Cerebral and Extra-Cerebral Memory
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Anubhútaviśayásampramośah smrtih [“The re-creation of things already perceived by the mind is called memory”].
The objects or incidents that one recollects are called anubhútaviśayá or things already perceived. When the same objects or incidents are recreated in the mind, they are called smrti or memory. For instance, a person may not always recollect what he or she ate the previous day, but if he or she thinks hard, the items that were eaten will flash in the mind. In our daily life, we are constantly recollecting things perceived in the past.
The memory is activated in 2 ways:
This revives the undistorted image of perceived incidents in the nerve cells.
Perception in the primary stage is registered in the unit mind through the nerve cells, and the vibrations of those perceptions remain imbedded in the nerve cells.
The nerve cells in the brain differ according to the different vibrations they carry. Some carry vibrations of knowledge, others the vibrations of action. Microcosms with brains do not have much difficulty in creating ideas at the psychic level carried through inferences because the vibrations in the nerve cells remain undistorted for quite some time.
For instance, if someone happens to see a white cow, he or she can easily say after five minutes what the colour of the cow was because the image of the cow imprinted in the nerve cells is still clear and distinct. That is why it is not difficult for the brain to recollect a memory by recreating ideational waves. But if we ask the same person to describe the cow after a few days, he or she will have more difficulty recollecting its colour because by then the impression of the cow in the nerve cells will have become indistinct. At that stage the perceived image is stored in the citta or ectoplasmic mind-stuff and not the brain. Hence the mind will have to labour hard to reformulate the image of the cow from the accumulated saḿskáras or the mental reactive momenta of past actions. The ability to do this depends on one’s psychic power.
If the external factors necessary for the revival of memory remain undisturbed for some time, one can more easily recreate events already perceived. For instance, if one happens to go to the spot where the cow was seen, one suddenly remembers that a white cow was tethered there. But, after a lapse of much time, when the external factors necessary for the re-creation of that image change drastically, it becomes difficult for the brain to remember the details of the event. At this stage, to recollect the image, one has to penetrate the citta of the unit mind. Of course, once an incident is recollected, its impression remains understood for some time before it finally disappears.
Thus the brain is nothing more than a worldly machine for mental recollection. Its various parts assist the mind in various ways. But the permanent abode of memory is the citta. So even though an impression has faded from the nerve cells, the mind can recreate the impression by its own power. When the brain assists in the recollection of any event or fact it is called “cerebral memory”.
The human mind has three stages: crude, subtle and causal. There are also three states in human existence: wakeful, dream and sleep. The crude mind remains active during the wakeful state and the causal mind remains active during sleep. The causal mind is the repository of infinite knowledge. Whatever saḿskáras we recreate in the wakeful and dream states remain stored in the causal mind. When the causal mind sleeps we call it “death”. Kárańamanasi diirghanidrá marańam [“Long sleep in the causal mind is death”].
After death, the disembodied mind floats in the vast space with its unexpressed saḿskáras.
Later, with the cooperation of the mutative principle, the disembodied mind finds a suitable physical base.
The memory of its past life remains awake for approximately the first five years of its new life.
Although the child remains in a new physical environment, mentally it continues to live the joys and sorrows of its previous life.
That is why children sometimes laugh and cry in their sleep, and their mothers often think they are talking with God. In colloquial Bengali this is called deola kát́á.
In actual fact this laughter and crying is nothing but the reappearance of past memories. To re-experience past events one does not need the cooperation of the old brain. The newly-born mind has not yet had time to build a close relationship with the new brain.
The revival of experiences of past lives is what we call “extra-cerebral memory”, and is principally the task of the causal mind. The child’s mind being unacquainted with the outside world and the new-born brain being inexperienced, his or her crude mind does not function much.
The experiences of the crude mind are not reflected in the child’s subtle mind. In the case of a child, since the crude experiences are relatively few, the subtle mind remains tranquil.
Thus the waves of the causal mind easily surface in the child’s subtle mind. As a result, the accumulated experiences of the child’s previous life can easily be recollected. As the child’s crude mind is not yet mature enough to work externally, the dream experiences are not expressed in the wakeful state.
