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 [Dhamma Talk]


 

Memories are Made of This

AP: In Access to Insight, I was not able to find exactly what I was looking for: how to improve memory. I suppose everything said there about mindfulness and concentration indirectly, or maybe directly, leads to a better memory. I found the articles very helpful but not directly concerned with my question.

My interest has been sparked by an improvement in memory lately, which surprised me since I've made no conscious attempt to retain anythinng in mind. There may be a heightened interest in what I'm reading, which has got to have an effect, but I still enter a room and don't remember right away why I'm there, though it seems to happen less often. I would like to continue to improve without using the associative techniques and creating room-like compartments, among other methods, often touted as necessary. Is the breath awareness exercise a factor in memory improvement? Are there other "simple" exercises one could do to strengthen this ability? — Aldo

 

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First, for purposes of this discussion, let us, whatever your definition of memory may be, define what I understand memory to be.

Memory, or a 'good memory' is the ability to recall what was intended, thought in words or said, or done in past time in-so-far only as it serves a purpose.

The ability to remember passages in texts, or people's names or sequences of numbers and so forth is a secondary benefit of a good memory of one's deeds. The latter must come first and is a pre-requisite for the former.

Putting aside traumatic causes of memory loss, such as a blow to the head, and putting aside debate concerning cases such as dementia or Alzheimers or a stroke or a heart attack which are, in my opinion cases where a poorly set up memory has reached it's limits and where physical evidence of that malfunctioning is secondary (which is, I recognize, not to put aside the debate, but is to state and then to make it impossible to rebut my position), deteriorating memory is a consequence on the one hand of lack of exercise of the memory, and on the other hand of a poorly set up and maintained memory.

What is a poorly set up memory [sati patthana]?

A memory that was never set up is a poorly set up memory.

Why is that? Because a memory that is never set up will gather the useless as well as the useful and assign them equal importance so that over time focus and therefore direction of the memory to a purpose becomes impossible.

And a memory that is not set up is a memory that has never been exercised and will soon atrophy in the same way as any muscle in the body that is not used will soon atrophy.

A memory set up in accordance with a mis-directed point of view is a poorly set up memory.

Why is that? Because when the mind with a mis-directed point of view encounters what is not in accordance with it's point of view that memory is put to the side, neglected and forgotten; and when that mis-directed point of view breaks down in the face of reality what remains is disorganized and only poorly recollected.

A memory set up with principles based on a mis-directed point of view is a poorly set up memory.

Why is that? Because when the point of view is mis-directed, the principles based on that point of view are mis-directed and when that mis-directed point of view breaks down in the face of reality those memories which were organized by those principles become confused and appear confused.

What is a well set up memory?

A memory that is set up is a well set up memory.

Why is that? Because even a memory that is set up in accordance with a mis-directed point of view on principles based on a mis-directed point of view will function better within it's limited scope than will a memory that is not set up at all.

And a memory that is set up is a memory that gets exercised and will not soon atrophy in the same way as any muscle in the body that is exercised will not soon atrophy.

A memory that is set up in accordance with a consummate point of view is a well-set up memory.

Why is that? Because when the mind with a consummate point of view encounteres what accords with that view it is remembered and when it encounters what is counter to that view that also is remembered.

And what is this consummate point of view which when the memory is set up in accordance with it and it encounters what accords with that view it is remembered and when it encounters what is counter to that view that also is remembered?

It is the view from these four Aristocrats of Truths:

That this is all inherently ugly painful shit.
That this ugly painful shit is generated by hunger, thirst, wanting.
That to end this ugly painful shit, one must end the hunger, thirst, wanting.
That this is the way: High View, High Principles, High Talk, High Works, High Self-control, High Lifestyle, High Setting up of Memory, High Getting High, High Vision, and High Objective Detachment.

A memory set up with principles based on consummate point of view is a well set up memory.

