Author: Rami Sivan
Svabhāva is the closest idea to personality. Sva= self, bhāva = feeling, emotion, attitude.
One’s Svabhāva or “personality” is comprised of the accumulation of saṁskāras and vāsanas from this life and previous lives.
A saṁskāra is a mental impression or subliminal activator and is an essential factor in the working of Karma. A knowledge of the saṁskāras is helpful in self-development and self-understanding.
Every experience is associated with a number of factors; people, sounds, tastes, smells etc. If the experience is pleasurable or painful it makes an impression on the mind. The impression (samskāra) sinks into the citta — sub-conscious mind. After some time days, month or even years, memory activates the dormant saṁskāra which then produces a desire to either repeat or avoid the experience. Repeated experience reinforces the saṁskāra.
A reinforced saṁskāra or group of saṁskāras produce a vāsana or habitual pattern of behaviour. Some of these vāsanas are actively pursued and developed and are necessarily for our sociological functioning.
For example driving is a complex process which requires many saṁskāras:– learning the road-rules, traffic signs & signals, vehicle control, other traffic on the road, pedestrians etc. etc. All of which require learning and concentration and repeated practice. Once learned and developed into a vāsana driving becomes “second nature” – we can drive competently while chatting, listening to music, thinking about issues.
Apart from these positive saṁskāras and vāsanas which are essential for our functioning as humans, there are also negative saṁskāras which cause us suffering and obstruct our efficient functioning, and these are the ones we need to work with in our spiritual practice (sādhana).
So each individual is born with a whole collection of saṁskāras and vāsanas from previous births which are ready to activate or be activated and produce KARMA.