On Samskaras

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

What is a samskara?

During this lifetime, in previous lives and generations of fathers and grandfathers, everybody accumulated experiences which are indestructible and imperishable. They do not die easily, but are embedded in the karana sharira, the unconscious or causal body, and known as samskaras, archetypes or impressions. There are billions and trillions in everybody and in a normal mind these samskaras remain suppressed. They do not come to the surface because of our lifestyle, religious and social training and the disciplines needed to run a society without wild people.

These experiences accumulate through the senses and the mind. Just as a tape recorder is registering sounds symbolically through electromagnetic waves, in the same way, whatever experience you are going through is being filmed by an automatic process. There is a field of consciousness known as sakshi or drashta atma, the seer self. There is a personality in you which is not the actor or karta and which is not the enjoyer or bhokta. It is just the seer sitting somewhere on the balcony and seeing all the different things that you are doing.

Shvetashvatara Upanishad

In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad there is a story about two birds sitting on two different branches of a tree. The bird on the lower branch tastes the fruits and finding them bitter, spits them out. It tries almost all the fruits of the tree until it realizes that the tree bears only bitter fruits. It goes to another tree and tries the fruits. There the bird also tastes and spits.

Wherever the bird goes the other one follows. It does not eat, just follows. They are friends of the same quality. After the adventure through many bitter trees and spitting out fruit, the bird asks, "Why don't you eat?" The other bird replies, "It is enough if you eat. You have been eating and spitting, and I have been watching you, so why should I make the same mistake?" That is called sakshi atma, the seer.

Sakshi atma

The sakshi atma is responsible for registering every internal, external and supra-internal movement, something which you know, something which you can know and something which you cannot know. There may be many thoughts happening in your mind and even if you try to know them, you will never be able to. Sometimes in psychoanalysis, the practice of yoga nidra or dreams the experiences come out. Sometimes at the time of a psycho-spiritual crisis, like an awakening of kundalini, these impressions which have gone into your inner being wake up. You come to know them and are surprised as to what has been happening.

You exist simultaneously in different realms. You are not only thinking but the mind is working simultaneously on different levels and each level is independent from the others. You are thinking about sadhana, yoga and spirituality, but in the back of the mind you may be thinking something else as well.

Symbol of seed

These experiences which the sakshi atma registers are transformed by the law of nature. When you see a beautiful flower or hear a nice song, it is registered, but not in that form. There is a symbolic form for every experience of life. A piece of music is not only recorded as music. A beautiful flower or a repulsive object is not recorded exactly as a flower or that object.

Take a mango seed, for example, and cut it. You will never see a mango tree there. If you are not told that it is a mango seed, you will never know it, because an electron-microscope or any other type of microscopic analysis cannot reveal that it is a mango tree. The seed represents the mango tree symbolically. The seed of a fruit or flower is the symbol of its existence. In the same way, all your experiences are transformed or changed into a symbol or samskara. They live in different realms of awareness in a dormant potential state.

The total experience of life that you have from the time of birth to the time of death also has a symbolic form. It is known as Sri Yantra in tantra or as srishti chakra, the chakra of creation. Sri Yantra represents symbolically the totality of the experiences during a person's lifetime.

The ultimate conclusion of man's experience is samskara, and the conclusion of experience is symbolic.

—Ganga Darshan, 15 October 1982

Why is relaxation important?

In the practice of yoga nidra, there is a special emphasis on the maintenance of a unified awareness during the state of relaxation. The consciousness which is extrovert all the time should be united and totally aware during the process of relaxation. Therefore, yoga nidra literally means relaxation by following a process of unification of the mind. The subconscious content of the mind is brought to the surface and the practitioner is made to follow the whole series of experiences, karmas or impressions which have been buried in the subconscious mind right from childhood up to the present.

Most of the diseases of the body and mind and problems in our behaviour have an intimate connection with our past and early childhood. Our difficulty in adjusting to circumstances and the environment is not necessarily due to the present situation, but may be deeply rooted in some of the impressions or experiences of our childhood. Therefore, it is necessary for us to follow the whole series of experiences right from our childhood onward.

These impressions and experiences are so strongly embedded in the subconscious mind that unless total relaxation of the mind takes place they do not come up. We can never see, feel or know them. It is only when the mind, the senses and the present experiences have withdrawn that the subconscious mind comes to the surface level. Therefore, in yoga nidra the whole emphasis is on relaxation together with total awareness.

When you are able to induce pratyahara, you go inward and delve into your subconscious mind. Your archetypes explode and you have psychic experiences in the form of visions, sounds and feelings. These are all in symbolic form and you may not be able to comprehend the meaning of these experiences. However, when you are having these visions, you will either feel blissful, calm, disturbed or anxious, depending on what archetype you are bringing out from the storehouse of the subconscious.

Gradually, over a period of regular practice, you will find that you are feeling lighter, less tense, more aware, and more in tune with your inner self. Then, as you develop this practice, you can also know your superconscious state of mind.

