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

How do samskaras determine character?

Swami Sivananda: Actions produce samskaras, impressions or potencies, and these coalesce through repetition to form habits. The sum total of these tendencies in a person is his character. The karmas manufacture character, and character manufactures will. If the character is pure and strong, the will also will be pure and strong. If virtuous actions are done, the chitta will contain good impressions, resulting in a good character. But if bad deeds are done, there will be negative impressions in the subconscious mind, resulting in a bad character. Good samskaras force a person to do good actions. If there is a great store of good samskaras, this asset will prevent any bad action from being done at all. Mara or Satan can have no influence upon such a person. Their good character is established.

How does the interaction of samskaras affect one's behaviour?

Swami Sivananda: Samskaras aid or inhibit one another, like forces. When a person who is seriously ill is seen, the feeling of mercy arises in one's heart. The samskaras of previous merciful actions coalesce, forcing one to serve and help that sick person. Similarly, the samskaras of charitable actions come to the surface of the conscious mind when someone in serious distress and dire circumstances is seen. These combined samskaras force one to help, and one begins to share one's physical possessions with that poor person.

When a samskara or virtuous action comes into play, another samskara of dissimilar nature may also emerge and come in the way of its fulfilment, creating a fight between a virtuous and a vicious samskara. For example, at the very moment when the mind tries to fix itself on God and think of purity, all the evil thoughts and samskaras burst forth with violence and vengeance to fight against the good intention. This is termed the 'crowding of samskaras'.

Good samskaras can also crowd together and help drive out bad samskaras. The father of Sri Swami Advaitanandaji was a great bhakta of Chandi. At the time of his death, he was semi-conscious but began to repeat all the slokas of the Chandi Stotra, which he had learnt by heart while he was young. This is an example of the crowding of spiritual samskaras.

How can one remove samskaras?

Swami Sivananda: The ignorant person is an instrument in the hands of his samskaras and karmas, but by doing spiritual sadhana and by removing desires and egoism, he slowly gains strength by understanding his real essential nature.

What is the life cycle of samskaras?

Swami Sivananda: The samskaras or impressions of previous births are embedded in the subconscious mind. Whatever a person does or thinks is lodged, printed or indelibly impressed in the layers of the subconscious mind. A person takes fresh births so long as there are samskaras. He will have to take birth again and again until all the samskaras are obliterated or fried up by the acquisition of brahmajnana. The impressions can be burnt or obliterated only by the dawn of the knowledge of atman, the supreme self. The death of the samskaras of the karana sharira, the causal body, leads to final moksha, the attainment of brahmajnana. When the samskaras are wiped out, brahmic knowledge shines by itself in its own glory.

Although this cycle of vritti and samskara is beginningless, it has an end when one attains that divine knowledge and liberation and it ceases to produce any effect on the jivanmukta. Only when the samskaras are burnt up by continuous samadhi will one be free from birth and death. Believe me, a person can obliterate his samskaras by purushartha or right exertion. He is not a creature of environment or circumstance. He is the master of his destiny.