In this series of articles, DAAJI explains the fundamentals of yogic psychology, with its foundation in the original balanced state and the various mental modifications, some of which help us maintain balance and well-being, and some of which take us away from balance. DAAJI gives us guidance and solutions to create mental well-being through yogic practices. In this fourth article of the series, he explores the fifth vritti described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: memory, known in Yoga as smriti.
Part 4 – SMRITI
THE YOGIC SCIENCE OF MEMORY
So far we have explored the four vrittis of pramana, viparyaya, vikalpa and nidra. Now we will turn our attention to the fifth, smriti or memory.
Try to imagine life without memory. How would you learn from mistakes? You would not remember how to do all the things that make up your daily routine, such as how to make breakfast, where to go to work etc., and you would not be able to build relationships with the people you cherish and love, because there would be no shared memories, and no fond nostalgia. Your chance of survival would be seriously compromised, because you would repeat dangerous things that put you at risk, such as swimming in a rip, eating a poisonous fruit, or putting your hand in fire. You would not be able to learn a profession or trade, because you would not remember things: how would a doctor be able to practice without remembering human anatomy or the diagnoses of diseases?
There is no doubt that the fifth vritti, memory or smriti, has profound practicality and survival value. Even single celled organisms without brains or central nervous systems, like amoebae, are able to learn responses in experiments, exhibiting memory in consciousness. Memory is a primitive function of consciousness, fundamental to our existence on Earth; we remember in order to survive.
At the same time, our memories can hold us back and weigh us down significantly. There are two main reasons. The first reason is the emotional association we give to memory – the ‘charge’ – as we accumulate experiences, because of the ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ we attach to them, for example, “I hate thunderstorms,” “I love picnics,” “All teenagers are rude.” We have an experience and then we extrapolate from that to generalize about the whole. The second is the fact that we create habits or behavioral tendencies because of those associations. While habits can be useful, they limit us. We restrict ourselves by the cognates of the past. As a result, effectively, the past interferes in the present.
The whole effort involved in Yoga is to remove the obstacles,
the things that bind us and hold us down,
so that we become like small children – and that is especially
true of removing the emotional charge of memories.
For example, if a person had a traumatic experience while swimming as a child, he may fear getting into water for the rest of his life, and it may carry over into future lives also. If a young girl associates the smell of lavender with her mother, she may feel safe and happy with every woman who wears lavender oil or perfume she meets as an adult. If a boy’s tantrums successfully got him the attention he wanted when he was small, he may continue to create drama in his relationships as an adult in order to demand attention. Our patterns very easily become fixed, and most of them are unconscious.
PATANJALI’S YOGA SUTRAS
In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the fifth vritti as follows:
1.11: Anubhuta vishaya asampramoshah smritih
Memory is when the vrittis of perceived subjects do not slip away.
Instead they form impressions, which can come back again to consciousness.
Memory is the recalling of past experiences through these impressions
that have settled in the field of consciousness.
Creating memory is the laying down of experience in the form of vibrational patterns in the field of consciousness. These are known as impressions or samskaras in Yoga. Re-membering is the recalling of those stored memories.
Both these processes are happening continuously. Constantly we are referring our present feelings and experiences to cognates from the past. So the past is being projected into the present and coloring our experience.
Patanjali says that the vrittis can either be colored (klishta) or uncolored (aklishta), that is, either impure or pure. And this is so true of memories. For example, in The River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks recounts documented examples of how we mis-remember situations and events, based on many factors, including the merging together of various memories over time, our emotional colorings, and what other people tell us of past events. In fact, there are all sorts of colorings. We build up a library of impressions that interact with each other, creating real and imaginary memories. Our memories have become colored. Gradually, over time, the mind becomes like a painter’s canvas that has layer upon layer of painting on it, all mixed up together. There is no longer purity or clarity in the mind.
We build up a library of impressions that interact with each other,
creating real and imaginary memories.
Our memories have become colored.