This extra-cerebral memory begins to fade after five years. The more one advances in age, the more the new environment leaves its impressions in the child’s mind. The more a child sees new things before its eyes, the more restless it becomes to know each and every object of this world. Hence the child asks a multitude of questions – it seems there is no end to its inquisitiveness. The more it receives the answers to its questions, the more its mind gets acquainted with the mundane world. The experiences of the crude mind then begin, and get reflected in the dream state.
As a result, the vibrations of the causal mind cannot come to the surface any more. Hence, the more the child advances in age, the more it forgets its past life. Sometimes children can remember their past life even after the age of five. In this case the mind of the new body remains free from environmental influences. That is, the waves of the external world are unable to influence the mind.
Such people are called játismara or one who remembers one’s past lives.
Normally, the extra-cerebral memory of such people remains active up to the age of twelve. If one still remembers one’s past life after that it becomes difficult to survive, because two minds will try to function in one body – the mind of this life and that of the previous one. A single body cannot tolerate the clashes of two minds, hence psycho-physical parallelism is lost leading to eventual death.
Forgetfulness is a providential decree. Usually human beings forget their past lives. Is this forgetfulness a blessing or a curse? It is a blessing because human beings feel burdened by the weight of one life. It would be impossible for them to carry the burden of many lives together.
The human mind is sentimental – full of love, affection, camaraderie, etc. People have a deep attraction to this world; they remain preoccupied throughout their lives with fears and anxieties for the safety of their families. So many problems have to be confronted. The problems of one life alone are enough to make people restless. If they had to face the problems of several lives, they would be unable to lead a natural life. The problems of the past lives, compounded by the strife of the present life, would drive them to the brink of insanity. Secondly, it is difficult for people to be detached from love and attachment for one life. So much effort is required to overcome the bondages of attachment and march towards Parama Puruśa.
If the memory of the past lives is revived, the bondage of attachment will tighten its grip, putting a halt to spiritual advancement. One will be caught in the grip of worldly attachment. Thus the decree of merciful providence is, “Let human beings be oblivious of their past lives.”
It is also true that nothing in this universe is lost or destroyed, so the history of a person’s hopes and frustrations [of this life] remains stored in their subconscious mind [subtle mind]. Due to restlessness of the crude and subtle minds, the causal mind cannot give expression to its omniscience.
But all knowledge, one’s entire past history and flashes of one’s previous lives, remain stored in sequential order in the causal mind, just like a colourful panorama, one layer representing one life, followed by a gap, followed by another layer representing another life, and so on. That is why the great poet Rabindranath Tagore said, Bhule tháká se to nay bholá [“To remain in oblivion is not to forget completely”].
Human beings, if they so want, may try to relive those experiences in their memories.
This is called sádhaná or spiritual practice.
Sádhakas or spiritual aspirants, by dint of sádhaná, suspend their crude mind in the subtle mind, and the subtle mind in the causal mind.
They can then clearly visualize that panorama of sequential events in the causal mind. As they have full control over the time factor they can easily transcend the intervening gaps between two lives and establish a link between them. A series of lives slowly and gradually unfold themselves like a moving panorama before their eyes.
Should one strive to see one’s past lives? Through sádhaná human beings attain a certain degree of control over the relative factors.
After a long journey of hundreds of years one begins to visualize the saḿskáras of one’s past lives. To visualize other’s saḿskáras is relatively easy for a sádhaka, but to visualize one’s own saḿskáras is very difficult. Behind this also there is the decree of merciful providence. Imagine a person was a sinner in his or her past life, but in this life has got the opportunity to lead a spiritual life, by His Grace.
If the person happens to discover his or her past sinful life, he or she will lose all inspiration to continue spiritual sádhaná. The dominant thought in his or her mind will be, “I am a sinner. I have no saḿskára for sádhaná and will be unable to do it.” This sort of negative thought will thwart his or her spiritual progress.
One’s past life will pull one back.
Conversely, if a sádhaka happened to be a great spiritualist in his or her past life, then through the powers of his or her extra-cerebral memory he or she will be further inspired to continue the spiritual life. He or she will think, “In my previous life I was unable to complete my spiritual practice. Now in this life Parama Puruśa has given me the opportunity to attain my cherished goal.” He or she will intensify his or her spiritual practice and advance rapidly towards Parama Puruśa with His sweet attraction. He or she will recite: Sammukhe t́heliche more pashcáter ámi [“My own reactive momenta are pushing me forward”].
