When we want to learn something, there are two ways to know. One is to go directly in search of that object, in this context, the reality of who you are. However, this object is a rare kind and you happen to be the one who is searching for who you are and chances are you may never find it until you stop the search.
The other way is to remove all that you are not in your understanding.
It is this that Adi Sankaracharya recommends in the Atma Bodha. Exclude all objects that certify you, contain or define who you are. The body, mind, intellect are all our upadhis or limiting factors. How can this be practised? Our Vedantic literature has a popular statement for this exercise. It is called ‘Neti neti’. It is formed from two Sanskrit words ‘Na iti, na iti’—not this, not this. Constantly keep working on this exercise.
Suppose you are a little disturbed when you check your weight, you can try asking this question: “Am I this body?” “Not I, not I”, will be the answer. Why is the body not I? Am I changeless? The body is subject to changes such as existence, birth, growth, change, decay and death.
“Am I the mind?” “Not at all, I am all knowledge.” The mind knows sometimes and sometimes it has doubts. “Am I then the intellect?” “No, because I am always clear but the intellect decides this way now and another way the next. Anything that changes is not me who is the perceiver of all changes.”
Try as we may we cannot know this truth of our own selves by seeing some demonstration or a documentary. We cannot hear about it and understand. It is not available to any of our sense organs. It is great masters who expound the shastras and reveal our self to our self.
What is the result of this experience? The greatest result one can actually experience through contemplation of the mahavakyas is of the undoubtable understanding that you are that supreme self which you are searching for.
An example to this is available at our own home. Just imagine you want to attain a clean
room. The first thing you would begin doing is remove all things that do not belong to the room. When everything unwanted is removed, the room is almost clean. In the same way, ‘Neti neti’ is a statement that helps clean up the ‘Not I’ junk in the mind.
When we focus our attention on this, the thought of all that is not the self grows and is easy to discard. When this is practised, the oneness between the individual name and form are revealed as one and the same.