Will and Memory

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Will can work wonders, if it is rendered pure and irresistible. There is nothing impossible for a person of strong will to achieve. The vast majority of people have no consciousness of will or mind or intellect. Their will has become impure and weak through desire. When a desire is controlled it is turned into will. Sexual energy, muscular energy, anger and so on, are all transmuted into willpower when they are controlled, and the fewer the desires, the stronger the will.

You will have to be very careful in the use of your will. It is always advisable to reserve the willpower for the achievement of higher spiritual success. Worldly success is nothing. This life is a mere bubble. This world is a long dream. Worldly success will not give you everlasting peace and happiness. Try your will in one or two instances in worldly matters. You will understand and realize its power. Then apply the will in the realization of the Self. Ignore mundane affairs which are worthless like straw or dung.

How to develop willpower

Attention, power of endurance, overcoming aversion, dislikes and irritations, fortitude in suffering, austerity, fasting, and keeping up a daily diary pave the way in developing the will. Patiently hearing the words of others though they are not interesting, develops will and wins the hearts of others.

Never complain against bad environments but create your mental world wherever you go. There are some difficulties and disadvantages wherever you go. If the mind deludes you at every moment and at every step, try to overcome the obstacles and difficulties by suitable means. Do not try to run away from bad, unfavourable environments. God has placed you there to make you grow quickly. If you have all sorts of comforts in a place you will not grow strong. Try to live happily in any place under any condition. You will become a strong and dynamic personality.

The practice of concentration is of great help to strengthen the will. You must have an intelligent understanding of the habits of the mind: how it wanders and how it operates. You must know easy and effective methods to control the wandering of the mind. The practices of thought-culture, of concentration, of memory-culture are all allied subjects. All these are of immense help in the practice of will-culture. You cannot draw a line of demarcation to denote where the practice of concentration or memory-culture ends and the practice of will-culture begins. There is no hard and fast rule.

Those who want to become magnetic and dynamic personalities or prodigies should use every second to the best possible advantage and try to grow mentally, morally and spiritually every second. Idle gossiping should be given up entirely. Every one of us should realize the value of time. Will is bound to become dynamic if one uses one’s time very profitably. Application and tenacity, interest and attention, patience and perseverance, faith and self-reliance can make a person a wonderful world figure.

You will have to apply your will according to your capacity, otherwise your will deteriorates. You will become discouraged. So make a program of work or daily routine according to your capacity and see that it is carried out daily. Keep only a few items. If you keep several items which cannot be executed daily, which is beyond your capacity, your interest will slowly wane and your enthusiasm will gradually decline. Your energy will be dissipated and scattered. Your brain will become tired. Whatever you wish to do daily must be carried out to the very letter.

Nimbarka Acharya willed that the sun should not pass beyond the neem tree that was in front of his house; it came to pass exactly. Nalayani willed that there would be no daybreak; it came to pass accordingly. These people had strong willpower. You cannot succeed if you apply your will like this in the beginning when you are a neophyte and have developed your will only to a very small extent.

Right thinking

Thinking too much is a hindrance in the execution by the will. It brings confusion, diffidence and procrastination. There is slackening of the force of will. The opportunity will slip away. You may hesitate to put the thing in action. Think for some time correctly and then decide. As soon as you have resolved you must ‘will’ immediately. There must not be any unnecessary delay. Sometimes you ‘will’ and do not succeed. This is due to a lack of right thinking and right feeling. You must think rightly and at the same time feel rightly. Then your will is bound to succeed. Right feeling should invariably accompany right thinking.

Cool and balanced mind

He who is attempting to develop the will should always try to keep a cool head. He should keep a balanced mind under all conditions. He will have to train or discipline the mind. Balance of mind is one of the vital characteristics of a developed jnani or yogi. That yogi who can keep a balanced mind at all times is really a strong and happy man. He will have success in all his undertakings.

Do not be carried away by undue sentiments and bubbling emotions. Control them and reflect how the calamity, trouble or catastrophe has come. There is always scope for suitable, effective and easy methods to tide over the crisis or trying situation. Develop discrimination and fore-sightedness. Many obstacles and calamities can be obviated quite easily. Do not brood over failures, defects and mistakes. This will weaken your will. Let the defects remain there. They will be removed quickly when the will grows and becomes purer and purer, stronger and stronger.

An unruffled state of mind, poise, cheerfulness, inner strength, the capacity to turn out difficult work, success in all undertakings, power to influence people, a magnetic and dynamic personality, a magnetic aura on the face, sparkling eyes, a steady gaze, powerful voice, a magnanimous gait, unyielding nature, and fearlessness are some of the signs or symptoms that indicate one’s will is growing.

Free will

A person must learn to separate himself from the vehicles in which he desires, thinks and acts, to know them as part of the ‘not-self’, as material and external to life. Thus, the energy that went out to the objects for lower desires becomes the higher desire, guided by the mind, and is prepared to be transmuted into will.

As the lower mind emerges into the higher, and the higher into that which is wisdom, the aspect of pure will emerges as the power of the spirit, self-determined, self-ruled, in perfect harmony with the Supreme Will, and therefore free. Then only, all bonds are broken and the spirit is unconstrained by anything outside itself. Then and then alone can the will be said to be free.

