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Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics

Alexander Berzin
Knappenberg, Austria, September 2010

Session Four: Generalities and Particulars

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:49 hours)

In the discussion of ways of knowing things and the objects that are known, we touched on the division between conceptual and nonconceptual cognition, and these points introduce us into the topic of what’s called generalities (spyi) and particulars or instances (bye-brag). These are terms – particularly this one, generalities – that are quite difficult, because there are many subdivisions within it and it’s really hard to find a term that satisfactorily works for all of the types that are here.


I think that if we want to describe a little bit better what is really involved here with these generalities, then we would say that they are mental syntheses. In other words, through some sort of mental process one synthesizes, or puts together, various things into some larger entity. We have sometimes the term a mental fabrication (spros-pa); sort of made, but we don’t necessarily have to actively make it or synthesize it ourselves.

Let me just give a very simple example, like animals: we don’t have to go through every single instance of every creature that somehow we want to put them together into one group and then, having gathered them all together, then we say, “OK, I’m going to call all of these animal.” It’s not that we actively have to do it. And we’re not talking necessarily about naming them; we’re talking about putting them together in a group. Giving that group a name is something else.

It’s very interesting how we learn these groups. If you think of a small baby, a small baby puts almost everything into the group of edible (you can put it in your mouth), doesn’t it? But later it has to learn that there are certain things that don’t really belong in that group. Anyway, let’s not go into this whole very interesting topic of how we learn these groups.

But a synthesis also doesn’t always work. I mean, sometimes the word category, sometimes the word generality. We’ll see what the different kinds… what we’re referring to. But in Tibetan or in Sanskrit there’s one word that refers to all of this. So what we’re talking about here is a phenomenon shared in common by the individuals on which it is imputed.

Question: Is that the definition of it?

Alex: Right. I’m not quite sure what the German word nachfolgt means. What does it mean?

Participant: It follows, more or less.

Alex: It follows. Well, what does follows mean? That means that it’s imputed. That’s what I mean by a mental synthesis. We have all these individual beings, these creatures, these things that walk around, or whatever, and we put it all together and we impute on it – that’s project onto it – a group, a category, animals. So it’s imputed on it, labeled onto it. But labeled doesn’t necessarily mean verbally. Anyway, let’s not worry about what word is used in either English or German for this. The point is to understand what we’re talking about. You get the idea? This is very important; otherwise it’s hard to go further. Think about it for a moment.

Remember, we use this word imputed in terms of a me on the mental continuum, or age in terms of the continuum. So we can impute onto a group – it could be a temporal sequence, it could be just a group of things all at the same time – we can impute on them either something that is functional (which changes from moment to moment) or something that is static (which doesn’t change from moment to moment). We’re not talking about a group; we’re talking about what’s imputed. What we can impute on it can either be something that changes from moment to moment, like age, or something that doesn’t change from to moment, like the category animal. You follow that? Clear? Some people are shaking their heads, no.

What is age? Or time, for that matter? Or a year? A year is a good example. What’s a year? Does a year happen all at once? No. We have day after day after day, 365 of them; and what is labeled or imputed on that, to put it all together, is a year. Does the whole year happen at once? No. What year is it now? 2010. Is that happening? Yes. Is the whole thing happening? No. 2010 is imputed on each day of the year. And it’s changing from moment to moment – isn’t it? – because it’s passing: now 100 days are passed of it, now 101 days are passed of it, etc., etc. How much is left? I mean, all of that’s changing from moment to moment. Even after 2010 is no longer happening, then also it is changing from moment to moment: it’s one year ago, then it’s two years ago, then it’s three years ago. Right? So it’s imputed.

Then there are things that can be imputed that don’t change. We have a dog, we have a fish, we have a bird, and we can impute on them animal, and that category doesn’t change, does it? Now you get the idea of something imputed?

