The Formation, Function and Removal of Sanskaras – Meher Baba

Chapter II

  1. Their Formation and Function

There are two aspects of human experience—the subjective and objective: the mental processes which contain the essential elements of experience, and the objects to which they refer. The mental processes are dependent partly upon the immediate objective situation, and partly upon the functioning of the accumulated sanskaras or impressions of previous experience. The human mind thus finds itself between past sanskaras and the objective world.

From the psycho-genetic point of view, human actions are based upon the operation of the impressions stored in the mind through previous experience. Every thought emotion and act is grounded in groups of impressions, which are modifications of the mind stuff of man. These impressions are deposits of previous experience, and become the most important factors in determining the course of present and future experience. The mind is constantly creating and gathering them. When occupied with the physical objects of this world, such as the body and nature, the mind is, so to say, externalized, and creates physical impressions; and when it it busy with its own subjective mental processes it creates subtle and mental impressions. The question whether these impressions (or sanskaras’) or experience come first is like the question whether the hen was first or the egg. Both are conditions of each other and develop simultaneously. The problem of understanding the significance of human experience, therefore, turns upon the problem of understanding the formation and function of sanskaras.

Natural and non-natural sanskaras

The sanskaras are of two main types—natural and the so-called non-natural—according to the manner in which they come into existence. The sanskaras gathered during the period of organic evolution are natural. They gather round the soul as it successively takes up and abandons the various sub-human forms, passing from the apparently inanimate stone or metal to the human, where there is full development of consciousness. All the sanskaras which cluster round the soul before attaining the human form are the product of natural evolution, and are therefore, referred to as natural sanskaras. They should be distinguished from the sanskaras cultivated by the soul after the attainment of the human form, treated under the moral freedom of consciousness with its responsibility of choice between good and evil. They are, therefore, referred to as non-natural sanskaras. For, though these post-human sanskaras are directly dependent upon the natural sanskaras, they are created under fundamentally different conditions. The difference in the length of the periods through which they have been gathered and the conditions under which they are formed is responsible for the difference in the degree of firmness with which the natural and non-natural sanskaras are attached to the soul. The non-natural sanskaras are not as difficult to eradicate as the natural sanskaras, which have an ancient heritage, and are more firmly rooted. The obliteration of the natural sanskaras is practically impossible unless the neophyte is the recipient of the grace of a Master.

Manifest life arises owing to the will-to-be-conscious in the Absolute

An important question is, “Why should the manifested life at the different stages of evolution emerge out of the Absolute Reality, which is infinite?” The answer is that manifested life arises out of the impetus in the Absolute to become conscious of itself. The progressive manifestation of life through evolution is ultimately brought about by the will-to-be-conscious inherent in the Infinite. In order to understand creation in terms of thought, it is necessary to imagine this will-to-be-conscious in the Absolute prior to the act of manifestation.

Though for the purpose of an intellectual explanation of the creation, the impetus in the Absolute is to be regarded as a will-to-be-conscious, to describe it as an inherent desire would be

incorrect. It is better described as an inexplicable, spontaneous and sudden impulse. Since all intellectual categories are necessarily inadequate, the nearest approach to understanding the mystery of creation is not through an intellectual concept but through an analogy. A wave across the surface of the ocean produces a stir of innumerable bubbles, and the impulse creates myriads of individuals out of the infinity of the One Being. But the abounding Absolute or One Being is the substratum of individuals. Individuals are the creation of a spontaneous impulse, and have, therefore, no anticipation of their continuity of existence throughout the cyclic period until the subsiding of the initial tremor. Within the undifferentiated being of the Absolute is a mysterious point through which comes forth the varigated creation, and the deep, which once was icy-still, is astir with the life of innumerable selves who secure their separateness of a definite size and shape through self-limitation upon the surface of the ocean.

The Absolute is unaffected by the illusion of manifestation

This is mere analogy. It would be a mistake to imagine that some real change takes place in the Absolute when the impulse of the involved will-to-be-conscious brings into existence the world of manifestation. There can be no act of involution or evolution within the being of the Absolute; and nothing real can be born from the Absolute. The change implied in the creation of the manifested world is not an ontological change or a change in the being of the Absolute Reality, it is an apparent change. In one sense, the act of manifestation must be regarded as an expansion of the illimitable being of the Absolute, since through that act the Infinite, which is without consciousness, seeks to attain consciousness. But since this expansion of Reality is effected through its self-limitation into various forms of life, the act of manifestation might also be called the process of timeless contraction. But whether the act of manifestation is looked upon as an expansion of reality or as its timeless contraction, it is preceded by an initial urge or movement which might in terms of thought be regarded as an inherent and involved desire to be conscious. The manifoldness of creation and the separateness of individuals exist only in imagination. The existence of creation or the world of manifestation is grounded in illusion, so that, in spite of manifestation of numberless individuals, the Absolute remains the same without any real expansion or contraction, increment or decrement. But though the Absolute undergoes no modification there comes into existence its apparent differentiation into many individuals.

The original illusion in the stone

The original illusion marks the beginning of the formation of sanskaras, which starts in the finite centre which becomes the first focus for the manifestation of individuality. In the physical sphere, this first focus of manifestation is represented by the tridimensional and inert stone, which has rudimentary and partial consciousness sufficient only to illumine its own shape and form. Whatever illumination exists in the stone phase is derived from the Absolute, not from the body of the stone. But consciousness is unable to enlarge its scope independently of the body of the stone, because the Absolute is first identified with consciousness and through it to the stone. And as all further development of consciousness is arrested in the body of the stone, evolution of the higher forms of manifestation becomes indispensable. The development of consciousness has to proceed with the evolution of the body by which it is conditioned. Therefore, the will-to-be-conscious which is inherent in the Absolute seeks by divine determination a progressive evolution of the vehicles of expression.

