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Effect Of Samskaras On Character

Samskaras are closely related to on bondage and freedom. The first chapter of Swami Vivekananda’s illuminating lectures on karma yoga discusses this important topic. We recapitulate the salient points.

Every action and thought is registered on our mind as a subtle impression (samskara). These impressions have a built-in property: they goad us on to repeat the action or thought. Each repetition strengthens and deepens the impression. The algebraic sum of these good and bad impressions, accumulated over years, nay, births, is what is meant by character. If the sum is positive, we have good character and if negative, bad. This sum total determines our reaction to situations, our personal life, work environment and so on. In short, what we are at any given moment is governed by these impressions.

Just as bad impressions make us act bad in spite of ourselves, good samskaras make us act good in spite of ourselves. So freedom implies becoming free from the hold of good impressions too.

Augmenting good impressions can ‘drive’ our life on the path of good. The first step in strengthening our character is, thus, the cultivation of good thoughts and performance of good deeds.

Anything done consciously for long becomes a habit, thanks to the samskaras. Work done in a slipshod way or with questionable means also leaves its impression on the mind. The work may be accomplished all right, but the cumulative impressions resulting from how we work and the means we adopt will strengthen our bondage and slavery to the mind. We can appreciate how powerful these impressions are only when we attempt to turn a new leaf, try to live a moral life. The mental resistance offered by the bad impressions will be enough to unnerve us and make us retract from our resolves at self-transformation.

Vedanta, however, offers hope to everyone and condemns none. Only, more bad impressions will mean greater struggle. Everyone can turn a new leaf provided he is prepared to pay the price and struggle unremittingly. There is also an inspiring assurance from Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi that japa, or repetition of God’s name, can minimize the intensity of karma.

Source – excerpts from editorial of Prabuddha Bharata September 2004 issue.