And it’s something that a mind – it doesn’t have to be somebody’s mind but just in general, mental activity – in a sense, makes up. Doesn’t it? We make up these categories in order to understand things, in order to deal with them, don’t we? Like animal, or machine, or age. Then that becomes an interesting question: Do animals have a concept of age? An interesting question. Or do animals age? Well, they do actually… This is interesting, isn’t it? There’s a sequence. Well, they have an instinct. Maybe that’s not a very good example. Fish. I mean, whatever. Or before, way, way back in ancient times, was there a concept of age? Well, was there a concept of machine? No. Was there a concept of tool? Not necessarily. But they did various things, and then they… somehow a group decided on a convention, that these all are similar enough that we’ll have a category for them. Right? It’s a mental synthesis.

Generalities in Reference to Conventional Objects

Now what are the different types that we have? We have some that are a functional phenomenon and some that are static phenomena. OK. So we have, when we get to these… These are not so easy.

The first one that I’d like to discuss is the functional one. So we have… Or maybe… I mean, it’s difficult to follow exactly what you have here. Let me follow my own way of dividing it; it becomes a little bit easier for me to explain.

So we have… the term that I often use is a category, or we can use generality. There are categories, or generalities, in reference to conventional objects and some that are in reference to language. When we say the term generality, I don’t know if the German word has this connotation, but sometimes in English it has the connotation of being vague. It’s not vague. In English we say, “Ah, I have a general idea of that,” but that’s very vague. We don’t mean it in that sense at all. It’s very precise.

Collection Mental Syntheses

In reference to conventional objects, we have some that are functional phenomena here. So the first is the third in your list, a collection synthesis (tshogs-spyi). So you have here a general collection. It’s a collection synthesis. What it is is referring to a whole, a whole which is imputed on the parts. What is a whole? When we have parts, don’t you have to synthesize onto it a whole?

Participant: The whole year, right?

Alex: The whole year. The whole year; that’s also synthesized on the parts, imputed on the parts. Or a forest. A forest is imputed on a whole bunch of trees. But if we’re talking about functional phenomena like trees, then the collection of them – the collection synthesis, a forest – just as the trees change from moment to moment, the forest can grow bigger, the forest can grow smaller. The forest changes from moment to moment, doesn’t it, but it’s a collection of parts, imputed on the parts.

Kind Mental Syntheses

Then the other type of functional category, or synthesis, in connection with conventional objects – you know, with regular things – is a kind synthesis (rigs-spyi). What is called here… the first one, allgemeine Gattung; that’s a general genus, I think you would say. So this is referring to – we’re talking about the objects themselves – what sort of kind of object are they? What genus do they belong to? What species do they belong to? So it could be a machine; it could be an animal; it could be a computer.

We have the whole computer, the computer as a whole object, imputed on all its parts. And there are many different kinds of computer. Remember, we had our black Dell, and we had our gray Apple. We can impute on both of them the genus or type of thing that they are. The species? That doesn’t work with objects. But in any case, the kind of thing that they are is computer. And do computers do anything? Do they change from moment to moment? Can a computer type this and type that? Can a computer process this and process that? Can a computer break? Not alone, unless you press the button and go away. Whether you need to help it or not is something else, but the computer does something.

Now you get into all sorts of causality questions here. If the computer can’t do anything… The cause for a computer doing something is an agent that makes it do something. What allows us to do anything? Oxygen. Food. There are many things that operate. But that’s a whole different question in terms of causality. Very interesting if you think of the difference between a computer and a mind. You need someone separate from the computer in order to operate it and make it work. Do we need someone separate from the mind in order to make it work? No. But this is the concept of a soul that is refuted in Buddhism – that it is separate from the mind and that somehow operates it, like operating a computer.

