The Mind

How and Why to Purify the Memory

Q: What are the indications of purification of memory in the context of the Nerve of Memory?

Sri RamakrishnaIn the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (English version: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) we find the most authoritative teaching about both the nerve (nadi) and its indications.

On March 9, 1884, a devotee (Mahimacharan) asked Sri Ramakrishna:

“Sir, why does a man become deluded by worldly objects?”

Sri Ramakrishna replied: “It is because he lives in their midst without having realized God. Man never succumbs to delusion after he has realized God. The moth no longer enjoys darkness if it has once seen the light.

“To be able to realize God, one must practise absolute continence. Sages like Sukadeva are examples of an urdhvareta. (A man of unbroken and complete continence. [A yogi in whom the seminal energy flows upwards.]) Their chastity was absolutely unbroken. There is another class, who previously have had discharges of semen but who later on have controlled them. A man controlling the seminal fluid for twelve years develops a special power. He grows a new inner nerve called the nerve of memory. Through that nerve he remembers all, he understands all.”

I am aware that some people are interested in this subject to improve their ordinary memory, but that is like seeking a king’s ransom in order to buy chewing gum.

More regarding Sri Ramakrishna:

Why Are People Born with Psychic Abilities?

psychic crystal ballSutra 19 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

19. Of those who are Videhas and Prakrtilayas birth is the cause.

Patanjali is now discussing those people who from birth are seen to possess marked psychic faculties and psychic powers–even to a miraculous degree. Such persons are usually assumed to be spiritually advanced and are respected accordingly, but this is not wise.

It is only because of certain abnormalities in their previous life (or lives) that they now manifest these abilities. Patanjali says that simply being born precipitates these capabilities, and not yoga at all–no, not even in a previous life. He speaks of two classes of such people: videha and prakritilaya.


Videha means “bodiless” and he is referring to persons who for some reason spent a great deal of their time in the previous life separated from their bodies to a great degree.

Edgar Cayce, “the sleeping prophet,” said that in his previous life he had undergone a lingering death on a battlefield in which his subtle bodies had been almost completely separated from the physical. Dying in that state, when he was reborn he possessed the intense psychic, almost mediumistic, powers he utilized in his later healing work.

Spontaneous astral projectors are videhas.


A prakritilaya is a person who in a previous birth has somehow become absorbed into certain psychic levels of existence–the subtle energies of Prakriti. Having identified with psychic energies, when they are born they have the ability to access those powers and even work miracles.

Vedehas usually manifest intellectual psychic abilities–intution, etc., and prakritilayas actually make external changes or produce external phenomena. However, each may overlap into the territory of the other.

Make no mistake

Aimee McPhersonThe important point Patanjali is making here is that they are NOT spiritually advanced people, but only possessors of unusual abilities, and we must not make the mistake of attributing spiritual wisdom and worth to them.

A vivid case was that of Aimee Semple McPherson, the famous evangelist who was a remarkable psychic and healer. She was hailed as a greatly spiritual and even holy person, but in reality she was a drug and sex addict, remarkably unintelligent and amoral, and in the end committed suicide.

One time in New Delhi I was visiting with John McDiarmid, head of the UN mission to India. John kept declaring that if he believed “Sister Aimee” had really worked miracles he would stop believing in God–for he knew her true character. Like so many of East and West, John could not distinguish between the psychic and the spiritual. But Patanjali certainly could, and so can we if we apply ourselves.

Previous Sutras: Patanjali’s Two Types of Samadhi
Next: The Four Qualities Necessary for Samadhi

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Patanjali’s Two Types of Samadhi

Siva in samadhiSutras 17 and 18 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

17. Samprajñata Samadhi is that which is accompanied by reasoning, reflection, bliss and sense of pure being.

Samprajñata samadhi, also known as savikalpa samadhi, is defined by A Brief Sanskrit Glossary as:

“State of superconsciousness, with the triad of meditator, meditation and the meditated; lesser samadhi; cognitive samadhi; samadhi of wisdom; meditation with limited external awareness. Savikalpa samadhi.”

