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Samskaras

by Swami Sivananda

What Is Samskara?

Vritti (whirlpool, thought-wave) arises in the mind-ocean. It operates for sometime. Then it sinks below the threshold of normal consciousness. From the surface of the conscious mind wherein it was uppermost for some time, it sinks down deep into the region of the subconscious mind (Chitta). There, it continues to be a subliminal action and becomes a Samskara (impression). A conscious action-whether cognitive, affective or conative-assumes a potential and hidden (Sukshma and Avyakta) form just below the threshold of consciousness. This is termed a Samskara.

Memory-a Revival Of Samskara

The Samskaras (impressions) are embedded in the subconscious mind or Chitta. The subconscious mind is otherwise known as the unconscious mind. Subjective mind, subconscious mind, unconscious mind and Chitta are synonymous terms. The seat of this subconscious mind is the cerebellum or hindbrain. You can recall the past experiences from the storehouse of Samskaras in the subconscious mind. The past is preserved even to the minutest detail. Even a bit is never lost. When the fine Samskaras come up to the surface of the conscious mind back again as a big wave, when the past Vritti comes back to the surface of the conscious mind again by recollection, it is called memory or Smriti. No memory is possible without the help of Samskara.

How The Samskara Is Formed

An experience in the sense-plane sinks down into the depths of the subconscious mind (Chitta) and becomes there a 'Samskara' (impression). A Samskara of an experience is formed or developed in the Chitta at the very moment that the mind is experiencing something. There is no gap between the present experience and the formation of a Samskara in the subconscious mind. A specific experience leaves a specific Samskara. The memory of this specific experience springs from that particular Samskara only, which was formed out of that particular experience.

When you perceive an orange and taste for the first time, you get knowledge of an orange. You know its taste. You know the object, orange. A Samskara is formed in the subconscious mind at once. At any time, this Samskara can generate a memory of the object, orange and knowledge of an orange. Though the object and the act of knowledge are distinguishable, yet they are inseparable.

Cyclic Causation Of Thought And Samskara

An object awakens or revives Samskaras in the mind through external stimuli. Hence, a Sankalpa or thought arises subjectively from within, without a stimulus from outside. When you think of a cow which you have seen before, you repeat the word 'cow' mentally. Then only, the mental image comes. Then, a thought is formed. Samskara causes Sankalpa, and Sankalpa causes Samskara, just as seed is the cause of the tree, and tree is the cause of the seed, in turn. There is cyclic causation on the analogy of seed and tree (Bija-Vriksha-Nyaya). A Vritti in the mind produces a Samskara, and a Samskara, in turn, causes again a Vritti. Owing to the force of stimuli (Udbodhaka, Vyanjaka) either from within or from without, the seed-like Samskaras again expand and give rise to further activities. This cycle of Vritti and Samskara is Anadi (beginningless), but has an end when one attains Divine Knowledge and liberation. They get Laya (dissolution) into Prakriti. They cease to produce any effect on the Jivanmukta. The Samskaras should be fried up by continuous Samadhi. Then only you will be free from births and deaths.

Samyama Over Samskaras

Samskara is known as "residual potency" also. When all Vrittis or thoughts die away, the frame of the mind remains with the Samskaras. This is termed the Potential Mind. In Vedantic parlance, it is called Antahkarana Matra.

All Samskaras co-exist in the mind. The Vrittis slowly subside and leave traces in the mind. These traces are the Samskaras. From these Samskaras springs memory. If you have Yogic vision, you can vividly notice the marvels that take place in the mental factory of an individual, how the Vritti arises in the mind-lake, how it subsides and how a Samskara is formed. You will be struck with wonder. Samyama over these Samskaras brings out the direct knowledge of the residual potencies. A Yogin brings into direct consciousness the previous life-states by getting direct knowledge of their Samskaras. Such knowledge can hardly be acquired in Universities. A Yogin alone can impart this knowledge to deserving aspirants.

Virtuous And Vicious Samskaras

Like forces, Samskaras aid or inhibit one another. When you see a man in serious sickness and when the feeling of mercy arises in your heart, all the Samskaras of your previous merciful actions coalesce together and force you to serve and help that sick man. Similarly, all the Samskaras of charitable actions come forth to the surface of the conscious mind when you see a man in a serious distress and in straitened circumstances and they force you to help this man. You begin to share with him your physical possessions.

When one Samskara or virtuous action comes into play, another Samskara of dissimilar nature may emerge out and come in the way of its fulfilment. This is fight between a virtuous and a vicious Samskara.

When you try to fix your mind on God and think of purity, just at that moment, all evil thoughts and Samskaras burst forth with violence and vengeance to fight against you. This is termed 'crowding of Samskaras'. Good Samskaras also crowd together and help you to drive out evil Samskaras. The father of Sri Swami Advaitanandaji was a great Bhakta of Chandi. At the time of his death, he was semi-conscious. He began to repeat all the Slokas of Chandi-Stotra which he had got by heart while he was young. This is 'crowding of spiritual Samskaras'.