So we have a collection synthesis and a kind synthesis. There are other aspects here in terms of a whole. For instance, does a sentence… it has parts, but all the parts aren’t existing at the same time, are they, or happening at the same time. When you hear a word, each syllable is happening at a different time. When you’re hearing the second syllable, the first syllable you’re not hearing anymore. So it’s a synthesis over time. So when we have a collection synthesis, a whole – for instance, of the computer – it’s not only synthesized on the parts which are all happening at the same time, but the computer doesn’t exist for just one moment, does it? So we impute a computer as a whole, as a collection, on the computer over as long as it lasts, don’t we? Even though, from moment to moment, it’s getting older and getting closer to breaking down. But still we have this collection synthesis, this whole – computer. And it still stays as a computer; that’s what it is.

And what about sense information? What do we see when we look at the computer? We see a colored shape, right? Three dimensional, like a box, a black box – my Dell. Well, box is making it into what kind of thing it is; it’s a black shape. But a computer is not just a black shape, is it? So we impute on it that it’s a computer. Well, my friend is using a computer in the other room, and I hear the tap tap tap tap sound. Am I hearing the computer? Yes. So we can impute computer on this sound. I’m a blind person – or even not being a blind person – I’m holding the computer in my hand, touching the computer. I have a tactile sensation of a physical… a physical sensation. Is that the computer? Is that a computer? Yes.

So a computer is also a collection synthesis on all these different types of sense information as well, this sense data. That’s what we call a conventional object (tha-snyad spyod-yul, conventional commonsense object). A computer. A conventional object is what is imputed on all the different senses – the information that each of our senses gives – plus all the parts, plus the sequence for however long it lasts. That’s the conventional object, the computer. OK? All our objects, everything that we see, are like that, aren’t they?

So in terms of objects, conventional objects, we have these types of syntheses: the collection (sort of like the whole thing) and what genus it is (what kind of object it is).

Object Mental Syntheses

And now we have an object mental synthesis (don-spyi). And here we have different types. This is a little bit complicated. Object mental synthesis I think is your number two – donchi (don-spyi) – the general picture, you have here in German. This we really have to understand. This term has to do with a mental process, with conceptual thought. Now when we see something nonconceptually, we can see – I see a whole, I see a computer, I see the kind of thing that this is. We’re talking about the object, the kind of thing it is. I see a conventional object. I see the kind of thing it is. I see it as a whole. That can be an object known nonconceptually. Whether I recognize it or not as a computer doesn’t matter; other people would. I might not know what it is; that doesn’t matter.

Now thinking about something, thinking about a computer. Now we have a different type of generality, or categories or whatever. So we have here object mental syntheses, and we have… Or meaning categories.... I’m sorry. I’m not really explaining it so clearly.

In term of conceptual thought, we have, first of all – in terms of what we were saying here – we have two (types of categories that can be involved): (1) categories in reference to conventional objects and (2) categories in reference to language. Now in terms of (categories in reference to) conventional objects, we have two kinds (of categories), which are both referred to by the same word, unfortunately, (don-spyi). When we’re thinking, we can think in terms of conventional objects or we can think in terms of the meaning of words. Those are both referred to by the same word in Tibetan (don-spyi). OK? And these are static phenomena.

Generalities in Reference to Language

Audio Categories

So let’s start with (categories in reference to language), what I call audio categories – I don’t think it’s here in your list – drachi (sgra-spyi). OK. An audio category. There are… let’s say the word computer, the sound of this word computer. Now it doesn’t matter how loud somebody says it. When we hear that word, the sound of that word, there are many, many different variants of what we could hear. It could be in many different voices: a male voice, a female voice, a child’s voice, a computer voice. The sound could be pronounced by many different types of voices, and many different levels of volume, and with many different accents, even. And somehow we put that all together into this (audio) category of the word computer. Otherwise, how do we understand when two people say the same word? How do we understand that they’re saying the same thing? The sound isn’t the same. So that’s an audio category. In order to be able to understand what somebody says, or what different people say, we have to understand it through the filter of an audio category, so that somehow we put together all the different variations of the sound that we hear of what we consider the same word. Right? So that’s static; that doesn’t change.

