The `Trimurti' of `Smrti' in classical Indian thought

by Larson, Gerald James
Philosophy East & West
Vol. 43 No. 3 1993 July
Pp.373-387
Copyright of Philosophy East & West is the Property of
University of Hawaii


. THE `TRIMURTI' OF `SMRTI' IN CLASSICAL INDIAN THOUGHT Introduction S. P. R. Rose, in an article titled "Memory: Biological Basis," offers the following observation: Indeed memory is a portmanteau expression which includes within itself two processes and, by hypothesis, a thing. The processes are the learning of some new skill, behaviour pattern, or piece of information (sometimes called the acquisition of the memory) and, at some later time, the recall and re-expression of the skill or information (sometimes called retrieval). The thing that connects the two processes of learning and recall is a change in the properties of the brain system so as to store the new information which the learning represents, in such a form that it can subsequently, in response to appropriate cues, be searched for and retrieved. This change is known as the memory trace, or engram.[1] I propose to suggest in the present essay that the classical Sanskrit term smrti, usually translated as "memory" or "tradition," is likewise a portmanteau expression but in a somewhat different and broader sense than Rose's treatment of "memory" as an English expression. Specifically, I want to call attention to what I am inclined to call three "corporate" dimensions of smrti in traditional South Asian thought, namely, (a) smrti as "synchronic phylogeny," (b) smrti as "diachronic ontogeny," and (c) smrti as "precessional cosmology." All three "corporate" dimensions of smrti are, in my view, unique to South Asian thought (at least in their intracultural relations with one another) and thereby offer some interesting perspectives on the subject of the symposium "Myth, Memory and History." Indeed, my first reaction to the title of the symposium, as a student of South Asian thought, was that in classical Sanskrit it would be possible, albeit inelegant and somewhat unhelpful, to translate the title simply as "Smrti, Smrti, and Smrti," for it is clear enough that the Sanskrit term smrti can commonly mean "myth" or "memory" or "history," either singly or in any combination. "Myth" in Sanskrit can be puravrttakatha (an old tale or story), puranakatha (an ancient story), or simply purana (an old tradition), and such old stories or traditions are included within a class of texts called itihasa-purana (from iti-ha-asa, meaning "so indeed it was," and purana, meaning "of old") that belong to a larger class of texts referred to as smrti, meaning in this context something like the cultural discourses that constitute the "important corporate memory of the community" and that I shall be characterizing as "synchronic phylogeny" in the sequel.[2] "Memory" in Sanskrit is usually smrti(or a related word such as smaratva, smarana, anusmrti, and so forth), from the root smr, "to remember," "to recollect," "to be mindful or alert." Of particular interest in the South Asian conceptualization of "personal" memory is the remarkable claim that the memory of my present life is what could be considered my short-term memory, whereas my long-term memory encompasses more than one life or embodiment so that my "personal" memory is in its way as "corporate," if you will, as is the "corporate memory of the community." Whereas the "corporate memory of the community" is basically synchronic (hence, my expression "synchronic phylogeny"), my ontogenetic or "personal" memory of more than one life is always diachronic. Moreover, my "personal" memory or, more precisely, my "diachronic ontogeny," which encompasses more than one embodiment, can be recovered through certain meditation techniques, including yoga in all its variants (wherein dharana and dhyana are special forms of smrti) and the many "mindfulness" meditations (samyak smrti or "right mindfulness") throughout the many traditions of Buddhist thought and practice. "History" in Sanskrit, very much like "myth" above, can be puravrttopakhyana (an old tale or narrative), upakhyana (a tale or story), or simply itihasa ("so indeed it was"). Moreover, "historical" stories or narratives are classified under smrti as the important "corporate memory of the community" in the same fashion as "mythical" stories, epic stories, traditional law (dharmasastra), or, in other words, itihasa-purana, dharmasastra, nitisastra (manuals of conduct), srauta and grhya sutra-s (public and domestic rituals), and the vedanga-s (subject areas such as meter, grammar, and so forth related to Vedic performances), that is to say, the whole body of material referred to as smrti. In two respects, however, "historical" stories are not simply synonymous with other smrti materials. First, the texts do recognize a distinction between "imagined" and "actual "remembered" occurrences. Vyasa, in Yogasutrabhasya l.11, comments that "memory is of two types, imagined and actual" (. . . smrtih sa ca dvayi bhavitasmartavya ca 'bhavitasmartavya. . . .).[3] "Imagined," says Vyasa, relates primarily to dreams and, one can perhaps reasonably presume, to certain kinds of mythical narratives. "Actual" refers to recalling factual events from the past. Second, throughout the smrti literature of the Brahmanical and Hindu traditions as well as throughout most of Buddhist literature (Theravada and Mahayana), what is often called a cyclical theory of history is operative.