Gradually, over time, the mind becomes like a painter’s canvas
that has layer upon layer of painting on it, all mixed up together.
There is no longer purity or clarity in the mind.
Compare this with small children, whose minds are still fresh and clear. They are so full of life, so full of wonder, and so open in their approach to the world. They are not bogged down by memory. There is nothing tainting their worldview. It is for this reason that Yoga values so much the regulation of the mind through meditative practices and the removal of impressions. The whole effort involved in Yoga is to remove the obstacles, the things that bind us and hold us down, so that we become like small children – and that is especially true of removing the emotional charge of memories.
Patanjali also says:
4.6: Tatra dhyana jam anasayam
Of all the types of consciousness that we see,
only the original state that is uncovered in meditation
is free from latent impressions and desires.
It exists without any support, without motivation – it is desireless.
This original state is the goal of Yoga: we aspire to uncover what existed before creation. It is the state of Samadhi; a state without thought. It existed before we created our own inner ecology over time. When we are in Samadhi, we are totally in the present. There is no thinking, only witnessing. Meditation is, in effect, the letting go of thinking.
This is such an important concept, which is at the very crux of Yoga, and it highlights the central role of meditation in Yoga. In meditation we learn how to let go of thinking and only witness. More about this later.
This is why Yoga can never be associated with any belief system or religion – because all religions require language, dogma and belief, whereas the original state is beyond all these.
4.9: Jati desha kala vyavahitanam api
anantaryam smriti samskarayoh eka rupatvat
Since memory and deep impressions (samskaras) have the same form,
the relationship of cause and effect continues to be played out,
even though there might be a gap in location, time and state of life.
In other words, there is continuity. We may die and be reborn into another body, at another time, in another place, but that is only the death of the physical body – the subtle bodies and the causal body carry on. And the subtle bodies carry the impressions with them around the soul from one life to the next. That is why in research studies done by psychiatrists like Dr Brian Weiss, people remember things from their past lives. And it is also why impressions from our past lives can affect us subconsciously in the present, without us even being aware.
It is only once we transcend the mind in Samadhi, through Yoga, that there is no longer any need for rebirth. We are then liberated – because there are no more desires to be fulfilled. We have reached the original state beyond creation.
When we are in Samadhi, we are totally in the present.
There is no thinking, only witnessing.
Meditation is, in effect, the letting go of thinking.
This is such an important concept, which is at the very crux of Yoga,
and it highlights the central role of meditation in Yoga.
REMOVING THE ROOT CAUSE
4.10: Tasam anaditvam cha ashisah nityatvat
There is no beginning to this process of deep impressions,
as the desire to live and be happy is eternal.
Each new experience is built upon the tendencies laid down by past experiences. There is no beginning to desire and the wish for happiness. Try to witness your desires. If you watch them, and are alert to the way they affect your behaviour, you will soon understand why it is so useful to remove them from your field of consciousness. The good news is that there is an end to desires, through the practices of Yoga. As energy is gradually released from your desires – by removing the vibrational knots or complexities in the field of consciousness – it becomes available to help you soar higher and higher. And as more and more of the knots of desire are removed, your energy will be able to soar high enough for you to reach escape velocity.
4.11: Hetu phala ashraya alambana
samgrihitatvat esam abhave tad abhavah
As the knots of energy of impressions are held together by cause and effect,
the effects disappear with the causes.
What does Patanjali mean here? Think of the effects he speaks about as your emotional reactions. You may be fearful, angry, jealous, anxious, self-pitying or resentful, or you may be kind, compassionate, loving, generous and forgiving. But these are only the effects of underlying causes that exist within your system. What are the underlying causes? They are the samskaric impressions in your field of consciousness.
