See memory not as an exhaustive guide to the past, but as a constructive guide from the past to the future

We usually think of memory as a tool to remember the past. Actually however, the past is too vast to be remembered entirely or accurately. Consider one incident. It is often remembered differently by different people. Even the same person may remember it differently at different times. If we start thinking of our memory as an exhaustive guide to the past, we can get caught endlessly in the past. 

In fact, some people get caught like that. They endlessly replay past events. And they keep doing inconclusive post-mortems of who did what and what could have been done instead. The Bhagavad-gita (18.35) cautions against such self-destructive mental patterns centered on fearing, lamenting and resenting – all these point to a consciousness steeped in ignorance, specifically ignorance about the nature of memory. 

To use our memory constructively, we need to primarily look ahead, not behind. What’s happened has already happened. What we can do is learn, as much as possible, to prevent the recurrence of the unwanted past. 

To learn from the past without being consumed by negativity, we need to first raise our vision to the one who reigns above the past, the present and the future: Krishna. He can bring good even out of the bad, provided we do our part in the present. However dark our past, we can still have a rich life of loving service to him. And for such a life of service, our memory is meant to be a facilitator, not an impeder.  

With this vision of service, we re-envision memory not as a torch that shows us the past, but as a torch that is fueled by insights from the past for seeing the future more clearly. 


Think it over:

  • What goes wrong if we see memory as an exhaustive guide to the past?
  • How can focusing on Krishna help us to learn from the past? 
  • How does bhakti vision help us re-envision the role of memory?



18.35 And that determination which cannot go beyond dreaming, fearfulness, lamentation, moroseness and illusion – such unintelligent determination, O son of Pṛthā, is in the mode of darkness.

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