“What is Memory According to Theosophical Teaching
Enq: Yet, all these are only synonyms.
Theo: Indeed, they are not – not in philosophy, at all events. Memory is simply an innate power in thinking beings, and even in animals, of reproducing past impressions by an association of ideas principally suggested by objective things or by some action on our external sensory organs.
Memory is a faculty depending entirely on the more or less healthy and normal functioning of our physical brain; and remembrance and recollection are the attributes and handmaidens of that memory.
But reminiscence is an entirely different thing. “Reminiscence” is defined by the modern psychologists as something intermediate between remembrance and recollection, or “a conscious process of recalling past occurrences, but without that full and varied reference to particular things which characterizes recollection.”
Locke, speaking of recollection and remembrance, says: “When an idea again recurs without the operation of the like object on the external sensory, it is remembrance; if it be sought after by the mind, and with pain and endeavor found and brought again into view, it is recollection.”
But even Locke leaves ‘reminiscence’ without any clear definition, because it is no faculty or attribute of our physical memory, but an intuitional perception apart from and outside our physical brain;
a perception which, covering as it does (being called into action by the ever present knowledge of our spiritual Ego) all those visions in man which are regarded as abnormal – from the pictures suggested by genius to the ravings of fever and even madness – are classed by science as having no existence outside of our fancy.
Occultism and Theosophy, however, regard ‘reminiscence’ in an entirely different light. For us, while ‘memory’ is physical and evanescent and depends on the physiological conditions of the brain – a fundamental proposition with all teachers of mnemonics, who have the researches of modern scientific psychologists to back them – we call reminiscence the memory of the soul.
And it is this memory which gives the assurance to almost every human being, whether he understands it or not, of his having lived before and having to live again. Indeed, as Wordsworth has it:
“Our births is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting,
And cometh from afar.””
H. P. Blavatsky