It is important to understand that the effects cannot be removed by trying to change the effects. If you fell a tree but leave the roots intact, most trees will regrow from the roots. Similarly, if you try to change outer behaviors without removing the underlying samskaras, the behaviors will re-emerge as soon as the conditions are conducive. Trying to control your emotions is a good start – it is good to be aware and willing to change behavioral patterns, such as learning to manage anger. But it is still tackling the problem from the cosmetic and superficial level. That is why the medical approach to mental illness has limitations, and why we have a global epidemic of depression – because medication and behavioral changes can only attempt to manage symptoms, the effects. They cannot address the root cause. They need something more. Hence we require something like the Heartfulness practices, which work deeply at the innermost level, removing the root cause itself.
For permanent change, the root samskaras or energy knots have to be removed. If you go on only controlling emotions, they will continue to accumulate in your subconscious, and you will end up with a pressure cooker inside you ready to explode. Heartfulness practice does the opposite; it releases the effects by removing the root cause.
4.12: Atita anagatam svarupatah
asti adhva bhedat dharmanam
Past and future exist in the present, but they are not experienced in the present
because they have different characteristics; they are on different planes.
Generally we are unconsciously influenced by the past and anticipating the future, but if our consciousness is pure we see eternity as it is – eternally in this moment. Most of us are limited to the thin film of consciousness that we use, and as a result we do not understand the relationship between past, present and future; between subconscious, conscious and superconscious.
In Heartfulness meditation, we learn how to expand consciousness and make it infinite. Especially with the aid of Yogic Transmission, what was earlier subconscious, i.e. below consciousness, is illuminated into consciousness.
What was superconscious, i.e. above consciousness, is also illuminated into consciousness. No longer do we need to compartmentalize these three parts of the consciousness spectrum and be so unaware of what is happening within us.
Of course the autonomic functions of the mind that allow us to breathe, to digest, for the heart to pump blood, and to process all the stimuli that we take in, still go on unconsciously, and we want them to. But the emotions related to memory can be removed, and behavioral change can also then take effect in a real way.
In Heartfulness meditation, we learn how to
expand consciousness and make it infinite.
Especially with the aid of Yogic Transmission,
what was earlier subconscious, i.e. below consciousness,
is illuminated into consciousness.
What was superconscious, i.e. above consciousness,
is also illuminated into consciousness.
Once our ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ are adjusted, through the meditative practices and lifestyle changes of Heartfulness, we learn how to witness instead of observe, without interference. Observation is influenced by the pre-judgment of conditioning, of previous information, because it involves impressions. There is constant interference. This is what is referred to in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. As observers, we are always involved, as our likes and dislikes draw our observation in the first place, and based on them we judge and interfere. Observation is never simply passive or receptive, but goal-oriented, as in the scientific method where we start with hypotheses – our own preconceptions based on observation. The observing mind seeks an outcome. The observing mind can never be passive or disinterested.
… clarity of mind and the associated ability to discern and make wise decisions.
To arrive at that state we need to journey through the Heart Region,
and master the emotions associated with the five elements of the chakras in the Heart.
Compare this with witnessing, which is neutral. As witnesses, we are not participants. We are not involved. We have no vested interest yet we are fully alert. When we witness we don’t interfere with things, expect or impose, and so we do not create samskaras in ourselves or in others.
When we witness, we still have thoughts, but we do not judge them or fight with them. They are simply like clouds passing by. Who is this witness? It is not the mind. It is that inner dweller, the soul.
The Buddha expressed this idea of the witness in a slightly different way. He used the term for meditation – right memory. You can also call it uncolored memory. There is no bias to it. Right memory is truthful. It is freeing. It is authentic. All this comes from meditation where we learn to simply witness and allow everything to surface and leave.
Cleaning is simple and effective, and has revolutionized
Yoga since it was first utilized in the 1940s
by Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur.
It is Cleaning that removes the emotional charge.
It is Cleaning that disentangles the past influences.
It is Cleaning that allows us to redesign our destiny.
The result? Clarity of mind and the associated ability to discern and make wise decisions. To arrive at that state we need to journey through the Heart Region, and master the emotions associated with the five elements of the chakras in the Heart. In this process, all the samskaric complexities and impurities associated with those emotions unravel and dissipate. We arrive at a state of clarity and authenticity.
