Understanding Time and Memory

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Can you use time as a means to the timeless? That is, through a wrong means can the right end be achieved? Surely, the right means must be employed for the right end because the means and the end are one.

The most significant insight one gets through the teachings of J Krishnamurti is understanding the nature of time. In my previous article Reading the Book of Life we ended with the last chapter of The Book of Life being the chapter on time, and with the question, “Can time end?”

Of course we are not talking here of the ending of chronological time which is a fact, but psychological time, which is not a fact. Apart from understanding the difference between chronological and psychological time, in this article, we shall also be looking into how time is memory and how the process of time and memory plays out in our lives creating psychological becoming. And finally we shall answer the question on how can we put an end to the process of psychological time.

Before we go into this whole question of time, we need to ask why we need to inquire into the nature of time. We are all seeking happiness and freedom in our lives in our own ways. We have invented a thousand ways or perhaps distractions to do so. But have we asked whether freedom and happiness can be obtained within the net of time? Krishnamurti :

“It seems to me that one of the most important questions to discuss and find out the significance of is that of time. The lives of most of us are rather sluggish – like still waters, they are dull, dreary, ugly, and insipid – and some of us, realizing this, bury ourselves in political, social, or religious activities, and thereby we think we can enrich our lives. But surely, such action is not enrichment because our lives are still empty; though we may talk about political reform, yet our minds and hearts continue to be dull. We may be very active socially or may dedicate our lives to religion, yet the meaning of virtue is still a matter of ideas, of mere ideation. So, do what we may, we find our lives to be dull; they are without much significance, for mere action without understanding does not bring about enrichment or freedom.”

If one has inquired sufficiently enough, has read the Book of Life till it’s last chapter, one reaches the understanding  that it is only the timeless that holds true happiness and freedom. Krishnamurti :

“I think the enrichment, the beauty and significance of that which is timeless, of that which is true, can be experienced only when we understand the whole process of time. After all, we are seeking, each in his own way, a sense of happiness, of enrichment. Surely, a life that has significance, the riches of true happiness, is not of time. Like love, such a life is timeless;”

The first confusion we need to sort out regarding  time is the distinction between chronological time and psychological time. Krishnamurti :

“It is interesting to realize that our lives are mostly spent in time – time, not in the sense of chronological sequence, of minutes, hours, days, and years, but in the sense of psychological memory. We live by time, we are the result of time. Our minds are the product of many yesterdays, and the present is merely the passage of the past to the future. So, our minds, our activities, our beings, are founded on time; without time we cannot think because thought is the result of time, thought is the product of many yesterdays, and there is no thought without memory. Memory is time, for there are two kinds of time – the chronological and the psychological. There is time as yesterday by the watch and as yesterday by memory. You cannot reject chronological time, which would be absurd – then you would miss your train. But is there really any time at all apart from chronological time? Obviously, there is time as yesterday, but is there time as the mind thinks of it? That is, is there time apart from the mind? Surely, time, psychological time, is the product of the mind. Without the foundation of thought there is no time – time merely being memory as yesterday in conjunction with today, which molds tomorrow. That is, memory of yesterday’s experience in response to the present is creating the future – which is still the process of thought, a path of the mind.”

In this paragraph, Krishnamurti makes a significant observation. He conflates four entities – time, thought, mind and memory. Or we may say that mind is nothing but  thinking as a process of memory operating as time. This understanding is of paramount importance because this shows that mind, through memory is always engaged in the process of acquisition through thinking. Without the operation of time as memory there would be no additive process, no acquisition. As long as memory operates, there is a constant drive to acquisition or becoming more. But truly creative moments are those which are not mere mechanical repetitions of the past or memory. They are creative because they are new, they are happening for the first time and the last time. They are happening for the last time implies that there is no recording of a creative experience. Which means the operation of memory is totally absent. Krishnamurti :

“So, the thought process brings about psychological progress in time, but is it real, as real as chronological time? And can we use that time which is of the mind as a means of understanding the eternal, the timeless? Because, as I said, happiness is not of yesterday, happiness is not the product of time, happiness is always in the present, a timeless state. I do not know if you have noticed that when you have ecstasy, a creative joy, a series of bright clouds surrounded by dark clouds, in that moment there is no time – there is only the immediate present. But the mind, coming in after the experiencing in the present, remembers and wishes to continue it, gathering more and more of itself, thereby creating time. So, time is created by the ‘more’; time is acquisition, and time is also detachment, which is still an acquisition of the mind. Therefore, merely disciplining the mind in time, conditioning thought within the framework of time, which is memory, surely does not reveal that which is timeless.”

