How to attain true liberation: Memory, karma and Indian philosophy

Uncluttering the brain of memories will allow it to function properly and faster

Anil K. Rajvanshi Jun 08, 2021
Patanjali Yoga

We are defined by our memories. They are the only things we can call our own. All our experiences, ego, I, and our existence is the sum and substance of our memories. They also guide us on our future journey in life and till the end of our existence, those memories are with us.

 Most of the memories we have can be divided into pleasant and unpleasant ones. These memories give rise to a whole range of emotions – love, hatred, jealousy, fear, happiness, etc. To live a good and happy life we should strive to have mostly pleasant memories and see how the unpleasant ones are reduced or removed.

 But what are memories; wherein the brain do they reside; how are they formed; and what is the possible mechanism of their removal? These are the issues that we will try to explore and explain in this article.

 What is memory?

There are close to 80-100 billion neurons in the brain (the exact figure is not known). It is an accepted fact that a thought is produced when brain neurons fire. All the neurons are connected by axons and dendrites. These connections are called neural pathways.      

 Memories are nothing else but the arrangement of neural pathways and the sequence of their firing. The firing of neurons is triggered either by signals from the sense organs or by stimulation of certain memory space in the brain.

 During the firings of neurons photons are produced which are the signature of thought. I conjecture that these photons from a large number of neural pathways synchronize to form a three-dimensional hologram which we can call a thought. It is the visualization of thought that gives us a sense of memory.

 Arrangement of neural pathways resulting in the production of thought gives rise to memory. Memories, therefore, do not reside in the brain, but the arrangement of neural pathways does.

 Memory formation

Memory formation starts the moment the brain starts forming in the womb. A very rudimentary memory of movement, swallowing, etc. starts in the second and third trimester of pregnancy and Prenatal memory starts forming around 30 weeks after conception.

 The moment a child is born there is an explosion in memory formation. A child’s brain is like a sponge for information intake. The neural pathways must be established. So, the sound, smell and other sensory organs start sending the signals to the brain for the formation of neural pathways.

 As we grow older, this process of memory formation and consolidation is repeated and a whole network of neural pathways is formed building upon the existing ones, and this is the genesis of ego and of experience which is nothing else but sum and substance of memories. 

 If the hologram of a certain memory is not strengthened by repeated experiences, then those neural pathways are used for something else and hence the memory becomes weak and maybe lost, as happens in children till the age of 2-3 years. Thus, memory is strengthened by repeatedly thinking about the subject in focus.

 Therefore chanting, associating the images with signposts, etc. are ways of strengthening the memory. However, some people possess a photographic memory. They can immediately remember most of the details the moment they become aware of them. This happens because their brain possesses superior processing power. This is mostly inborn and may also have a genetic element to it.

 Our memory formation is based on a sequence of events and hence the time is embedded in the memories. They are replayed as a movie and thus the sequence of events tells us about the passage of time.  This is the genesis of time perception.

 Since the neural pathways are formed sequentially, it is quite possible that the pathways of such events reside close to each other in the brain otherwise sequencing may be difficult. This sequential triggering is probably facilitated by ego. When the ego becomes weak the triggering is reduced and the sequencing is lost. This happens temporarily during dreaming; and permanently in dementia, Alzheimer’sdisease, and other brain maladies

 Memory removal

In everybody’s life there are both painful and happy memories. It will be wonderful if we somehow get the ability to remove those painful memories. Then we can all have a better and happier life with pleasant memories. Most people think that if we do not think about those painful memories then they are gone. But painful memories produce strong psychological knots which remain buried in the brain. By some trigger they get reactivated, and the pain comes back again. To remove the pain a mechanism of actively removing such memories is necessary.       

 A possible mechanism of memory removal is to focus on a single thought for an exceptionally long time. It is called Sanyam in Patanjali Yoga. This process requires many neural pathways. As the focus and concentration on a single thought become stronger even more neural pathways are needed for processing it, thereby helping in the removal of the other memories. Only with tremendous willpower to think about a single thought for a long time can those neural pathways for other memories be weakened and reorganized for a new thought. 

 Memory removal is the most important aspect of the Indian Yogic system which asserts that this leads to liberation. Also, with less memory attached to our soul during the final exit we can tunnel through the drag of gravity and other souls and reach the other worlds.

 Memory removal also helps in the unraveling of memory knots, mostly made of emotional incidents, and helps in resolving emotional conflicts. There are many instances where the resolution of such conflicts helped people die peacefully. Another way to remove unpleasant memories is to cultivate the habit of continuously thinking about the pleasant incidences that have happened in our lives. This could help in resolving unhappy memories.

 External memory storage

Many times, it happens that our PCs, laptops, and other computing devices become slow since they are cluttered with folders and other materials which take up memory space. After downloading most of the information on an external hard disk, the memory of the PC is restored, and it functions faster and smoothly.

 In the same way uncluttering the brain of memories will allow it to function properly and faster. The process may, however, remove the resident memories (basically rewiring the neural pathways) from our brain and is akin to deleting unwanted files in the computer. But other powerful and intense memories are the result of emotional and painful episodes. 

 These episodes take over the whole brain functioning, and it seems that during this time the focus of the brain is single-pointed. This is similar to producing a very deep thought which can form a stable solution and can exist for a long time. I conjecture that such stable memories may reside in Knowledge Space (KS).  Knowledge space could be equivalent to a hard disk where our strong memories get stored automatically. 

 KS may also contain fundamental knowledge produced in the past and is continuously fed by the ever-increasing knowledge from various civilizations. A prepared and focused human mind can access knowledge from this space, and I feel that great discoveries of mankind have come from such access.

 We can also conjecture that the transfer of memories to KS from our brain is via a filter. Thus only deep emotional memories get transferred and mundane memories remain behind in the brain so that the loading on KS is reduced.

 Just like the hard disk can be formatted or cleaned when it is attached to the PC or a similar device, similarly, we need to clean the memory from KS in this life or any other incarnation.  The cleaning of memories in KS can be achieved by intense thinking via the human brain. In case the reincarnation is in other life forms then this memory stays in KS without modification.

 The traces of our memories in KS force our rebirth either here on this planet or other planets. This could probably be the genesis of the karma concept so often mentioned in Indian philosophy.

 In the modern internet and world wide web if we want to completely remove our trace then not only we need to format our PCs, but also remove all the information from the net. So, for true liberation from the cycle of birth and death, not only do we have to remove the memories from the physical brain but also clear them from KS. This is what Patanjali says in his Yoga Darshan, “As the mutations of gunas cease to function Kaivalya (Nirvana) results”.

 (The writer, an IIT-trained engineer, is Director and Hon. Secretary, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. The views are personal. He can be contacted at