Now it’s not mentioned in the text or the analysis, but I would think that analogous to this would be if we see the word computer written. It could be written in different colors, different size fonts, handwriting, printed letters. Somehow we see it all as the word computer, a representation of the written word computer. So I think it’s quite similar here. Think about that. It’s really quite amazing how we know anything.

And even if – it’s interesting – even if these word categories, these audio categories, don’t change, we have to have learned them. As a child, you have to have learned the word computer. We could be listening to a language that we don’t understand, and we can’t even put together words from it, can we? Especially when it’s spoken very, very quickly. We have to learn these. Of course we could forget them as well. If you’ve ever studied a language as a child and not used it very much, then later on in life you don’t remember the language at all.

Meaning Categories

When we are able to conceptually cognize audio categories, these words – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be words (it could be the sound of our car engine) – we can either know what it means or not know what it means. So this term here that’s translated as general picture (don-spyi), what that means is either a meaning category or an object category. In other words, we could know either what that word means (that’s a meaning category) or what object it refers to (that’s an object category); it’s the same word (for both) in Tibetan.

So I hear the word computer or I learn the word in Zulu for a computer. I’ve no idea what it means. Somebody teaches me the word – “Repeat this word,” and I repeat this word. Or in Chinese. I repeat the word. No idea what it means. But I can distinguish when two different people say it in two different voices; I can distinguish that they’re saying the same word. I know that they’re saying the same word. I have no idea what it means or what that word could possibly refer to. So I cognize – I perceive – these sounds that these two different people are saying through the medium of an audio category; they’re saying the same word. Or I hear several sounds of my car engine. I know it’s a car engine – it’s the sound of a car engine – but I don’t know that it means that something’s wrong with the car. I don’t know what it means. It’s a funny sound. I hear a funny sound. No idea really what it means, but it’s a funny sound.

So then we could add on top of that, in addition to it, a meaning category or an object category – what it means and what it’s referring to. And in many ways, the meaning and the object are pretty much the same, although maybe some cases we can differentiate the two. But anyway, I hear this word computer and I know what it means; it’s referring to a type of machine that can do this or this and that, and it’s referring to this object over here on the table. And as we saw, we could represent in our thought, through a specifier, some mental aspect, some hologram, that will represent it for us. It could represent the sound of the word. That’s when we have verbal thinking.

Question: That has to be verbal, yes?

Alex: I’m thinking computer, and in my mental consciousness I have what we would describe as I hear in my mind a mental sound of a word, computer. What the little voice in our head is saying. I mean, that’s how it appears. So I’m thinking of the audio category of the word computer, which doesn’t have a sound to it; it’s a general category in which I could include the way the word is said and pronounced by anybody. But when I’m going to actually think it, I’m going to specify down to one particular mental sound, a mental hologram sound, that for me is going to represent that category when I’m thinking about it, what supposedly I mentally hear – the voice in my head saying “computer.”

So we have an audio category of a word, we have the sound of a word, and we have a word. These are three different things. A word is a collection synthesis on the syllables, imputed on the syllables. Com-pu-ter. Three syllables. Think about that. What’s going on when you say “computer” in your mind? And mind you, there’s no separate little me sitting in the head with a microphone, saying it. All these things are just arising; it’s just happening. There’s nobody separate from it, making it happen – like somebody separate from the computer, sitting and typing.

Question: Can I ask you a question? So we have this situation of the computer, and then the connotation changes. And whenever in the future we hear the word computer, we’ll all think about the Tibet Zentrum.

Alex: So the question is basically now, by association, when we hear the word computer, we think of the Tibet Center here in Austria. It’s like Pavlov’s dog: they hear the bell and then they salivate. Yes, things by association happen. This will get into our topic of relationships. That’s a different topic. But actually we can discuss this in a few minutes when we analyze memory. Because actually what’s involved here is remembering.

Participant: That’s definitely interconnected with these elements.

Alex: Yes.