[4] It is, to be sure, "cyclical," but, more than that, it focuses on the general decline of history and, indeed, the entire cosmos as well. I shall be characterizing this third "corporate" dimension of smrti as "precessional cosmology" in the sequel. Before proceeding to a discussion of these three "corporate" dimensions of smrti or, in other words, what I am calling the trimurti of smrti in classical Indian thought (namely, "synchronic phylogeny," "diachronic ontogeny," and "precessional cosmology"), let me first turn to a discussion of smrti in classical Indian philosophy by way of laying the foundations for what I want to suggest in my concluding comments about the trimurti of smrti. Memory (Smrti)in Classical Indian Philosophy For the most part, for both historical as well as philosophical reasons, the Indian philosophical schools, with the one clear exception of the Jain tradition, did not accept smrti or "memory" as a means or source of knowledge. All the schools, of course, accepted smrti as an important dimension of cognition, but in and of itself smrti was considered neither a means nor an authoritative source of knowledge. One way of putting the matter is to say that, for most of the Indian philosophical schools, whereas smrti or "memory" is a necessary condition for knowing, it is not in and of itself a sufficient condition for knowing. Regarding the historical reasons for this position, the matter is related to some of the issues already mentioned above with respect to the ambiguity in the very notion of smrti, to its being, in other words, a "portmanteau expression." B. K. Matilal has expressed the historical or traditional reason for rejecting smrti as follows: The revival of memory (an episode of remembering a past experience) is not accepted as a prama (a piece of knowledge) in any Indian school of philosophy except the Jaina school. . . . Some historical remarks might be added in this connection. The almost proverbial ambiguity in the use of the term pramanya by the ancients might have been responsible, to some extent, for the attitude of the philosophers who refused to accept memory-cognition as a separate pramana. Pramana sometimes meant an authoritative source of knowledge, sometimes simply an authority. Some kind of independence is usually attached to the notion of authority. A memory-cognition or remembering is nothing but a reproduction of some previous experience, and the causal conditions which produced the previous experience are not necessary for this reproduction. Thus, if the previous experience was an authority, the memory reproduction would only be a copy of such authority. In other words, "authoritative" will only be a transferred epithet when applied to the memory reproduction of a previous experience. Realization of this sort of difference between memory and direct experience prevented the ancient writers from calling a memory a pramana. Later on, it crystallized simply into a matter of linguistic decision. Thus, Vacaspati makes the right point when he says that the relation of word to its meaning is conventionally established through public usage (Iokavyavahara), and since pramana is not used to include memory (smrti) we should not call memory a pramana.[5] In the Hindu tradition, smrti the term for memory experience was also used to denote the dharmasastras as opposed to sruti, the Vedas. Now, since it is the cardinal doctrine of the Hindus that the dharmasastras are dependent upon the Vedas for their authoritativeness on dharmas and are not independent sources of knowledge about dharma, smrti cannot be called a pramana. . . . Therefore, if smrti which meant Dharmasastras was not an independent pramana, then by extension smrti which also meant memory-experience, could not also be a pramana. (Ibid., p. 263) Since sruti was the authority, smrti could only be a "copy of such authority," little more than a "transferred epithet" and, hence, not a pramana. But there were also important philosophical arguments against smrti as a pramana, mainly from the side of the Buddhists, the Naiyayikas and the Mimamsakas. According to the Buddhists, any cognitive episode that includes thought or construction (vikalpa)would be excluded from being a prama or pramana. To the extent that memory clearly involves thought, it cannot, therefore, be a prama. According to the Naiyayikas, memory or smrti is not prama inasmuch as it does not provide immediate or "presentative" (anubhava)knowledge. It re-presents, rather, presentative knowledge that we had previously, but the content or object of that knowledge has ceased to exist in the present memory awareness. According to the Mimamsakas, memory or smrti is not prama inasmuch as it does not give us any new knowledge. It is simply a revival of old knowledge.[6] The Jain counterargument is that smrti or memory is a pramana precisely because it does give us new knowledge that is presentative (anubhava) inasmuch as it presents knowledge of a previously experienced something as past. The knowledge involved is that of "past-ness." But Matilal then quotes Udayana as showing that the Jain position involves a fundamental confusion.[7] The knowledge of "pastness" cannot be part of the memory, since the original experience did not involve "pastness" but was indeed fully present. The experience of "pastness" must, therefore, be in the present experience and, hence, not part of the memory experience. The realization of "pastness," in other words, is a present experience assisted by memory or smrti. Thus, even the one school that would appear to accept smrti or memory as a pramana or prama cannot seriously sustain its position. Given the Indian predilection, then, for pramana or prama as presentative (anubhava), new knowledge, or the Buddhist concern for cognitive episodes that are totally "unconstructed" (without vikalpa), srmti or memory cannot really count as authentic knowledge. It is always a derived copy coming from the past.