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What Is Karma Samskara In Hinduism?

What Is Karma Samskara In Hinduism? Swami Kritarthananda answers this question in the article titled ‘The Inscrutable Dynamics of Karma’ in Prabuddha Bharata magazine March 2020 issue page 16 – 17.

When someone experiences happiness by doing a particular work one develops a liking to repeat the same work just for the sake of pleasure. This creates an impression in the mind called ‘samskara’. It is this force of samskara that gives rise to the desire to repeat an action defying all restraints. The process goes like this. First a picture appears in the mind. It is called a smriti or vasana. Then the will of the seer wants to own it and runs after it as if it were a golden deer or feels a repulsion against it. This love-hate process goes on ad infinitum, and, according to Patanjali, the sum total of all such good and bad samskaras decide the type of birth, longevity, and good and bad experiences of a person.

The surroundings in which we find ourselves in any birth are directed by the work done by us in the past. The sum total of all the samskaras of an individual is known as karmashaya. It consists of all the good and bad habits of an individual. If the good samskaras outweigh the bad ones, one will get good company, conducive environment, and so on. The opposite will happen if the bad samskaras outweigh the good ones.

According to the yoga philosophy when the intensity of the resultant action is too much in an individual, it comes to fruition in this very birth. Such result is called drishta-janma-vedaniya karma. On the other hand, if the samskaras are not ripe enough to bear fruit in this birth, they are accumulated in the mind-stuff like a reservoir of karma, karmashaya. Such actions which do not yield any result in the present birth are kept in waiting for fruition and are known as adrishta-janmavedaniya karma.

The workings of the samskaras go on in our psyche almost in an unconscious stream, shaping our character. We feel out of ignorance and vanity that we are doing as we like, while we are in fact helplessly driven by our hidden impressions of past karmas. This discussion leads to the conclusion that we can change ourselves but not our environment. The meaningless repetition of an action can be stopped, or at least controlled, by conscious, willful withdrawal.

Simultaneously, one has also to engage oneself in good actions that interest one and are also helpful to others. This is called purushakara, self-effort, the positive aspect of all actions. The other aspect, prarabdha, is the ‘coming back’ of the previous actions with all their intensity to the doer. Moreover, as already mentioned, they direct our birth and environment. One has no control over them. Acharya Shankara has unequivocally expressed it in his masterpiece, Vivekachudamani: ‘Prarabdha is indeed very strong for the wise, and can be exhausted only through experience.’ If anybody counters it by reacting or reviling, that itself becomes the source of another misery.

This is why all the spiritual teachers of the world have taught us the art of changing ourselves instead of changing the world, which is an impossible proposition.