Why is that? Because when the point of view is consummate, the principles based on that point of view are consummate and when that consummate point of view encounters what is in accord with that view or when it encounters what is counter to that view those memories which were organized by those principles remain unconfused and appear unconfused and guide the individual based on that mind so set up, so founded, so principled in going a little further on this way.

And what are those principles based on consummate point of view?

The principle of giving up, renunciation, letting go.
The principle of non-harm.
The principle of non-cruelty, non-intent-to-harm.

And what is a well-maintained memory?

It is memory maintained by exercise of consummate point of view and by principles based on consummate point of view.

And how is memory maintained by exercise of consummate point of view and by principles based on consummate point of view?

In the case of this case a person so practices that whether primarily identified with body or sense-experience or emotion or ideas he lives seeing body and sense-experience and emotion and ideas as they really are, as temporary things, subject to change and ending and filled with danger for one who identifies with them; seeing this way with such clarity of mind that he lets go of his worldly ambitions and frustrations and heads up, bound up in nothing at all in the world.

And how does a person so practice?

Here a person should find a place to be alone, sit down in the indian-style cross-legged position and assuming an erect sitting posture should bring his mind to the area of his face and encompass in this way his awareness of breathing in and out.

If he breaths in with a deep breath he should be aware of it this way: "I am breathing in a deep breath."
If he breaths out with a deep breath he should be aware of it this way: "I am breathing out a deep breath."
If he breaths in and out with shallow breaths he should be aware of it this way: "I am breathing in and out with shallow breaths."

Aware of his breathing, he should still, calm and tranquillize the body.

Aware of his breathing, he should concentrate his mind.

Aware of his breathing, he should focus his attention on the principle of letting go.

Letting go he should make himself aware of detachment.

Detached he should make himself aware of the freedom of detachment.

In freedom he should recognize freedom.

Aware of the breathing; stilling, calming and tranquillizing the body; concentrating the mind; focusing the attention on the principle of letting go; letting go; aware of detachment; aware of the freedom of detachment; and in freedom recognizing freedom, he will have well set up his memory on seeing the body as it really is, as a temporary thing, subject to change and ending and filled with danger for one who identifies with it, and seeing this way with such clarity of mind that he lets go of his worldly ambitions and frustrations he will be heading up, bound up in nothing at all in the world.

Aware of the breathing; stilling, calming and tranquillizing the body; concentrating the mind; focusing the attention on the principle of letting go; letting go; aware of detachment; aware of the freedom of detachment; and in freedom recognizing freedom, he will have well set up his memory on seeing the sensations, the emotions, and ideas as they really are, as temporary things, subject to change and ending and filled with danger for one who identifies with them, and seeing this way with such clarity of mind that he lets go of his worldly ambitions and frustrations he will be heading up, bound up in nothing at all in the world.

For such a one, starting at any point in his life and practicing with unwavering dilligence, there is no danger from the destruction of memory that has not been set up; there is no danger from the destruction of memory that has been set up based on a mis-directed point of view; there is no danger from the destruction of memory that has been set up on principles based on mis-directed point of view.

What one is about is always before one, is never out of memory; what needs to be done is always before one, is never out of memory. Whether one is waking up or getting up or getting dressed or going out or going to town or getting food or eating food or tasting food or returning from town or entering the house or attending to bodily functions or walking or standing still or sitting or lying down, awake or asleep what one is about is always before one, is never out of memory; what needs to be done is always before one, is never out of memory.

How come? Because it is based on consummate point of view and operates on principles set up in accordance with consummate point of view. That's how come.

 

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AP: In trying to boil it down, which is not really possible, but I think it allows me to begin to grasp it, I get the following: A well set up memory is founded on a well set up awareness that attends to whatever is happening in body and mind, which leads to a clear mind, an unconfused mind, that truly sees reality — ideally this is the 4 noble truths, or lacking this awareness, being aware and unconfused about the world one lives in by close observation of that world, even though unreal. In brief, pay attention to everything that happens in one's world. Not just when one wants to remember something thought to be important. Good memory is not a part time thing.

