HUMAN memory is the very basis of civilisation. It is the fundamental ingredient responsible for all science, technology and culture on the planet. But this source of empowerment can also become a source of enslavement. Memory is like a doorway. Doors can open, but they can also close. If doors open, you experience them as wonderful. If they keep slamming in your face, they can be horrible.
Mere intelligence cannot produce civilisation. The transmission of memory from generation to generation enables us to build a foundation and forge ahead. Otherwise, we would be doomed to keep reinventing the wheel. Culture is essentially memory, and plays a crucial role in our lives, because it ensures survival, continuity, security. Even what we refer to as karma is simply memory stored on various levels in the human system.
Although it can be a wonderful thing, memory also makes life repetitive rather than receptive. When you carry a certain volume of memory within you, your life becomes habitual and automatic. The possibility of spontaneity, wonder, the impulse to explore the new and the unknown, is obliterated. Together, memory and intelligence can be a fantastic combination. But memory alone is mere repetitiveness. The negative aspects are brainwashing, conditioning, indoctrination. Memory can often become a form of internal hypnosis; this can be useful, but when you do not know how to keep it aside, you run the risk of losing the greatest human gift of all: receptivity.
If you were capable of discarding all civilisational influences—your identifications with nation, culture, religion and ideology—whenever you wanted, you could become a tremendous possibility. If your culture were programmed into an external memory stick, you could simply pull it out when necessary, and choose to meditate! That would be great technology. But the problem is ancestral memory has been implanted in the brain. Since you have been internally hard-wired, it takes so much longer to undo that programming.
There is a beautiful story in yogic lore. The wedding between Adiyogi, or Shiva, and Parvati was a grand affair. Since Parvati was a princess, everyone was invited to the wedding—kings and queens, gods and goddesses, each in their finery, one more beautiful than the other. And then came the groom, Adiyogi, naked, inebriated, ash-smeared. With him was his whole entourage of cronies—demons, goblins and distorted beings.
Parvati’s mother was horrified at the sight and fainted! However, on Parvati’s persuasion, Adiyogi transformed himself into Sundaramurti, the most beautiful man in the world, and her mother was appeased.
Later, when the priests enquired after the groom’s lineage, Adiyogi remained silent. As a yogi, he had no pedigree, no caste, no creed, no parentage. It needed sage Narada to come in to save the situation and explain to everyone present that Adiyogi was self-created—swayambhu—a being without antecedents.
The story is a reminder that when we talk of Adiyogi, we are not talking of a genteel, civilised man but of a primal figure, in a state of absolute oneness with life. He is pure consciousness, completely without pretention, never repetitive, always spontaneous, forever inventive, ceaselessly creative. He is simply life itself.
That is the fundamental requirement of the spiritual process. If you sit here as a mere bundle of thoughts, beliefs and opinions—that is, with a memory stick you’ve picked up from outside—you are simply enslaved to the psychological process. But if you sit here as a piece of life, you become one with the existential process. If you are willing, you can access the whole universe.
Life has left everything open for you. Existence has not blocked anything for anyone. It has been said, ‘Knock, and it shall open.’ You don’t even have to knock because there is no real door. If you know how to keep aside a life of memory and repetition, you can walk right through. The way to realisation is wide open.
Sadhguru, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader (www.ishafoundation.org)