Samskara, Vasana and Vritti

According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the unconscious mind works as a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that lie outside of conscious awareness.

Many centuries before Freud and other psychologists posited this theory, our Vedas provided a complex and sophisticated explanation of how the unconscious mind works through the concept of samskara-vasana-vritti.

Samskaras are subtle impressions and form part of the cycle of karma:
• Action (karma) leads to impression (samskara)
• Impression leads to a tendency (vasana)
• Tendency leads to a specific thought pattern (vritti)
• Specific thought patterns lead to action (karma)

Every action, whether physical, mental or spiritual, creates an impression in the mind. When these impressions are repeated, they become stronger and create deep grooves. When they are strong enough, these grooves begin to influence thoughts and shape personality.

It is analogous to a sheet of paper in a book on which words or symbols are inscribed. If the inscription is written with pressure or repeatedly, it leaves an imprint on the following pages of the book. When we turn the page to write on a fresh sheet, we find traces of the previous inscriptions. Samskaras are like roots that bind us to the past – essentially impressions or imprints formed from previous life experiences. The word samskara comes from the Sanskrit ‘sam’ (joined together) and ‘kara’ (action, or doing). Samskaras are embedded in the subconscious mind or chitta.

The effect of a samskara is called a vasana. Vasana in Sanskrit means “a fragrance”, alluding to the lingering odour of past experiences and memories. Vasanas are subconscious inclinations formed from our samskaras, taking the form of likes, dislikes, physical and mental urges, desires, and feelings. Unlike samskaras which we cannot identify or single out, vasanas are identifiable. When vasanas arise, they manifest as desire and cause fluctuations in the mind. These fluctuations are called vritti.

Vritti literally translates to whirlpool or thought wave. In Yoga psychology, chitta is seen as the mental substance, closest in translation to the modern term “subconscious mind”. It takes various forms in response to either internal or external stimuli by the arousal of corresponding thoughts or emotions. These different forms are referred to as vrittis. Vrittis are the fluctuations that occur almost constantly in our minds and arise in a completely random fashion. As a vritti subsides, it leaves a definite impression in the subconscious mind, becoming a samskara.

Swami Sivananda describes it thus: “Vritti arises in the mind-ocean. It operates for some time. 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 deep into the region of the subconscious mind (chitta). There, it continues to be a subliminal action and becomes a Samskara.”

Vrittis pose an obstacle to those on the spiritual path as they interfere with the ability to focus by causing the mind to get distracted. Most spiritual practices are focused on cleansing the mind of vrittis. The second verse in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra states: “Yoga chitta vritti nirodah”. Yoga, or any spiritual practice, helps bring about a temporary stillness and absence of fluctuations in the mind. When the mental chatter ceases, we momentarily get an opportunity to cultivate a natural union within ourselves and with the Universal Presence.

Our vasanas are responsible for creating vrittis. One of the strongest arguments used to support the concept of lack of free will by famous thinkers such as Sam Harris is that we have no control over what thoughts will arise in our minds. If we cannot control this fundamental building block, how can we assume that we have “free will”? The thoughts that arise in our mental field are based on our tendencies. The thought process exists only to support the desires that arise out of our vasanas and our thought process and the patterns it follows, form our attitudes and eventually shape our personality.

Our behaviour is directed by the vrittis that arise to fulfil the vasanas, which result from samskaras we have earned from our previous karma. This is an eternal cycle with karma leading to samskara, which in turn determines our vasana and is fulfilled by vritti, thereby creating more karma. In modern-day terminology, the sequence of events we see in this unending cycle can be correlated to the formation of neural pathways, which are strengthened with repeated exposure to the same stimuli. Just as “neurons that fire together wire together”, samskaras and vrittis form deep-seated neural pathways.

We cannot wholly escape the creation of these unconscious imprints. However, we can use techniques such as pranayama, mantra japa, and mindfulness to break this cycle of Samskara-vritti. It is essential to interrupt this cycle to overcome any obstacle that we are faced with in life. The solution to dealing effectively with stress, addictions, depression, repetitive wrong decision-making and thoughts of self-harm can all be overcome through conscious awareness and self-reflection.

Tosca Park writes: “In order to awaken to our true nature, we must first become aware of the negative behavioural patterns that have shaped our world view. Once we recognise their influence, we can begin cultivating new samskaras that support greater freedom and happiness.” She adds that the most potent yogic practices for dissolving habit patterns are dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). She writes: “While dharana can help us notice our thoughts and feelings, dhyana helps us transcend them. Through meditation, we learn to stop reacting to external stimuli and start responding to them rather than being controlled by them. Both processes require effort and persistence but allow us to separate ourselves from our emotional reactions and gain insight into its true cause.”

Swami Sivananda says: “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, a fourfold mind and the Karana Sharira, which is the support or adhara for the Linga Sharira or astral body. It is the death of the samskaras; it is the death of the Karana Sharira that leads to 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.

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, and 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.”

 105 total views,  1 views today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *