Yoga Vedanta Psychology


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Samskara - how do we think we are

A pleasant or unpleasant experience leaves an impression on the mind. A neutral one leaves a faint after-image. These remain as subliminal activators or attractors. Mind is like cosmic putty - the greater the intensity of the experience the deeper the impression and those impressions are more lasting or influential in mind.

Some of these deeper impressions are like a seed, which floats to the bottom of mind, until the same time, place or circumstance is repeated and the seed is re-activated. It floats back up and comes into mind, creating a desire, a vasana (a sanskrit word literally meaning 'smell').

A vasana or a desire to act as this samskara rises to the surface of the mind in conformity with your fight or attraction mechanism, manifests a karma, which creates a further impression and a further tendency or desire to act.

'We wear out the shoe of samskara by walking on it through the practice of meditation practice or spiritual development depend on samskaras.' Chogyam Trungpa

For more on this and related topics in the yoga tradition, go to the on line book Moksha Gita by Swami Sivananda.

The article Ayurveda & Healthy Psychology by Daniel Burow is excellent.


There are two types of karma - punya and papa (su-karma and ku-karma). Punya translates as virtue, that is to bring joy and happiness to another being. Papa translates as sin - that is bringing suffering to another. Karma is brought about by the coinage of punya and papa.

Meditation is the way to work with samskara - not to give movement to them nor to emote them.

The three most difficult of these movements or emotions are:

  • kama - selfish desire;
  • krodha - frustrated desire to get or get away from i.e. anger and
  • moha - delusion (the basis of all three) and its offspring, lobha - greed or the inability to share resources with others or depriving others of something that is within our power to give. These three poisons of the mind are the reason we don't know who we are - that is the meaning of avidya.


In trying to know who we are we have to develop ahamkara, identities or ego, which 'makes me who I think I am' and is influenced by genetic and social conditioning. It is what we use to delude ourselves. We then are impacted by raga - attraction and dvesa - repulsion which affirm the conditioning we are trying to identify ourselves with. And this leads to abhinivesa - merging or getting totally involved in something, much like the experience of being caught in a dumping surf wave. This is wearing. Abhi translates as down into and vesa is to wear.

We cannot get rid of desire, it is a condition of embodiment or incarnation in a body. We can befriend it with wisdom and we can transform selfish desire into selfless desire. The cures for the three emotions are the four immeasurables of Patanjali. If we practise these four without attachment, much like a professional healer does with her patient, compassionate and not involved - we do what needs doing and accept the outcome.

1. Maitri

Translates as friendliness from ma - no and itra - difference. That is there are no barriers between us. Here we open up the space so others can come in. It is not a proactive process but a receptive one. In this friendliness we are not bound by our own biases, prejudices or opinions. Your pain is as meaningful as mine - there is no difference between us. All lives are equal. We all wish to live and all fear suffering and death.

2. Karuna

Translates as compassion from ka - what and runa - death (what death!). There is active and passive compassion. This is the desire to alleviate suffering, to make a difference to actively give and alleviate without expecting return, without investment in outcome.

3. Mudita

Translates as joy. This is empathetic joy, rejoicing in others happiness and supporting their process, whatever it takes.

4. Upeksa

Observe balance. This is understanding everything is as it should be, allowing things to go their own way. Not for example entering a space and wanting to change it. The minds of people have arranged that space and so we don't accept their minds?

Antahkarana - the whole process of mind

Mind (antah-karana or inner-organ) is not the seat of consciousness in Vedanta - mind is part of the body, a sixth sense or an organ of sense. And body is an externalisation of mind - a home for mind and body in which we mark out our space, which then becomes the extent of our being. This is our self-limiting space. The sanskrit word for suffering or stagnation is duh-kha or bad-space. Sukkha is the opposite or good space. The six great afflictions or satklesas, which tempt us to dwell in dukha, are birth, growth, hunger, thirst, old age and death. They are unavoidable teachers, which demand that we either train the mind or do our time in a bad space.

The inner organ of mind consists of four things:

  • Manas or senses - in yogic understanding, our senses radiate out and knows things where they are. Our consciousness goes out and collects data rather than coming in to our senses. Manas goes out, collects the raw data, sorts it and then passes what is useful on to buddhi. Manas is like a sorting depot of the brain. When sorted, it hands it over to intellect.
  • Buddhi or intellect - brings in memory, cravings and imagination
  • Ahamkara or 'I' sense - see above
  • Cit or mind stuff - is the total backdrop to all of the above. It is like a movie screen, in fact just an interplay of light and energy, but our identification with this mind-body complex makes for a profound effect, an undeniable reality.

Satchitananda - who we truly are

In contrast with western psychology, in yoga psychology consciousness resides in the self - sat-chit-ananda or what we truly are (literally translates as being-conscious-blissful). We are fully conscious beings yet still we crave information and send our senses out in search of knowledge outside ourselves, asking senses to bring data about our existence in the external world. The body is a means of cultivating mind. We cultivate mind to know who we truly are and knowing that perfect happiness is here and now.

Panca kosas (5 sheaths) and trikaya (3 bodies)

  1. atman
  2. satcitananda - what we really are
  3. ananda kose - blissful sheath, karana or causal body
  4. vynana kosa - specific knowledge, higher mind, with mano is suksma or subtle body
  5. mano kosa - the sixth sense, mind organ or lower mind
  6. prana maya kosa - energy, life force, chi of the universe, it holds body and mind together
  7. ana maya kosa - food body comprised of the food we take in
  8. sthula saria formed from 5. & 6. together - growth body (saria - that which decomposes)