Samskaras, Seeds and Impressions

From Conversations on the Science of Yoga – Karma Yoga Book 1: Karma

What is the force of samskara?

Swami Satyananda: A person is not just this body; a person is not just habits – a person is something beyond this. The personality is the totality of experience an individual has had, right from the time of conception to the point of the grave, and maybe before and after as well. Samskaras are the residues of experiences. In the soil there is potentiality. During summer the soil is generally dry and grass seldom grows, but the moment it begins to rain, grass springs up everywhere.

How could this happen? There must have been grass seeds in the soil. Samskaras were there, and from the samskaras the grass grew.

Samskaras are the dormant potential of man’s existence. Some of them can be experienced in this life and they influence one’s thoughts, actions, philosophy and also reactions. Success and failure, accomplishments and expressions in life are all controlled by the samskaras of life. All actions are influenced by samskaras. Pain and happiness, good and bad actions are due to samskaras, and it is due to samskaras that a person is under the state of hypnosis called maya.

The present state of life is a result of a series of samskaras from the previous incarnation. These samskaras influence the mind. The present incarnation, the present karma, the personality, motives, desires, failures and accomplishments are consequences of the totality of the seed formations which one carries within, even today. They cause incarnations and the whole cycle of birth and death is a result. In every incarnation, new seed formations are added and the old seed formations are experienced and exhausted.

The cause of bondage in the form of samskaras must be eliminated, if liberation or emancipation is desired. As Sri Ramana Maharshi said, “Samskara, or predisposition, is the cause of samsara, the cycle of births and deaths.”

Samskara is responsible for incarnation and for destiny. It is the basis of evolution. This process of generating samskara has to be stopped, so that the process of involution can start, one can stop going forth and start coming back, stop going outside and start coming inside.

What are the different theories for exhausting samskaras?

Swami Satyananda: The problem of exhausting old samskaras has been discussed in all religions and philosophies by scholars, and various ways have been suggested. Some felt that the old samskaras can be exhausted more quickly by not creating any new karma, but people could not follow this method. Others felt that through selfless actions one could get rid of the karmas and exhaust the old samskaras. Ultimately, it was found that karma cannot be exhausted even by selfless and compassionate acts, because once the arrow has been released from the bow, it must reach its destination. One cannot destroy the karmas which are released from one’s ancient stock; one must suffer or enjoy them. Then the theory arose whereby one could transcend the karmas by realization of the self through methods, such as raja yoga or jnana yoga, and in this way the karmas would be destroyed. Logically and practically this was also found to be incorrect, because not everybody could become self-realized. If only one person out of millions of people destroys his karmas and attains realization, it is not such a great method. For this reason the theory of self-realization was also refused and stands refuted even today.

Then came the theory of exhausting the karmas through a rigorous life of austerity, self-abnegation and self-mortification.

From this idea many cults arose in both the East and the West. They thought that by suffering voluntarily, one might not have to suffer in the future. This seemed a logical deduction, but it was not true, because even those who had undergone tapasya, still suffered after that.

Ultimately, the best method for the exhaustion of karma is the practice of yoga in accordance with the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita. Yoga practised with the background of the complete understanding of the mind, senses and sense objects is the most effective method. Therefore, it is necessary to take up the yogic method in order to exhaust and destroy the old samskaras. In yoga there are also different methods for exhausting the impressions of the subconscious mind. The most effective means of harmonizing karma is through karma yoga.

—18 March 2012, Paduka Darshan, Munger