QUESTION 17 'ON MEMORY'
Question: Memory, you say, is incomplete experience. I have a memory and a vivid impression of your previous talks. In what sense is it an incomplete experience? Please explain this idea in all its details.
Krishnamurti: What do we mean by memory? You go to school and are full of facts, technical knowledge. If you are an engineer, you use the memory of technical knowledge to build a bridge. That is factual memory. There is also psychological memory. You have said something to me, pleasant or unpleasant, and I retain it; when I next meet you, I meet you with that memory, the memory of what you have said or have not said. There are two facets to memory, the psychological and the factual. They are always interrelated, therefore not clear cut. We know that factual memory is essential as a means of livelihood but is psychological memory essential? What is the factor which retains the psychological memory? What makes one psychologically remember insult or praise? Why does one retain certain memories and reject others? Obviously one retains memories which are pleasant and avoids memories which are unpleasant. If you observe, you will see that painful memories are put aside more quickly than the pleasurable ones. Mind is memory, at whatever level, by whatever name you call it; mind is the product of the past, it is founded on the past, which is memory, a conditioned state. Now with that memory we meet life, we meet a new challenge. The challenge is always new and our response is always old, because it is the outcome of the past. So experiencing without memory is one state and experiencing with memory is another. That is there is a challenge, which is always new. I meet it with the response, with the conditioning of the old. So what happens? I absorb the new, I do not understand it; and the experiencing of the new is conditioned by the past. Therefore there is a partial understanding of the new, there is never complete understanding. It is only when there is complete understanding of anything that it does not leave the scar of memory.
When there is a challenge, which is ever new, you meet it with the response of the old. The old response conditions the new and therefore twists it, gives it a bias, therefore there is no complete understanding of the new so that the new is absorbed into the old and accordingly strengthens the old. This may seem abstract but it is not difficult if you go into it a little closely and carefully. The situation in the world at the present time demands a new approach, a new way of tackling the world problem, which is ever new. We are incapable of approaching it anew because we approach it with our conditioned minds, with national, local, family and religious prejudices. Our previous experiences are acting as a barrier to the understanding of the new challenge, so we go on cultivating and strengthening memory and therefore we never understand the new, we never meet the challenge fully, completely. It is only when one is able to meet the challenge anew, afresh, without the past, only then does it yield its fruits, its riches.
The questioner says, "I have a memory and a vivid impression of your previous talks. In what sense is it an incomplete experience?" Obviously, it is an incomplete experience if it is merely an impression, a memory. If you understand what has been said, see the truth of it, that truth is not a memory. Truth is not a memory, because truth is ever new, constantly transforming itself. You have a memory of the previous talk. Why? Because you are using the previous talk as a guide, you have not fully understood it. You want to go into it and unconsciously or consciously it is being maintained. If you understand something completely, that is see the truth of something wholly, you will find there is no memory whatsoever. Our education is the cultivation of memory, the strengthening of memory. Your religious practices and rituals, your reading and knowledge, are all the strengthening of memory. What do we mean by that? Why do we hold to memory? I do not know if you have noticed that, as one grows older, one looks back to the past, to its joys, to its pains, to its pleasures; if one is young, one looks to the future. Why are we doing this? Why has memory become so important? For the simple and obvious reason that we do not know how to live wholly, completely in the present. We are using the present as a means to the future and therefore the present has no significance. We cannot live in the present because we are using the present as a passage to the future. Because I am going to become something, there is never a complete understanding of myself, and to understand myself, what I am exactly now, does not require the cultivation of memory. On the contrary, memory is a hindrance to the understanding of what is. I do not know if you have noticed that a new thought, a new feeling, comes only when the mind is not caught in the net of memory. When there is an interval between two thoughts, between two memories, when that interval can be maintained, then out of that interval a new state of being comes which is no longer memory. We have memories, and we cultivate memory as a means of continuance. The 'me' and the 'mine' becomes very important so long as the cultivation of memory exists, and as most of us are made up of 'me' and 'mine', memory plays a very important part in our lives. If you had no memory, your property, your family, your ideas, would not be important as such; so to give strength to 'me' and 'mine', you cultivate memory. If you observe, you will see that there is an interval between two thoughts, between two emotions. In that interval, which is not the product of memory, there is an extraordinary freedom from the 'me' and the 'mine' and that interval is timeless.
Let us look at the problem differently. Surely memory is time, is it not? Memory creates yesterday, today and tomorrow. Memory of yesterday conditions today and therefore shapes tomorrow. That is the past through the present creates the future. There is a time process going on, which is the will to become. Memory is time, and through time we hope to achieve a result. I am a clerk today and, given time and opportunity, I will become the manager or the owner. Therefore I must have time, and with the same mentality we say, "I shall achieve reality, I shall approach God". Therefore I must have time to realize, which mean I must cultivate memory, strengthen memory by practice, by discipline, to be something, to achieve, to gain, which mean continuation in time. Through time we hope to achieve the timeless, through time we hope to gain the eternal. Can you do that? Can you catch the eternal in the net of time, through memory, which is of time? The timeless can be only when memory, which is the 'me' and the 'mine', ceases. If you see the truth of that - that through time the timeless cannot be understood or received - then we can go into the problem of memory. The memory of technical things is essential; but the psychological memory that maintains the self, the 'me' and the 'mine', that gives identification and self-continuance, is wholly detrimental to life and to reality. When one sees the truth of that, the false drops away; therefore there is no psychological retention of yesterday's experience.
You see a lovely sunset, a beautiful tree in a field and when you first look at it, you enjoy it completely, wholly; but you go back to it with the desire to enjoy it again. What happens when you go back with the desire to enjoy it? There is no enjoyment, because it is the memory of yesterday's sunset that is now making you return, that is pushing, urging you to enjoy. Yesterday there was no memory, only a spontaneous appreciation, a direct response; today you are desirous of recapturing the experience of yesterday. That is, memory is intervening between you and the sunset, therefore there is no enjoyment, there is no richness, fullness of beauty. Again, you have a friend, who said something to you yesterday, an insult or a compliment and you retain that memory; with that memory you meet your friend today. You do not really meet your friend - you carry with you the memory of yesterday, which intervenes. So we go on, surrounding ourselves and our actions with memory, and therefore there is no newness, no freshness. That is why memory makes life weary, dull and empty. We live in antagonism with each other because the 'me' and the 'mine' are strengthened through memory. Memory comes to life through action in the present; we give life to memory through the present but when we do not give life to memory, it fades away. Memory of facts, of technical things, is an obvious necessity, but memory as psychological retention is detrimental to the understanding of life, the communion with each other.