[8] Although smrti or memory may not be a pramana or prama in most Indian-philosophical traditions, it nevertheless plays a crucial role in cognition and in determining the nature and range of cognition. This is clearly illustrated in what I consider to be one of the more interesting discussions of smrti in the classical Indian philosophical texts, namely, Vyasa's discussion of memory in his Bhasya on Yogasutra 1.11 and its further discussion and treatment at II.12-13 and IV.8-9. I shall first translate the relevant passage on smrti, namely, 1.11, and then proceed to summarize the range of the presentation overall, linking smrti with samskara, karmasaya, and vasana.[9] While the discussion of smrti in classical Yoga is not by any means the only important discussion of smrti in classical Indian thought (Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain), it is one of the more exemplary and systematic treatments and, hence, provides a useful perspective on many of the important issues. The discussion of memory in classical Yoga appears almost at the outset of the presentation of the system. "Disciplined meditation" or yoga is said to involve the "cessation or restraint of the transformations of the mind-stuff or brain-system" (yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah, YS 1.2).[10] The "transformations of the mind-stuff or brain-system" are said to be fivefold, namely, "authentic knowing" (pramana), "error" (viparyaya), "verbalization" (vikalpa), "deep sleep" (nidra), and "memory" (smrti)(YS I.6), and it is, thus, clear at the outset that sin.tti is clearly distinguished from pramana within the functions of the mind-stuff or brain-system (citta). These five transformations (or, perhaps better, functions) of the citta are said to be "afflicted" or "unafflicted" (klistaklista) (YS 1.5). The "afflicted" modes refer to the ordinary, intentional awarenesses of everyday life, and these "afflictions" (klesa-s) are also five in number, namely, "ignorance" (avidya), "egoity" (asmita), "attachment" (raga), "aversion" (dvesa), and the "instinctive fear of death" (abhinivesa) (YS II.3-9). So long as these "afflicted" modes remain operative, ordinary everyday life proceeds in its usual fashion. It is only when the "afflictions" or klesa-s are overcome through disciplined meditation (yoga)that the frustrations of ordinary life can be overcome. One can then achieve the higher levels of awareness, namely, the one-pointed altered state of awareness (ekagra or samprajnata-samadhi) or the ultimate "cessation," awareness of the presence of pure consciousness (niruddha or a-samprajnata-samadhi or the "clear discrimination," viveka-khyati, of purusa)(YS II.10-11). In Yogasutra I.6-11, "the transformations" (or functions) "of the mind-stuff" (or brain-system) are set forth as follows: I.6: pramana-viparyaya-vikalpa-nidra-smrtayah.[11] (The transformations or functions of the mind-stuff or brain-system are) the means of knowing, error, verbalization, deep sleep, and memory. I.7: pratyaksa-anumana-agamah pramanani. The means of knowing are perception, inference, and reliable authority. I.8: viparyayo mithyajnanam a-tad-rupa-pratistham. Error is incorrect knowledge based upon apprehending something as other than what it is. (Vyasa's commentary here cites the example of incorrectly seeing a double moon because of an injury to the eye, which is corrected when one finally experiences correctly that there is only one moon.) I.9: sabda-jnana-anupati vastu-sunyo vikalpah. Verbalization has to do with apprehensions arising out of the use of language whose referents are language itself rather than things. I.10: abhava-pratyaya-alambana vrttir nidra. Deep sleep is a transformation or function (of the mind-stuff or brain-system) based upon the apprehension of absence. (Vyasa stresses in his commentary that the point here is the apprehension of absence and not the absence of apprehension. In other words, even deep sleep is a kind of awareness. It is the awareness of "absence," abhava, or tamas.) Now comes the sutra regarding memory or smrti, and I shall give the sutra first, followed by Vyasa's Bhasya: I.11: anubhutavisaya-asampramosah smrtih.[12] Memory is the retention of (previously) experienced contents (objects). kim pratyayasya cittam sinatari ahosvid visayasya iti. grahya-uparaktah pratyayo grahya-grahana-ubhaya-akara-nirbhasas tajjatiyakam samskaram arabhate. sa samskarah svavyanjaka-anjanas tadakaram eva grahya-grahana-ubhaya-atmikam smrtim janayati. tatra grahana-akara-purva buddhih. grahya-akara-purva smrtih. sa ca dvayi bhavita-smartavya ca abhavita-smartavya ca. svapne bhavita-smartavya. jagratsamaye tu abhavitasmartavya iti. sarvas ca eta smrtayah pramana-viparyaya-vikalpa-nidra-smrtinam anubhavat prabha-vanti. sarvas ca eta vrttayah sukha-duhkha-moha-atmikah. sukha-duhkha-mohas ca klesesu vyakhyeyah. sukha-anusayi ragah, duhkha-anusayi dvesah, mohah punar avidya iti. etah sarva vrttayo niroddhavyah. asam nirodhe samprajnato va samadhir bhavati asamprajnato va iti. Does the mind-stuff or brain-system remember the process of apprehension of the object (that is to say, the pratyaya or hoetic process) or the object (or