Past Samskaras Constitute Prarabdha

When you are born, the mind is not a mere Tabula Rasa (a smooth or blank tablet or a blank sheet of white paper). It is a storehouse of Samskaras, predispositions, predilections, etc. A child is born with his Samskaras. A child is born with his past experiences transmuted into mental and moral tendencies and powers. By experiences, pleasant and painful, man gathers materials and builds them into mental and moral faculties. The earthly experiences are worked up into intellectual faculty. The mind evolves through the impressions received from the universe through the senses. It will take many bodies till it gathers the complete experience of the world. Every man is born with his inborn or inherent Samskaras and these Samskaras are embedded, lodged or imprinted in the Chitta which is the seat for Prarabdha. In earthly life, he gains many more Samskaras or experiences through actions and these are added to the original store and become the future Sanchita Karmas (accumulated actions).

All Samskaras lie dormant in the Chitta as latent activities, not only of this life but of all previous innumerable lives from Anadi Kala (beginningless time). The Samskaras of animal life (those of dog's births, etc.), the Samskaras of a Deva life, the Samskaras of kingly life, the Samskaras of the life of a peasant, are all hidden there in the Chitta. In human life, only those Samskaras which are appropriate to that particular type of birth will operate and come to play. The other kinds of Samskaras will remain concealed and dormant.

"As a merchant closing the year's ledger and opening a new one, does not enter in the new all the items of the old but only its balances, so does the spirit hand over to the new brain his judgments on the experiences of a life that is closed, the conclusions to which he has come, the decisions to which he has arrived. This is the stock handed on to the new life, the mental furniture for the new dwelling-a real memory."

Karma

The gross body and the mind have, on account of your past Karmas, a tendency to act in a certain way and you act just in accordance with that tendency like a machine. You wrongly impute to yourself the authorship (agency) of these actions and thus make the matters worse. Most of your actions are done more or less automatically.

If you find it difficult to do your actions in a Nishkama spirit, have one desire for liberation in doing all things.

In Svarga or heaven, all earthly experiences of the mind are sorted and analysed. The essence is taken. The Jiva is born again in the physical universe with a new frame and bent of mind according to the nature of the essence extracted in the mental plane.

When you are writing a drama, if sleep comes in, you stop writing and retire to bed. As soon as you get up, you continue to write from where you have left the previous night. Even so, when you take up a new incarnation, you begin to continue the work which you had left unfinished in your previous life in accordance with the current of Vasanas of your past life.

Your next life will depend very largely upon the Karma you perform in this birth. There are probably many things which the man of the world does constantly and may do without much harm resulting in any way; if these things were done by those sincere aspirants who are treading the path of Realisation, they would be decidedly harmful.

Habitual study of abstract problems will result-in another earthly life-in a well-developed power for abstract thinking, while flippant, hasty thinking, flying from one object to another, will bequeath a restless ill-regulated mind to the following birth into this world.

The Enslaving Chains Of Samskaras

Mind exercises its suzerainty through Samskaras. From Samskaras emanate Vasanas like swarms of locusts. From Vasana flows the stream of desire and from enjoyment of objects of desires arises Trishna or internal craving (intense longing). Trishna is very powerful. The Samskaras are imbedded in the mind, in the Karana Sarira. There arises a memory of pleasure in the mind. Then the mind thinks of objects. Maya has her powerful seat in the imagination. There comes attachment. The mind plans and schemes. You are swayed by the passions. You exert yourself physically to possess those objects and enjoy them. In your efforts, you favour some and disfavour others through Raga and Dvesha. You will have to enjoy the fruits of your virtuous and vicious actions. Through this six-spoked wheel of Raga and Dvesha, virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, this Samsaric wheel of birth and death moves on without stopping from Anadi Kala (beginningless time).

Thoughts And Desires Depend Upon Samskaras

The nature of desires and thoughts depends upon the nature of your Samskaras. If you have good Samskaras, you will have good desires and good thoughts and vice versa. Even if you have indulged in vicious actions up to the age of forty, begin practising virtuous actions such as charity, Japa, Dama, Svadhyaya, meditation, service of the poor and the sick, service of saints, etc., from this moment and these Samskaras will prompt you to do more virtuous deeds. They will stimulate good desires and noble thoughts. The Lord says in the Bhagavad-Gita:-

Api chet suduracharo bhajate mam-ananyabhak
Sadhureva sa mantavyah samyag-vyavasito hi sah (IX-30)

"Even if the most sinful worships Me with undivided heart, he too must be deemed righteous, for he has rightly resolved."

Evil Samskaras-the Real Enemy

Who is your real enemy? It is your own evil Samskaras. Substitute Subha Vasanas in place of Asubha ones. Then you can approach God. The mind will be changed. Old Samskaras will be obliterated. Wrong suggestions of various kinds and crude fantastic superstitions are rooted deeply in your mind. They are harmful. You will have to knock them down by Vichara, sublime suggestions, right thinking. "I am body," "I am Mr. John," "I am a Brahmin," "I am rich"-these are wrong suggestions and wrong Samskaras. Suggest to yourself boldly that you are Brahman. The previous wrong suggestion and Samskara "I am body" will slowly melt away by strenuous efforts.

