Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sea of Samskaras

Samkaras is a Sanskrit word, usually translated as "past impressions", commonly found in Yoga and Hindu texts. Of course, "past impressions" or samkaras for these spiritual practices include all tendencies and experiences generated from the sum total of one's past lives.

OK, before I dwell deeper into this subject, I'm aware of the fact that some people do not believe in reincarnation and any talk about past lives smells like superstition. Well, it doesn't really matter: we don't have to believe in reincarnation or past lives to discuss about samskaras. Samskaras to me is a natural phenomenon which obeys natural physical laws.

In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned that the same external experience will not be perceived in the same way by different individuals. We interpret sensory input based on past experience (which need not necessarily have to be from a previous life) and the natural tendencies of the mind--which are shaped partly by nature (genetics) and partly by nurture (culture, upbringing, education and life experiences).

Even when a baby is born, he or she, already has certain inherent mental characteristics. A baby has not much experience and education yet, but still each newborn child behaves quite differently from one another. Why is that so? Genes? To an extent, yes.

Even when the foetus is in the amniotic sac, it already senses the world--the heartbeat of the mother, sounds and vibration from the external world. A continuous pattern of action and reaction has already been set off, which does not cease until he or she dies.

Everytime an external stimulus is fed into our minds, we react in a certain specific way. Because our starting conditions--the "boundary conditions"--are different, each one of us has a unique sequence of action and reaction, beginning from the very moment that we came alive in our mother's womb until now. Reactions can come in a passive (thoughts and emotions) or active form (spoken words or actions).

Our samskaras are coded in our hardware (genes), firmware (subconscious mind) and operating system/application (culture and education). How we react to external events continuously shapes and reshapes our samskaras.

Whenever there's no external stimuli, or whenever you attempt to limit the range of external stimuli (like in meditation), you'll be able to perceive your samskaras. Why do certain thoughts seem arise spontaneously? Why do your thoughts have a tendency to veer towards certain directions? If you observe carefully, samskaras are behind your entire personality.

Like it or not, the "background noise" of samskaras is always there. There will always be this tendency in the mind to react in its own peculiar way to every situation in life. And this is due to the influence of samskaras. If that is so, how do we deal with it?

If you have an awareness of your samskaras, then you'll be able to redirect your focus and energy to or away from certain mental impulses. The control of one's breath is the starting point of this ability. The breath is the lever of the mind. That is why most spiritual traditions have some form of breathing exercise or meditation.

Samskaras can be disolved in the light of understanding. The many virtues that religion preaches--love, compassion, forgiveness--have great transmutation powers over one's samskaras. These virtuous actions redistributes energy in the most harmonious way and irons out all kinks. When we act with understanding, love and compassion, the pattern of action and reaction--one's karma--are immediately dissolved. No fresh karma is generated, resulting in the store of samskaras being reduced.

When we have mastered what Buddhists call "Right Action", every action of ours will be like the movement of a fish in water. We swim ever so gracefully and efficiently through life, which is this endless Sea of Samskaras.

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