Samskāras & Vāsanas

By Andre Haralyi M.A., C-IAYT


Samskāras are commonly translated as residual impressions, subliminal activators, mental dispositions or mental formations. They represent the indelible imprints left in the subconscious mind by our daily experiences (perceptions, cognitions, actions and intentions), whether conscious or unconscious, internal or external, desirable or undesirable. 

These subliminal activators are highly dynamic forces in our psyche, constantly propelling consciousness to action. They are impressions left by actions or experiences done in the past which shape our future acts, volitions and behaviors.

In the Yoga Sūtras, verse III.9, Patañjali distinguishes two varieties of Samskāras

  1. Vyutthāna-Samskāras: subliminal activators that lead to externalization of consciousness.
  2. Nirodha-Samskāras: subliminal activator that cause the inhibition of the process of consciousness, disabling the depth memory itself, and leading to a calm flow of the mind.

“Because memory and Samskāras are of one form, there is a link even among births, places and times that are concealed. Past actions, even if not remembered, continue to affect present actions.” 

Yoga Sūtras IV.9


Vāsanas consist of entire series (chains) of similar and interconnected subliminal activators (samskāras), which form our habit patterns, tendencies, expectations, impulses, innate dispositions and inclinations. Sometimes they are translated as “the mass of desires.” Vāsanas are the hidden forces behind our conscious life, they form the soil of our destiny and are responsible for causing the fluctuations of the mind (vṛttis). 

Samskāras and Vāsanas are closely connected with the whole idea of Karma.

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