These thoughts reminded me of the natural strong man or woman. It is said that they never go to the gym, or in any way "do" exercises because everything they do is an exercise. They stand, sit, walk and move the body about properly, all the time, working with gravity not against it, so no extraordinary measures are necessary to keep them fit.

 

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We have poor memories because we lie which rembers what is not real and then wastes energy trying to remember it in connection with all the places and ways it might come up. We also cannot remember well those things that we are ashamed of doing. And we cannot remember what does not fit in with our viewpoint concerning what is real. And we cannot remember well when what we are remembering is just a jumble of random ideas. And we cannot remember well when we are 'trying' to remember. Memory isn't something we command. Recollection is enabled by aiming the mind and allowing the recollection to occur. It cannot happen when there is grasping or anxiety to remember ... that is attention on grasping or anxiety to remember which isn't what one is trying to remember.

The Four truths is a set of ideas that allow for not hanging on and which condition behavior that is reality-oriented and which does not produce shameful behavior.

Setting up the memory should direct the attention that is based on the 4 truths onto the 4 main areas where we experience the world: The body, the sense experiences, the emotions, and ideas.

If an older person, even one suffering from the early stages of Alzheimers or dementia, were to adopt the 4 truths and set up memory directed at the four areas of experience they would never be at a loss for their purpose because their purpose is simple: let it go, do no harm. They would be able to remember in the conventional sense because they were allowing their mind the freedom to remember by not messing with it.

Memory of things and events, for an individual set up like this will be automatic. It always is, but it is interfered with by fears and anxieties and wrong ideas and clinging. The person oriented in the way I am suggesting is allowing memory to function naturally because, by being concentrated on the two simple things: giving up and doing no harm, they don't interfere.

 

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AP: It seems that the thing that helps me most is to realize that the less stuff in mind — unnecessary stuff that keeps us from seeing what is, or what is not — the better we will see things as they are, and the better our memories should be. Interfering with it, as you say, with all sorts of personal baggage is what has to be dropped. I don't see, however, why the four truths have to be part of this clear seeing. Isn't it enough for there to be what one considers to be clear seeing, even if not based on what is real, as long as the personal stuff is left behind, and the seeing is simple and leads to an unconfused and peaceful life? Can't the personal stuff be dispensed with even without the Highest View/Understanding?

 

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There is no separation between 'the personal stuff' and one's point of view.

With the point of view, "I am" comes the point of view "Mine", from the point of view "Mine" comes reaction to taking sense-stimula personally: what supports 'me' is reacted to positively, what undermines 'me' is reacted to negatively: wanting and cruel intentions arise either way and lies and harm, shameful behavior and misunderstanding follow after. The whole of it based on false supposition, it sooner or later can no longer support logic and memory.

There is not, for individuals, a getting beyond sense-stimula to another reality separate from the individual. The eye comes into contact with a visible object in the presence of consciousness. Eye-consciousness (seeing, the conscious awareness of a visible object) arises. The mind-sense comes into contact with the various sense-consciousnesses from the five lower senses and together with consciousness, awareness of a personal world arises. For the individual, it's all his own creation. Sang = own; ka = shit; ara = all around.

High view rises above the arguments about existance and non-existance and the notions of self that arise from taking one side or another of that argument and it orients reaction to sense stimulus towards the real problem, the problem of pain. Focused on the problem of pain taking sense-stimula personally is reduced and then eliminated, what supports 'me' is not reacted to positively, what undermines 'me' is not reacted to negatively; and wanting and cruel intentions do not arise and lies and harm have no basis for following after, shameful behavior and confusion do not become a problem for the memory. The whole of one's mind is based on a useful proposition and one which supports logic and memory to the end.

The end is a separation of consciousness from the consciousness through sense-experience of the individual. It is only insofar as there is the interaction of consciousness with formed materials and the individualized aspect of mind (the mind-sense) that keeps track of names of formed materials that there is that which is known as an individual. Mind becomes pure, unobscured by the issues relating to individuality, not the mind of an individual, not the product of an individual, not subject to the confusions arising from individuality and there is unhindered perfect unlimited memory.