Accumulating memories is like accumulating material possessions. Memories are our mental possessions, and those we hold dear are like our most precious material possessions. Generally they are much harder to let go of than material possessions. We allow them to define us and our identity. Our ego becomes entangled in them.
Are we willing to drop memories? What are we dropping anyway? It is not all the information associated with each memory but the emotional interference, the knot in the energy field, so that the charge is diffused. When the past is not continuously there, the uncolored present can be there.
How is this possible? One of the most potent practices ever conceived in yogic psychology is the Heartfulness Cleaning. Its purpose is to remove the impressions – to purify the field of consciousness of all the complexities and impurities that have accumulated. Impressions are removed daily from the field of consciousness, the subtle body, using the power of thought, just like dirt is removed from the physical body when taking a bath. It also works for the first limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga – Yama, to remove unwanted tendencies. The possibility of removal of tendencies does exist, otherwise why would Patanjali include the limb of Yama in Ashtanga Yoga? I am making this remark because some sannyasis feel that it is impossible to remove samskaras.
Cleaning is simple and effective, and has revolutionized Yoga since it was first utilized in the 1940s by Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur. It is Cleaning that removes the emotional charge. It is Cleaning that disentangles the past influences. It is Cleaning that allows us to redesign our destiny.
IMPLICIT & EXPLICIT MEMORY, ILLUSION AND TRUTH
One of the more interesting findings in neuroscience is about the way memories are formed. Scientists talk about implicit memory, which forms unconsciously, and explicit memory, which forms consciously. When we react emotionally in a situation, e.g. out of fear, it is usually very rapid, bypassing the cognitive cortical centers of the brain. Our system utilizes other nerve pathways, such as from the heart neurons via the pneumogastric (tenth) cranial nerve to subcortical structures like the cerebellar tonsil. The heart’s electromagnetic pulses also rapidly influence the whole body and beyond. So when there is a feeling or emotional response involved in the laying down of memory, or in the retrieval of a memory, then we use implicit memory, which cannot be managed or removed through cognitive mental processes, because the memory pathways do not go through the cognitive centers. It is a different type of memory.
It can, however, be dealt with by the heart, especially through the practices of meditation on the heart and cleaning of the heart, because the heart can respond instantaneously. Only through heart-based practices can we learn to master emotions and arrive at uncolored ‘real’ memory.
In The River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks explains that hallucination and imagination involve the same memory pathways in the brain as ‘real’ perception does. Neuroscientists have so far concluded that there is no mechanism in the mind for ensuring reality and truthfulness. So in that sense the mind is amoral, because the ‘guiding factor’ or conscience to determine what is right (pramana) and what is wrong (viparyaya), what is real and what is imagination (vikalpa), is not found in neuroscience. Memory is constructed in a highly subjective way. What we feel to be true is as much dependent on imagination as on the senses, because events and situations are experienced. Subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory. And memory arises not only from experience but also from the interchange of many minds.
The more we are able to purify our consciousness,
by removing the samskaras at the root of mental complexities,
the more likely we are to have clear, uncolored memory and hence
a healthy mind, an overall sense of well-being and a purposeful destiny.
So where does reality come from? Where does truth come from? Again, we come to the role of the heart. Through Heartfulness practices we experience the heart as the subtle organ that tells us what is real and not real, what is right and wrong, etc. The inference of this is very profound: by listening to the heart we discover the voice of conscience becoming clearer, so that we can discern and discriminate with ease. But there is one important caveat – this only works when the heart is pure, when the field of consciousness is pure.
Ultimately, the more we are able to purify our consciousness, by removing the samskaras at the root of mental complexities, the more likely we are to have clear, uncolored memory and hence a healthy mind, an overall sense of well-being and a purposeful destiny.
Article by KAMLESH PATEL (DAAJI)
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