content) itself? The process of apprehension (namely, the pratyaya), influenced by the experience of the object (or content) and thereby involving both the form or representation of the object and the form or representation of the apprehending process itself, generates a latent (or unconscious) imprint (samskara) (on the mind-stuff or brain-system) that conforms to the process of apprehension (and thereby contains both the representation of the object and the representation of the process of apprehension). That latent imprint (samskara), being activated when similar or cognate apprehensions occur (sva-vyanjaka-anjana), brings forth the memory experience (smrti) which thereby also contains both the representation of the object (or content) and the representation of the process of apprehension. With respect to these two, namely, the representation of the object (grahya) and the representation of the process of apprehension (grahana), the latter relates primarily to determination or ascertainment (buddhi) whereas the former relates primarily to what is meant by memory (smrti). And this memory is of two varieties, first, remembering what has been imagined (bhavita-smartavya), and second, remembering what has actually occurred (abhavita-smartavya). The first kind of remembering pertains to aspects of dreaming. The second kind of remembering pertains to aspects of waking. All of these memories arise from the experiences or apprehensions that come forth from (the transformations or functions of the mind-stuff or brain-system, namely) the means of knowing, errors, verbalizations, deep sleep, and memories. All of these transformations or functions are characterized by pleasure (sukha), frustration (duhkha), and delusion (moha) and are to be understood as being under the influence of the afflictions (klesa-s). The experience of pleasure relates to the affliction known as "attachment" (raga). The experience of frustration relates to the affliction known as "aversion" (dvesa). The experience of delusion relates to the affliction known as "ignorance" (avidya). All of these transformations or functions of the mind-stuff or brain-system must be brought under control or stopped. When they are properly brought under control, one attains an altered state of awareness known as one-pointed or totally focused (ekagra or samprajnata-samadhi). When they are completely stopped, one attains an altered state of awareness known as "ceased" (niruddha or a-samprajnata-samadhi). enerates a latent imprint (the samskara), which contains a form or representation of both the object or content apprehended and the process of apprehension itself. The latent imprint in turn generates the memory experience, and it would appear, then, that the latent imprint (samskara) performs both a storage function, that is to say, it retains or is responsible for the acquisition of content, as well as a retrieval function, that is to say, when properly activated it is able to generate the memory experience. In modern biological terms (and see the opening quote by S. P. R. Rose), the latent imprint (samskara), at least according to classical Yoga philosophy, would appear to perform the two processes of "acquisition" and "retrieval" and is also the hypothesized physical trace in the brain-system, namely, the "engram." The latent imprint (samskara) in generating the memory experience assists the process of knowing (determination, ascertainment, or the buddhi-awareness) and also provides the content of the memory experience either in terms of what has been imagined or what has actually occurred. Moreover, two other dimensions of the latent imprint (samskara) and its relation to memory must be mentioned. Inasmuch as the samskara-s and resulting smrti-s unfold in an environment of "afflictions" (klesa-s), a subset of samskara-s known as karmasaya or Karmic residues become operative (YS II.12-14). According to classical Yoga philosophy, these can become activated at any point in life depending on their intensity, and at the conclusion of a particular life they all come together and generate a new life. The karmasya-s or Karmic residues determine the species of life (jati), the length of life (ayus), and the quality of the experience of the new embodiment in terms of pleasure or frustration (bhoga)(YS II.13). At this point, in other words, the latent imprints (samskara-s) and resulting smrti-s begin to encompass more than one life, and one's personal memory can extend by implication into a continuing series of future embodiments. By the same token, the subset of samskara-s known as karmasaya-s have, over time and over the continuing series of embodiments, resulted in a great store or stock of subtle traces known as vasana-s (Vyasa's comment on II.13 and also see YS IV.8-9). One might put it that the "causal" or "active" samskara-s of one's present embodiment are one's karmasaya-s (one's active or impelling memory), which will largely determine one's future new experiences and memory experiences in this present embodiment and the next embodiment yet to come, whereas one's vasana-s or subtle traces are the "effect" or "passive" samskara-s from all of one's previous embodiments, subtle memory traces (one's passive memory) not only of our prior embodiments in the human species but in numerous other species as well. One possible comparison with modern discourse at this point would beto suggest that samskara-s as karmasaya-s have to do largely with short-term memory, which relates to matters of immediate self-identity and future