So we have this audio category. When we’re thinking, it can be represented by some mental sound – a specific mental sound, not just the general category. And if we know what a computer is, then together with that audio category when we’re thinking computer, there will also be a meaning category. And a meaning category will also refer to an object category. The meaning of what a computer is and an object that represents it.

I’m thinking computer. So I’m verbally thinking. It doesn’t have to be verbally thinking, because I could just be visualizing a computer, but anyway… That’s very interesting actually, if you think about it. When you think eight plus seven is fifteen – if you think eight plus seven is fifteen, do you actually have a mental picture of the numbers and a line underneath it, and a plus sign and 15? It’s quite interesting. Or I look at these three pens on the table, and I am thinking that that’s three. Well, there are three things here and I’m thinking three, but I don’t necessarily have the word three there, but I understand three. And I don’t even have to count them. It’s very interesting how the mind works, how we know things.

So I’m thinking computer. So we have the audio category computer, and that could be represented by some mental sound hologram. And I understand what the word means; I’m not just thinking of a meaningless set of sounds – to me, meaningless (let’s say if I was thinking of it in Chinese). So that thought… we have this audio category that is there in the thought, plus – at the same time – a meaning category (what the word computer means) and the object that it refers to. Both the meaning and the object. And that could be represented by some visual mental hologram, or it could represented by another sound one – a mental hologram of the sound of typing. Or if we’re a blind person, the physical feeling of a computer. Why not? It becomes more interesting; we see more variations.

When we start to think in terms of dog, obviously we all think of a different type of dog. Or how about a good time? “I’m having a good time.” What in the world does that mean for each of us? That might mean something a little bit different, and might be referring to some different object – doesn’t it? – which for us is a good time; maybe for somebody else it’s not a good time. Is there such a thing as a good time? Is there? Well, everybody has a concept of a good time; it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody would label it onto the same thing. It’s not the same as a nonexistent phenomenon, like monster. Then we get into the whole philosophical discussion: Is anything a good time from its own side, or is it just in terms of our concept of a good time? If it were a good time from its own side, everybody should consider it a good time. We can go to what we consider a really boring lecture. Somebody considers it a good time; we consider it a torture – it’s not a good time at all to us.

There are many, many implications of this, which I don’t want to go into, but this becomes a very, very deep topic of – in terms of a kind synthesis – of what is it. Can we speak in terms of the object itself as a kind synthesis or is that also a process of labeling? For me, this thing is a computer. For my… if I have a two-year-old son, it’s a toy; it’s not a computer at all. What is it? And who knows what the cat thinks it is.

So enough of these generalities, or categories. Individual items are individual instances that would fit into any of these categories, and something could fit into a lot of different categories. And with our various Buddhist philosophical systems, then, we analyze very carefully – and it’s not such an easy topic – where are the defining characteristics (mtshan-ma) that would allow us to correctly put something into this or that category? Are the defining characteristics on the side of the object? Do they exist only in the dictionary? Did some people make it up? What are defining characteristics? That’s not so easy. Not so easy. With the computer, maybe you could say, “Well, it does this and this, and it has that and that in it.” But what about an emotion? Because we all feel something quite different when we feel love, for example.


So since you brought up the topic of memory – I mean association – let us discuss that briefly. Unfortunately, it’s complicated. Surprise, surprise.

First of all, the words memory, remember, recall, mindfulness – they’re all the same word in Tibetan and Sanskrit (dran-pa, Skt. smrti). We’re talking about… what it is referring to is like a mental glue. Glue. Klebstoff. It’s a mental glue; it is keeping us fixed on something so that we don’t lose hold of it. That’s the definition. So we’re not talking here about storing information or actually bringing out of the storage a memory. We’re talking about when we’re actually remembering it.

The example that you used was being here in the Tibet Center. So now we’re talking about much later, being here in the Tibet Center on this occasion and hearing the discussion of the lost computer. Now it’s presently happening; it’s valid. Later, hearing this discussion is no longer happening.