If you forget your real Brahmic nature even for a minute, the old Samskaras of Ajnana will try to come up and overwhelm you. See how Narada's determination began to fluctuate even though he was absorbed in meditation, when he saw some Deva-girls. He at once experienced the sexual desire in himself. The seed came out, he put it in a pot and Chudala in the form of Kumbha Muni emerged from out of the pot. (Yogavasishtha, story of Sikhidhvaja). Therefore, you will have to be very, very careful. Keep yourself away from all kinds of temptations-money, woman, name, fame, etc.

How To Acquire Good Samskaras

Try to acquire some good spiritual Samskaras in this birth at least, if you are not able to devote all your time in spiritual pursuit. Do some kind of meditation for a short time at least daily, say for half an hour in the morning and evening. Have a meditation room. Make some kind of Japa of any Mantra. Study the Gita regularly. Have Satsanga. Visit Rishikesh, Nasik, Varanasi, Haridwar, Prayag once a year for a week's stay. Have the Darshana of Mahatmas. By doing so, you will acquire some spiritual Samskaras which will be a valuable spiritual asset for a new, good life. You will have a very good birth. You will be placed in suitable environments in the next birth for unfolding the Divinity that is lurking in your heart, for practice of Yoga. All opportunities and facilities will be given to you by God, through His grace (Isvara-Kripa) for your spiritual Sadhana. Even by a little systematic spiritual practice (Yogabhyasa and Vedantic Sadhana), you can change your mentality, your old vicious Samskaras. You can cut short several future births. By practice for three years, you can free yourself from the clutches of births and deaths. You are bound to become a Sannyasin. Why not now in this very birth? Why don't you cut short the cycle of unnecessary births and consequent miseries? How long do you want to be a slave of the world, a slave of passions and Indriyas? Wake up now. Do Sadhana and get immortality. Udharet-Atmana-Atmanam-Rouse the self by the Self.

New, healthy Samskaras can be implanted by new, healthy suggestions. Suppose your brain is a plank in which are driven nails which represent the ideas, habits and instincts which determine your actions. If you find that there exists in you a bad idea, a bad habit, a bad instinct,-a bad nail, as it were, in the plank of your mind-you should take another, viz., a good idea, habit or instinct, place it on the top of the bad one and give a hard tap with a hammer. In other words, you should make a healthy, useful suggestion. The new nail will be driven in perhaps a fraction of an inch while the old one will come out to the same extent. At each fresh blow with the hammer, that is to say, at each fresh suggestion, the one will be driven in a little further and the other will be driven out just that much until, after a certain number of blows, the old habits will be completely replaced by the new habits, new ideas. It demands, doubtless, strenuous efforts. It needs constant repetition of the new, healthy suggestions. Habit is second nature. But, pure, irresistible, determined will is bound to succeed eventually.

When you repeat "OM" or the Mahavakya of the Upanishads "Aham Brahma Asmi" once, one Samskara of the idea that "I am Brahman or the Absolute" is formed in the subconscious mind. The object in doing Japa or silent repetition of "OM" 21,600 times daily is to strengthen this Samskara.

Death Of Samskaras Leads To Moksha

The physical body may die. But, the thoughts and Samskaras of actions, enjoyments and thinking follow you after death till you attain Moksha. These are variable Upadhis that accompany you after death. They are variable because you carry different kinds of Samskaras each time when you die. In different incarnations, you create different kinds of Samskaras. The permanent Upadhis that accompany you after death are the five Jnana-Indriyas, five Karma-Indriyas, five Pranas, fourfold mind and the Karana Sarira which is the support or Adhara for the Linga Sarira or astral body. It is the death of the Samskaras, it is the death of the Karana Sarira that leads to the final Moksha. It leads to the attainment of Brahma-Jnana. You will be getting fresh births so long as there are Samskaras. You will have to take birth again and again till all the Samskaras are obliterated or fried up by the acquisition of Brahma Jnana. When the Samskaras are wiped out, Brahmic Knowledge shines by itself in its own glory.

Sadhana Consists In Destroying The Samskaras

The aim of a Sadhaka is to fry out or burn or obliterate all these Samskaras through Nirbija Samadhi. Sadhana consists in wiping out the Samskaras. Breathing, hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling-all cause Samskaras or latent Smriti in the mind. The world enters the mind through the eyes, ears, tongue (speech) and old Samskaras. If you remain in seclusion, you can shut out the first three doors. Through Vichara (right enquiry of Supreme Self), you can destroy the fourth route. Then, Jnana (Knowledge of Self) will dawn. A Jnani is without Samskaras. They are fried out by Jnana. No doubt, the force of the Samskaras remains in the Antahkarana. But they are harmless. They will not bind the Jnani.


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