Samskaras are the dormant traces of our past karmas, actions, thoughts, desires, and memories. Yogis know that the life breath links the mind with the body. Similarly, the samskaras link the soul with the subconscious mind. When the life breath ceases, the subconscious mind and the soul separate from the body, the five active organs, the five senses, and the conscious portion of the mind. This separation does not mean complete annihilation. Our samskaras, having all the potential of past memories, thoughts, and deeds, remain latent in our subconscious mind. It is the subconscious mind which is the vehicle in which the soul travels from this plane of life to another plane. Death is actually a mere separation.
As long as the soul uses the subconscious mind, that storehouse of merits and demerits of our past lives, we cannot become free from our karmas at all. An analogy will clarify this. When the wind blows it carries away the scent from a particular place or object, though the source of that scent is not carried away by the wind. When we leave our body, all memories in their subtlest forms are carried away by our subconscious mind, and we go to another plane of existence. These memories and subtle thought forms, which contain the seeds of motivation for our life after death, are responsible for rebirth.
Put another way, in the river of life, all our actions, thoughts, and sensations, are like pebbles which settle on the bed of the river, and we soon lose conscious awareness of them. These pebbles or sensations thrown into the river create very tiny bubbles in the depths of the river which come up and burst at the surface. All our samskaras reside in the latent bed of memory. When we start studying life with the help of contemplation and meditation, these hidden samskaras come up to the surface as if seeking to be expressed in the external world. If we become fixated on these bubbles of thoughts which arise in the river of our life we will be unable to achieve liberation. To study action and even thought, can provide some personal consolation; but it is not the way of liberation and enlightenment, although it is always helpful to understand one's actions and thoughts. Without focusing on the subtle traces of our mind stuff, that is, on the samskaras in their latent form rather than on their manifestation at the surface, salvation is not possible.
When a student, after withdrawing his senses, starts meditating and calming down the conscious mind, he experiences the bubbles of his thoughts rising to the surface; but he is not aware that all these bubbles actually originate in the bed of the river of his mind where disturbing pebbles are constantly settling. He often resists these disturbances and can become disgusted with himself on account of them. If the student is patient and determined he will cease to struggle with these thoughts and will start studying them. This study needs careful attention so that the rising thoughts do not adversely affect the student. This is possible if he practices witnessing the thoughts by not identifying himself with the quality, image, idea, fantasy, and fancy which appear before him and which entice him. It is natural for all the hidden tendencies of our subconscious mind to come to the surface, and it is also natural for a student to be disturbed by them. Yet, if the student remains aware of his goal, which of course lies beyond the subconscious mind, then he will learn to study these thought forms without discomfort. Past samskaras do creat problems and disturbances for the student of meditation, but sincere effort, determination and one-pointedness can help him maintain awareness of his goal. Constant and exclusive study of the thinking process at the conscious level is not a sound way to follow the path of meditation. It is self-study of the subconscious mind or mind stuff which is important. Many strange thoughts rise to the surface during our thinking process and it is not possible for anyone to analyze and get rid of them at the conscious level, for these bubbles form deep in the subconscious mind.
When the aspirant endeavors to cross to the other shore of life and enter the Kingdom of the Soul, these samskaras create obstacles for him. Our mind ordinarily operates on the conscious, unconscious and subconscious levels. In meditation, the mind is allowed to proceed beyond these levels to what the Yoga calls the superconscious level. If the strong motivations and subtles traces of our past samskaras prevent us from going beyond our personal minds, how can we proceed in a practical way to cross to the other shore of life and achieve realization of our true Self?
To begin with it should be clear that samskaras motivate our whole lives in the external and internal worlds as a result of our own deeds, thoughts, and choices. No one punishes us for our good or bad deeds, but our past samskaras motivate our present actions. The way we sow is the way we reap; this is the law of karma. In fact, we punish and reward ourselves when we understand our samskaras, the motivating force within us. Then we can not blame others, nature, or God for the life we lead. Man suffers on account of his karmas, thoughts, desires, and samskaras; and his greatest suffering is bondage to the rounds of birth and death through which he is led by them.
Often people seek to analyse the karma in their relationship with the people with whom they live, but that is only one aspect of understanding karma and the fruits that are received therefrom. Karma is a law of our own making. One cannot live without doing karma, but it is also true that one cannot live without reaping the fruits of one's own karma. One is bound to receive the fruits of his karma, and again the fruits motivate him to do fresh karma. Then how is it possible for one to gain freedom from these karmas?
There are two ways of gaining freedom from the bondage of karma. One is to renounce karma; the other is to do karma skillfully and selflessly. It is not practical or possible for the ordinary man to renounce all of his duties, eliminate his desires and surrender his motivations; but the practical way of gaining freedom is to do one's own karma skillfully and selflessly so that karma no longer remains a bondage.