possibilities, whereas samskara-s as vasana-s have to do largely with long-term memory--but a long-term memory that not only encompasses a complex series of previous embodiments but may extend to the limits of life itself. Whatever else might be said about the classical Yoga view of smrti or memory, one is struck by the boldness and expansiveness of the conceptualization, which on one level invites us to consider the possibility that our present embodiment (our present life experience) is only one part of a corporate trajectory that extends diachronically to a begin-ningless past, which on another level invites us to consider the possibility that we may well be able to "remember" not only our earliest memories in our present embodiment but numerous previous embodiments as well, and which on a final level invites us to consider the possibility that not only are our memories "human" memories but they encompass the memories of countless other species as well. The Trimurti of Smrti as Myth, Memory and History in South Asia In the introduction to the present essay I called attention to smrti as a portmanteau expression that encompasses a threefold "corporate" perspective in terms of "synchronic phylogeny." "diachronic ontogeny," and "precessional cosmology." I explained what I meant by each of the expressions and I suggested that the three taken together provide a unique South Asian perspective on the symposium theme, "Myth, Memory, and History." In the middle section of the essay I surveyed some of the more important South Asian philosophical traditions regarding the notion of memory, with special reference to the classical Yoga formulation, which I take to be a somewhat symptomatic or exemplary discussion by way of setting forth many of the basic issues that arise with respect to memory from a philosophical perspective. For the most part in Indian philosophizing, smrti or memory is not prama or pramana, partly because of the larger cultural understanding of the nonphilosophical notion of smrti as "tradition" or the "corporate memory of the community" that has only a derived or transferred authority from the eternal Veda or sruti (which, of course, is always pramana for the Brahmanical and Hindu traditions), and partly also for cogent philosophical reasons arising out of the realization that the memory experience does not appear to provide either new or presentative (anubhava) knowledge. Nevertheless, smrti or memory is a fundamental structure and function of the mind-stuff or brain-system, that is to say, of cognition, a fundamental structure and function that links us with a complex network of identities both synchronic and diachronic. I propose in the final section of this essay to bring together these various themes that I have been discussing and to show how they relate to South Asian perspectives on "Myth, Memory and History." 1. "Synchronic Phylogeny." In an article that I published some years ago, titled "Karma as a 'Sociology of Knowledge' or 'Social Psychology' of Process/Paxis" I argued that our modern notions of history and historical thinking are totally absent in South Asian thought.[13] I argued, furthermore, that a historical interpretation was, therefore, no interpretation, at least in terms of trying to understand the indigenous conceptual structures in South Asian thought. I asserted: ". . . to put it directly, historical interpretation is ours, not theirs! In a South Asian environment, historical interpretation is no interpretation. It is a zero-category."[14] I would still hold to the same position that in traditional Indian thought our modern notions of historical thinking are, indeed, totally absent, but I am inclined now to add, however, that there is nevertheless a notion of history operating in traditional Indian thought. The notion operating is just not our modern Western notion. What, then, is it? My answer is that, on one level, it is something like what I am trying to call "synchronic phylogeny," and I have in mind the interesting discussion of these matters by Madhav Deshpande in his article "History, Change and Permanence: A Classical Indian Perspective."[15] Deshpande points out that there is a deep "conservatism," and "preservationism" in classical Hindu thought, based on the doctrine of the eternality of the Sanskrit language by the Sanskrits grammarians as well as on notions of a permanent social reality by the authors of the Mimamsa and Dharmasastra literature. Both in the development of language and in the development of society, everything was already present in the beginning. Says Deshpande: Thus there was no history in a real sense. All forms always existed, and it is a matter of pure accident that certain forms are or are not found in a particular text, a particular time or a particular region. Thus, the problem of "existence" was separated from the problem of "attestation." Non-attestation did not imply non-existence. While eternal existence was the fact, the attestation and non-attestation of forms was a matter of historical accident.