Memory and the subconscious mind

The subconscious mind is termed chitta in Vedanta. Much of your subconsciousness consists of submerged experiences, memories thrown into the background but recoverable. When you show symptoms of losing your memory as you grow old, the first symptom is that you find it difficult to remember the names of people. All the names are arbitrary, they are like labels. There are no associations along with the names. The mind generally remembers through association, as the impressions become deep thereby. You can remember well in old age some passages that you had read in school, but you find it difficult to remember in the evening a passage you read in the morning.

The reason is that the mind has lost its dharana shakti, power of grasping ideas. The brain cells have degenerated. Those who overwork mentally, who do not observe the rules of brahmacharya and who are afflicted with much care, anxieties and worries lose their power of memory soon.

Only ten percent of the mental activities come into the field of consciousness. At least ninety percent of our mental life is subconscious. We sit and try to solve a problem, and fail. We look around, try again, and again, but fail. Suddenly, an idea dawns that leads to the solution of the problem. The subconscious processes were at work. The subconscious mind is your constant companion and sincere friend. When you repeatedly fail at night to find a solution for a problem in arithmetic or geometry, in the morning when you awake you have a clear answer. This answer comes like a flash from the subconscious mind. Even in sleep it works without any rest, incessantly. It arranges, classifies, compares, sorts all facts and figures, and works out a proper satisfactory solution.

With the help of the subconscious mind you can change your negative nature, by cultivating healthy, virtuous qualities that are opposed to the undesirable ones. If you want to overcome fear, mentally deny that you have fear and concentrate your attention upon the opposite quality, the ideal of courage. When courage is developed, fear vanishes away by itself. The positive always overpowers the negative. This is an infallible law of nature. You can establish new habits, new ideas, new ideals, new tastes and a new character in the subconscious mind by changing the old ones.

All actions, enjoyments and experiences leave an imprint in the subconscious mind in the form of subtle impressions or residual potencies. The samskaras are the root of causing rebirth and experiences of pleasure and pain. Revival of samskaras induces memory. When you desire to remember something, you will have to make a psychic exertion to go down into the depths of the different levels of the subconscious and then pick up the right object from a curious mixture of multifarious irrelevant matter. Just as the mail-sorter takes up the right letter by moving the hand up and down along the different pigeon holes, so the subconscious mind goes up and down along the pigeon holes in the subconscious and brings the right thing to the level of normal consciousness.

Memory culture

The Sanskrit term for memory is smriti. Smarana is remembering. This is the function of the subconscious mind or chitta. The samskaras of thinking and acting are deeply impressed in the chitta which is like the sensitive plate of a camera. All the impressions are indelibly recorded there. If you have a clairvoyant vision or astral eye you can clearly watch all subterranean movements of these images in the subterranean workshop of the mind. The following are the four characteristics of good memory:

  1. If you read a passage and can reproduce the same, it is termed sugamata.
  2. If you can reproduce the same thing without increase or decrease, it is called avaikalya.
  3. If you can preserve a fact or passage for a very considerable period of time, it is called retentive memory, dharana.
  4. If you can reproduce a passage at once without any difficulty, it is called upaharana.

Knowledge of the workings of the subconscious mind is very necessary for those who want to develop their memory. It works throughout the twenty-four hours. It is the subconscious mind which wakes you up in the morning when you make the firm resolve ‘I should catch the train at 3 am’. It is a most faithful servant, provided you know the technique for manipulating it in a masterly manner. All the prodigies or intellectual giants of the world know the art of handling and tapping this portion of the mind.

Before you go to bed, give orders to the chitta to do any kind of work. It will keep the answer ready for the morning. The chitta analyzes, sorts and takes out old records from the various pigeon holes of the mind and produces a clear balance sheet of facts for your perusal and review.

Brahmacharya, dietetic adjustment, and discipline of the indriyas, senses, are essential for developing memory. The seminal energy has a direct, intimate connection with the cells of the brain. You should try your extreme level best to preserve every drop of the vital fluid. Bad memory is largely due to heavy loss of this life-giving energy. Japa, meditation, prayer, devotion, sirshasana (headstand pose) and pranayama develop memory wonderfully.

Exercises for developing memory

  1. Meditate on and assert:
    “I have a very strong memory” – Om Om Om
    “I can remember things now nicely” – Om Om Om
    “My memory has very much improved” – Om Om Om
    “I have a wonderful retentive memory” – Om Om Om
  2. You can talk to your subconscious mind just as you talk to your friend or servant, “Look here, subconscious mind, I have forgotten an important passage in The Merchant of Venice and another in As You Like It. Bring them now in my memory. I need them badly tomorrow morning. Do it quickly.” Give the order in clear terms.
  3. Practise self-analysis or self-examination for ten minutes before you go to bed. Sit comfortably on a chair and close your eyes. Think of all the actions, good and bad, that you did during the course of the day. Think of all the mistakes you committed consciously or unconsciously. By daily, regular and systematic practice you will be able to visualize clearly the actions and mistakes of the day. The mind becomes sharp and subtle by the practice of introspection. It dissects, analyzes, groups, classifies and brings the list of actions in the twinkling of an eye. This practice will develop your memory and reduce the number of mistakes.


First create interest in a certain subject and memory will automatically follow. One should be in perfect knowledge of one’s subject and have a general knowledge of all subjects. A versatile and all-round nature is laudable. Try to become a versatile genius. A strong, retentive memory, a powerful will, and the practice of daily concentration and meditation will certainly make you a versatile prodigy.

Printed in YOGA, Vol 1, Issue 6, November 1990