Samskara Vasana & Karma

RamiSivanAuthor: Rami Sivan (Hindu priest and teacher of Indian Philosophy)
Jan 8th, 2020

These are two technical terms in Hindu psychology which are extremely important for every spiritual aspirant (sādhaka) to know and to memorize.


Every experience is associated with a number of factors; people, sounds, tastes, smells etc. (the five senses plus the mind as the 6th.) and produces 3 possible outcomes – positive, negative or neutral.

If the experience is pleasurable or painful it makes an impression on the mind. The impression (saṁskāra) sinks into the citta— sub-conscious mind. After some time — days, month or even years, memory activates the dormant saṁskāra (subliminal activator) which then produces a desire to either repeat or avoid the experience. Repeated experience reinforces the saṁskāra.

This explains why thoughts, desires, feeling keep on popping up into our minds without our volition or control – they are all due to the latent subconscious content of our minds.


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 – and even applying make up and eating a meal!

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, these are our defence and avoidance mechanisms which we use to protect our egos, and these are the ones we need to work with in our spiritual practice (sādhana).


How Does Memory Arise?

There are four ways in which recall occurs and through which saṁskāras are activated.

  1. smṛti hetu – the perception of anything (5 senses) associated with a thing or event can cause recall.
  2. sadṛśata – seeing similar objects will cause recall.
  3. viparītata – opposite connotation – e.g. A palace reminds one of a hovel.
  4. kārya-kāraṇa-sambandha – relation between cause and effect, e.g. A fallen tree reminds one of a storm.


So in this diagram, we have the following stages of Saṁskāra formation

  1. Kriya – the act.
  2. Anubhava – the experience of either positive, negative, or neutral feelings.
  3. saṁskāra – the impression made in the mind and sinks into the subconscious mind.
  4. Vāsana – by repetition of the original act and repeated experience of the outcomes a positive or negative habit of attraction (rāga) or avoidance (dveṣa) is reinforced.
  5. Iccha – is the desire nature which forms a component of our character
  6. tṛsṇa – the desires, when repeatedly indulged in, turn into deep-seated cravings and drives which then determine the way we act. It is an objectified desire which manifests as clutching and clinging to the desired object. The stronger the attachment the greater the degree of suffering (duḥkha) which we experience.

Relationship to Karma.

So the accumulation of saṁskāras— both positive and negative, (neutral acts and experiences produce only vague mental impressions of little consequence unless reinforced by repeated practice) — form our mental disposition or svabhāva.

A predominance of positive saṁskāras produce a positive and benevolent mental disposition and an excess of negative saṁskāras produce a malevolent or fearful or tormented disposition.

At the time of our death, the dominant svabhāva (disposition or state of mind) determines our next rebirth and all the circumstances associated with it. So when the body drops off the saṁskāra laden consciousness takes on another body in accordance with the nature of those saṁskāras.

In other words our bodies we are born with, and the circumstances of our birth, as well as major events that will be experienced in our lives, are all produced from our previous thought-streams. As you think so you become (yad bhāvam tad bhavati!). Hence, we are encouraged to audit and to modify our acts in order to produce a positive state of mind of contentment, peace, compassion, generosity, and to avoid anger, resentment, aggression, violence or fear, anxiety, etc.


The way we deal with negative saṁskāras is through objective introspection, self-auditing (svadhyāya), and meditation.

When we meditate and simply watch our thoughts, all sorts of weird and wonderful astonishing and shocking images pop-up into our minds. So we keep the focus on the breath of mantra and let them go and do not follow them or being analyzing them or toying with them. We simply let them go and return to our point of focus. They will get more aggressive and we just keep looking at them acknowledging them and letting them go.

It takes a lot of practice.

Cultivating helpful friends who point out our faults and negativities is a great boon to personal development.

Part of our socialization process is the sublimation of our negative drives (samskāras/vāsanas) – so through the positive influence and teaching one can learn to control but cannot eliminate those drives. So, for example, a person with a violent predisposition can channel those urges into a more positive social role. Like joining the army, security forces, becoming a fireman, etc.

Negative Thoughts

Sep 10th, 2019

All acts are preceded by thoughts (cinta) which then become desires (iccha) which when strong enough form intentions (saṅkalpa) upon which one acts. Acts are either negative, positive or neutral and experience produces impressions in the mind (saṁskāras) which can be reinforced by repeated experience or acting. Reinforced saṁskāras produce habitual pattern formation (vāsanas) which merge to form your character (svabhāva).

Your character plus the vāsanas and samskāras produce KARMA.

Negative thoughts that simply arise and are not coalesced into INTENTION (saṅkalpa) do not produce Karma. We are not responsible for the thoughts that simply arise within the mind, we only have control over reinforcing them through contemplation and intention.

If we keep thinking negative thoughts intentionally about someone and still do not act upon them, then those thoughts do transform the mind (manas) and create saṁskāras which will later produce Karma.

The Vṛttis are the 5 modifications of the mind:–

  1. pramāṇa – acquiring knowledge or ascertaining the truth through

pratyakṣa — direct evidence or personal perception

anumāna — inference of the unknown from the known

śabda — acceptance of the testimony of a reliable authority.

2. viparyāya – mistaken views which are realised to be such after deeper investigation into the subject

3. vikalpa – fancy or imagination — feelings based upon imaginary causes.

4. nidrā – sleep — absence of thinking or dreaming.

5. smṛti – remembrance — clinging to past memories and experiences, and desiring to relive them, or preserve them.