[16] Thus, whatever changes occur either in language or in society are never dealt with historically, but are treated rather as "options." Hence, both the Sanskrit language and the larger social-religious system were dealt with largely in a deductive fashion. The human community is not to be viewed as developing over time diachronically. It is to be viewed, rather, in terms of "synchronic phylogeny." Says Deshpande: The classical Indian tradition looked upon the Sanskrit language and the Sanskritic culture as eternal entities. They were viewed as God's creations at the beginning of time, but often they were viewed as self-existing realities independent of even God and his creation. Different philosophical traditions hold different views in this regard. However, these entities were placed by the classical tradition at the head of history, rather than viewing them as outcomes of a long historical development. These were the unquestionable first principles from which everything else had to be logically deduced. While western science and civilization seem to be based on a continuously self-improving process of experimentation and induction of new general principles, classical Indian tradition "claims" to be authoritative by being a purely deductive tradition whose first principles have been unalterably established. . . . History as viewed from this deductive perspective is not a matter of new creation of events or new inventions, but simply an unfolding of implicit aspects and values of the eternally self-existing reality.[17] Moreover, Deshpande points that Manu as well bought into this "unhistoric history." We certainly do not know the real cause of Manu's failure to take note of the facts of Indian history as our modern historians perceive it. However, the historical impact of this "unhistoric history" has been quite significant. By failing to recognize the foreign and racially different origins of the different peoples in India, and by focusing on their sychronic socio-religious positions, rights and duties, the classical Indian tradition brought about a wonderful racial and cultural synthesis of Indian peoples. The synchronic feeling of socio-religious unity was more important than the historical fact of diverse origins, and therefore, to serve a synchronic purpose, the synchronic unity had to be projected back into history to the first acts of creation.[18] In place of our modern notions of history or historical thinking, in other words, it almost appears as if there were a deliberate embracing of "unhistoric history" by classical Indian thought, the embracing of a "synchronic phylogeny" whereby we look back and "remember" the eternal, first principles that are truly authoritative and make possible the deduction of the pluralist options with which we must continually live. 2. "Diachronic Ontogeny."Yet what I am calling "synchronic phylogeny" is only one level of the classical South Asian perspective on "Myth, Memory and History." Although diachrony appears to be lost on the level of phylogeny in favor of a purely deductive, holistic, synchronic system based on eternal first principles, it is recovered, puzzlingly enough, on the counterintuitive level of ontogeny, or, in other words, on the level of personal identity. The unfolding of personal life is as "corporate" in its way as is the synchronic, interacting network of interpersonal community, only the "corporate" component is now a diachronic series of embodiments that intersects with the unfolding synchronic phylogeny. I now have a "diachronic history," not in the sense of the unfolding of the larger community, which has shown itself as the "unhistoric history" of a deductive, synchronic system, but, rather, in the sense of a series of recurring embodiments (either in terms of the transmigration of the Hindu and Jain traditions or in terms of the rebirth trajectories of the Buddhist tradition) which I am capable of becoming "mindful of" or "remembering" and which I must come to control if I wish to move beyond the frustrating "afflictions" of the human condition. Smrti or memory is again "corporate"--no longer in the synchronic, interpersonal sense but, rather, now in a deeply diachronic, intrapersonal sense. I have, as it were, or, perhaps better, I am a multiple series of persons or trajectories, unfolding over time, marked by samskara-s, karmasaya-s and vasana-s that impel and shape my identity and give me a "history" rich not only in the contents of the human species but implicated as well in countless other species of life. 3. "Precessional Cosmology." Finally, there is one other level in the classical South Asian perspective on "Myth, Memory and History," namely, what I am calling "precessional cosmology," for it is not simply the case that the South Asian perspective asserts a "synchronic phylogeny" and a "diachronic ontogeny." There is also the continuing refrain in numerous Hindu and Buddhist texts that the world is continuing to run down, is continually in decline.[19] While the intellectual reasons for "synchronic phylogeny" and "diachronic ontogeny" are clearly spelled out in the smrti literature, both "traditional" and "philosophical," the reasons for cosmological decline are not as clear, and one suspects, therefore, that the underlying reasons for cosmological decline may not have been original to a South Asian environment. Indeed, as is well known, the notion of the world running down is not unique to India but is generally accepted in the ancient world. It is widely accepted in the ancient Near East, in ancient Greece, and to some extent in ancient China as well. Most interpreters are not quite clear why ancient India accepted the notion of cosmic decline. Typical of the explanations given for the Indian notion is that given by Madhav Deshpande in his essay, "History, Change and Permanence: A Classical Indian Perspective": It is not very dear why such a doctrine of decline developed in ancient India. It is conceivable that the invasion of the Greeks and the emergence and dominant political and social position of the non-Vedic religions like Buddhism and Jainism were viewed to be "darker times" in comparison with the previous ages, and this might have led to the theory of four ages.