not this" is not mere a statement, but the golden key which opens the door to the mystic Infinite, Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...). The Infinite Consciousness conditioned by the matter is the individual being (Jeeva). Through the power of discrimination (Bibek Budhi), the Jeeva that has transcended material conditioning comes to rediscover itself to be nothing other than the Immaculate Essence of the Wondrous Divinity.
  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਲੋਭ ਹਲਕੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਭਾਰੀ ਬਿਨੁ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਭਰਮਾਇ ॥੧॥: Antar lobh halak dukh bhareei bin bibek bharmaai ||1||: (The man with Haume attaches to Maya) the great ailment of the rabid disease of greed is within him. Without Bibek (discriminating intellect), he wanders around (like a rabid dog) ||1|| (sggs 1132).
However, it's not easy to eliminate the limitations of the psycho-physical personality imposed on the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...); for our ego becomes stronger and stubborn when we start identifying ourselves with the worldliness. But a balanced approach of the Gurbani consisting of selfless work, Pure Knowledge, Pure Love, unadulterated association of Sat (Truth) within, and earnest contemplation on the Divine Name (Gurmat-Aatam Giaan) is sure to transform the egoism and lead the seekers to the ultimate Goal. When the egoistic mind attains union with the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...), the mistaken body identity ceases. The person who has experienced this state of Union (Samadhi) emerges as a Mool-realized one for whom there is no more illusion about his Real Nature, which is "Joti-Svaroopa".
  • ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਅਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥੫॥: Iou kahai Nanaku man toon joti saroop hai apanaa moolu pashaanu ||5||(sggs 441).

— T. Singh