There is 'progress towards' this end and this is experienced while still identified as an individual, as a good memory and then as an excellent memory.

So this is a goal which is useful to strive after right from the start, useful in the middle and useful at the end.

 

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AP: Finally, I've been able to get some coherent thought together in response to your latest on memory.

We'll see.

AP: It was for me the clearest explanation of not only how memory is affected by the "individualized aspect of mind', as you put it, but how this individualization process works. Thanks.

I can say, for the first time, I think, that I know (nana knowing?) what is being talked about by the not-self idea, but I can't say that I "see" it (dassana knowing?) yet.

'Nana and dassana', 'knowing and seeing' is the special case of 'knowing' that there is no 'thing' there (any 'thing' that is constructed of 'name' and 'form' together with 'consciousness' — so including all that which is a result of sense experience) that can legitimately carry the notion of 'self' (that is, that it and it's destiny are under the control of this 'self') or is not subject to ending.

The special meaning here is that this is 'seen' without doubt. It may not be seen at all times but when confusion arises it is the first resort of the mind.

It is further understood that the first resort of 'knowing and seeing' is 'samma sankappa', high principles: letting go, harmlessness, non-cruelty.

AP: The problem I'm having with it was touched on by your statement: "There is not, for individuals, a getting beyond sense-stimula to another reality separate from the individual."

What is implied here, of course, is that there is a getting beyond sense-stimula to another reality separate from the individual" — if there is no longer an individualized consciousness. Have I understood this correctly?

No. You are pushing it one step beyond what was said. What is implied here is that there is not, for individuals, a getting beyond sense-stimula to another reality separate from the individual.

AP: Further on, you stress this understanding by saying that the goal is "a separation of consciousness from consciousness through sense-experience of the individual."

Naming, or all that which is normally categorized under the heading of 'consciousness' by beings — 'thinking' 'sensing' 'experiencing' 're-membering' is a phenomena that arises in conjunction with objects or 'things' or 'forms' or 'shapes'. [Think of an atom with electrons]

A visible object comes into the range of the eye and visual consciousness arises. [eye+object > sense experience > perception > consciousness = named form] The two, together, now acting as the 'form' that is coming into contact with the mind sense together with consciousness, give rise to consciousness of consciousness of sense experience.

When this process occurs together with a point of view concerning existance or non-existance or self as a consequence of identification (injection of the notion of existance and self, sankaraming, making-one's-own, being in some world of being as some form of being) with acts of mind, speech and body intended to create experience for the self, there is said to arise that which is understood to be an individual. The point of view could be said to have obscured the view of the various aspects of the process making them appear to be a unity.

When this process does not occur together with a point of view concerning existance or non-existance or self because there has been no identification with acts of mind, speech and body intended to create experience for the self, there is no basis there for calling anything an individual or to speak of the existance of this or that. No point of view being there the appearance of unity is not created (or, for what was an individual could be said to have been broken apart) and consciousness can no longer be said to be consciousness through sense experience.

To then turn around and speak of what has by definition been stripped of notions of existance and non-existance or self as having existance or non-existance or self is to confuse the issue (and miss the advantage). And that is what you are doing in the following paragraphs:

AP: If this is the case, if, as you say, "mind becomes pure, unobscured by the issues relating to individuality...," which have fallen away, then wouldn't we expect that all mental categories of an individualized mind must fall away as well, including, and especially, the rules of logic.

No. Nothing has changed except the point of view is now no longer in control. Incorrect, or erroneous mental categories have fallen away and logic may not appear the same but logic remains logic.

AP: If so, isn't it possible that there may be in "pure mind" an "I am" which is not a view from an individualized point, but is a view nonetheless (logic not being an arbiter of right and wrong here)?

There is no view of "I am" that is not an individualized view! That's the definition of the individualized view. The view "I am" exists as a potentiality for the mind, but the mind of the Arahant has been trained to recognize it as a danger..."Don't go that way — bottomless pit!"