It is a kind of superconscious bridge between relative and absolute consciousness, partaking of both, but neither exclusively. Its distinctive qualities are:

  1. The capacity for vitarka–thought and reasoning with sense perception.
  2. The capacity for vichara–subtle thought and reflection.
  3. Experience of bliss (ananda).
  4. Experience of the sense of “I am,” “I exist,” the sense of individuality of being (asmita).

Vyasa and Shankara consider this sutra as a list of ascending forms of lesser samadhi. Vyasa sums it up:

“Of these the first samadhi–with verbal associations, vitarka–is associated with all four [forms]. The second–with subtle associations, vichara–is without the verbal associations of the first. The third–with associations of bliss, ananda–is without the subtle associations of the second. The fourth, being pure I-am, is without the association of bliss. All these samadhis rest on an object.”

Shankara explains regarding this:

“In this sequence of four, an earlier one is associated with the qualities of all the later ones, and a later one is without the qualities of any earlier one.”

18. The remnant impression left in the mind on the dropping of the Pratyaya after previous practice is the other [i.e., Asamprajñata Samadhi].

There are two forms of samadhi: samprajñata and asamprajñata. Samprajñata samadhi is characterized by the four qualities listed in the last sutra.

When those four are also removed by further practice, then the state of asamprajñata is reached. Jnaneshvara Bharati puts it very well and completely:

“The other kind of samadhi is asamprajñata samadhi, and has no object in which attention is absorbed, where only latent impressions [samskaras] remain; attainment of this state is preceded by the constant practice of allowing all of the gross and subtle fluctuations of mind [vrittis] to recede back back into the field from which they arose.”

Previous Sutras: How We Can Deal with the Storms of the Mind: Abhyasa and Vairagya
Next: Why Are People Born with Psychic Abilities?

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How We Can Deal with the Storms of the Mind: Abhyasa and Vairagya

Crashing WavesSutras 12 through 16 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

12. Their suppression [is brought about] by persistent practice [abhyasa] and non-attachment [vairagya].

Two things are needed for the ending of mental modifications. One is abhyasa–sustained spiritual practice. This is why Krishna speaks of abhyasa yoga. The other is purely psychological: vairagya. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines vairagya as:“Non-attachment; detachment; dispassion; absence of desire; disinterest; or indifference. Indifference towards and disgust for all worldly things and enjoyments.”

13. Abhyasa is the effort for being firmly established in that state [of chitta-vritti-nirodha].

Jnaneshvara Bharati expands on this, saying: “Abhyasa means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state.” Shankara simply says that abhyasa consists of the observance of yama and niyama, which are to be discussed later on.

14. It [abhyasa] becomes firmly grounded on being continued for a long time, without interruption and with reverent devotion.

Vyasa: “Carried through with austerity, with brahmacharya, with knowledge and with faith, in reverence it becomes firmly grounded.”

Shankara: “Unless it is for a long time, and unless it is uninterrupted, the practice does not become firmly grounded.”

15. The consciousness of perfect mastery [of desires] in the case of one who has ceased to crave for objects, seen or unseen, is Vairagya.

Sri RamakrishnaSri Ramakrishna said: “A certain woman said to her husband: ‘So-and-so has developed a spirit of great dispassion for the world, but I don’t see anything of the sort in you. He has sixteen wives. He is giving them up one by one.’ The husband, with a towel on his shoulder, was going to the lake for his bath. He said to his wife: ‘You are crazy! He won’t be able to give up the world. Is it ever possible to renounce bit by bit? I can renounce. Look! Here I go.’ He didn’t stop even to settle his household affairs. He left home just as he was, the towel on his shoulder, and went away. That is intense renunciation.

“There is another kind of renunciation, called ‘markata vairagya,’ ‘monkey renunciation.’ A man, harrowed by distress at home, puts on an ochre robe and goes away to Benares. For many days he does not send home any news of himself. Then he writes to his people: ‘Don’t be worried about me. I have got a job here.”

