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What is Remembrance?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
20 min
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अर्जुन उवाच।

नष्टो मोह: स्मृतिर्लब्धा त्वत्प्रसादान्मयाच्युत।

स्थितोऽस्मि गतसन्देह: करिष्ये वचनं तव।।

arjuna uvācha

naṣhṭo mohaḥ smṛitir labdhā tvat-prasādān mayāchyuta

sthito ‘smi gata-sandehaḥ kariṣhye vachanaṁ tava

Arjuna said: O infallible one, by your grace my illusion has been dispelled, and I am situated in knowledge. I am now free from doubts, and I shall act according to your instructions.

~ Chapter 18, Verse 73

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Acharya Prashant (AP): So, we have read that the topic for today is smṛitir labdhā. It relates to remembrance. It is important to put a little context on these words.

In the Bhagavad Gita, these are the last words uttered by Arjuna, becoming the last chapter obviously, and are close to being the final verses. Arjuna is declaring that "I have regained remembrance". So, one wonders, what is it that Arjuna seems to have gained? What is it he seems to have again remembered? He is making a claim. He is expressing his situation. He is saying, "After all the discussion that we had, O Krishna, now I remember." What is it that he remembers?

Now, this word ‘remembrance’ is not at all a new word for us. In the spiritual domain, it is quite a familiar and oft-used word. We say we must remember; 'sumiran', 'surati', 'smaran'. A lot of emphasis has been put on remembering by saints, by scriptures, by religious traditions across the world. And they say, "Remember," and they say, "Remember the Truth, remember God." What is it that is being asked to be remembered?

When the mind hears the word ‘remembrance’, does it not treat it like any other word? Because words are words, words are the stuff of mind. The mind is used to receiving words. And every word is a proxy for some object, for something that is situated in space and time; something that is of the world, of the senses; something that belongs to the domain of the mind itself. So, the moment the word ‘remembrance’ comes to the mind, it is quick to conclude that surely it is referring to some object.

Remember, if someone says to you, "Remember," you'd be quick to ask, "What?" Is that not so? If I say, "Remember," how would the mind react? It would say, "Remember what?" It would demand an object. And that is what the mind has usually done. It has turned spiritual remembrance, remembrance used even in the mystical sense, to objective remembrance. So, when you are asked, "Remember what?" you would probably say, "The essence, that which is, Satya or God or Ātmān or Brahma." And the mind is used to receiving an object after the word ‘remember’.

We are talking about our minds. We are not talking about anything that needs a theoretical background. We are not talking about anything about which I can be a specialist. We are talking about our minds, which is the mind of mankind.

So, this mind, the moment it is asked to remember, it demands an object to remember. And it is very-very sure by way of habit, by way of its very constitution that only objects can be remembered. So, you say, "Truth is to be remembered." You say, "The pure self is to be remembered." And so what is it that the mind is immediately likely to do?

Questioner (Q): Create an image.

AP: What is that the mind would immediately do?

Q: Act and react.

AP: We said, whenever the mind was asked to remember, it was told to remember an object. Now you are advising the mind, "Remember Truth." What is it that the mind would instantly conclude?

Q: Truth is an object.

AP: That the Truth is an object.

It is not only the mind’s decision. It is actually the mind’s limitation. It can deal only with objects. Outside of objects, the mind is helpless. So, it turns the Truth into an object; it turns God into an object. And don’t we see that happening all around us and within us? The moment it is said, "God," the moment someone says, "Ātmān," don’t those words carry specific images in our mind?

Let’s take a small example, which is close to being an experiment.

If here on that wall I display a certain image to you, a beautiful image, and I claim that this image is of the Truth, some of us are likely to instantly agree, especially if that image resonates with our traditions and our beliefs. Let’s say that image belongs to an avatar or a prophet or a saint or any personality that we hold divine, or it could even be a word that we hold in great respect, and I claim that this image belongs to the Truth. Some of us would instantly agree.

The story doesn't stop here. Some of us would remember that since this is just an image, a personality, hence it cannot be the Truth, so some of us would disagree. Now, surely if you are saying that this image doesn't belong to the Truth, then that can be said only by way of comparison with another image. So, in either case, we are image holders. Whether we say that this image belongs to the Truth or whether we deny the claim that the Truth is this, the fact stands out clearly that in the mind there does exist an image even of the Ultimate.