AP: And also a view that does not lead logically to a point of view "mine" and all the sound and fury that follows?

The idea "I" and "mine" are impossible to separate. What would there be there that would be this "I" if it were not something that was "mine"? But this whole argument is crazy because we have no need of an "I am" view and have seen that it is that very idea that is the source of all grief in that when anything is identified with as one's own and it changes that change constitutes the destruction of the self and that is experienced as painful because that "I am" view there was constructed based on the desire to be, the grasping after being, and, additionally, the fact that we cannot stop it's destruction is an affront to the mind grasping after self.

AP: I guess what I'm asking is: how can we say that the self idea is not possible, is not pointing to a reality in "pure mind" awareness that cannot be known except when this awareness is attained?

But we are not saying that the self idea is not possible. We are saying that the self idea is possible. We are just saying it is a mistake in perception. That it has no basis in reality. That it is a mental construct which is proved to be an error whenever one points to anything as that self in that anything that is pointed to as the self can be shown to be out of control of the self...it ends.

AP: Your emphasis on the individuation process of the ordinary mind suggested to me that the resolution to the self/not-self conundrum is solved, maybe, by a way of thinking that I found when I googled the Atman concept. I also wanted to see if this concept may be what is in back of my thinking on this subject. (If this is the case, and I suspect it is, then I have no problem with that.) But first I turned to "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola R. to see what he had to say, in his clear, concise and usually convincing manner, about anatta and the Atman in order to get some solid understanding. As you no doubt know, he attempts to show that no permutation of the Atman idea is tenable for any "legit" Buddhist, and he rejects them with arguments that are, to me, not convincing. He uses the logical mind to make his point, and therefore loses me.

Googling briefly, I found the following descriptions, or non-descriptions, on the Atman: The Self cannot be known through the study of scriptures, nor through intellect nor through hearing learned discourses...the Atman cannot be realized by ordinary consciousness, where the senses are active and where there is the interference of mind in the process of awareness...There cannot be an experience of Atman where there is this gulf of "knowing" between the knower and the known...If you think that you know the Self you know not...He who knows it, knows it not really.

This is just standard Gurubabble necessitated by hanging on to the idea of self. What can be known can be known absolutely; what can be known to be in error can be seen to be in error clearly and without mysterious dichotomies.

AP: If I've understood what you had to say about the individualized aspect of mind and pure mind, then the Atman idea seems a possible fit for the gaps in our thinking, and seems a reasonable fit for what you had to say.

MO: Absolutely not. What is the case is that there are notions of existance and self that are different than those of the ordinary man here today. There are subtle notions of self in worlds such as 'being conscious of form', 'being conscious of consciousness', 'being conscious of nothingness', 'being conscious of neither perception-nor-non-perception', 'being conscious of the ending of sensation and perception' and even being aware of Nibbana when still connected to the self. In addition to these, which are broad general categories there are worlds of consciousness of self that are more specific such as 'the realm of the power to create' and 'the realm of the power over the creations of others' and on and on.

There is as stated above, no denial of the fact that beings identify with consciousness of consciousness and create existances, called realities, where the "I" as defined within cannot logically be denied and so cannot be said to 'not be'. Further, there is nothing in what was said that says that 'pure mind' cannot be conscious of these things...in fact, the case is precisely the opposite in that when the unguarded mind comes into contact with these things, it is then that existance and being and self are said to have become...in other words, they are perceptable, but dangerous.

AP: I feel I should apologize for the above because it obviously comes from that aspect of mind you mentioned that is subject to confusion, etc., so that what I had to say is bound to be conditioned by that confusion. But it seems to me that even with the confusion some clarity may be there. That at least is my hope. — Aldo

You rise up to accurate perception and then dive into confusion again, so there is some clarity there! We just need to slow you down so that at the peak you can stop for a look.

 


 

References:

See: DN 22 MahaSatipatthana Suttanta, and
SN 5 54 1 ff.

 


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