30 December 1970, Ranchi
Human beings can remember and forget many things in their lives.
They study and learn, and what they learn today they forget tomorrow.
Many people, however, remember things from their past lives. They can remember a few particular episodes – not of this life but of their past life. They see them like dreams, though they are unaware that these episodes are known to them. But they remember them.
Such memories are called non-cerebral memories. Once I demonstrated in Ranchi what a man observes when his mind is taken back 50, 100, or 500 years.
Cerebral memory is what you store in your brain through the medium of the nerve cells.
But in the case of non-cerebral memory your nerve cells will not come forward to assist you.
They cannot help you because no memory of your past episodes remains stored in your present nerve cells to enable you to remember them.
Along with the rest of your previous bodies, those nerve cells got burnt to ashes when the bodies died. What people learn or observe in their present life remains stored in the present nerve cells of their brain as memory. That is, the episodes of their previous lives are not stored in their present nerve cells because the nerve cells of their previous bodies got burnt to ashes along with the bodies of their previous lives. So how will one remember them? How can the memories be recollected by the mind?
When people expire, the saḿskáras or reactive momenta of their previous life accompany their spirit, soul or átmá. What are these reactive momenta? They are nothing but the unfulfilled consequences of one’s karma or actions performed in the previous life. That is, actions were performed but they did not bear any fruit. The unfulfilled potential of the past actions lay resting along with the mind in the form of a seed of possibilities. That seed of possibilities (that is, the unrealized consequences of the actions which were performed but bore no fruit) takes a shelter or base in the next life which is most suitable for materializing these possibilities. The saḿskáras seek out and get the kind of body and nerve cells which best serves their expression.
In those instances in the previous life where actions were performed but the results were not achieved – where actions were performed but they did not bear any fruit – saḿskáras or reactive momenta remain with which the individual is personally involved. That is, in the previous life both the person and their mind were deeply involved with these actions. The unexpressed tendency of those particular episodes in which the mind was deeply involved will remain restive in them. Having this tendency by birth, those episodes are still remembered in their mind, but in some cases the tendency remains stored in an indistinct and unclear form. For example, when one is sitting alone, suddenly a strange imagination may start playing in the mind. One may feel, “I was the owner of that plot of land.
I used to cultivate it.” How does this occur? It is because the saḿskáras of the previous life were involved, which is why one can suddenly remember the episode. However, in this case one does not realize that one has remembered an episode of one’s previous birth. Such things occur in the lives of everybody. But in some people, a true picture of exactly what had happened in their previous birth remains vividly clear in the mind. Such things only happen in three types of cases: first, in those who have a very well-developed personality; secondly, in those who have commanded their own death or who have died with full consciousness; and thirdly, in those who died through accidents. In these three cases, the episodes of the previous life remain visible and clear in the mind.
Generally, such a memory does not last long. A part of it remains vividly clear up to the age of twelve or thirteen years, but after that age it gradually recedes into oblivion. This is because, if one remembers it all the time, one will develop a dual personality. Suppose in this birth a boy has the name Ramkumar and in his previous life he was known as Harihara, the same person will have two personalities. This is the situation.
Those who do remember their past lives up to the age of twelve or thirteen years are called játismara in Sanskrit. If one can concentrate the mind and transform it into a point, then one can recollect everything. One can remember every word of one’s previous birth in one’s next life provided that one’s reactive momenta remain unfulfilled. But I will never advise any sádhaka or spiritual aspirant to try to become a játismara. What is the use of recollecting the history of your past life? Try to learn only about the future.
What is this future? What should be the future? You should become one with Parama Puruśa by merging into Him. Then everything will be known and revealed to you. Unite with Him and enjoy the bliss of spiritual ambrosia. The meaning of unification with Parama Puruśa is to enjoy Parama Puruśa. What is the use of knowing the history of your previous births? Such knowledge will never help your spiritual advancement.
9 December 1978, Calcutta