So, to such a mind, when the words of Arjuna come, ‘smṛitir labdhā’, it is very quick to jump to a conclusion. What is the conclusion? The conclusion could be anything, but there surely is some conclusion, and every conclusion is an image. Depending upon the mind's previously held beliefs and conditioning, the conclusions might seem to vary. But there would be nobody who would not conclude. Everybody would say, “Yes, there is something that Arjuna means in these words, and what that something is, I could comprehend.”

The ways of the Truth are a little different from the ways of thought. Thought proceeds through knowledge; knowledge depends on memory. In the sense of the world, we know something only when we have knowledge and memory of it. But in the strange ways of Truth, knowing does not happen through knowledge or memory. The word ‘smṛitir’ there is hence to be understood with great care.

In the worldly sense, when you say ’remember’, then you mean: add something to the memory. In the spiritual sense, when you say ‘remember’, then it means: get rid of the memory. That is the real meaning of remembrance—go beyond memory. Memory is knowledge, knowledge is an image, image formation is the usual pattern-based functioning of the mind. Go beyond that.

But strangely, we seem to be remembering God a lot. Now, can you see the trap there? And a lot of effort is put in that direction. There are a lot of tricks and techniques as well to try to remember God always. God is not to be remembered because God cannot be remembered. Remembrance of Truth simply means seeing the limitation and the suffering contained in operating out of memory.

When we are talking of remembrance in the spiritual sense, it is actually a kind of forgetfulness. Divine remembrance is forgetfulness in the worldly sense. The one who is really with the Essential gives very little weightage to what is contained in his memory. He is not at all serious about the impressions on the mind. He cannot attach great value to the mind-stuff. That is remembrance.

Smaran in the spiritual sense is actually Vismaran, forget. You cannot remember because your remembrance is limited, kind of handicapped. Spirituality says, "Forget. Forget. Do not try to remember. Do not make that mistake.” A lot of us try that and keep trying that for years, decades, centuries, trying to remember, trying to remember. You will not be able to remember anything—and worse still if you do come to remember something.

There are those who say that “we could not reach the Truth". They are surely in darkness. And worse than them are those who claim that they have reached the Truth. They are in deeper darkness.

Truth is not to be reached. Only destinations can be reached, only places can be reached, only objects can be obtained. But we do not like that. We do not like that because the ego finds sustenance in reaching, finding, seeking, and remembering. So, it is a matter of pleasure for us to remember. Do you see that? The ego loves to be called a spiritual ego, a divine ego, a holy ego. “I'm a better man because I remember God all the time!” The question is, how do you remember? You also remember the milkman. You remember the bills to be paid. You remember your bank account number. You remember your wedding anniversary. And you remember God as well using the same mind?

Don’t you see that whatever you will remember will invariably be at the same level, the same domain because you are the one who remembers? All acts of remembrance are your doing.

Remembrance is easy. Forgetting is difficult. Try to remember something, you will succeed. But have you seen how difficult it is to forget?

If you are to remember something and you are given 15 minutes, you can bring in all your concentration, you can make efforts, and you will find that you have succeeded in remembering. At least partially succeeded. But let me take up something that you always seem to remember. And don’t we have those incidents, those faces, those objects, those people, those ideas that we seem to be carrying around with us in the mind all the time, that we remember constantly? Now, the challenge is, can you forget any bit of that in 15 minutes?

You can remember so easily—but can you forget? That forgetting is the essence of spirituality. So easy to remember, so difficult to forget. The spiritual mind lives in a divine forgetfulness. It forgets. The worldly mind clings to the past, to memories. The spiritual one simply drops and forgets.

Arjuna is saying, "With you, O Krishna, now I can forget. There was so much that was riding on my mind and making it heavy, and now I have been able to forget." Whatever he says to Krishna in this particular shloka is a characteristic of and is related to forgetting. He says, "Naṣhṭo mohaḥ"—my attachment is gone. In the same verse in which he says, "Smṛitir labdhā," he begins by saying, “Naṣhṭo mohaḥ.”

