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April 25, 2012 / A

Don’t think of elephants

If I tell you not to think about elephants, what will you think about?

Via Flickr.

With some skill, you might be able to let your mind go blank. But probably not for long. Eventually an elephant will come ambling into the field of your mind’s eye.

Now imagine an elephant that lives only in your mind. It is made of the many rules of the Ashtadhyayi, and it loves to approach you affectionately when you have a spare moment.

But for a person trying to memorize the text, this is an awful thing to experience!

This might not be obvious. So here’s an experiment. Try to remember the number 2653589793. As long as you keep this number in your active memory, it is immediate and accessible. But go for a walk. Have lunch. Visit friends for a few days.  Don’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten the number entirely.

Certainly there are several ways of remembering something. We learn our own names early on and use them almost every day. But consider something as long as the Ashtadhyayi. It’s not feasible to recall it every day. That’s why I’m using a spaced repetition system to schedule my review process. I learn something, recall it after a short interval, and keep extending the interval until the item is fixed in my mind.

But if that elephant keeps ambling by, the interval is cut drastically short. And in the process, it might take much longer to work that elephant into long-term memory.

All around me right now are commentaries and translations of the Ashtadhyayi. I spend what little spare time I have on learning up the text. So inevitably in a spare moment I might habitually go over some rules:

2.1.61 सन्महत्परमोत्तमोत्कृष्टाः पूज्यमानैः
सत् “good,” महत् “great,” परम “highest,” उत्तम “best,” and उत्कृष्ट “eminent” (are preferably compounded with syntactically agreeing सुबन्त words signifying items) that are being honored (and the compound expressing the same meaning as the corresponding wordgroup is called तत्पुरुष).
2.1.62 वृन्दारकनागकुञ्जरैः पूज्यमानम्
(Words signifying objects) that are being honored (are preferably compounded with the syntactically agreeing सुबन्त words) वृन्दारक “eminent,” नाग “elephant,” or कुञ्जर “elephant” (and the compound expressing the same meaning as the corresponding wordgroup is called तत्पुरुष).

and lose what I could have had by waiting a little longer.

As mentioned in my previous post, I will probably not review any material for the next week or so. So I will try hard to keep these elephants at bay, in the hopes of firmly memorizing the rules of the Ashtadhyayi.


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