Last Sunday, we (at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center) had a great opportunity to meet and learn from Dr. Bhikkhuni Kusuma, a senior Buddhist nun from Sri Lanka. Everybody who came to this event enjoyed her engaging sermon and meditation. Moreover, everybody was impressed to see her energy at the age of 84 to disseminate the teachings of the Buddha. Those who came for this rare event should share with others what they learned.(I think that it will also be OK to describe how much they enjoyed and benefited to the point that others feel envy. So that, they will make effort to come for next such events !).
One of many important things she discussed was how to deal with memory. Memory is natural function of our mind. We remember what happened and what others said and did. It is a helpful function of our mind which provides a coherence to our living. Memory is also part of our learning. Memory has helped so much for us to avoid dangers and take precautions and gradually develop our way of doing things. It also helps us to develop gratitude and loving –kindness.
However, if we do not know how to channel and manage our memory in a skillful way, it can create so many unnecessary problems for us. She explained how memory can be a cause for our anger, greed, pride and the bolstering of ego. She also pointed out how much bad karma we create based on our memory.
As such, we should pay attention to three important aspect of our memory.
- What goes into our memory or what we put into our memory
- What we remember or recollect often
- How we treat our memory when they surface
We tend to think that our memory is a record of what happened. If we have a memory of our meeting with somebody yesterday, we think that it is the record of what actually happened. But memory is not exactly an objective record of what happened. Recently, I went to a Burmese house with Bhante Punna and Bhante Soma. They offered us lunch and we did a blessing service. After we came back we discussed what happened there. Three of us had three different versions of what happened. Their highlights of the event are not my highlights. They have seen what I did not see there. Our memory is subjective version of what happened and not an objective record. It is very selective and often biased. It is extremely important to realize this. What we remember is not exactly what happened. We construct our memory based on where we pay attention. We can focus on one thing and ignore others. If we pay attention to the negative things around us, we will create a negative memory. If we pay attention to good aspects of other people and events, we will create a positive memory. What kind of memory do you want to carry in your mind? Though it is not completely under our control, we play a role there.
Then what we recollect from the repertoire of memory can also be selective. We are very good in remembering and recollecting bad things or mistakes done by others. We remember and think about how our best friend forgot our birthday and ignore who he or she was nice to us throughout the year. We also recollect the day when our husband, wife or partner refused to do dish or laundry and forget all other days he or she did the same. Whenever a negative memory of someone comes to our mind, we should purposely scan our memory to find many good things that person did and recover the bigger picture.
Whenever we remember things, somehow we forget that we are reviewing is what already has happened and gone. When we remember how somebody blamed us or criticized us, we experience emotions as if it is happening right now. Sometimes, we argue with other person in our mind. Actually, nobody is hurting us right now. We are having a private fight with our memory. Person who blamed us is not even aware that we are having a fight with him. Sometimes, the person has forgotten that he has blamed us or he or she has a different viewpoint now. But we keep fighting and suffering in our mind. The person only blamed us once, but we let this blame to hurt us many more times. Moreover, we create more bad karma than the person who blamed us by creating many unwholesome thoughts in our mind. If we can remind ourselves, what I remember is only a memory, a selective version of what happened and an event which has completely gone, we will be able to find peace within us. When memory bugs you, remember that nothing is happening right now. It is only a biased image of what happened.
We can also have an unbiased memory if we use mindfulness. With mindfulness we develop memory of how our body and mind work and then memory becomes the foundation on which we remove our defilements and grow spiritually. This is a topic for another day.
Wish you all blessings
“You shouldn’t chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past is left behind.
The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there, right there.
Not taken in, unshaken,
that’s how you develop the heart.”
- The Buddha Gautama ( Bhaddekaratta Sutta, MN 131)
Bhante Pemaratana, Pittsburgh Buddhist Center