[20] I would suggest, however, that the theory of the four declining ages has very little to do with actual historical conditions in ancient India but has a great deal to do with ancient traditions of astronomy or astrology that were widespread throughout the ancient world. Because the plane of the earth's equator is at a slight angle (twenty-three and one-half degrees) to the ecliptic, the vernal equinox or the beginning of spring "precesses" or moves backwards through the ecliptic or the zodiac one degree of arc about every 72 years. It takes approximately 26,000 years (or, more precisely, 25,920 years) for this precession or falling backwards to make a full circle 50 that the vernal equinox can occur again at its starting point. According to one calculation, the oldest zodiacs were constructed by using the fixed star Aldebaran in the exact middle of Taurus, thereby making the vernal equinox occur at one degree Aries around 4139 B.C.E. The "Ages" of the world are, then, as follows: Age of Taurus - 4139 B.C.E. Age of Aries - 1953 B.C.E. Age of Pisces - 220 C.E. Age of Aquarius - 2375 C.E[.21] According to another calculation, and evidently one more widely held by present-day astrologers (mainly because of the discovery of Uranus in 1784), the "Ages" are as follows: Age of Taurus - 4350 B.C.E. Age of Aries - 2250 B.C.E. Age of Pisces - 150 C.E. Age of Aquarius - 1950 C.E.[22] Quite apart from the precision of these "Ages" and the raging polemics among astrologers, the basic notion of "precession" or falling backwards along the ecliptic or zodiac in a time frame of 26,000 years (or 25,920) was widely recognized in the ancient world. It is the "Great Year" or "Cosmic Year" of Plato, and it apparently has its analogue in the yuga theory of the Hindus and Buddhists. The "Ages" of the world in the Visnu-purana, for example, in terms of Krta, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali--made up, respectively, of 1,728,000, 1,296,000, 864,000, and 432,000 years and with some 72 manvantara-s or Manu periods between each deluge--appear to reflect a comparable understanding of the "Great Year." The basic number 432,000 is a multiple of both 60 (= 72) or 360 (=12), the latter providing a characterization of the year and the former (namely, 72 x 360 "days" in the life of Brahma or 25,920 "years") the "Great Year" or "Cosmic Year." The large numbers used by the Hindus and Buddhists are probably due to their desire to express mathematical ratios and relations in terms of whole numbers. It is probably the case that the ancient Chinese likewise understood the notion of "precession," and it is the most educated guess, at least in terms of my understanding of the current literature on the history of science, that the Greeks, the indians, and the Chinese all learned about most of these matters from the ancient Near Eastern cultures of Babylonia and Sumeria. In using the expression "precessional cosmology," however, my point is not to enter into the problem of origin or diffusion or scientific explanation--I leave all of that to the appropriate experts in the history of ancient science--but, rather, to point to a dominant mind-set regarding "history" in classical antiquity, ancient India, and ancient China. The mind-set is one of falling backwards, of "precessing," and, hence, at least in the classic Hindu and Buddhist formulations, of the present and future always becoming the past (or, in other words, Karma and rebirth). The present is the past, and the future will be the past. Even the beginning is only a modality of the past. What is and what will be has already been, and my "historical" task is to understand what I was, to lift the amnesia or remove the cobwebs so that I can "remember" and "be mindful" (smrti) about what I was. Coupled with this sort of notion of human praxis is a strong cultural sense of continuing decline and of being completely caught in what cannot seriously be changed, since what is and what will be has already been. Given such a mind-set of "precessional cosmology," there are only two possible options: either acquiescing or adjusting or harmonizing with what is (was) or somehow renouncing "precessional cosmology" (in terms of moksa, nirvana, or some other renunciatory technique). From one point of view one can describe "precessional cosmology" as "cyclical" so long as one remembers the crucial intuition that it is a "cycling" neither into the present nor the future but, rather, a continual "precess-ing" or "falling backwards" into the past. But the time has come for me to close these reflections on "synchronic phylogeny," "diachronic ontogeny," and "precessional cosmology," the trimurti of smrti in classical South Asian thought--a strange, indeed counterintuitive, call for us to look to the past, to what was, to what can be remembered, to what was really true, to what was there at the beginning and will always be there at the beginning. The present is only the past, and the future will again be only the past. In our time of "deconstructing" everything that we think we know, when our universal certainties have revealed themselves as contingent and largely empty, perhaps we would do well to listen to this South Asian call to the past, to "remember" who we were so that we may come to know, finally, who we are. NOTES This essay was originally presented at the symposium "Myth, Memory, and History," held at the Center for South Asian Studies, University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, March 1992. 