Upon inquiry of one more learned than myself as to the greater scriptures that include the loved Gita, I was put in touch with a translation of the Mahabharata. There, in the Anugita, that portion which follows unostentatiously, and forms a sort of sequel to, the story told in that far-famed guidebook for spiritual aspirants, the Bhagavad-Gita, I came upon a passage that arrested my attention. It is after the battle so vividly pictured in the Gita, that conflict which symbolizes the disciple's inner striving toward the hair-line decision between the better and the best. Comes the moment when the major crisis is transcended, the battle ended. Arjuna remembers with what clarity and logic Krishna, the charioteer, has guided him. He recalls with what pin-point attention he listened and questioned, relentlessly and tirelessly extending the frontiers of his understanding. And now, to his amazement, he finds that he cannot remember a single part of all that his Lord has told him.
"O Mighty One," he implores of Krishna, "Thy greatness was revealed to me upon the field of battle. What Thou, O Kesava, didst say at that time my restless mind can no longer remember. I would have Thee tell me these truths again."
And Krishna replies to him in this wise, "That which I revealed to thee were truths regarded as mysteries, truths that are eternal. It is greatly disappointing to learn that thou hast not remembered. Nay, I cannot tell again all that I said on that occasion, but I will speak with thee further upon this same subject."
What an anti-climax, this, to the immortal teachings of the Gita! And yet what a veridical commentary on human frailty. But doubtless Krishna knew that the truths were not actually forgotten. Or if forgotten by the brain mind, they then remained available in the deep reservoirs of consciousness, ready to rise again to the surface in times of crisis. And yet He gives reproof to his disciple. He knows that the lesson learned springs out of the necessity of the moment, and the teaching, therefore, can never be repeated exactly in phrasing and circumstance.
It is a human trait to clutch at answers and solutions, as if for one's very life, when times are critical, and then, when stress is abated, to lapse into reactionary lethargy. Though ebb and flow, action and pralaya, are axiomatic, there yet remains that eternal upgrade — as the spiral ever circles upward. And it is this slight tension, that is attention, which should, in the great economy, be sustained at all times. And, more than meets the eye, it is sustained. In the words of the Anugita, "While one is enjoying the sovereignty that Yoga bestows, one should never fall away from Devotion."
Earnestly we search and delve into the great teachings. Eagerly we listen to uttered wisdom, and as eagerly we impart it to others. What hours of time we spend in study and philosophizing! In a rapture of absorption, we read a volume that seems to open up continents of awareness, page by page. We are so enthusiastic that we want to impart our findings to someone else. Fumbling with feeble words, we are impotent to articulate a fraction of the essence of what we have read. Yet we may well have absorbed the value of the book.
It is said on good authority that only an infinitesimal part of that which is spoken before an audience can be grasped by the brain mind and retained, even by attentive listeners. Like Arjuna, the listener realizes with shame that he cannot repeat even the text or the several main issues. But perhaps an essence is distilled and deposited in some inner receptacle of the mind. Who can say but that he will conduct himself more wisely in the future because he has listened and believed?
More tenuous and fleeting than the knowledge of the eye and ear are the still small leadings of the intuition, the luminous glimpses into soul-knowledge that gleam forth, unexpected, or appear like pearls in the crystal pool of the meditative mind. Perhaps there is no reason to transmit these to others, but they are priceless to remember, and though they may have the potency to change a life, they can be lost to the mind in a moment, leaving only an elusive fragrance in the memory.
And so, though perhaps nothing is ever really lost, in a practical sense, one needs to develop the capacity of attention and retention. This does not mean burdening the mind with endless details, for discrimination and evaluation are essential, but a training up of the mental faculties, through various means, to that exact right tension that makes reception clear, attention accurate, and retention sure. To this end different measures may be taken. Some people take notes, memorize by rote, epitomize and summarize, formulate definitions, paraphrase, concoct analogies, recognize symbols. Some practice concentration, meditation and ultimately contemplation. Some indefatigably put what they have learned into practical expression in some fashion. All systems have their efficacy.
The wise ones sometimes recommend that the spiritual aspirant keep a diary, there to register the essence of his gleanings from all sources of inspiration. Upon reviewing the notations, there is a delightful discovery of new recognitions as well as a resurgence of remembered truth. Keeping such a record causes one to plumb depths of being hitherto unrealized.
The regular practice of meditation does this also, if pursued with no attitude of flaccid negativity, and, if followed daily, it induces a mental attitude of alert attention that carries through the daily round. The attitude of attention to be found in the integrated and devoted aspirant to spiritual understanding may be summarized as a state of quiet, confident expectancy.