This makes it evident that any process which uses time as memory entails psychological becoming – a movement in time from one state to another – and such a process cannot enter the timeless. There are areas where the accumulative process of time and memory are helpful like if I have to study how to design buildings or other technological matters. But the problem begins when the mind starts using memory in psychological matters like becoming a better person or becoming a happier person or for finding a reality called God. So, the question is “Can a process of time find the timeless?” Krishnamurti :

“So, there is chronological time, and there is the time of the mind, the time which is mind itself, and we are always confusing these two issues. Obviously, chronological time is confused with the psychological, with the psyche of one’s being; and with that chronological mentality we try to become, we try to achieve. So, this whole process of becoming is of time, and one must surely inquire if there really is such a thing as becoming – becoming in the sense of finding reality, God, happiness. Can you use time as a means to the timeless? That is, through a wrong means can the right end be achieved? Surely, the right means must be employed for the right end because the means and the end are one. When we try to find the timeless in terms of becoming – which implies disciplining, conditioning, rejecting, accepting, acquiring, and denying, all of which involves time – we are using the wrong means for the right end; therefore, our means will produce a wrong end. As long as you are using the wrong means, which is time, to find the timeless, the timeless is not; for time is not the means to the timeless. Therefore, to find the timeless, to realize that which is eternal, time must stop – which means the whole process of thinking must come to an end; and, if you examine it really closely, widely, and intelligently, it is not as difficult as it appears. Because, there are moments when the mind is absolutely still, not put together, but still of itself. Surely, there is a difference between a mind that is made still and a mind that is still. But those moments of stillness are mere remembrances, and remembrances become the time element which prevents the further experiencing of those moments.”

Now having realized that any process of time cannot reach the timeless, what do we do? Of course, the answer is implicit in the question itself and the answer has been provided by Krishnamurti itself – Time Must Stop or The Whole Process of Thinking Must Come to an End. This begs the next question, how can we make time stop? If we have followed the argument closely, we instantly see that time is memory. So, to end time, one has to end memory. As Krishnamurti says, memory is nothing but unfinished experiences, experiences of the past that have not played themselves out completely :

“So, as I said, for thought to come to an end and for the timeless to be, you must understand memory – for without memory, there is no thought, without memory, there is no time. Memory is merely incomplete experience – for that which you experience fully, completely, is without any response, and in that state there is no memory. At the moment when you are experiencing something, there is no memory, there is no experiencer apart from the experienced, there is neither the observer nor the observed – there is only a state of experiencing in which time is not. Time comes in only when experiencing has become a memory, and most of you are living on the memory of yesterday’s experiencing, either your own or that of your guru, and so on and on. Therefore, if we understand this psychological functioning of memory, which springs from chronological action, we cannot confuse the two.”

So we have moved from understanding of time to understanding memory. If memory comes to an end, thought comes to an end and so does psychological time. The action of memory as thought, is born of time and perpetrates time. So the action of memory has to cease effortlessly. This would happen when one realizes this entire chain of bondage through time and simultaneously stops putting any form of effort or will in any direction of psychological becoming. When one stops acting from memory and instead starts becoming effortlessly aware of the process of memory right down to the deepest levels, memory empties itself. Krishnamurti :

“We must see the whole problem of time without apprehension and without a desire to continue, because most of us desire to continue, and it is this continuity that must come to an end. Continuity is merely time, and continuity cannot lead to the timeless. To understand time is to understand memory, and to understand memory is to become aware of our relationship to all things – to nature, to people, to property, and to ideas. Relationship reveals the process of memory, and the understanding of that process is self-knowledge. Without understanding the process of the self, at whatever level that self is placed, you cannot be free of memory, and therefore you are not free of time, and hence the timeless is not.”

The insight Krishnamurti offers here is that the process of memory can be understood only in relationship to all things and people. According to me this is a very important point because we are psychologically conditioned to believe that spirituality is a lone endeavour. The kind of isolation that is bred by schools of spirituality is entirely misplaced. It leads to escapism and most often to delusions relating to one’s spiritual “attainments”.

It is only through relationships that one get’s to learn one’s processes of memory/conditionings. Once psychological time as memory ends, the timeless reveals itself. The timeless cannot be attained. Only the process of psychological time has to come to an end.

All quotes of J Krishnamurti are from : Eight Talk in Poona, October 17th, 1948 http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-text.php?tid=296&chid=4626&w=negative%20thinking

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