[ Dhamma Talk ]
Where is Memory Stored?
M: The fact that it is possible to recall memory of past lives means that the memory is being stored somewhere. Where?
Also where are the rebounds of Kamma being stored?
Both these questions are related although it is not obvious. The Buddhist proposition is that the brain is a sense organ much like the Eye. So in the same way as the Eye does not "store" sights, or "have" sights in it, the brain does not store or have ideas or memories, but is only an implement for becoming conscious of such. The Mind or Memory, I suppose you would say, is "Out There".
Make a distinction between "this body" and "the world" which is not limited in time or space. So while the ordinary man allows himself consciousness only of what he deems he has experienced in "this body", (and thereby confines to flimsy images that which is deemed to have "past") by mental development rising above body-view all of that which is stored in Mind is accessable to Brain-consciousness in a manner one might say is in a continuous present (at least in a form as "real" as any present moment can be called "real").
Memory works by "associations" or "connections" and the individual can manipulate his way through these associations both chronologically and through "phenomena" (objects). There are some sorcerers out there that have so mastered their minds as to be able to recall former events (all former events, not only those experienced "personally") as though they were standing in the scene watching the real thing take place again. This is also the real purpose of the Nidana that begins each sutta: those who are "seers" are able, if the story is true, to use the short description of when, who, where and why, to travel back and see the events for themselves.
Now imagine that this Mind is all encompassing (that is, it encompasses both Nama and Rupa) and that it works as well as with memories, with vibrations. I explain this with an image: Imagine a sphere. In this sphere is absolutely every conceivable variation of everything, every conceivable outcome of everything. (In fact, as I understand quantum physics, it states that these "possibilities" exist only as possibilities until such a time as consciousness is brought to bear upon them, this also accords with Downbound Confounded Rebounding Conjuration where "Downbound Consciousness Rebounds Bound Up in Nama/Rupa ...but for this discussion imagine they have an on-going existence; in any case avoid forming a "ditthi" (view) concerning the ultimate existence or not existence of any one way that this may be, this is just an image useful for orienting yourself to the mechanics of kamma). Then imagine that consciousness is traversing that sphere. As it goes along, subjectively identifying itself as "Me", actions of body, speech, and imagination take place. These acts reverberate through that sphere. From the very instant an action is taken a rebound is also set in motion; as the vibration traverses the sphere, the rebound is continuous, bouncing off of all things at all times forever. The "individuality" that set the action in motion retains his vulnerability to the rebound (imagine him being blown in a certain direction by a wind or being moved by a current) through the same sort of "connections" as allow memory. (The rebound off of different objects is of varying magnitude and swiftness in proportion to the force of the actor the nature of the object and the nature of the act. The subjective experience of pleasure or pain depends on the intent of the act.) What we call the "end" of a deed, is really a fiction. What actually happens is that the reverberation has reached a state of dilution to the degree that it has become unnoticeable.
All this is, of course, as it is applied to the non-Arahant. The Arahant is not inside this sphere!
Of course we know that certain memories are stored in the brain. This is not exactly what I am speaking about here. This might be likened to the RAM memory of a computer. The extent of this RAM memory might even be huge, but it should be thought of as a working copy of the "real" thing that I am saying is "out there" and is the object of the brain-sense.