Yoga philosophy has a concept that I consider one of the most—if not the most—important to understand not only the system of yoga itself, but also all the choices we make and who we are on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level. Yet it is not a concept we hear much about, probably because it is not that easy to truly comprehend.
We hear a lot about karma nowadays. Bad karma. Good karma. I’ve even seen it written at restaurants, on a sticky note by the tip jar: ”Tips are good karma.“ Yes, perhaps it has become somewhat common knowledge that karma refers to our previous actions, and that those actions—both good and bad—eventually catch up with us in the form of pain or joy. This is true in the present as well, so karma is not just the result of our actions in past lives.
The concept of karma is more complex than that, since there are many types of karma, and even at very high levels of Consciousness, where no ego remains, certain karma still has to be played out, but for the purpose of this post it can be simplified as a cycle of cause and effect. So how does it work? Well, it all comes down to samskara.
Samskara can be translated from the Sanskrit as “tendency.” In other words, it is all the tendencies we carry within that we may or may not be aware of. Our drives, motivations, desires, and actions, they are all fueled by samskara. Our attraction to certain things and people is the manifestation of latent samskara. Our relationships and how we relate to others are also manifestations of samskara.
We share similar samskaras with others, and these drive and fuel the dynamics we establish with them. We share samskaras with our parents and siblings, and our closest friends and lovers. Needless to say, we share both positive and negative samskaras, and depending on the specific relationship, we feed positive or negative samskaras as well.
Samskaras are also referred to as ”seeds“ because they need a fertile ground to blossom and manifest. So they are hidden, dormant tendencies we come with at each incarnation; they can be awaken and energized by our environment, our upbringing, the people we meet, and so on. Or not. Not all samskaras get awaken and “fertilized” by our environment, but they are still there, within us, in a dormant state.
Samskaras can also be viewed as “impressions” because they remain in the mind as imprints of past experiences, thoughts, and actions. I call them ‘vibrational seeds’ because they shape our reality through our perception, which is a multilayered compound of vibrational energies and levels of awareness.
Negative experiences and thoughts will yield negative samskaras, which in turn will create more negative thoughts and experiences. It’s a vicious, unconscious circle. The ego is always drawn to negative samskaras because they are the perfect tools to keep you enslave to it while positive samskaras liberate you from ego.
Karma, Attraction & Aversion Result From Samskara
Now you can understand why you feel attracted to certain people or certain activities and subjects more than others and why there are certain impulses you simply cannot control. Or at least you believe you cannot control. Addictions and all the other negative tendencies you may find in yourself come from samskara. Yes, you can blame your upbringing, but what that did was to help flourish and reinforce something that was already there as a tendency. In the end, you are solely responsible for the person you have become, no matter who or what you try to blame.
Even your karma is played out through your samskaras. Without them, you wouldn’t attract the situations that become the playground for your karma to unfold. In other words, without your latent tendencies, there would be no cause to create an effect on your life. That is, you would not create the situation that needs to be played out. And you know when you are done with a certain karma because the situation that made you feel trapped doesn’t affect you any longer, and you are free from it, whether it’s a relationship, a financial or legal issue, or a family situation.
Yes, karma will find you, no matter what, but the way you respond to it also makes a huge difference. And it’s all samskara. Not just the samskaras you came with, but also the samskaras you have developed on your own this lifetime. In the mind field (chitta), each thought creates a samskara and that samskara yields yet another thought that again creates a samskara. And so on. You can experience this when you try to sit and meditate. You get bombarded by one thought after another! You can only weaken this chain of thoughts by not following them. In other words, when you start observing your mind, instead of blindly believing it, you can be aware of your hidden tendencies, and they start losing their power over you.
Observing the mind is like trying to find your way in a dark room. You have no idea what’s in it and it’s scary. Very scary. But you can start turning the light on certain aspects with your awareness. Getting to really know yourself becomes an ongoing journey of facing your negative samskaras, acknowledging them, and replacing them by nurturing positive ones. It’s like turning the light on in that dark room, so that no aspect of yourself is hidden anymore. It may seem a daunting task, but the more light you shed on your psychic terrain, the easier it becomes to perceive what else is there, leading you to your true Self.
On the path of yoga, Liberation (i.e., enlightenment) only happens when you can attain and maintain a high state of samadhi and all your samskaras get roasted by the light! Isn’t it worth all the hard work of a spiritual journey of self-exploration? Contact me today to get started!
© 2010 Yol Swan. All rights reserved.