This gets really complicated; I’m trying to simplify it a little bit. It is like a tendency (sa-bon), something like a tendency. If we think in terms of our anger, we’re not angry all the time. So sometimes anger as a mental state, as a mental factor, is manifest – it’s actually happening – and sometimes it’s just continuing as a tendency. Now a tendency is one of these changing phenomena that are neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of anything, like time or me. Now even though the word that’s used literally means seed, don’t think of it as a material object. So tendency – it’s imputed, like an abstract phenomenon. I was angry at this time, and after a while I was angry again, and after more time I was angry again. So there were all these instances of anger, and how would we put it together? We’d say, “Well, there’s a tendency to get angry.” It’s an abstraction, in a sense, to put it together. And each time that we’re angry, it’s not exactly the same thing, is it? These are individual instances in this larger category of being angry. So here we have another good example of instances and this generality, or category.

So it’s the same type of thing in terms of remembering. I was here listening to this discussion, here at the Tibet Center listening to the discussion. Later on, I am remembering it, what’s going on. So I’m remembering it, and what I have… there’s this general category, there’s a generality, of being at the Tibet Center and hearing this lecture. A general category. And through that we have a specifier, which is going to get it down to something, and there’s going to be a mental hologram arising, which is going to represent for me what it was like to hear this lecture, to be here and hear the lecture. And what’s interesting is each time I remember being here, the mental hologram that represents it that appears is different, isn’t it? I remember something else about it. I don’t always remember exactly the same thing, do I? But we would put it all together into this general thing – “I remember being here.” And we’re not remembering it all the time. We’re not mindful of it – remembering is mindful – so we don’t have a mental glue with this conceptual thought, holding on to this generality, this category, of being here and something representing it. When we’re remembering it, there’s the mental glue. Holding on to it, that’s mindfulness. When we’re remembering it, it’s a mental glue holding on to it. Holding on to the generality – being here – and some mental representation. Both.

Question: Also the mental hologram?

Alex: Both. You have the general category, and through it we’re specifying it by representing it with some sort of mental picture. It could be something mentally visual. It could be remembering the sound of my voice. It could be anything. “I remember being confused.” You could remember anything. That, you’ll remember. So how do we put it together?

Participant: We might come to a complete picture.

Alex: Right. It would never be exactly the same picture, because it’s no longer happening. We could never actually remember what’s no longer happening. That’s not valid. It’s expired. It’s like our milk that has gone bad. It’s finished.

And we would say that we have a tendency to remember; it’s the same word (sa-bon). This, in the West, we would say is a memory, but we’re not talking about some engram printed somewhere in your head. But maybe there is a physical counterpart to this. We’re not discounting that. But in Buddhism, we’re not talking about the engram. And we’re not denying that; that’s not contradictory to what we’re talking about. In Buddhism, we’re always talking about what’s happening from the experience point of view – what you are experiencing? – we’re not describing all these things chemically.

So there’s a tendency. Now what would be the circumstance that would cause, from that tendency, to have a moment of actually remembering it? It could be hearing the word computer; it could trigger it. That would be a circumstance – that’s part of our discussion of causality – and it would be an immediately preceding condition (de-ma-thag rkyen). Immediately preceding thinking about – remembering – being here, is hearing the word computer. Like the dog hearing the bell. Pretty neat, isn’t it?

Participant: And not every dog hears the bell.

Alex: And not every dog hears the bell, and not everybody remembers being here. And every time that I hear the word computer, I might experience something completely different; I might not think of being here at all.

Now it becomes a very interesting question, which I can’t really answer immediately off the top of my head – but why for certain people will hearing the word computer trigger remember being here and for other people it won’t? That probably has to do with all the emotions – attachment, how strong these emotions were, confusion, etc. – at the time, in order to, what we would say in our Western languages, make a big impression on us.

Participant: It also might lead to the point that we sometimes… Tendency is also something that protects us. We have to move on. If we stay in the mind of permanent remembrance of this moment, we would never say this class is...

