‘VASANAS’ and their meaning in life

Vasanas are a bundle of tendencies or desires that drive a man to think, feel and act according to the nature of the Vasanas. Thus, it would be perfectly right to say that a man is what he is because of his Vasanas. Vasanas create desires in the intellect. They are the subliminal inclinations and habit patterns that, as driving forces, color and motivate one’s attitudes and future actions. Vasanas are subtle impressions, which the individual soul will carry with them when the soul separates itself from the physical body upon the death of a person.
Vasanas are actually the continuation of poorva janma, (previous births). When a person’s desires remain unfulfilled in life, the same becomes his Vasanas on rebirth. Vasanas could be defined as the automatic, mechanical, or habitual ways we have of responding to situations. They could also be thought of as our unpaid bills in life, our debts, our accounts payable.
     Vasanas are ‘Karmic imprints’ or ‘Karmic residue’, the precipitate of what is left over from our perpetrations in life. Vasanas influence the behavior of a person and we’re seldom aware they’re operating. Vasanas are the main obstacle to our well-being and happiness in life. They derive from decisions made in response to earlier incidents or episodes in life that involved shock and loss, which convinced us to never do some things and always do others. In some way, we shut down life, stop responding spontaneously, and became a robot.
Vasanas are desires = Guna or nature = Samskara = tendencies/qualities
     Usually, our vasanas do not subside. They are persistent and their influence on us grows over time as we commit fresh perpetrations when they erupt in situations of upset or crisis. When early childhood incidents occur, we often make decisions about how to be and how not to be in life. I’m never going to love again. I’m always going to be cautious. We become creatures of habit, predictably, and faithfully following our vasanas.
     We close ourselves off to spontaneity and become sclerotic, petrified, fossilized, or calcified. We become the walking dead, lacking any impulse to just be and enjoy. Every time we become inflamed, or angry, express resentment, we are responding to our vasanas. And, what’s worse, they grow and grow with each fresh explosion.
     Swami Shivapadananda: Vasanas are latent impressions in the mind, part of one’s innate nature. Samskaras are the operative impressions that form part of a person’s character and already operating. There is not much difference between Samskaras and Vasanas. Samskaras are well-established traits brought to the forefront. Vasanas are that which are still latent. Vasanas are the subtlest form of action and action is the grossest form of vasanas. So, a person acts according to his Vasanas. By studying his actions, one can judge which type of vasanas a person has.
     According to Gita (chapter 15), a soul at the time of death of the body takes with it all the 5 senses and re-incarnates in another body. They get a fresh body, but it carries the old Vasanas. So, a person is born with a particular kind of nature or Vasanas or desires carried on from the past life. शरीरंयदवापोित यचापुतामतीशर: |
गृहीतैतािन संयाित वायुगरनािनवाशयात्|| 8|| śharīra yad avāpnoti yachchāpyutkrāmatīśhvara
grihītvaitāni sanyāti vāyurgandhānivāśhayāt As the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carrythe mind and senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one.
शोतंचक: ुसशरनंच रसनंघाणमेव च |
अिधषाय मनशायं िवषयानुपसेवते|| 9||
śhrotram chakshuhu sparśhanam cha rasanam ghrāam eva cha adhishtthāya manaśhchāyam vishayānupasevate
Using the sense perceptions of the ears, eyes, skin, tongue, and nose, which aregrouped around the mind, the embodied soul savors the objects of the senses.
Predetermined Destiny and Free Will
Some desires are predominant, and some are dormant. At the time of death, there may be many desires, but the predominant desire and the fruits of his past actions decide the direction of the life of next birth. The soul ‘chooses’ the kind of life, body, parents, and environment such that his predominant desires can be fulfilled. This is his predetermined destiny.
     God has also given us the ‘free will’. Human beings can use the power of discrimination and can choose to act wisely. This can shape his future. But he has to pass through some incidents and phases of life, whether he likes it or not, because of pre-determined destiny.