The path of selfless action done skillfully is the practical path for most people. There are a few fortunate who follow the path of renunciation by treading the path of knowledge and not following the path of action. People in this world are not all the same. One class of persons derive benefit from the path of renunciation, another from the path of action. The path of renunciation is for those who are firmly established in the path of knowledge, but not for others. The path of action is therefore of greater practical value for most of mankind.
Those fortunate few who are extremely detached remain aloof from the desire for enjoyment. Those who have no sense of attachment in the very essence of their nature, devote their life to the attainment of knowledge alone. They renounce all their duties solely for the sake of attainment of absolute knowledge. It is only to such rare persons that the path of knowledge is of use in securing their ultimate goal. All deeds and actions are inspired by desire, and desire is motivated by samskaras. Any acts done with the view of increasing one's pleasures affects our karma, but deeds done without any desire are given up, this is called renunciation, or self-restraint, i.e., to completely give up all the desire-inspired actions that are calculated to increase one's desire for enjoyment. Therefore, in the path of renunciation one has to curb, to give up, one's desire for enjoyment. One who treads the path of renunciation does not give up all actions but only those actions which are inspired by the desire for pleasures. In the path of renunciation one cannot give up actions which would benefit the world or contribute to world peace. Desire-inspired action means desire for enjoyment, and this desire for enjoyment is a desire for one's own selfish enjoyment. No one can renounce the desire for eating or for other actions necessary for the maintenance of human life. In the path of renunciation, the non-acquisitive attitude helps and results in the increase of happiness. Thus, in the path of renunciation, giving up all deeds, actions, and karmas is not necessary, but only those actions must be given up that are inspired by desire for pleasure.
Karma, studied on the basis of samskaras, also will reveal the nature of the work which one has to do. By performing some duty or action after careful study of the inherent promptings of the samskaras, one can slowly cross the river of ignorance of maya, following the strong currents which originate in the samskaras. It is not possible to fight against the strong currents of samskaras or escape from them. It is better to find the way and swim across by following the pattern of samskaras, doing one's duty to get to the other shore.
One should never renounce one's duty through delusion, emotion, or ignorance. Blind renunciation will never help the aspirant. Giving up one's duty or karma causes misery. A man needs a few essential necessities to live; thus the necessary effort to gain one's livelihood has to be made.
We have already described how actions are motivated by the thinking process; our thinking process, by our desires; and desires, by our samskaras. Our thinking process travels along three avenues: tamas, rajas, and sattva.
When action is endued by tamas one becomes inert and starts acting negatively. This state of sloth is very dangerous. Action endued by rajas also gives fear of pain, and one remains in a state of insecurity and conflict. This is the main cause of affliction, and most often when one's action is endued by rajas, one is led towards selfishness, which is one of the main causes of self-bondage. When sattva-endued action is performed without any desire for personnal enjoyment and gratification, then that sattva-vritti motivates our cognitive senses and the organs of our body of our body to function harmoniously and leads us to s state of tranquility. In this state, the doer does his action without any personal desire of pleasure, doing his action for others pleasantly and faultlessly. It is not karma but the fruit of karma that should be surrendered for the benefit of others, and that karma should be endued by the sattvic quality of our mind. This is possible only when we make a sincere effort in directing our mind to travel along the sattvic avenue and to avoid traveling on the lower avenues of tamas and rajas.
These three qualities; tamas, rajas, and sattva, are termed gunas. All our actions, thoughts, and motivations are guided by these three gunas. We can divide all humanity into these categories. Sattva is illumination, light, serenity, tranquility, and most often represented by the color white. Rajas is characterized by activities and movements full of distractions and dissipation, and its symbolical color is red. Tamas is sloth, and inertia, most often symbolized by black and dark blue, the color of darkness.
The aspirant should gradually get rid of the actions endued by tamas and rajas, and finally establish his whole life pattern on the basis of sattva. By establishing sattva and tranquility, he purifies his mind, attains emotional maturity and starts meditating on the center of consciousness, which is pure and self-illumined Atman (Self, God) in all living beings. It is never Atman that is impure, but the mind which remains covered with the dust of ignorance. The samskaras form dust on the mirror of the mind. The soul cannot be seen in the mirror when the mind remains covered with dust. It is tamasic and rajasic actions and thoughts that form this heavy film on the surface of the mirror called mind. Through constant self-purification by maintaining awareness in performing our actions in the external world, doing our duties selflessly and not having desires for pleasure, we will be able to cleanse our minds and thus see the reflection of soul in the mirror of mind.
If we see a stick half in and half out of water, it appears to have broken shape. In the same manner, our thinking process does not allow us to see the true nature of our soul, and unless the waves of the stream of the thinking force are calmed, we cannot realize the correct view of the soul. Meditation helps in calming down that disturbed thinking process and helps in revealing the soul. In higher states of meditation, the aspirant pierces the delusion of maya and goes beyond. This is the goal of human life.
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