Remember, something has gone, something has been forgotten, not that something has been gained.

Truth is not a matter of gaining or accomplishment. Something has to be lost. Things have to go away. We are too full. We have to be emptied.

Arjuna says, "Naṣhṭo mohaḥ"—something has gone, dropped. Gone! Not that I aimed to drop and succeeded, no. Because if you aim to drop, you are only becoming fuller. And fuller not in the sense of 'pūrṇata'; fuller in the sense of the loading of the ego.

Arjuna is saying, "Naṣhṭo mohaḥ. As I came to this field, there was so much on the mind. On the one hand, I remembered that I am a warrior and I must fight; on the other hand, memories of my childhood, of the times spent with Pitamah, of the blessings received from Drona, of all the familial bondages with my Kaurava brothers, they were all there on the mind. They all seemed so important. They all seemed to have an existence. In short, they all seemed to be the Truth. And now, by Your grace, tvat-prasādān, all is gone. The past is no more harassing me."

He also uses a few other phrases that tell of his condition and also throw light on the real meaning of remembrance. He says, "Sthito ‘smi. Now the mind is centered, stable. Now it is not moving here and there”—and tell me, is not memory a movement of the mind? “The mind is not thinking of this and that”—and tell me, is there memory without thought? Arjuna is saying, “I am seated firmly on the asana now. Nothing can easily shake me up."

A little before Krishna had advised Arjuna to be like the diya in a nirvāth sthān, in a place where there is no turbulence of the wind. And Arjuna is now accepting, gladly conceding that that flame-like stillness is now available to him. A flame that is radiating light in its stillness; ‘sthito ‘smi’.

And Arjuna says, "Sandeha gataḥ." Again see the presence of dropping here. "I have gone beyond doubt. My suspicions have been left behind. Sandeha gataḥ.” Not that really I have achieved a certainty, because the moment you claim that you have achieved a certainty, remember that that certainty would just be an object. And with objects really there can be no certainty; there would only be doubt and suspicion. All that you can say, the highest point that the mind can reach is not the achievement of security and certainty, but simply the dropping of doubt and confusion. Sandeha gataḥ. "I had a lot of doubts, I was full! Now I'm empty. Sandeha gataḥ.”

The mind of Arjuna is the mind of all humanity. It is our own mind—full of doubts, suspicion, turbulence, attachment. Truth does not come to you as another object. Truth comes to you as that light which exposes the nature, the limits, the dimensions of all objects. Like in this room: because of the light, you are able to look at so many objects. You're not looking at the light; you're looking at the objects. The light is the enabler. It would not really be wise of us to say that we are looking at light. One knows light only indirectly. One knows light when one can look at the objects.

So, there is the light illuminating the objects, and there is the light behind my eyes which is enabling me to look at the objects. The light within, light without; inside and outside. The very process of seeing is proof of light. Otherwise, there is no proof of light. If someone says, “Light is proven only when the light can be held in the hand or light can be seen,” then he does not really understand. The fact that you can see is proof of light.

Arjuna is saying, “And all this has happened due to Your grace.” Remember that all which has happened is simply a cessation of the past. It is simply freedom from all that which Arjuna anyway always was. And freedom from all that which you consider yourself to be, that which you are carrying always in your mind, that is the coming of the new. It does not happen with us that way usually. When we want the new, our approach is that the old must stay with us, and additionally the new must come. Is it a wonder that the new never really seems to come?

The new will never, never come to you as something additional. The new will come to you as a liberating force. You must ask, liberation from what? Liberation from the bondages. Where are the bondages? That which I am, that which I am carrying, that which I consider myself to be. The Truth liberates you from ‘you’. That is its only function. It will not give you something extra. It will not make you bigger. It reduces you. That reduction is purification. That reduction is Ātmān Snān (purification of the self). The function of Truth is to take away. Just that when you are totally reduced, then you attain an immensity.