1 - S. P. R. Rose, "Memory: Biological Basis," in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed. R. L. Gregory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 456. 2 - The term smrti in this sense is to be contrasted with the class of texts known as sruti or authoritative, "scriptural" texts (the Veda-s). The latter represent the direct knowledge of revelation in terms of either required ritual action or speculative knowledge or both, whereas the former represent only a derived authority. That is to say, smrti or the "important corporate memory of the community" can never contradict sruti(the special knowledge revealed in the Veda-s). If there is a conflict, sruti always prevails. In the event that something is mentioned in smrti that is not mentioned in sruti, it must always be assumed that the warrant was there in sruti but that the appropriate sruti warrant has been lost. For an important discussion of the relation between smrti and sruti, see Madhav Deshpande, "History, Change and Permanence: A Classical Indian Perspective," in Contributions to South Asian Studies, vol. 1, ed. Gopal Krishna (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979); pp. 1-28; esp. pp. 9-10: 3 - For the Sanskrit text of the Yogasutra, the Yogasutrabhasya of Vyasa, and the Tattvavaisaradi of Vacaspatimisra, I have used Patanjala-Yogadarsanam, ed. Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (Varanasi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakasan, 1963). For the Sanskrit text and translation of Vijnabhiksu's Yogavarttika, I have used Yogavarttika of Vij-manabhiksu, 4 vols., ed. and trans. T. S. Rukmani (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981-1989). For translations of the Yogasutra, Vyasa, and Vacaspati, I have consulted The Yoga-System of Patanjali, trans. J. H. Woods, Harvard Oriental Series 17 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914), and The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali, trans. H. Aranya (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983). 4 - For a typical account in the Puranic literature, see, for example, Visnu-purana, chap. 3, in The Visnu Purana, 3d ed., trans. H. H. Wilson with an introd. by R. C. Hazra (1961; reprint, Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1972), pp. 19-24. For an excellent discussion of the many Buddhist discussions of the decline of history and the Good Law, see E. Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, trans. Sara Webb-Boin (1958; reprint of original French edition, Louvain, Paris: Peeters Press, 1988), pp. 191-202. 5 - B. K. Matilal, logic, language and Reality: An Introduction to Indian Philosophical Studies (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985), p. 208. 6 - For an engaging discussion of these issues together with a spirited response, see S. Chatterjee, The Nyaya Theory of Knowledge (Calcutta: The University of Calcutta, 1965), pp. 371-376. 7 - Matilal, Logic, language and Reality, p. 208. 8 - It should be noted that Chatterjee points out that some Vaisesika thinkers as well as some Advaita Vedanta thinkers are inclined to allow smrti in some sense to be pramana. Overall, however, he would agree that the Indian schools by and large do not accept smrti as pramana. See Chatterjee, Nyaya Theory, pp. 371-376. Regarding the Jain view, it should perhaps be at least noted that smrti is accepted as a pramana under the category of paroksa or "indirect" knowing. The Jain tradition makes a distinction between "direct" (aparoksa) and "indirect" (paroksa) knowing. The former includes perception of all kinds and can be either "ordinary" (vyavaharika) or "extraordinary" (paramartha). The latter includes the five varieties of "mediate" or "indirect" knowing, namely, smrti (memory), pratyab-hijna (recognition), tarka (general reasoning), anumana (inference), and agama (reliable authority). 9 - For the editions of the Yogasutra utilized together with the editions of the commentaries of Vyasa, Vacaspatimisra, and Vijnabhiksu, see note 3 above. 10- The translation of citta as "mind-stuff" is, of course, that of J. H. Woods. "Brain-system" is also an appropriate rendering, since it captures the Samkhya-Yoga focus on the systemic, materialist, and biological nature of citta, in contrast to "pure consciousness" or purusa. 11 - In my transliteration of the Sanskrit text, I have dissolved the sandhi whenever possible for ease of reading. 12 - The term a-sampramosa means literally "nonstealing," from the root mus plus pra. Both Vacaspati and Vijnabhiksu suggest that "as-teya"or "not to be stolen or taken away" is an appropriate synonym. "Nonstealing" can also mean "nonloss"; hence, my preference for the more positive term, "retention." 13 - Gerald James Larson, "Karma as a 'Sociology of Knowledge' or 'Social Psychology' of Process-Praxis," in Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, ed. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 303-316. 14 - Ibid., p. 305. 15 - Deshpande, "History, Change and Permanence," pp. 1-28, and see note 2 above. 16 - Ibid., p. 9. 17 - Ibid., pp. 18-19. 18 - Ibid., p. 21. 19 - See note 4 above for the reference to the Visnu-purana and the relevant Buddhist texts. 20 - Deshpande, "History, Change and Permanence," p. 6. 21 - Rupert Gleadow, The Origin of the Zodiac (New York: Atheneum, 1969), pp. 55 ff. 22 - Ibid.