“Maya means forgetfulness of Krishna, and forgetfulness of Krishna and Krishna consciousness stand side by side like light and shadow. If one remains in shadow, he cannot enjoy the facilities offered by light, and if one remains in light, he cannot be disturbed by the darkness of shadow. “ (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Instruction, 7 Purport)
“Just forget about her man. She was bad news. The more you think about her, the worse off you’ll be. Forgetfulness will only help you here. I know that it is difficult to forget, but if you can move on to someone else, you will be way better off. Have a short memory. If you let this linger inside, it will only hurt you.”
There is no doubt that forgetfulness is helpful in certain situations. They say that the cornerback in the National Football League should have a short memory. The cornerback is a defensive player assigned to guard one or more receivers from the offense. If they get burned by a wide receiver on a pass play that leads to a touchdown, they shouldn’t let that stick in their mind for the rest of the game. The moment is over, so why linger over it? Why stay hooked on failure, when your goal is to succeed? While in the short term such forgetfulness may be helpful, to have knowledge is always better than to lack it. This truth gives us a way to compare competing philosophies. If one is dependent on forgetfulness and the other remembrance, we can immediately tell that the latter is superior.
How does this work exactly?
We can study the news business to see the reliance on forgetfulness. Turn on the nightly newscast or cable news station tonight and you’ll be bombarded with headline after headline. “Such and such politician said that such and such politician will not cooperate. They want old people to die or they want the country to go bankrupt. Perhaps they are not interested in a certain issue.” Then you hear about someone being killed by someone else and also the latest crisis with a commodity. What you won’t hear, however, is anything from the previous year’s newscasts. This information is conspicuously absent. You won’t hear anything that was covered ten or twenty years ago. All those debates that took place between analysts; all those predictions; all those worries…no mention is made of them after the fact. The omission is not accidental.
Why would we even want to go into the past? What would we gain from that?
For one thing, we could see if the issues from today were present before and how they were dealt with. If they were addressed in the same way as they are today, we can predict what will happen going forward. Also, we can tell whether or not a certain issue existing has a bearing on one’s overall happiness. Let’s say, for instance, that in the current situation the price of gasoline is very high. Also, the unemployment rate in the nation is high; people are out of work. These factors will combine to create a difficult situation, one that is not desirable.
But we know that in the past the price of gasoline was less and that more people were employed. In fact, maybe five years ago the situation was significantly better. If we were to revisit some newscasts from that time period, would we see stories about how happy people were? Would we hear about how people loved having a job and paying less for gasoline? Of course we wouldn’t, as the news back then was focused on something else. There was another issue to worry about. The present day news will never remind the viewers of this fact because then the people would perhaps start to worry less. The present day situation is only an illusion, a temporary situation related to material comforts or the lack thereof. For the illusion to stick, for the interest to remain, there must be forgetfulness.
“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)
On the other hand, with real knowledge, remembrance is required. This was pointed out by Lord Krishna in a talk He gave to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna. Arjuna was worried over the present condition, that of imminent war. Many people were set to die in that war, and Arjuna did not like this. Krishna, however, reminded Arjuna that the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead [Bg. 2.11]. This is because the soul is the essence of identity, and the soul is eternal. The bodies are temporary conditions, sort of like snapshots in time. What I see in the mirror right now is changing every second, but I don’t notice the changes until there are further gaps in time. The strongest indication of the change is death, which represents the full changing of bodies.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.22)
In His instruction to Arjuna, Krishna advised him to remember, not forget. This is important because the rest of the talk became very famous. It is today known as the Bhagavad-gita, and the teachings found within it were actually spoken by the same Krishna at the beginning of time. It is said that Arjuna was there as well, but he couldn’t remember being there. This is the difference between God and us. We are part and parcel of Him, but we are not as potent in the areas of opulence. Memory is an opulence tied to intelligence, and one of God’s potencies, namely the samvit potency, is full knowledge. We inherit this potency to a lesser degree, so we are not able to remember everything, including past lives.
By remembering the past, we can act with knowledge. Knowledge is better than ignorance, just as light is better than darkness. Perhaps forgetfulness can help in the short term, as it does with the scorned lover, but it is still wiser to remember the past bad experiences so that they are not repeated. The cornerback in the NFL still has to watch film of his mistakes after the game so that he doesn’t repeat them. The person scorned by relations with the opposite sex should learn the dangerous game that is kama, or lust. Sense gratification is the perverted version of true love, or prema, which is directed at God.
Krishna’s instructions to Arjuna summarize the teachings of the Vedas, whose ultimate conclusion is that full devotion to God is not only the best way to act but also the soul’s constitutional occupation. In simpler terms, we are all meant to serve God. To take up that service, we have to realize that it is worthwhile. And to realize that it is worthwhile we need to remember as many of our past bad experiences as possible. These experiences were harmful because they weren’t in line with our constitutional position.
For a life dedicated to sense gratification to continue, we must constantly forget. Otherwise we’d realize how pointless repeated birth and death are. Repetition occurs within the present life as well, as birth and death can refer to the beginning and end of any activity. The night club requires darkness, loud music, smoke, and intoxicating beverages so that the patrons will not realize that they are wasting their time. Better it is to remain in the dark if one wants to stay away from true happiness.
On the other side, Krishna’s instructions, which are presented today through the representatives of the Lord, enlighten the individual of their constitutional position, shining a light that at least offers them the option of making the right decision. This is very kind of Krishna and His representatives, as only those who really care about us would take the time to fix our mistakes. Arjuna was loved by Krishna and therefore guided along the proper path. That path is the same for us: devotion to God. It is easily found even in the dark age of Kali by chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
About present financial condition I have worry,
To move my money from one account to another I hurry.
Gas prices are certainly too high,
No employment for even those who try.
Of these things the news will constantly tell,
But never on the past situations will they dwell.
In material life forgetfulness a must,
Your sense demands instead of intelligence trust.
Krishna to Arjuna: past experiences must know,
Only then to supreme destination can go.
Memory is knowledge, superior path to take,
Worship God, ignorance from forgetfulness forsake.