Evolution of consciousness and forms

Thus the Absolute forges for itself a new vehicle of expression in the metal form, in which it becomes more intensified. But even at this stage it remains rudimentary. It has to get transferred to forms of vegetation in which there is an appreciable advance in the development of consciousness through the maintenance of the vital processes of growth, decay and reproduction. Emergence of a still more developed form of consciousness becomes possible when the Absolute seeks manifestation through the instinctive life of insects, birds and animals, which are aware of their bodies and respective surroundings, which develop a sense of self-protection, and aim at establishing mastery over their environment. In the higher animals mind or thought appears, but its working is limited by such instincts as those of self-protection and the care and preservation of the young. So even in animals, consciousness
has not its full development, with the result that it is unable to serve the purpose of the Absolute to attain self-illumination.

Human consciousness

The Absolute finally takes the human form in which self-consciousness appears. At this stage the capacity of reasoning develops, the scope of which is unlimited, but as human consciousness is identified with the physical body, this consciousness does not serve the purpose of illuminating the nature of the Absolute. However, in the human form, consciousness has the potentiality for self-realization, and detachment from the body and its environment, and the will-to-be-conscious with which evolution started becomes fructified in the Masters or Man-Gods.

The development of sanskaras

The Absolute cannot reach self-knowledge through ordinary human consciousness, because that consciousness is enveloped in a multitude of sanskaras. As consciousness passes from the apparently inanimate state of stone or metal to vegetative life, then to the instinctive state of insects, birds and animals, and finally to the consciousness of man, it is continually creating new sanskaras and getting enveloped in them. These natural sanskaras get added to after the human state is attained by the creation of non-natural sanskaras, through human experience. Thus the acquisition of sanskaras is unceasing during the process of evolution as well as during the later period of human activities. This acquisition of the sanskaras may be likened to the winding up of a piece of string round a stick, the string representing the sanskaras, the stick representing the individual mind. The winding upstarts from the
beginning of the creation and persists through all the evolutionary stages and the human form, the wound string represents all the positive sanskaras—natural as well as non-natural.

The winding of sanskaras

The sanskaras constantly created in human life are due to the various objects and ideas with which consciousness finds itself confronted, and the thoughts and actions that follow; these sanskaras bring about important transformations in the various states of consciousness. The impressions created by beautiful objects arouse the capacity for appreciating and enjoying beauty, so that when one hears a good piece of music, or sees a beautiful landscape, there is a feeling of exaltation. When one contacts the personality of a thinker, one may enter new spheres of thought and be inspired with enthusiasm. Not only the impressions of objects or persons but also the impressions of ideas and superstitions determine the conditions of consciousness.

The power of the impressions of superstitions might be illustrated as follows. During the Moghul rule in India, a highly educated man who was skeptical about ghosts made up his mind to verify the truth of their existence from personal experience. He had been warned against visiting a certain graveyard on the darkest night of the month, for it was reported to be the habitation of a dreadful ghost who made his appearance whenever an iron nail was hammered into the ground within the limits of the graveyard. With hammer in one hand and a nail in the other he walked into the graveyard on the darkest night of the month and chose a spot uncovered by grass to drive a nail in the ground. When he sat on the ground to hammer in the nail, an end of his black cloak got tied to the nail. He finished hammering and felt he was successful with the experiment without encountering the ghost, but as he tried to rise he felt a strong pull towards the ground, and became panic-stricken. Owing to the operation of previous impressions he could think of nothing but the ghost, who, he thought, had secured him at last. And the shock of the thought was so great that the man died of heart-failure.

The power and effect of impressions can hardly be overestimated. An impression is hardened, and its inertness makes it durable. It can become so engraved upon the mind that despite a sincere desire to have it eradicated it works itself into action directly or indirectly. The mind contains many heterogeneous sanskaras, and, while seeking expression in consciousness, they often clash with each other. The clash of sanskaras is experienced in consciousness as a mental conflict. Experience is bound to be chaotic and enigmatic, full of oscillations, confusion and tangles, until consciousness is freed from sanskaras—good and bad. Experience can become truly harmonious only when consciousness is emancipated from subjection to impressions.

The three types of sanskaras give rise to three different states of consciousness

Sanskaras can be classified, according to the essential differences in the nature of the spheres to which they refer, as of three kinds:

(i) Physical sanskaras, which enable the individual to experience the physical world through the physical medium and compel it to identify itself with the physical body.

(2) Subtle sanskaras, which enable the individual to experience the subtle world through the subtle medium and to identify itself with the subtle body.

(3) Mental sanskaras, which enable the individual to experience the mental world through the mental medium and compel it to identify itself with the mental body. The differences between the states of individuals are due to the differences existing in the kind of sanskaras with which their consciousness is loaded. Thus merely
physically conscious individuals experience only the physical world, the subtle-conscious only the subtle world; and the mental conscious only the mental world. The qualitative diversity in the experience of these three types of individuals is due to the difference in the nature of their sanskaras. The self-conscious individuals are, however, different from all others, because they experience the Absolute through the medium of the self, whereas other individuals experience only their bodies and the corresponding worlds. And this difference is due to the fact that whereas the consciousness of others is conditioned by some kind of sanskaras, the consciousness of self-conscious individuals is free from sanskaras. It is only when consciousness is unobscured and unconditioned by sanskaras that the initial will-to-be-conscious arrives at its fruition, and the infinity and indivisible unity of the Absolute is consciously realized. The problem of deconditioning the mind through the removal of sanskaras is, therefore, extremely important.