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Wipe out my memories, please

Devdutt PattanaikIn a European court, a modern battle is raging: the right to be forgotten. With all the data about our existence being captured by digital technology, by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, besides government-sponsored and privately owned CCTVs at every street corner, and satellite cameras zooming into our homes, citizens are now asking that they want the right to be forgotten.

This conversation draws attention to Shiva who is called smara-harta, or one who destroys memories. His ability to wipe out memories is what makes him Yoga-eshwara, lord of yoga.

In the yogic tradition, our mind or chitta is like a big database. Every experience that we have, consciously or unconsciously, gets captured, mapped and tagged in our chitta. Thus, we retain memories of everything we have experienced, not just in this life but also our previous lives. This twists and knots our mind and distorts our understanding of reality. Makes us see the world in a particular way. As long as our chitta is twisted and knotted in this way, we will always be unhappy.

So how can we be happy?


Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

The easy method is to take drugs just as Shiva does when he inhales from his pipe, but Shiva chuckles for such chemically-induced happiness is unsustainable. Parties are a great place to see this form of happiness. So is shopping.

Another method is to distract our mind with repetitive meaningless activities that stop us from thinking and make us forget time, like video games or rituals. This is like the damaru or rattle-drum that Shiva holds in a hand used to spellbind a monkey as a rattle spellbinds a baby. It works for some time but not for long. Bollywood and television shows are the fountainhead of this form of happiness.

This twisting of chitta often makes us feel that we are victims and so we often engage with the world as victims do. Sometimes we engage with the world as martyrs. At other times as heroes, striving to create a better world. A twisted chitta prevents us from appreciating that in the world even the most certified of villain imagines himself or herself as a victim/martyr/hero. A law firm or a psychologist’s chair is a great place to see such justified and rationalised (mis)understandings of the world.

It all comes down to memories, buried deep in our being, that shape our view of the world. Can we wipe it out? Yes, says yoga, when it recommends the eight-fold path. Yoga is defined as ‘chitta vritti nirodha’, removing the twists and knots of our mind, using the eight-fold path.

This includes: revisiting our relationship with others (yama), revisiting our own behaviour (niyama), reorienting our postures (asana), reorienting our breath (pranayama), introspection without external distraction (pratyahara), awareness (dharana), attention (dhyana) and finally cleaning up of all those memories that create divisions, gaps and hierarchies in our mind, making us feel trapped, alone, isolated and abandoned (samadhi). This cleaning up makes us chaitanya, one whose mind has been purified of all kinds of old data. We see the world afresh, with a rebooted mind free of prejudice.

Will the European court achieve that?

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at devdutt@devdutt.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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