Samskaras an article by Benjamin Dean

 How to Meditate, Article – April 16, 2010


How to Meditate Away Mental Patterns, Samskaras

Naturally-Occuring, Perfect Spiral in Ammonite Crystal, 1996


It may come as no surprise that these three Sanskrit words above cannot be readily translated into English. The words “attachments”, “impressions” and “imprints” do not carry the same meaning. However, so many of us for who Sanskrit is so entirely foreign are nevertheless fascinated with the meanings of these words. I know I am. Let’s explore them, shall we?

A Samskara is a prevailing thought-form or image that is so deeply ingrained that we cannot shake it off. Of the three this is the term I am most familiar with. The other two words stand for practically the same thing. The greater subject is karma. Karma has a deep ring to it. It has been absorbed into the English language. We all must live with our Karma, or must we?

Are we Slaves to Karma?

The popular belief about karma is that we are slaves to it. It is as good a scapegoat as God. Rather than take responsibility for making a change in our lives, we can simply say our behavior was “God’s will”. In a similar way we can always blame our unconscious past life experiences for our primitive behavior. Acknowledging the “God in ourselves” and what amounts to creative freedom comes at the price of responsibility.

We can always say “I’m sorry. If I was acting unconsciously I certainly wasn’t conscious of it.” and see how far that takes us. It is unrealistic to think that we can know all that is buried so deeply. There can be a Pandora’s Box of surprises that begins to emerge once one embraces freedom and spontaneity. Our sticking points are readily revealed when we behave more impulsively.

Our Actions Reveal Tendency

There is a phrase in the world of playwrights—“action reveals character”. Put a character in an odd situation—a pressing situation that she or he is unable to anticipate and you will have given them ample opportunity to show us what is making them tick. However, if we want to grow then we must challenge ourselves to get it all out in the open. Society certainly doesn’t make any of this easy.

We all seek freedom. We want to be more deeply ourselves. In order to do this we must unleash what is most natural. We must free the primal. When I say primal I am not referring to the beast within. More primal than beast is the formless timeless awareness at the core of us all. This is what we are after. This is the self beyond Karma. This is the self beyond Samskaras.

We want to bridge the conscious and the unconscious. We want to experience the peace that comes when what we are trusting is not ourselves at all. We want to trust pure awareness. Pure awareness has no desires. Pure awareness takes one moment at a time without anticipating loss of self. Pure awareness has no self. Pure awareness is pure.

How many of us are anywhere near this evolved in terms of development? Do we even agree that this where we want to be? Do we not wish to be absolutely free? Not “free from” or “free for” but simply free? So we must want to stop wanting. How do we move beyond these polarities of wanting and not wanting? There is something greater than both.

My guess is that peace of mind comes when we are not prompted by our mind but simply witness it. As I understand it as long as we are acting on behalf of our personalize identity then we are slaves to the perpetuation of idea. Each kingdom and species must make its way in the world of form. All these many creatures recognize both prey and predator through imprint.

Are We Slaves to Imprinting?

As human beings we also operate by imprint. We recognize the shapes and colors in our lives as being specific things. They are ultimately only energy—energy infused with purpose—and we have names for them all. We have our cars. What are our cars but energy and purpose? Even thoughts have a life—a shape—a form. We have our ideas—our nuances—our impressions—our inklings.

These inklings are comprised of images of these named things. We have programmed ourselves to perpetuate what we “know” and dream of how we might re-arrange them all to our satisfaction. We are bound to these imprints and images. We are living in a vast cinema-like dream of shapes, sizes and colors all invested in emotionally.

Recovering Wonder and Innocence

Can we really and truly experience the boundless one? There are those who say “Yes” to this and insist that it is possible. According to these masters who claim to have gone beyond “things” and “ideas” we must give up our Samskaras. We must learn to exist without imprint. We must learn the experience beyond thought and desire. We must drop our dependence on shape, size and color.

This is not to suggest that we must no longer appreciate all these things. The brilliance of the blue sky and the green forests would increase with our new found freedom. Our assumptions would disappear and be replaced by full wonder. It is desire that will have dropped. Projected meaning would be replaced with a bright openness to meaning. Innocence would replace imposed value.

It is our pre-occupation with these ideas, thoughts, images and nuances that have us behaving so automatically as if on auto-pilot. These tendencies have a life of their own. The mind fills with thoughts and we act on these thoughts. These thoughts are ingrained. These images are powerfully set in our unconscious.

The tendency will continue even after our body passes this life. We will be caught up in it even on our death-beds. Is it so surprising that this congregation of ideas and impulses will manifest again? This is how we are reborn again and again. It is personal heritage. It is the perpetuation of ways and means. It is a hand-me-down to yourself approach to life.

Processing Karma in Meditation

I have heard that Karma is something we have to work off slowly. Is this really the case? Can we not work Karma off as readily as paying attention to what needs attention? Another idea is that we must work off Karma through events and circumstances. Are we really bound to this? Why not work it all off in our imagination? Why not work it all off in meditation?

I would like to suggest that we can work it all off in the privacy of our own homes—sitting and processing all the contents of our pre-occupation, one image at a time. I feel that I have been doing this in meditation for some time now. The more of this I deal with the lighter I feel. The more I can transform automatic impulse into awareness the greater freedom I experience. I am less triggered by images and thoughts.

We are Drawn to Freedom and Light

So much is going on. There is so much out there. It is overwhelming. How can we possible move beyond the many impressions, names, ideas, images? The thought of how complex and overwhelming this is enough to make me want to give up the whole idea and embrace the materialistic world with new-found gusto. Still, I am drawn to freedom.

The materialistic world makes us miserable. Let’s face it. We have caught the bug of enlightenment. We are compelled to embrace source. We are driven to discover our deepest self. We have caught a glimpse of our original nature. We have fleeting experiences of pure awareness. We want to bring more of the truth and its beauty into our daily lives. We long for wholeness. So what do we do now?

“Infinite patience brings immediate results” is a quote that comes to mind. We needn’t rush things. There is no place to go really—hence the paradox that lies in dropping motive and desire. Who will drop it? Who will be the one to let it go? Suffice it to say that we are better off for knowing what it is that we are drawn to. Ah well—something to think about—or not.

Occurring by degrees, as our unconscious compulsive behavior lessens, we are more able to appreciate our growing ability to live freely in the moment with fewer reactions and more response. The work we do on ourselves tending to our inner life becomes more noticeable to us and so worth the hours spent in meditation.