I remember finding a slim volume on Indian philosophy in Barnes and Noble’s Second-Hand Book Store more than 65 years ago. The bookstore was on Broadway around 16th Street. I was near where my father had a small linotype plant in the days of hot lead slugs etc.
I probably still have that book somewhere in the attic. For a little kid in those days, it was heady stuff. And it was all mysterious. Even if I could find stuff like it in the local library I doubt if they’d let me check it out without a note from my mother. And really, who do you know that would want to do that?
In any case, here’s the part I remember. It was a philosophical book – brought out by a Theosophical Society, or something like that, and somewhere on one of the first pages was a picture or an etching of a swami in a full turban wearing a long robe. He didn’t look anything like anyone I knew which meant he must be really smart. And there were lots of words with many syllables and even some written in an entirely foreign script, transliterated, and supposedly explained. As I wrote, heady stuff for a little kid.
So I read on, sounding out words (as I was taught) that didn’t make sense and turning page after page.
Then I came to one word, in italics, repeated again in italics: neti, neti – not this, not that.
OK. This was heady ammunition for a kid. “Do your homework! Clean your room!”
“Mom. Neti, neti! Don’t you know it’s not this or that?”
Ah, the world of illusions. Where we struggle to find meaning and to learn at an early age that most of the trappings and titles of civilization are illusionary – well, heavy stuff! It was a thought anyhow but I still had to do my homework and take out the garbage. My mother had her own philosophy as to what was important.
That clock ticks on. Maybe we get smarter or more tempered in our judgment. Neti, neti becomes softened as we do ourselves. And perhaps we could become more comfortable in our skins if we realize that who we are doesn’t depend on a title or a luxury yacht and that what we are is defined more by how we treat others rather than the color of our skin or political affiliation. And finally, perhaps it’s a hint to remember that we don’t have a lock on truth and that there’s more than one “This and That.”
Give everyone a little space and then a little more. There’ll be plenty of room left over for you. Letting go of this and that permits one to find that “ALL.” And remember, committing random acts of loving kindness is our elixir. Our good deeds live on forever.
Go forward and be strong.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.