Vairagya is not an on-and-off matter, but a permanent cessation of any desire for any object whatsoever. Vyasa says that one with true vairagya “is inwardly aware of the defects in objects by the power of his meditation.”

16. That is the highest Vairagya in which, on account of the awareness of the Purusha, there is cessation of the least desire for the Gunas.

The preceding sutra was about vairagya in relation to objects. This goes further and speaks of dispassion-desirelessness is relation to the three modes of Prakriti, the gunas. These are discussed at length in the Bhagavad Gita, but simply put they are the three modes of energy behavior–qualities of energy. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines guna as: “Quality, attribute, or characteristic arising from nature (Prakriti) itself; a mode of energy behavior.

As a rule, when “guna” is used it is in reference to the three qualities of Prakriti, the three modes of energy behavior that are the basic qualities of nature, and which determine the inherent characteristics of all created things. They are:

  1. sattwa–purity, light, harmony;
  2. rajas–activity, passion; and
  3. tamas–dullness, inertia, and ignorance.”

There can be attachment to the qualities of subtlety, intelligence, and purity (sattwa), of effectiveness and efficiency and mastery (rajas), and stability and steadiness (tamas). But these, too, are illusory like other objects.

However such vairagya does not come from insight into the nature of objects or gunas but from knowing the Self. Only when we enter fully into the Self will all desire of any kind cease. For that reason Self-knowledge or atma-jnana should be our aim at all times, for that alone will eliminate all that stands between us and perfect freedom (moksha or jivanmukti).

Previously: The 5 Kinds of Modifications of the Mind

Next: Two Kinds of Samadhi

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The 5 Kinds of Modifications of the Mind

The five types of waves of the mindSutras 6 through 11 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

6. [The five kinds of modifications are] right knowledge [pramana], wrong knowledge [viparyaya], fancy [vikalpa], sleep [nidra], and memory [smritaya].

Each of these merits an individual consideration.

  • Pramana includes the means of valid knowledge, logical proof, and the means of right perception. Although logical proof is listed here, it is usually held that pramana also includes experiential proof such as proven intuition or yogic perception that has been investigated and shown to be accurate. Although Taimni and most translators render this “right knowledge,” it is actually the means to right knowledge.
  • Viparyaya is erroneous perception, wrong knowledge, illusion, misapprehension, and distraction of mind–the means to wrong knowledge. In Sankhya philosophy, the basis of Yoga, it is said that viparyaya is caused by ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), antipathy (dwesha), and self-love in the sense of clinging to life (abhinivesha).
  • Vikalpa is imagination, fantasy, mental construct, abstraction, conceptualization, hallucination, distinction, experience, thought, and oscillation of the mind.
  • Nidra is sleep–either dreaming or dreamless–but in the Yoga Sutras it means dreamless sleep alone.
  • Smriti is memory and recollection.

All mental phenomena fall into one of these classifications. It is interesting to see that just as there are five senses, so there are five modifications of the mind.

Now Patanjali looks at each in turn.

7. [Facts of] right knowledge [are based on] direct cognition, inference, or testimony.

Pramana has three bases: direct perception, inference, and what Jnaneshvara Bharati calls “testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.” All commentators say that this latter includes scriptural texts. Nevertheless, the first listed by Patanjali is pratyaksha–personal perception. This quite logical in a text on yoga, for the purpose of yoga is the gaining of direct knowledge that is “nearer than knowing, open vision direct and instant” (Bhagavad Gita 9:1). Next he lists logical inference (anumana)–either our own or another’s. Last comes scriptural testimony. So we see a hierarchy of values. Most valued is our personal insight, next is our logical thought or that of someone we are communicating with, and last is the written text. This is because a living process is always more valuable, and also because the written text may be defective in some way. So scriptures come last–a feature unique to Sanatana Dharma.