     Free will could be the culprit, but if the free will is surrendered to God, then things become easier and the person can excel in spirituality. The tendency of free will is to increase the ego, while the surrender of free will to God decreases the ego. A person, who has surrendered his free will to God, does not have any expectation of the results of his works. So, he remains unattached to the results and stays calm. Such a person is a true Karma Yogi.
Vasanas or Gunas can be broadly classified into 3 types.
Satva guna: pure intelligence and goodness, quality of renunciation, love for God, and other divine qualities. Saints have more percentage of Satva Guna. Rajas guna: the fire of desire or spiritedness, demands attention and credit, are egoists, looking for glory, etc. Tamas guna: dullness or inertia. Negative qualities like laziness, inertia, revenge, hurting and killing of innocents, etc.
     Most of the people have a mixture of the three gunas, and consequently, their personality would reflect the essence of what guna predominates.
     The percentage of these Gunas keeps changing. While sleeping Tamas Guna is predominant, while working in the daytime, Rajas Guna is predominant and just after the sleep is complete and work is not yet started, there is Satva Guna (in the early morning). When one is attending a spiritual discourse/retreat/ Satsanga, his mind is calm and temporarily, he is receptive and accepts good teachings. But later, after the discourse is over and we are again engaged in our worldly activities/duties, rajas guna may get pre-dominant. At this time, if a person again thinks of the teachings, his ego reacts, and he may reject the teachings.
     Ramana Maharshi distinguishes between good and bad vasanas. Good vasanas, like tending to our parents’ needs, loving all people, being charitable, all of which promote the laws of nature, do not harm, but bad vasanas, which go against the laws of nature, do. We are meant to evolve in life until we realize God and life is designed so that bad vasanas leave bad residues and good vasanas promote our spiritual evolution moving us on towards enlightenment.
     And most of us have seen people like this – innocent, blithe, spontaneous, uninhibited. They resemble children and pass easily through the eye of the needle.
     Swami Sivananda: Vasanas (desires in subtle form) are waves in the mind lake. They are latent in the Antahkarana and the Karana Sarira (seed-body). Like new flowers blossoming out daily, Vasanas blossom one by one, come out to the surface of the mind, generate Sankalpas in the mind of Jivas, and goad them to strive to possess and enjoy the particular objects of enjoyment. Vasanas cause actions and actions to strengthen the Vasanas. This is a Chakra, vicious circle. On the advent of the knowledge of Brahman, all Vasanas are fried out. Our enemies are the Vasanas within us, and they are inveterate (long-established and unlikely to change!).
Vasanas cause Restlessness and Bondage
     Vasana is the cause of restlessness of the mind. As soon as a Vasana manifests, there is an intimate connection between the mind and the object. The mind will not retrace its steps until it gets the object and enjoys it. The restlessness will resurface even after the object is enjoyed unless one resorts to measures to annihilate its origin. The common run of men cannot resist or suppress any Vasana owing to a weak will. It is the Vasana in the mind that causes bondage; with the disappearance of Vasanas, bondage naturally vanishes. There is no pain from Isvara-Srishti (objects created by the Lord). Water quenches your thirst. Breeze gives you comfort. Sunshine enlivens you. Fire gives warmth. It is Jiva-Srishti that brings about bondage. Ahankara, anger, Abhimana, attachment is all Jiva-Srishtis. We need to make an attempt to cultivate Suddha Sankalpa, but no Vasanas.
Therapies and Processes for Reducing Vasanas
      There are many ways of reducing or modifying vasanas. Anything that relaxes us helps. Undergoing bodywork relieves us of muscular tension in the body. Hypnosis or meditation can help. Listening to music, walking in nature, taking a vacation all help. To erase the vasanas, we must eventually re-experience the earliest similar incident that created them until our experience is freed from all shock and perception of loss.
     By mere ethical training, jealousy, Raga, Dvesha, Krodha, Kama, etc., can be suppressed, though not eradicated completely. These impure, Asubha Vasanas can be considerably attenuated by moral culture. They attain a subtle condition and may not harm the individual.
     Sama: Sama is a determination on our part to be always calm and quiet under any kind of condition, even aggressive conditions. Hate does not cease by hate. Hate ceases by love. The reaction is not the way in which we have to conduct ourselves towards an action. Two persons are necessary to quarrel, and we need not be a party to that. Restrain our minds with the help of the understanding that we have already exercised through Viveka and Vairagya.