—India, 12 March 1971

What is a yantra?

In former times, the tantric tradition was the basis of every kind of knowledge. This knowledge remains encoded in the symbols of tantra. Scientists have been able to discover that the human mind possesses its own archetypes in endless forms and symbols, and that the understanding of language and perception depends on what is already contained in the universal mind.

No experience is ever lost or left unregistered by the human consciousness. There is a constant process of registration, transformation and storage. Right from the time of birth to the point of death, nothing we experience through our senses is destroyed. These billions of samskaras find their expression in this life of pain and pleasure, fulfillment and failure, sickness and health. As long as samskaras remain in the mind, they influence destiny and day-to-day life.

However, we do not think of the form of an experience. If we look at a rose, we think that the rose is imprinted in the mind. A rose is never imprinted in the mind as a rose but in geometrical formations.

Yantra is an important aspect of tantra because it is a means of awakening the unconscious. The word yantra is derived from two Sanskrit roots, yan, to hold and tra, to liberate. Yantra is a tool for holding and concentrating the awareness so that meditation is induced. Yantra is the science of geometric symbols which release samskaras deeply imbedded in consciousness, either in the form of visions, psychic or divine experiences, dissipations or turbulence of the mind. By unburdening the mind and the soul, the practices of mantra and yantra liberate the potential energy in man.

—India, March 1978

Why are vedic mantras benevolent?

Mantras should not be considered as names of gods and goddesses, but as syllables through which you tackle the source of energy. Vedic mantras are sattwic and have a soothing and purifying effect on the mind. They bring about tranquility and positive thoughts. They explode samskaras slowly and work like mild laxatives for your samskaras. The experiences you have during meditation or the thoughts that come into your mind are mild, and you can handle them. Vedic mantras are more benevolent than powerful. This is a blessing in disguise because powerful or tantric mantras can cause fast elimination of samskaras. Therefore, at the time of practicing those mantras you may have many disturbing thoughts, which you might not be able to handle.

When you practice mantra for a long time, you flush out everything, and the mind becomes slowly empty of influences and its samskaras. Concentration and meditation take place automatically.

The quality of superconsciousness, one-pointedness or total absorption need not be developed because it is already there in you. However, you have to remove the obstacles which are also there in you. These obstacles are the samskaras.

—Trichy, India, 3 February 1982

How does karma yoga release samskaras?

In my guru's ashram, selfless service was worse than the work of a donkey. It was very painful, because it brought out many samskaras. All the good opinions I had about myself were completely thwarted. I thought I was a good man, but I realized I was a very angry man. I thought I was a pure man, but I realized I was a hopeless man. I thought I was a strong man, but I saw I was weak. I thought I was not greedy, because I was brought up in a family who had plenty to eat and nothing to worry about. However, when I saw someone drinking tea and I did not get any, I became so greedy. These samskaras came out within the range of my awareness.

Our subconscious or unconscious registers influences as impressions, but we do not notice them. When something good happens, there is a positive influence in the mind. When something bad happens, there is a negative influence. When you are thinking or acting positively, you influence your mind positively. That is psychology. These events are registered in our dreams, thoughts and visions. It is projected as happiness, unhappiness or illness. You are visualizing all the time, but without taking any notice, without awareness of these influences or impressions going in.

Karma yoga means action without expectation and with perfection. Any kind of action, whether mental, physical or spiritual should be without selfishness. The mind is always full of expectations which have the three qualities of nature, tamas, rajas and sattwa. The higher kind of expectation is karma yoga.

Perfection requires the purity of love, devotion free of doubt, complete surrender and respect for whatever you do and want. Through the power of love you can do the impossible, through the power of pure devotion you can cross the ocean and through the power of surrender you can climb the highest mountain.

You all have these qualities, but you do not know how to utilize them properly. You learn this while serving others without expectation, because when you have devotion for your actions, you become aware of them. When you have surrender and devotion towards others, you become aware of their thoughts and feelings. You know them and their psychology and are able to help them. When you act with devotion and surrender then there is no duality, hatred, jealousy and anger.

Helping others is helping yourself indirectly to progress spiritually. You become aware of the samskaras in your subconscious mind. If you know the psychology and the inner side of other people, you also know yours. You know what is least and what is most in you, and you can correct what is wrong.

I am not saying that you can change or remove your samskaras, but you will know how to create them properly and convert them by giving a direction. If you are feeling angry, you convert the anger into devotion, which will remodel it.

If you have devotion for others, you will feel better, and others will be happy. This medicine will cure psychological and even physical sickness, which are mainly related to the mind. When the mind feels happy, the physical sicknesses will go away automatically. While awakening your little psychosis and getting rid of limitations you become unlimited. You merge into this superconsciousness and will have a universal perception, which in religious language is called God.

Therefore, to realize God, you need to surrender and devote yourself completely. Through surrender, devotion and service to others you see God. What is God? God is everywhere and everything is part of God. God is universal consciousness.

—Ganga Darshan, October 1980