Alex: Right. Well, let her first translate what I said, if she can remember.

Translator: Yes, I can remember it.

Participant: [missing]

Alex: Or if you’re going to have an examination the next day, there’s a lot of pressure, so you remember something better. But your point, and this question… I must say I don’t quite understand. Can you express it again, please?

Participant: You said that the memory is a sort of mental glue. But we do forget; we’re not remembering everything that we experience in the past the whole time. Maybe this tendency is also some way that our mind, or whatever, protects us from getting stuck in a certain moment or in a state of mind. If we could not move on, and we always would remember only this moment we are in, we would not move on. We would not move on if we said this class is not finished.

Alex: Right. So this is quite interesting. What he’s saying is that if we didn’t have these gaps between remembering things, when it’s a tendency – the gap would be the time when there’s a tendency (that we’re not thinking it, we’re not remembering it) – if there weren’t those gaps, we would be remembering it all the time. And if we remembered it all the time, for those of us who are not Buddhas, who can’t handle being aware of everything simultaneously… Buddhas remember everything all the time, simultaneously – remembering past lives, all these sort of things. But for us ordinary beings, then, he’s saying: isn’t this some sort of protection mechanism that there are these gaps? Otherwise, we would remember everything all the time.

Participant: It would cause a huge confusion.

Alex: It would cause a huge confusion. Right.

Now I would say that it is not a conscious defense mechanism. It’s not that we’re purposely doing this, that we’re purposely forgetting, and only certain things will trigger the memory. Remember, when we are remembering something, what it is is we are… with mental glue, we are holding on to something similar to what happened in the past that represents it, resembles it. But we don’t have perfect mindfulness, meaning that our mental glue is pretty weak. We get distracted and the mental glue loosens and we stop remembering; we forget. Forget means to stop remembering. Our Western concept of forget is a little bit different from the Buddhist concept of forget. I forgot it means I can never remember it. Forgetting just means… like in the context of trying to concentrate on something, my mind wanders, so I’ve forgotten to focus on the object – mindfulness is weak – so I have to bring my attention back.

Although we may think that we’ve really forgotten something, later on in life something might trigger it and we remember it again. That happens, doesn’t it? “Oh, I forgot that happened,” and somebody reminds us what we did when we were in high school forty years ago. “Oh yeah, I remember that.” And it’s very interesting when they remember something that we don’t remember: “I don’t remember saying that. I don’t remember doing that.” Who knows whose memory is accurate?

So the mental representation might not be very accurate. The fact that we no longer remember, that we have this tendency, is not because of some defense mechanism; it’s because there is a fault in our mindfulness that we can’t hold on to it. If we had perfect mindfulness, we could hold on for as long as we wanted. And we don’t have perfect mindfulness. We don’t have control over that, yet; we could. And if we did have control over it then we could say, “My session of remembering it is finished,” and we stop thinking about it; and it doesn’t just sort of come back, because we are doing something else.

That’s a very advanced state, isn’t it? “I am not going to think about there’s a monster in the closet.” I mean, very difficult to do. If it were really good, our mindfulness, we could stay mindful of something – like focusing on an object – for as long as we wanted, and when we decide that we want to stop being mindful of it, we would stop and we would no longer think about it. For us, that’s very difficult. I was in this relationship with someone and we broke up, and I’m thinking about it. Am I really capable of saying, “I’ve thought about it for five minutes. Now I’m not going to think about it anymore – I’m not going to remember it.” We can’t do that. But if we really had developed minds, we would be able to be mindful of something for a certain period of time and then stop it. And if we were a Buddha, we’d be able to continue mindfulness of everything forever and not be confused.

You had one specific question and then we will finish this session, then we will have our question session. Well, does this fit into the category of the question session, or does this fit into the category of the lecture? It’s very interesting.

Participant: Or it can be vice versa – that the question provokes a lecture. I don’t have to ask this question now.

Alex: Good. Then let’s take our break.