Memory Records- Critical Part of Five Aggregates

May 13, 2020; revised September 10, 2022

 The Critical Role of Memories

 1. Memory records (nāmagotta) are a critical component of the Five Aggregates (pañcakkhandhā.) Most people would not think of memories as a part of pañcakkhandhā. But as we will see below, we cannot live without our memories!

  • As we discussed in the previous posts on “The Five Aggregates (Pañcakkhandha),each of the past rupā that we have ever experienced is in the Five Aggregates. Vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna — that arose with EACH of those rupā in the past — are also in the Five Aggregates. All of them cumulatively play a critical role in the present moment.
  • Let us take some simple examples to illustrate this. Suppose someone gives you a plate with a couple of pieces of pizza. How do you know that it is food and you can eat it? That it is “pizza”?
  • You may think that this is a silly question. It is not. Unless you had prior experience eating pizza, you would NOT know what it is.

2. Think about leaving for work in the morning. Unless you REMEMBER where you work and how to get there, you will not be able to “go to work.”

  • You wake up in the morning and need to go to the bathroom. But if you don’t remember where the bathroom is, or even what a “bathroom” is, what would you do?
  • By the way, this is why babies need diapers. They have no perception (saññā) of “going to the bathroom” until their brains develop. They cannot recall their memory records.
  • Our lives will be IMPOSSIBLE to live without our memories!
  • You see someone coming toward you. How do you recognize that figure as a “man” or a “woman,” let alone that it is your mother?
  • More examples are in “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta).”
How Our Memory Works Is a “Miracle”

3. We discussed this process to some extent in the previous post, “Arising of Five Aggregates Based on an Ārammaṇa,” You may want to read that post as needed, especially #2 through #9. I am not going to discuss some of that here. It is critical to understand those initial posts to get a good idea before we get to the next post. It is a good idea to print all four posts in this series and have them ready to review.

  • Now we will look at exactly where these memories reside and how a mind recalls them so quickly. Any situation we considered in #1 and #2 above “is not a big deal.”
  • When we see a pizza, we know exactly what it is without thinking. We do not stop and plan the trip when we leave for work. We just get in the car and drive or walk to the right bus stop/subway, etc. We “know” what a bathroom is and where it is in the house.
Difference Between a Human and a Robot

4. However, a robot CAN NOT do any of the above, UNLESS it is pre-programmed in detail. For any robot to do any specific task, a HUMAN must think about all possible scenarios and write a “computer code.” That is why “artificial intelligence” WILL NEVER materialize. Scientists will be able to make fancy robots to do REPETITIVE and COMPLEX tasks. But robots will NEVER be able to THINK. They will not be able to recognize anything that has not been pre-programmed into their computer memory.

  • A human can recognize an object INSTANTLY. For example, it can “scan” memories of eating pizza and identify what type of pizza it is, and how it would typically taste. And it does that within a split second!
  • I highly recommend re-reading the post “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta).”
Mind – Hadaya Vatthu and a Set of Pasada Rupa 

5. That fantastic accomplishment of “instant recognition of things” happens in our minds. The mind is NOT in the brain, even though the brain plays a crucial role in mental phenomena. The mind is associated with the mental body, referred to as manomaya kāya or gandhabba in the Tipiṭaka. Essentially, that mental body consists of a hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) and a set of pasāda rupa.

  • That mental body cannot be seen even with the most sophisticated microscope scientists have today. As we know, they can “see” individual atoms. But a gandhabba is a million times smaller (in weight) than an atom. 
  • Yet, that mental body is the essence of a human (or any living being.) The physical body is a shell that allows us to taste, smell, and touch.
  • In some situations, that mental body (gandhabba) can come out of the physical body. See “Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.” It can see and hear better outside the physical body but cannot taste, smell, or touch.
  • Furthermore, those who cultivate jhāna to the fourth jhānic state can develop iddhi powers and bring their gandhabba out of their physical body. Then they can travel anywhere (including far away Deva/Brahma realms) or go through walls and mountains as described in some suttā. See “Mystical Phenomena in Buddhism?
  • That mental body or the gandhabba has the truly ESSENTIAL parts of a human: hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa.
Only Kammic Energy Can Create a Gandhabba

6. Kammic energy controls the creation and function of a hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa.  We create them in our javana cittāEach new bhava is associated with a hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa. The number of pasāda rupa vary from five for kama loka, two in rupa loka, to none in arupa loka.

  • That is why scientists will NEVER be able to CREATE life. It can only manipulate the conditions for an existing gandhabba to build a physical body. See “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception” and “Cloning and Gandhabba.”
  • More precisely, when we do strong kamma, we create energies that will reside in the kamma bhava. Good strong kamma create energies that can lead to the creation of “mental bodies” for “good realms.” Similarly, strong bad kamma makes conditions for rebirths in “bad realms.”
  • Our memories are also in the kamma bhava. All energies decay with time. When “kammic energies” in the kamma bhava decay, they become just “memory records.” The Pali word for such memory records is “nāmagotta.
Rupa Loka and “Nāma Loka

7. There are six “dhātu” that make up our world of 31 realms: pathavī dhātu, āpo dhātu, tejo dhātu, vāyo dhātu, ākāsa dhātu, viññāṇa dhātu. See, “Dhātuvibhaṅga Sutta (MN 140).”