So, total reduction is also total expansion. But that total expansion, it must be said, will never be directly achievable or available. Firstly, dropping must happen. The dropping requires guts. The dropping requires the presence of Krishna besides Arjuna. That is the reason Arjuna thanks, “Tvat-prasādān. Because You are by my side, hence I could gather the guts to go beyond myself. Thank you, Krishna. Thank you for being next to me. Thank you for being my charioteer."

So, dropping will happen first. And when you are in the process of dropping, then there is no guarantee of what lies beyond the dropping, so you will be afraid. You will say, “At least I have something today. How can I drop it? And what is the guarantee that if I drop it, something higher or something better lies next?" No, there is no guarantee. You have to still drop, and this is therefore called faith, dropping without any assurance. No promises, no temptation of any heavens, no attractions of rewards. Just drop! “Then why should I drop?” Because you are suffering.

Be a little sensitive towards yourself. See that in your present condition you are simply suffering, so drop. Out of love for yourself, get rid of your present circumstances. I do not promise you what lies beyond. I'm just saying, you do not deserve to suffer as you are suffering right now. Why are you asking what will happen after the cessation of suffering? Is it not sufficient that the suffering will cease? Why are you asking a stupid question? Why are you seeking assurances? All that I am assuring you is you will not continue to be what you are.

Being what you are, you are not feeling alright. Being what you are, you are mired in doubt.

See how fear takes possession of you.

See how every thought is steeped in fear.

See how you find it difficult to trust.

See how easy you are shaken.

See how you are searching for something.

See how greed and ambition take possession of you.

Do you really like all this? Do you really like your situation?

"Arjuna, I am not promising anything transcendental. I'm just saying, come on, get rid of all this." And Arjuna says, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, Krishna, yes." Ultimately he says, "I will do what You will command me to do. Kariṣhye vachanaṁ tava.” And what does that mean? "I will do what You will command me to do." It means I will not do what my desires, my personal will, my ego commands me to do. I submit my individuality. It does not mean that I will follow any specific person.

Krishna, as he is standing in front of Arjuna, is not a person. So, when Arjuna says, "Kariṣhye vachanaṁ tava," it must be understood that he is not saying that he will follow Krishna the person. All that he is saying is, "I can see the stupidity of living by my own desires. I can see that today if I am trembling in the middle of Kurukshetra, it is because I am who I have been. My personal desires, my ways of living, the choices that I make, they have brought me only this trepidation. So, I declare that this shall not continue."

The discontinuation of the personal is the entry into the divine. The moment Arjuna says that "my personal desires do not hold importance anymore," that is the moment he ceases to be the doer. That is the moment he is no more the Karta. That is the moment Krishna automatically takes over.

You do not have to invite the Truth. You do not have to reach the Truth. You just have to stop blocking the Truth. The Truth is prepared. Krishna was there with Arjuna always. It was Arjuna who was blocking. It is we who block the Truth.

You don't have to go anywhere to get the Truth. Just see what is it that you do daily, every moment, constantly to resist the Truth. See how your mind raises defenses. See how your ego moves into doubt. See how you want to deeply hide behind the wall.

The moment Truth comes to you, you start trembling. The Truth knocks and your house starts shaking. Now you are worried, “How to let Truth in? If I let the Truth in, this house will be destroyed!" And that is our predicament, whether to save the house or whether to live in Truth. But please consider this: if Truth will destroy your house, surely your house is...?

Q: False.

AP: Truth destroys only the false. And if your house is not false, why are you afraid? Let the Truth in. In either case, you benefit. If your house is false, let it be burned down. And if it is not false, then Truth reinforces Truth. The whole game is about not blocking. Truth is seeking you; you are not the seeker. The ego is so poor it cannot even be a beggar. In fact, Truth keeps begging to you. The Truth is begging all the time, "Kindly embrace me." You are the one running away.

The Truth is proposing to you like a committed lover. You are the one who is obstinate like a petulant schoolgirl, "Oh, because you are coming after me, surely I have some value. Because you are coming after me, surely it is proven that I deserve something higher than you." That is our attitude to the Truth. The Truth keeps coming to us in multifarious ways, in a thousand forms every day. See how you have rejected its call every time. See how you have gone back assuming, pretending as if you met nobody. See how you refuse to acknowledge that you just encountered the Truth.

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