Karma and Samskara

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

How does karma relate to samskara?

Swami Satyananda: All of one’s thousands, millions and trillions of previous experiences are stored within in the form of archetypes or samskaras. They are in such a vast number that one can’t imagine it. The totality of these archetypes is called karma, which is responsible for incarnation. This karma is responsible for destiny and is the basis for evolution. Whenever the soul is affected by an experience of life, it is known as samskara. Whatever the mind can register from the experiences of life is samskara. Over time one makes a transition from animal to human, and from human to divine. This human birth is an important stage of evolution. Each impression that is related to one’s existence in life must be registered, known and understood, and that is samskara. Just as a tree produces seeds, a person constantly produces samskaras in every moment of life. The movie camera continuously captures the movements outside; similarly, the inner mind is always photographing everything that takes place in one’s life.

Whatever one is doing at present and has done earlier is stored in the form of archetypes, or seed impressions, deep in the memory and is never destroyed. The images of thousands of men and women one has come across, the millions of ideas one has thought, the thousands of actions one has done in the past are all registered within. The inner consciousness registers each and every thought that passes through the mind.

These impressions are known as samskaras, and they form karma. An action becomes an impression or samskara and that motivates an action or karma. If I hate you or love you, I create karma. If I have attachment for you, I create karma.

Karmas are stored as samskaras in the form of microscopic seeds, atoms or units. One’s memory contains millions and trillions of archetypes, or samskaras, which are the products of experiences in life, the products of karma. These archetypes comprise the seeds of lives, which one has undergone in various incarnations from invisible to visible. This karma is also responsible for one’s future incarnation.

Karma is also the basis of desires and cravings. Karma is like a seed. It hibernates within one’s being, just as a seed is stored, and remains there for many years. At the proper time it becomes activated and starts affecting one’s life and the way one expresses oneself in life. One must express oneself. It can’t be avoided, and that expression depends on the karmas and samskaras.

Who knows what forces led me to take sannyasa and to give lectures on yoga? These were not only the movement of my tongue or the action of my brain. Behind the actions there must be a series of incidents from my past life, which are coming forth together and expressing themselves in the form of this present action. What are the forces that compel one to understand the lessons of yoga? Is it a brainwave, an action, or a function of the eye or eardrum? Behind the apparent, gross and physical personality of the senses, body and mind there are samskaras, which try to express themselves in the form of behaviour, thoughts and actions.

Some people can only express these samskaras by becoming criminals, others by becoming swamis, saints, charitable and generous. Whatever one may do, one must express one’s life and existence through the actions of the body, mind, senses and intellect, and that is karma.

Suppose, however, I am recruited and sent to war. I may kill many people in battle; that is my action, but it is not my karma. On the other hand, if I kill people out of hatred, it is karma, because it influences my mind and personality. Thus, karma also means samskara, the impression of an occurrence in life on the mind of an individual, as well as action. Karma is the chain of actions performed by a person in life, or it is the effects of all the activities in life.