From the moment we are born we are subjected to various influences, some of which have a deep and lasting effect on our lives. Everyone we meet, everything we see, hear and experience, whether we are aware of it or not, makes a vivid impression on the subconscious mind. Everything we witness goes into the subconscious mind and gets stored up there. These impressions or samskaras gathered over a lifetime are the latent expression of our personality. They determine the way we think and act. Our daily life, our happiness and suffering is governed by these influences.
Here are some of the influences that have a strong effect on us:
At school and university we are influenced by the intellectual climate. We imbibe the opinions of our generation. We are influenced by the social manners of our time, age group and class. We are affected by the place we live in, and even by what we wear. There is a story of a rogue who was in love with a princess, and he wanted to attract her attention. He put on geru cloth and sat in a public place, pretending to be a sannyasin so that she would notice him. But by the time the princess came to hear of him and ventured out to see him, he had lost interest in her and was rapt in meditation and spiritual life!
Some people are influenced by their own thinking, and live in a fantasy world of their own making, with themselves as the major star. Walter Mitty used to imagine himself as the hero in breathtaking situations, flying airplanes with only one wing, rescuing ladies from bloodthirsty demons, etc., but in real life he could hardly carry a cup and saucer without dropping it.
Other people are influenced not by their own dreams, nor by people they admire, but by people they hate. There was once a pious brahmin who was respected by everyone in his town. Next door there lived a prostitute. The brahmin hated her. She made him feel uncomfortable and he tried to have her removed from the neighbourhood. But one day a great fire destroyed the town and the brahmin and the prostitute both died in it. After death they appeared at the same time before the Judgement Council. Much to his dismay, the verdict was that the brahmin would go to hell, because his mind had been spoiled by dwelling all the time on the prostitute. The prostitute, however, went soaring up to heaven because her mind had been fixed on the pure and pious brahmin, as she had imagined him to be.
No one can live in the world without being influenced - just as you cannot swim in the sea without getting wet. Some people are more easily influenced than others. Often it is the gentle, passive people, who sympathize with everyone, who like to find what they have in common with others and harmonize with them that are the easiest to influence. But even the strongest minds are swayed on occasion. Othello was very devoted to his wife Desdemona, but he had a false friend Lago. Lago put the idea into his head that his wife was unfaithful. The idea grew and grew. Othello found ail sorts of things that seemed to confirm his suspicion, and he took them as undeniable proofs. Gradually the doubt consumed his every thought during the day and robbed him of sleep at night. In the end he killed the wife he loved so dearly, although she was incapable of feeling anything but love and devotion for him.
The problem is that the mind is always more quickly and easily influenced by negative suggestions. Mind will always latch on to a negative possibility in preference to a positive one. Queen Kartikeya adored her stepson Ram. But one day her maid planted negative ideas about Ram in her mind, and she began to feel that her own son Bharat should have the throne in his place. Her mind was turned so quickly that in one night she was transformed from a loving queen into a jealous, scheming stepmother. Such is the power of a negative influence.
Influences are often difficult to detect because we absorb them unconsciously. We do not see what is happening unless we are aware of the process. Usually the most powerful influences remain hidden. That is why in yoga we try to develop awareness through spiritual reading, regular yoga practice, attending satsang, and ashram life. These are the best means of counteracting negative influences and implanting positive ones. Then, as our consciousness slowly expands on the yogic path we become aware of all the forces acting in and on us and are able to control and direct our actions and reactions in a more positive and useful way.