8. Wrong knowledge is a false conception of a thing whose real form does not correspond to such a mistaken conception.

We all have experience of mistaken perception. Sometimes in a boat it looks and feels as if the shore is moving and the boat is standing still. Those of us who have ridden a train very much will recall feeling absolutely that the train we were sitting in was moving, only to find out that it was the train next to us that moved. We often “see wrong.” For example, I had a cousin that did not look like me at all. Yet, my friends would see him on the street and call out or start speaking to him–and the same would happen to me with his friends. When as a child I went to the movies I would experience three things that really disturbed me at the time. First, when the sound came on I could clearly perceive that it came from speakers on two sides of the theater, yet after a short while the sound would not only seem to be coming from the screen, it would seem to come from the mouths of the actors! Second, in motion pictures where carriage or wagon wheels were shown, at certain speeds the spokes would appear to reverse their direction and be moving backwards. Third, if I had seen a movie or a feature before, when I saw it again it seemed to last only about half the time it had the first time. So I realized that sound, sight, and time sense could be altered and not be “real.” After a while I came to understand that most of my experience was viparyaya in some form.

The only remedy for viparyaya is to experience things as they really are. And that is one of the purposes of yoga. In fact, Shankara said that “inhibition of illusion must precede that of the others, since it is their root.”

9. An image conjured up by words without any substance behind it is fancy [vikalpa].

Here “words” can mean internal thought as well external speaking–either by ourselves or by others. We all experience having a mixture of both right and wrong ideas about something; that is viparyaya as in the previous sutra. But Vikalpa is completely without basis or substance. Shankara is fond of using the simile of the horns of a rabbit, since such things just do not exist. Interestingly, some time before I became a yogi I read a psychological study by a man who knew of a culture somewhere in the western hemisphere where the people all believe that rabbits have horns. He even went “rabbit watching” with them and was amazed that they all swore fervently to him that the rabbits he was seeing without horns really did have horns–they could see them.

Here we see the danger of lying. In time our minds will habitually function in vikalpa and we will be lying to ourselves. A hallucination is a form of vikalpa, as well. I knew a very skillful liar who occasionally had hallucinations so strong that those around him had to go along with it to keep him from going completely over the edge. One time he kept seeing flowers in the air and demanding of me what their “message” was. It was taxing on many levels, believe me. The only good thing was that when the hallucinations ended he would not remember having them, so when it was over it was over.

10. That modification of the mind which is based on the absence of any content in it is sleep.

As already pointed out, in the Yoga Sutras nidra refers to dreamless sleep alone, the state in which there is “nothing” in the field of the mind to perceive. Why the term sushupti which specifically means dreamless sleep is not being used is hard to understand. Shankara says that in this sutra nidra definitely does mean sushupti. However it may be, dreaming must be considered by Patanjali to be a form of vikalpa rather than true sleep.

Even though dreamless sleep is “absence of any content” it is not a void, for we remember it. Certainly we perceive it, as Shankara says: “Unless there had been a perception, there could hardly be a recollection. And when one wakes, one does recall, ‘I have slept well’ and so on. The recollection itself is a reflection of the perception that I have experienced something; unless there had been some experience, that reflection would not be there, nor could there reasonably be any memories about it.”

Dreamless sleep is often cited as proof of the witness-Self, for although there is no object of perception, yet something perceives this non-perception. And that something is the spirit whose very nature is consciousness–turiya, the fourth, eternal state of awareness. “Again, a man who has been asleep in an inner room, without any hint from outside however slight, has recollected immediately on waking ‘I have slept a long time,’ and this would otherwise be inexplicable.”

11. Memory [smriti] is not allowing an object which has been experienced to escape.

Memory is both passive and active–sometimes memories arise without our intending them to, and at other times we intentionally bring them out from our inner mind, usually for a specific purpose. Vyasa says that we are evoking a samskara, an impression always present in the mind. Shankara says: “The perception arises, and then while dying away lays down a samskara in its possessor, the thinker. The samskara corresponds to its cause.”

Memory, of course, includes both intellectual and sensory recall. Patanjali, though, is interested only in the active act of will that is memory.

Previously: What is Our Essential Nature as Seer?