     Dama: Dama is the restraint of the sense organs. As Sama is the restraint of the internal organ, which is the mind, the Antar-Indriya, Dama is the discipline of the organs outside, the Bahyakaranas (external instruments) such as hands, legs, eyes, ears, etc. The internal entity is called the antakarana chatustaya, the psyche. Mano buddhi ahankara Chitta: the mind that thinks, buddhi or intellect that decides and determines ahankara that identifies everything with itself, and Chitta or memory that remembers past things. Dama supplements Sama in the control of mind being an auxiliary for the complete eradication of Vasanas.
     Uparati: Uparati is the cessation of all worldly longings. Why do we go on wanting more and more nice saris, good diet, homes and such material possessions? Desire cannot be quenched by the fulfillment of desire. Desire increases by the fulfillment; it does not make it cease. Yoga Vasishtha says all the wheat and the rice and the delicacies and the wealth of the whole earth cannot satisfy even one person completely. Such is the vastness of human desires. Know this and be calm. This is Uparati.
     Titiksha: Titiksha means a kind of endurance and toleration that we have to exercise. We cannot expect everything to take place as we want. Where it is possible to change a thing, we can change it, and where we cannot, we have to bear it. There is an old saying, “Give me the power to change what I can, the will to bear what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
     Conquest of Ahankara: If we destroy egoism (Ahankara, this false little ‘I’) and control the Indriyas (the senses), the Vasanas will die by themselves. The root cause for all troubles is Ahankara. Just as the dependents of a family hang upon the chief of the house, all Vasanas hang upon Ahankara, the chief of this house-body. It is only when we eradicate the painful Ahankara of the mind and conquer the foes of organs (Indriyas) that the ever-waking Vasanas will subside.
     Svadhyaya: Svadhyaya is a Niyama, one’s own reading, or self–study. It emphasizes the central importance of one’s pursuit of Reality, Truth, Self-restraint, Perseverance, Tranquility, and Inner Peace, Relationships with others, and performing the Rituals. Svādhyāya is one of the key elements in the practice of yoga. The practice of svadhyaya requires Satya (honesty), Tapas (discipline), and Ahimsa (nonviolence) which remind us to look upon ourselves without judgment or criticism.
     Meditation: By meditation, we learn how to become absorbed in the stillness of concentrated awareness. Thus, the mental energy becomes calm and quiet. There will always be a current of manas shakti and even waves, but they are transformed into tranquil harmonious Vasana associated with self-awareness rather than the turbulent unstable qualities of the mind. There is no Vasana in Brahman. Complete annihilation of the Vasanas takes place only in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, when the mind becomes almost free from all activities, melting in the inner Self, and into the Reality of Brahman. Through the knowledge of Brahman, there will be an extinction of all Vasanas, and the undaunted mind will get 278 quiescence like a ghee-less lamp. Normally mind either selects or rejects. Meditation takes the mind into a third attribute or direction, that of stillness/calmness into a state of being just an observer. I am SAT-CHIT – ANANDA. SAT is Existence (Truth), CHIT is Consciousness and ANANDA is Eternal Bliss.
Swami Chinmayananda:
     “Unless we are ready to renounce the low animal values of material life and replace them with the noble values of the truly religious life, we cannot hope to gain the blessings of religion. A study of a cookbook, however thorough it might be, will not satisfy our hunger. No matter how long we meditate upon and repeat the name of the medicine, we cannot get the cure we need until we actually take the medicine. Similarly, the blessings of religion can be ours only when we are ready to live the recommended values. “ 

Take home message: “As of now, I am not free of my vasanas. I must work hard every time they go off to get to the bottom of them. And being aware of it, each and every time I go off track, I will consciously make an effort, and eventually, when I leave this life and arrive at the next one, my vasanas would have reduced, improved. And I hope I would continue the process with each of my ‘births’ until I am no more reborn until I blend with the………. Absolute Consciousness.”

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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