Who Is Rama? The Doctrine Of Neti, Neti
In order to explain the Advaitic doctrine of “Neti Neti”, Sri Ramana used to tell the story of Sita and Rama.
Prince Rama was exiled for 14 years from the kingdom to a forest by his loving father. The full story is too complex to be told here.
When Prince Rama, obeying his father, left the kingdom of Ayodhya, his wife Sita came with him to endure the hardships of poverty and penance side by side with her husband. Rama’s younger brother Lakshman insisted on coming as well to keep them company and to protect them in the forest.
When the three reached the forest, they took off their royal clothes and sent them back via the Chariot that had brought them to the edge of the forest. They put on clothes of forest dwellers and Rishis who lived in the forest.
In order to get to know the forest dwellers and the Rishis, Sita and Rama attended a social gathering of the Rishis and their wives in the forest.
The wives of other Rishis introduced themselves to Sita. They wanted to know who Sita’s husband was.
Rama was standing among the other males, the other Rishis a few feet away. He was wearing the clothes of Rishis. Prince Rama looked like a forest dweller and a Rishi himself and did not stand out in anyway.
The wives of the Rishis gathered there were curious about Sita as she was a newcomer to their group. They wanted to know who Sita’s husband was. Where was he? Which one was he among the Rishis at that social event?
Sita was in a dilemma due to her upbringing and modesty as she was a Princess. In the old Indian tradition, the wife does not speak her husband’s name. So what could she say?
The wives of the Rishis understood Sita’s difficulty in not saying her husband’s name and pointing to him.
Since Sita would not take Rama’s name and point to him, the wives of the Rishis started to point at each Rishi in the group.
Every time a Rishi was pointed at, Sita was asked “Is that your husband Rama”? Sita would look and if it was not Rama pointed at, she would nod her head in the negative.
Thus one after another, the Rishis were pointed at and Sita nodded her head in the negative.
Finally Sita’s actual husband Rama was pointed out and Sita was asked, “Is that Rama?” Sita did not nod her head and did not say either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ but simply bowed her head and remained silent.
Bhagavan Ramana pointed out that Sita’s silence was eloquent and revealed Rama without saying a word. Similarly, when in the Advaitic doctrine of “Neti-Neti”, everything is denied as Real, what remains is only the Self whose very nature is blissful silence.
Bhagavan said that just like Sita’s silence is graceful and eloquent and reveals who Rama is, the Vedas also are eloquent in the Neti-Neti doctrine (not this, not this) and then become silent. Their silence is the Real State.
In this way, Bhagavan taught that the Reality cannot be directly pointed out. Only that which is unreal can be pointed out and denied. We must leave aside all that is unreal. What is left then is the Real alone which cannot be denied. Silence rules there.