[Advaita-l] Impure vAsanAs

S.N. Sastri sn.sastri at gmail.com
Fri Oct 6 01:52:13 CDT 2006

Impure vAsanAs.

svAmI vidyAraNya says in jIvanmuktiviveka that impure vAsanAs are of three
kinds: desire for unblemished reputation in the world (loka vAsanA),
obsession with learning (SAstra vAsanA) and undue attachment to the body
(deha vAsanA). The first one takes the form 'I want to be always praised by
everyone'. This is called impure because it is something impossible of
achievement. No one, however good, can always escape slander. Even
absolutely blemishless SItA was slandered. People speak ill of others merely
because of local peculiarities. The southern brahmanas censor the
northerners, well-versed in the vedas, as meat-eaters. The northern
brahmanas retaliate by ridiculing the southern custom of marrying the
daughter of a maternal uncle and for carrying earthenware during travel. A
pure man is looked upon as a devil, a clever man as presumptuous, a man of
forbearance as weak, a strong man as cruel, an absent-minded man as a thief,
and a handsome man as lewd. Thus nobody can please everyone. So the
scriptures advise us to treat censure and praise alike.

  The obsession with learning (SAstra vAsanA) is of three kinds: addiction
to study, addiction to many scriptural texts and obsession with the
mechanical observance of injunctions with regard to the performance of
rituals. The first one is exemplified by sage bhAradvAja, who was not
satisfied with having devoted three successive lives to the study of the
vedas and continued the same in his fourth life also. This is also an impure
vAsanA because it is not possible of achievement. Indra cured him of this by
explaining to him the impossibility of his undertaking and initiated him
into the knowledge of the conditioned Brahman for the attainment of a higher

  Addiction to many scriptural texts is also an impure vAsanA because it is
not the highest aim. The example for this is sage durvAsA. Once he went with
a cart-load of scriptural works to Lord mahAdeva. nArada ridiculed him by
comparing him to a donkey carrying a huge load. durvAsa became angry and
threw away the books into the ocean. Lord mahAdeva then imparted to him the
knowledge of the Self which does not come from study alone.

  Obsession with injunctions relating to the performance of rites is
exemplified by nidAgha, as described in vishNupurANa. Another example of
this is dAsura who, because of the intensity of his desire to adhere to the
injunctions, could not find any place in the whole world pure enough for the
performance of rites. This mad desire for performing karma is also an impure
vAsanA because it results in the person continuing in the cycle of repeated
birth and death. SAstra vAsanA is also impure for another reason, namely,
that it is the cause of vanity.

  deha vAsanA is of three kinds-- looking upon the body as the Self, concern
about making the body attractive and desire to remove defects in the body.
The first two are clearly impure vAsanAs because they are obstacles to
spiritual progress. The third is impossible of achievement because the body
is essentially impure and so it is also an impure vAsanA.

  All these three vAsanAs should therefore be given up by discriminating
people, since they obstruct the rise of knowledge in the seekers and affect
the permanence of the knowledge acquired by the knower. The impurity of the
vAsanAs arising from a demoniac nature, which take the form of hypocrisy,
vanity and the like, is well-known and so it goes without saying that this
has to be destroyed.

  Just as the vAsanAs have to be obliterated, the mind has also to be
dissolved. The tArkikas hold that the mind is an eternal substance of atomic
dimension. In this view the mind can never be dissolved. This view is not
accepted by vedAntins. They hold that the mind is a substance with parts, is
not eternal and is capable of transforming itself into various forms. The
mind is defined thus in the br.up, 1.5.3--"Desire, will, doubt, belief,
disbelief, resoluteness, irresoluteness, shame, intelligence, fear, --- all
these make up the mind". These transformations are directly perceived by the
Witnessing Self. The sense organs cannot experience their objects without
the co-operation of the mind. This internal organ is called manas when it
performs the function of thinking and debating; it is called chitta when it
performs an act of perception. This chitta is of the nature of sattva, rajas
and tamas. When tamas predominates, demoniac qualities make their
appearance. The predominance of rajas gives rise to the three vAsanAs-- loka
vAsanA, SAstra vAsanA and deha vAsanA. When sattva gains mastery, divine
qualities become established. sattva is the principal material cause of the
mind; rajas and tamas are only accessories. Therefore sattva is the residual
native form of the mind of an enlightened person, since he has got rid of
rajas and tamas. Such a mind is one-pointed, being free from rajas which is
the cause of fickleness. It is also very subtle, being free from tamas which
is the cause of the gross forms assumed by the not-self. Such a mind is fit
to receive enlightenment.

  Bondage is nothing but the bond of vAsanAs and liberation is the
obliteration of vAsanAs. One should first give up the three kinds of vAsanAs
relating to the world, learning and the body mentioned above, as well as the
desire for objects of enjoyment. Then one should set up a current of pure
vAsanAs such as friendship, compassion, contentment and indifference towards
happiness and sorrow, and other pairs of opposites. The hankering after
pleasures contaminates the mind. If a person is friendly towards those who
are happy and looks upon their happiness as his, hankering after pleasures
will vanish. Attaining mental equilibrium in this manner, one should remain
attached only to knowledge of the Reality. Ultimately even the desire for
knowledge should be given up, because it is also only something conceived by
the mind and the intellect.

  The three vAsanAs described above, namely, loka vAsanA, SAstra vAsanA and
deha vAsanA are collectively called 'mental vAsanA'. There is another kind
of vAsanA known as vishaya vAsanA which relates to objects of enjoyment. By
objects are meant sound, touch, form, taste and smell. Mental vAsanA is that
impression which is born of the desire for these; vishaya vAsanAs are the
impressions born of actual enjoyment of desired things.


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list