Next: How We Can Deal with the Mind-Waves

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Psychological Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita

psychological yoga“Now learn  this buddhi yoga, declared to you in the Sankhya philosophy. By the yoga of the buddhi [or: by uniting the buddhi in yoga], you shall rid [free] yourself of the bondage of karma” (Bhagavad Gita 2:39).


Since Sankhya is the philosophical basis of the Bhagavad Gita, we will be talking about it quite a bit. For now, here is A Brief Sanskrit Glossary’s definition:

Sankhya: One of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy whose originator was the sage Kapila, Sankhya is the original Vedic philosophy, endorsed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (2:39; 3:3,5; 18:13,19). Also, the second chapter of the Gita is entitled Sankhya Yoga.

The Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook says: ‘Sankhya postulates two ultimate realities, Purusha and Prakriti. Declaring that the cause of suffering is man’s identification of Purusha with Prakriti and its products, Sankhya teaches that liberation and true knowledge are attained in the supreme consciousness, where such identification ceases and Purusha is realized as existing independently in its transcendental nature.’”

Not surprisingly, then, Yoga is based on the Sankhya philosophy.

Buddhi yoga

Buddhi is the intellect, understanding, and reason. It is not just the thinking mind, it is the understanding mind, the seat of intelligence and wisdom. Buddhi Yoga, then is the Yoga of Intelligence which later came to be called Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge.

We have four levels of being, and the buddhi–also called the jnanamaya kosha–is one of the highest. So a buddhi yogi has his consciousness centered in the higher levels of his being. And he uses his buddhi to extend that yoga even higher into that level which is virtually indistinguishable from spirit. From then on Self-realization is assured.

Yoga and Sankhya are inseparable, so buddhi yoga involves meditation as its paramount aspect. A Buddha is a successful buddhi yogi. Unprejudiced reading of the Pali Sutras of Buddhism will reveal that Buddha was not only an Aryan, he was a classical Sankhya philosopher, a buddhi yogi. Anyone who wishes to follow Buddha must be the same. (Just as anyone who wishes to follow Christ must follow Sanatana Dharma as found in the Gita. Then he, too, will be a follower of Sankhya and a practicer of Yoga.)

“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to join or connect or even to unite in the sense of making many into one. It can also mean to bring together. But in the scriptures of India it always is applied in a spiritual sense, meaning both union with God and the way by which that union is effected. Yoga, then is both spiritual life and the culmination of spiritual life. Yoga is union with the Supreme Being, or any practice that makes for such union.

According to Krishna, the direct effect of buddhi yoga is the dissolving of karmic bonds created by past actions (karmas) and the freeing of the yogi from the compulsion to future karmas–binding actions. So we should look at karma itself. (See What Is Karma?)

Psychological yoga

Buddhi yoga is performed as an expression of divinity for the revelation of divinity, all other benefits, individual and communal being secondary–even insignificant. For it is purely psychological, even if sometimes expressed outwardly.

First we must be able to intellectually understand the principle and the practice. Then if we follow it the result will be not be the benefit of others or satisfaction with ourselves for having “done the right.” Instead it will be the breaking of the bonds of egoic desire which bind us to the wheel of birth and death, forcing us to act and to reap the results of our actions.

To even conceive of erasing the capacity for desire from our minds is audacious to the maximum degree. To strive for it is courageous beyond calculation. No wonder a battlefield and imminent war is the setting for Krishna’s teaching.

We must understand that desirelessness is not a mere absence of desire or indifference or detachment. It is an absolute incapacity for desire. That is, desire cannot arise in the mind (buddhi), conscious or subconscious, of the perfect buddhi yogi. (Obviously we are going to be imperfect yogis for quite a while yet!)

People usually make the same mistake about buddhi yoga that they do about Patanjali’s Yoga. They think that just not thinking is the state of yoga and just not caring is the state of karma yoga. But they are much, much more.

Yoga is the state in which the mind substance (chitta) has evolved to the point where no modifications (vrittis or waves) can arise. Buddhi yoga is the state in which desire can no longer arise, being eclipsed by awareness of the spirit-Self.

These are high ideals virtually beyond our present comprehension, but not beyond our attainment.

Further Reading: