It is a cool morning. The breezes smooth over the skin. One can hear the chattering of people from a distance. The birds are singing, enjoying the coolness so rare in this time of the year. Every morning the things of nature become afresh, unburdened with the many yesterdays. For human beings, however, the worries, anxieties, hatred, success, the countless memories of things one has been through, remain to direct one's life.
Memory is tremendously important to us. Morality is memory. We were educated, from a very young age, to follow certain codes, principles. Right following results in rewards, and deviations result in punishments. There are many forms of rewards and punishments we have invented: money, fame, power, pain, pleasure, and so on. Through this process of reward and punishment, we learned to be moral. Some of our so called moralistic actions are so conditioned that we do not realize they are learned, but seem to believe they have always been there. Law is memory. It must be written down on paper, and referenced over and over. Our relationship with each other is based on memory. I might like someone because they are rich, powerful, honest, modest, and all these impressions I can only have through memory. If I have only met a person for the very first time, I have very little impressions. So, whatever descriptions, characterizations we have of others are totally based on memory.
Our idea and image of ourselves are also based on memory. I say that I am kind, only because I have, in the past, done things that I regard as kind, or others have told me I was kind. Without all these experiences, am I kind? To be really honest with ourselves, we cannot have any idea of who we are without memories. Of course, memories are here, and we must live with them. But the fact is, the image of myself is only a memory, a collection and network of descriptions based solely on memory.
And it is memory that directs our life, is it not? I regard myself as kind, therefore, wishing to continue that image, I keep doing what I call kind things. Or I have a tremendous fear of someone, because of what they have done in the past, and therefore I do my best to avoid them. Or I have had a beautiful experience, in which I felt utterly happy and carefree, and I wish to have that experience again. These are only minor examples, not the whole of our life. But, wherever we look, most of our actions are completely based on memory.
If we observe our memories, what do we see? We might see a picture, or hear a sound, or there could be smell and touch, but whatever we remember, is it real? I think, this might be a question we rarely ask of ourselves, because we are so conditioned to using memory as a guide, as the ruler of life. It is the ruler, if you think about it, as in an oppressor, a dictator, something that controls and has power over life. This has become the way we live. But, back to the question, is memory real?
I might have lost someone I love. And after that loss, I am terribly lonely. I suffer, cry, and I don't seem to be able to come out of this little grove. I continuously think about the past, of how it has been. I regret the time I wasted, and wished for just some more time with the one I loved. I am, in this entire process, consumed by memory. But is my memory real? What is real, absolutely real, is that the person has gone, vanished, died. Whatever memory, images, histories I might have are not real. In something not real I lose myself, cry and struggle, but I never face the real. Maybe, because if I face the real, then I might finally see how empty and lonely I am, and not wanting to face that, I escape into my memories.
I might remember a place I have been, the wonderful experiences, the warm people, the perfect climate and food. I then might wish to return, and I have returned many times in my mind, which is through remembrance. It might be because the place I am in now is terrible, cold, without care and love. Memory becomes important when the present is unimportant.
And memory has constructed our whole idea of the future, hasn't it? We might imagine, fantasize about a future, but that future is entirely based on what I know. If I know nothing of a different place, where people make much more money and have much more entertainment, will I wish to go to that place in the future? I cannot, because I don't know, have no idea of any other place. Through knowing, which is the knowledge I have accumulated about the world and myself, I then can wish, imagine, plan. Memory is the future. The future is the past.
What is the place of the present in our life? The present becomes unimportant, right? The present state is to be changed into something better, is to be transformed, to be escaped from. The now is unimportant to us. Do we live in the now, or do we perpetually live in the past? Which means, do I live in my memories? Do I live in the happiness, the tragedy, the fright and anger that are in the past? And according to the past, I wish, plan, want a better life for myself? And therefore I return, time and time again, to what I know, what I already experienced, so there is so rarely any freshness and youth to life.
Can the present be known? It can be known through memory. I can put names, descriptions to what I am experiencing, and react according to the name. I might have a certain feeling, emotion, and I immediately give it a name, like depression, and I react to the name. Maybe I hate depression, so I struggle with it, and wish for something better, calmer, more peaceful, because I remember a time when depression is not. The whole struggle of human existence is based on this one factor, the comparison between what is and what should be, what was, or what will be. The recognition of the present is already the movement of the past. Only the past can recognize, know, name and describe. Without the past, experiencing is not caught in conflict, and therefore it can move and eventually dissipate.
Isn't this whole movement of memory so small? We might have a tremendous amount of memory, memory as knowledge, as experience. We have, as it is now, accumulated endless knowledge, recorded in books and computers. In the vast expanse of knowledge, which is memory, we live. Our life is directed by it. When we look at the popular technology of today, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and so on, are still entirely based on memory, memory as data. We have only given it a different name, data, and we think we have revolutionized something. Our capabilities to capture and record had progressed enormously, and so the data, the knowledge we possess are quite large. Through data, we analyze people, and we predict human behaviors. Through data, we make machines learn, and they also learn through rewards and punishments, and what they learn is what we know.
But, even in this vast expanse of knowledge, life still cannot be captured. Life is reality, is the actual, and that which is actual is infinitely complex. When we look at a river, or a tree, the subtlest movement is seen, and memory, however complex, can never capture the subtlety of reality. The infinite complexity of life can never be captured by knowledge, because knowledge is always limited by its own boundary. To know, to remember, is to ignore the unknown. Only that which is unknown has no border, no frontier, and the known is always limited by itself.
A life that is free is lived in the unknown. Freedom is not choice, because choice is still based on the past. Freedom is when the past has stopped its hold on life, and one realizes how small one's life has been, how repetitive and mechanical. Memory is not the real. If we do not face the real, we create sorrow, suffering, anxiety, fear. Memory is the source of all names, all recognitions. Without any naming, any description, any word, any memory to interfere, then the present, which is life itself, unfolds in its ultimate beauty. It is free, subtle, and it can never be held. Like water, one may hold it in one's hand, but it eventually, naturally, flows away.