Yoga Sutra 11, Chapter 1, Memory as Modification of Mind

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all articles on Yoga Concepts

“anubhuta visya asampramosah smrtih”

Text of Yoga sutra 11 explained:

anubhuta – experienced

visya – objects which give experience,


sampramosah – not lost

smrtih – memory

As per Patanjali, in his yoga sutra 11,

chapter 1, memory as a function of mind or brain falls

under the modifications of the mind which needs to be arrested in order to help the mind become steady, as in meditation. the mind sees, hear, or experience things which get retained in the mind as imprints of these experiences, these imprints, impressions of the experiences so had is known as the memory.

The retention of memory is selective in the sense that the impressions of experiences which are seen as , stimulating, exciting are only retained and the rest is discarded by the mind. the impressions which are retained can be recalled or mentally re-experienced if certain conditions are available.

Thus, memory is just reproducing what one has experienced. Experience is metaphysically put as the father, and memory as the son. Memory is only experienced knowledge.

Memory as a Modification of Mind – Good or Bad

Memory can be both; an aid or an obstacle to one’s spiritual development. In case the memories which are retained are of good things it can help one tremendously, experiences of good things if repeated or recalled occasionally can help one form good habits and healthy lifestyle.

It can even help one make better decisions if one retains memories of mistakes made in the past and their corresponding outcomes, this will help one repeat such mistakes in the future.

Ideally, the memory of a fact, information, or experience should not exceed that which is actually experienced. unfortunately, we do not remain restricted to what is experienced, we go into associated ideas and feelings of these experiences. The problem is not memory as itself, but do we retain incidents or things or the thoughts associated with these things and experiences.

We cannot have a pure memory of any object. It is as if simultaneously both things are retained – memory of the object and the experience of the object. Thus, we retain impressions and these become samskaras. Memory will become the vritti or the modification of the mind , the samskaras will remain dormant, but when they come out, they will become memory.

Generally, the thoughts and the feelings exceed the facts. For example, if one has retained the memory of an object say a chair and one begins recalling it later at some time, one would not just recall the chair as it is, but will start thinking of the time and the place one had seen the chair at.

The mind wouldn’t stop at that itself, one would even begin to recall the person whose house had the chair and about the visit that was made to this person.

In yoga this discussion can teach one how to separate the object of concentration from the associated unnecessary thoughts. Memory as a modification of the mind can be bad if bad experiences and things are retained by the mind.

Such a memory strengthen the negative in one’s personality by repeating itself over a period of time. This can prove to be a potent impediment in the path of progress in yoga.

As a yoga practitioner one has to understand this difference and train oneself to choose between the two types of memories and only retain the good ones. Identifying, retaining, and repeating good memories is one of the techniques of yoga.

These days we see a lot of life coaches, and spiritual gurus recommend practicing positive affirmations in order to attract positive energies, results from the universe. These affirmations are nothing but creating and repeating good memories for their associated benefits.

Understanding Memory for Meditation – Yoga Sutra 11

In fact, in yoga the psychological memory is discouraged. When in deep meditation the person wants to know more about the object. The effort is to go beyond word, language memory etc. Only then one can see a thing as it is, otherwise one will get a very colored version of the object of meditation. Only when one is free from these appurtenances one can sink deep in the object and know it up till the atomic level.

So to develop smrtih (memory) for spiritual progress constant recollection of God or that the body is not the real self must be practiced. In Mantra Yoga one is creating the memory of the name of God by continuously chanting his name. This will help to prevent and reduce recollection of all other pleasant as well as the painful experiences one would have had while interacting with the material world.

Yoga sutra 11, of Chapter 1 explains that one must develop attitude and value system which enables one to select appropriate impressions as memory which can steer one’s spiritual progress in the right direction of liberating the soul of its material bindings.

One has to select and retain only the positive and discard the negative and he painful, training one’s mind on positive thinking is a major step in this direction.

Human mind naturally slumps towards the negative, the news media is a good example which monetizing on this tendency of the mind by sensationalizing the negative aspects of all news.

One of the ways of eradicating painful experiences of the past is to stop mentioning them or even thinking about them. All the other four modifications of the mind – right knowledge, wrong knowledge, imagination, sleep – create memories.

One cannot help but create memories as it is one of the states of the mind, one can only reduce the number of memories being created by keeping the mind steady and in present.

When ever one comes face to face with the person or an object which is associated with some painful memory of one’s past one immediately recalls the entire memory creating the un desired upheaval in the mind. One needs to be aware of this and not encourage such memories to keep on re-emerging within the psyche.

One has to be very clear about good and bad memories, and work towards eradicating bad one’s so that one doesn’t keep suffering due to them all along. Most of the bad memories get formed as one doesn’t have control on external environment factors.

Someone was not aware , some one was in a bad mood, or some one acted as per his / her background experiences. One has to be kind to oneself and release all the past hurt by not strengthening it within one’s memory anymore.

One has to realize that pain causing situation in the past had happened due to situations which were the outcome of our karmas. One needs to develop learning attitude from one’s past experiences and not keep complaining and carry the hurt into the present.

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