  • All internal (in one’s body) and external rupa (not rupakkhandha) are made of pathavī dhātu, āpo dhātu, tejo dhātu, vāyo dhātu, and they exist in ākāsa dhātu (space). Therefore, the physical world (rupa loka) is associated with the first five types of dhātu.
  • We experience all rupa with the help of our five physical sense faculties (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body) and the five pasāda rupa. Experience (arising of thoughts) happens in the hadaya vatthu (seat of mind), as mentioned in #6. Of course, the hadaya vatthu, and the five pasāda rupa are the essence of the gandhabba, our “mental body.”

8. Nāma dhammā (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna) arise in cittā (loosely called “thoughts”) at the hadaya vatthu. See #6 and #7 of “Arising of Five Aggregates Based on an Ārammaṇa.

  • An imprint of a rupa (in the physical world) arises with viññāna, as we discussed in the previous four posts in “The Five Aggregates (Pañcakkhandha),” Furthermore, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna are experienced as “aggregates” or “collections” or “khandha” and NOT as individual entities.
  • As soon as that thought passes through a mind, a RECORD of it gets added to nāmagotta in the viññāṇa dhātu (via the mana indriya in the brain.) That viññāṇa dhātu is also called the “nāma loka.” Let us discuss that now.
  • It is essential to note that both the rupa loka and the nāma loka exist in “our world of 31 realms.”
Rupa and “Nāma

9. The mental attributes (nāma) and physical attributes (rupa) are DEFINED, for example, in  2.3.3. Suttantikadukanikkhepa of Dhammasaṅgaṇī of the Tipiṭaka:

Tattha katamaṃ nāmaṃ? Vedanākkhandho, saññākkhandho, saṅkhārakkhandho, viññāṇakkhandho, asaṅkhatā ca dhātu—idaṃ vuccati nāmaṃ.

Tattha katamaṃ rūpaṃ? Cattāro ca mahābhūtā, catunnañca mahābhūtānaṃ upādāya rūpaṃ—idaṃ vuccati rūpaṃ.

  • That means, “Vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, viññāṇakkhandha are “nāma dhamma.”
  • “The four great elements (pathavī, āpo, tejo, vāyo) together with upādāya rūpa (those that arise due to upādāna for worldly things made of the great elements) belong to rupa.
  • Such upādāya rūpa arise in our javana citta (or in kamma viññāna.) Those are the “subtle rupa,” seeds for future existences (bhava.) They make up the “kamma bhava.” They have energies BELOW the suddhāṭṭhaka level. See “The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka.”
  • As we have discussed, hadaya vatthu and each pasāda rupa is ” an energized suddhāṭṭhaka. Therefore, kammic energies are unbelievably small, yet they have amazing power.
Kamma Bhava in Nāma Loka

10. A record of ANY experience is captured in the four aggregates of vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna. Those are Vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, viññāṇakkhandha. That memory record in the “nāma loka” is “nāmagotta.” However, if that experience involved kamma generation, then a kammic energy (kamma bhava) would be associated with it.

  • Section 1 of the “Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga (1. Suttantabhājanīya)” defines kamma bhava: “Tattha katamo kamma bhavo? Puññābhisaṅkhāro, apuññābhisaṅkhāro, āneñjābhisaṅkhāro—ayaṃ vuccati “kamma bhavo”. Sabbampi bhavagāmi kammaṃ kamma bhavo.
  • That says all kamma done with abhisaṅkhāra will be in the kamma bhava. They can bring kamma vipāka until that energy decays naturally, which could take billions of years.
  • Those “bhavagāmi kammaṃ” (strong kamma that can sustain the rebirth process) will be there in the kamma bhava.
While Rupā Will Decay Over Time, Nāma Record (Nāmagotta) Does Not Decay

11. While rupā in the rupa loka last only finite times, a record of one’s experiences permanently remains in the nāma loka. That PERMANENT memory record is “nāmagotta.”

  • That is stated clearly in the “Najīrati Sutta (SN 1.76)” as, “Rūpaṃ jīrati maccānaṃ, nāmagottaṃ na jīrati” or “Physical form (bodies of living beings and inert matter) decay and die, memory records (nāmagotta) do not decay.”
  • Of course, we cannot RECALL all memories, especially memories from past lives. However, some children can recall their previous life. Those who have cultivated abhiññā powers can recall many past lives.

12. Don’t be discouraged if you cannot grasp everything in this post. I will expand on some of them in upcoming posts. But it is necessary to read the recommended posts.

  • I have spent the past ten years studying Buddha Dhamma. Even these days, I learn new things that make the “big picture” clearer. Once getting some traction, the process will become easier and more enjoyable.
  • It has been an amazing experience, and I hope to share it with as many people as possible.
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