A Question About Samskaras. . .

Question: -> How does one control samskaras when they simply seem to overtake one? (Please answer in concrete terms; don't answer by saying one has to control the senses, because this answer only begs the next question...how does one control the senses, etc.)


Samskaras are a fact of life.  That is, it is quite natural (in fact, inevitable) that we have samskaras, just like it is natural for a garden to have weeds. When do the weeds overtake the garden?  They only overtake the garden when we are negligent to remove the weeds.  The weeds will always come.  That is only natural.  Similarly, it is only natural (a part of our higher nature) that we respond by uprooting them (through the practice of Yoga).

Samskaras (subtle impressions) form part and parcel of the cycle of Karma.  The cycle of Karma is this:  Action (karma) --> Impression (samskara) --> Tendency (vasana) --> Thought Pattern (vritti) --> Action (karma).


The actions (karmas) are: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and thinking. 

Examples:  You go to the cinema to SEE a movie.  This particular action will also generally involve the action of HEARING. If you buy some popcorn and soft drinks, it will also involve the actions of touching, tasting, and smelling.  All of these actions take place with the conscious mind.  If the mind is unconscious, the movie will not be seen or heard, and you will not feel, smell, or taste the popcorn or soft drink. Neither will you think of the movie if you have never seen or heard (of) it.


Samkaras are subtle imprints (impressions) that are made in the mind-stuff (chitta) whenever we do actions (consciously).  Impressions are not memories.  Memories are formed from impressions just like a photograph is developed from a negative.  Generally, we only retain memories from recent impressions.  Yet, we have countless impressions (samskaras) from many, many lives.  Most of these impressions no longer have memories associated with them.  In other words, the impressions (samskaras) from many, many lifetimes are affecting us but we do not generally know how or why they affect us because we have no recollection of the actions that caused the impressions.


The effect of a samskara is called a vasana.  Vasanas are tendencies. In other words, vasanas  are the inclinations formed from our impressions (samskaras).  They are mental urges, desires, and feelings.  Unlike samskaras, the vasanas (tendencies) are readily identifiable. 


Our tendencies (vasanas) create thought patterns (vrittis) in the mind. In other words, our thinking becomes motivated by our tendencies.  That is, we THINK to support our FEELINGS (desires, urges, etc.).  These thinking patterns form our attitudes and mental disposition. 


Finally, our thinking patterns (vrittis) leads to action.  In other words, we act (KARMA) because our mind tells us (VRITTI) to act, because that is how we will satisfy our desire (VASANA) which arose from the impression (SAMSKARA) made in the mind from an earlier action. 

According to the sage Patanjali (the author of the Yoga Sutras) this cycle of KARMA is without beginning.  There is no FIRST action that started the wheel of karma rolling.  (Just as there is no FIRST cycle of creation, similarly there is no FIRST time that the soul has been embodied.  We have always performed actions [as embodied souls] and will always continue to do so until we reach the state of MOKSHA which according to the Shruti last for a PRANTAKAL, a period lasting the duration of 36,000 cycles of Creation.)

How Do We Control Our Samskaras?

So, if the samskaras are without beginning then how do we control them? Actually, we cannot control our past samskaras because they have been automatically created as a result of our past actions. So, really, what one is asking is this: "how do we stop our past samskaras from controlling us?" The answer is found in the practice of YOGA which reveals that the way to break the karmic cycle is to interrupt the cylce at the VRITTI level. The sage Patanjali definesYoga as this:  Yoga is the restriction (control) of the modifications of the mind (Yogash chittavritti nirodhah. Chapter 1, Sutra 2, of the Yoga Sutras).  In this opening verse of the Yoga Sutras, CHITTAVRITTI refers to the various thoughts (or thought-forms) of the mind, which are classified into five types:  (1) thoughts about truth, i.e., analysis of wisdom; (2) thoughts based on incorrect perception; (3) thoughts which have no basis in reality, for example, ‘day-dreaming’, verbal delusion (talking to oneself in one’s mind or vocally, but making no sense, i.e., having no basis in fact), and uncontrolled imagination; (4) the dream-sleep state of mind; and (5) memories.

The practice of Yoga, i.e., the practice of controlling one’s thoughts, has been called a ‘Royal Secret’, and a ‘Sovereign Science’.  Why?  It is a royal secret in the sense that only those persons who have a noble (good) character are capable of knowing it.  It is called a sovereign science because it must be experienced directly, that is, one must practice it oneself and verify the results with one’s own experience. 

By practicing the eight-fold (Astanga) YOGA, comprised of YAMA, NIYAMA, ASANA, PRANAYAMA, PRATYAHARA, DHARANA, DHYANA, and SAMADHI, one attains the highest state of consciousness and is freed from ignorance and egocentricity (which are the cause of one’s pain and suffering).  One gains complete mastery of the mind and is absolutely no longer controlled (motivated or moved) by one’s samskaras (past impressions).


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