[Advaita-l] Samskaras and Vasanas and sanchita karma

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Nov 14 11:37:51 CST 2010

On Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 5:07 PM, raghavkumar00 at gmail.com <
raghavkumar72 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> What is the difference between samskaras and vasanas ?


There seems to be no clear distinction between the terms 'samskara' and
'vasana'.  They are used/explained in more or less similar ways.  For
example in the Bhagavadgita bhashya 3.33 Bhagavatpada says:

// prakRtirnAma pUrvakRtadharmAdharmaadi samskAraH vartamAnajanma
aadauabhivyaktaH  sA prakRtiH//

[prakRtiH (as we use this word when we say 'it is his nature') is the
'samskara' formed as a result of actions ( dharma or adharma etc) done in
the past (lives)  and that which manifests at the beginning of the present

In the BG 2.63 He says:  with reference to the overwhelming nature of
infatuation when the remembrance that were born of 'samskaras' generated due
to the teachings of the scripture and the Acharya is not available to save
the person tide over the situation  -  //sammohAt smRti vibhramaH
shAstraachAryopadeshAhitasamskArajanitAyAH smRteH...//

So, samskara can be both of positive and negative nature.

Now, about vasana:

Swami Vidyaranya in the Jivanmuktiviveka, in the chapter
'vAsanAkShayaprakaraNam' raises a question: If it be asked what is meant by
this 'latent impression' (vasana), the obliteration of which is so often
prescribed as the object of personal effort, says VasiShTha in proceeding to
describe its nature:

'Latent impression may be described as that hankering after things,  which
gains such mastery over the mind, as to preclude even inquiring into their
antecedents and consequents.  He at once becomes that which he identifies
himself with, by force of strong and deep attachment and loses, O strong
armed one! memory of every other thing in the act.  The man thus subdued by
vasana, fixing his eye on anything whatever, is deluded into believing it as
the real thing; owing to loss of control due to the powerful influence of
vasana, the object (thus perceived) gives up its real form.  Thus does one
with beclouded eye perceive everything quite in this deluded fashion, like
one under the influence of a strong intoxicant' (Laghu Yoga VAsiShTha 28.48
to 51.)

[Copied from the Jivanmuktiviveka published by The Adayar Library and
Research Centre]

>From the above one can see that whether it is termed samskara or vasana, it
can be either positive or negative, that is, favourable or not  for
sadhana.  There are durvAsana and sadvAsana or shubha or ashubha vasana.  So
with samskara.  Basically both the words mean the impression that an act
performed by a person has left in the psyche.  The repeated, intense,
performance of an act, good or evil, leaves/strengthens an/the impression in
the mind that creates a tendency that prompts him to perform that act again
when the circumstances are favourable for such an act.  The scriptures ask
the aspirant to cultivate good samskaras/vasanas and eschew unfavourable or
destructive ones.  So, practically there seems to be no difference between
the two terms.

> Where is the sanchita-karma (in some suitable "seed" form presumably)
> stored,
> given that it lies dormant for the duration of this entire birth ?

This is stored in the avidyA with reference to the individual and mAyA with
reference to the total, samaShThi.  With ref. to the jiva it is called the
kAraNashareeram.  I have not found an authoritative statement in the
bhashyam/vyAkhyanam so far. This Bhashyam quote from Bhagavatpada in the
Brahma sutra 1.4.3 is an indicator:

*अविद्यात्मिका हि बीजशक्तिः अव्यक्तशब्दनिर्देश्या परमेश्वराश्रया मायामयी
महासुप्तिः, यस्यां स्वरूपप्रतिबोधरहिताः शेरते संसारिणो जीवाः ।  तदेतदव्यक्तं
क्वचिदाकाशशब्दनिर्दिष्टं, ..क्वचिदक्षरशब्दोदितम्.. क्वचिन्मायेति
सूचितम् ...अव्यक्ता
हि सा माया ..अविद्या हि अव्यक्तम् ।*

*// **For that causal potentiality is of the nature of Nescience; it is
rightly denoted by the term 'undeveloped;' it has the highest Lord for its
substratum; it is of the nature of an illusion; it is a universal sleep in
which are lying the transmigrating souls destitute for the time of the
consciousness of their individual character.//*

*Here we see that this avidya/maya/avyakta is the one where the jivas in
their state of ignorance 'reside and operate' till they attain liberation.
So, when there is the vyakta avasthA, the jiva is active with the prArabdha
karma.  When in avyakta avasthA, the sanchita rests, waiting for
manifestation.  *

> What is the difference between samskaras and the sanchita karmas. Both are
> created by our actions in previous births.

As explained earlier, thru Bhagavatpada's words in the BG 3.33, samskaras
manifest at the start of the present birth.  That means it becomes part of
the praarabdha karma, that is the part of sanchita karma that has commenced
to give the phalam.  Sanchita karma, therefore, is that stock of karma in
store that is awaiting taking effect.  After the death of this body, a new
set of sanchita karma will get converted into praarabdha, with the birth of
the next body.
Samskara, we already saw in the foregoing is only the impression that has
been formed due to an action performed.  We can talk of samskara only when
it is manifest, that is, it is kAryAnumeya, inferable thru its effect.  When
we see a child prodigy expressing unbelievable talent in any field, and
there is no proof of its undergoing any training in this birth, we conclude
that this manifestation of extraordinary talent is a samskara that is in
this child.  Unless there is a manifestation, we cannot talk about samskara.

> A karma done in a previous birth needs a Conscious All-knowing Principle
> for it
> to fructify in another birth. This 'fructification is not automatic, since
> karma
> is inert. So explains Adi Shankara in the kenopanishad vakya bhashya. Can
> anyone
> give greater elaboration on this role of Ishwara as the
> karma-phala-adhyaksha ?

This position of Advaita is only in the vyAvahArika.  Shankara explains with
reference to the BG 5.14: It is svabhAvaH, avidyAlakShaNa prakRtiH, mAyA, is
the one that brings about the entire vyavahara of a person's kartRtvam and
bhoktRtvam and the bringing together of  the doer and the results of his
deeds. Continues Shankaracharya in the next verse 5.15:   paramArthatastu,
Brahman does not 'take' anyone's paapam or good deeds.

What basically is meant is: In advaita mAyA is not an independent entity.
It can do everything ONLY being blessed existence and shine by Brahman.
Brahma-Ashrayaa mAyA.  That is why even when it is said 'svabhAva' does
everything, and Brahman is taTastha, doing nothing, it is to be understood
that mAyA /svabhAva operates under the 'adhyakShatvam' 'supervision'
'vision' of Brahman, the Consciousness Principle.  In Advaita, MAyA is inert
and cannot engage in anything independently.  Brahman is nishkriyam,
nirguNam and cannot engage in anything by Itself.  It needs the association
of mAyA for creating and administering the world consisting of jivas.  It is
in this way Ishwara's karma-phala-adhyakShatvam is to be understood.

> The phrase 'gahanaa-karmano-gatih" (parapharaseable as : deep/unfathomable
> are
> the ways and workings of karma)  in Gita, I submit, should be only
> sparingly
> quoted and used. It is unfortunately used all too often to avoid answering
> probing questions on karma.

I think you will spare from from this charge :-)

Thanks Raghav Kumar for raising those fine questions.

Best regards,


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