Page 1 of 16SAMSKARA
Samskara, a Sanskrit word describes several concepts. These concepts are all related but convey different essence when used in different context. This is not very dissimilar to some common words in English. Water a plant carries a different meaning than drinking water to quench one’s thirst. In this book we will try to explore, understand and try to be innovative about the meaning we attribute and the methods of imparting samskara in modern times. Samskara of an individual has a general meaning of what one carries from one life to another; a journey from life to life. The last thought in your dying moments is the quintessence of your entire life up to then. The same impressions and experiences will become your potential for the next life. That will be your asset to carry into the next birth in a seed form. In the interval between births, though there is no body, there is a great chain of body-related experiences existing in seed form which can become active at any time upon acquisition of a body. We refer to these impressions and chain of bodily experiences as Samskara. One may call it conditioning or even a built-in program of your life, applicable in the future. A man knows how to drive a car. If the car is taken away from him he does not forget how to drive a car. His experience of driving a car stays with him in a seed form. The only thing lacking is the car. Once he gets a car his driving will come back to him.
Let us examine the banking system of today. You deposit money or take out money from a bank in the currency you deposit. You can some times borrow money and the other times lend money. You have to balance your check books, the credits and debits. Don’t forget the finance charges. The usual desire or requirement is to have a positive balance. The more you have in the bank the more value it has, the more you can do with it. The aim usually is to have as much as you can.
Now imagine that instead of having a brick and mortar building to deal with you have to deal with a virtual entity. Actually, it is not hard to comprehend a virtual banking since many people do actually deal with banks via the Internet. If you can stretch your imagination a little more you can imagine of having a virtual currency in a virtual bank. Why to carry dollar bills or a plastic? Even with virtual money in a virtual bank, you still have to deposit money, balance the checkbook and desire to have a big bank account.
Now, imagine that you have to deposit this virtual currency in kind rather than in currency (money) in a virtual bank it is getting close to the concept of samskara. The virtual bank is your bank. This is not accessible to any one other than you. The currency is your karma, be it a good karma, a bad karma, or an ugly karma. You do not have to deposit the karma. Deposit is out of your control. It is automatic. Once you do a karma it is deposited. Even if you intend to do a karma it is deposited. The desire of performing a karma is considered equivalent to doing the karma. The balancing also is automatic. Once you undo a karma it is removed. In this account a good karma does not cancel out a bad karma. All karma have to burn out. We will get into the details of karma later on since the samskara can not be understood independent of the concept of karma. They are closely related.
The main thing that has to be understood is that the goal of the samskara deposit is to get to a zero balance. The understanding of this principle is important. Buddha was walking along. Accidentally, his big toe hit a pebble and as expected the toe started bleeding. It of course was painful. Buddha’s response was that of utter relief. This was the last of his karma coming back. He thanked the pebble and continued walking. In your childhood you might have experienced sprain or trauma. Your mother might have said, a ‘graha’ has been cut. This is a similar situation as of Budha’s toe. The concept of karma deposit and then burning out has gone deep in our psyche. Sometimes these word are uttered without even understanding the details of the incident.
This virtual account of karma that we all carry from life to life is what Hindus have called Samskara. It is worth focusing a bit more here. How did we learn about the significance of Samskara? Why did we not focus on the body? Why did we spend thousands of years of our total energy on apparently virtual things?
Every time period has a contemporary approach. At the present time we use the rational approach to understand the real nature of material world. We want to know the details of all matter and also of living species. We examined the matter and reached to electrons protons and neutrons. Similarly, we examined the living cells and reached to the genes. To reach where we are in this direction it has taken thousands of years and a continuity of at least two thousand years.
Hindus had a different approach. The sanatana dharma provides the answers to the holistic relationship of an individual (vyakti), nature (shrishti), society (samashti) and God (parmashti). The relationship of soul (atma) and Ishwar (parmatma) has been the subject of our studies. The primary focus is on the immortality of soul and not on the transient body or the material world. This is clearly mentioned in Gita by Krishna who says:
Vaashaanshi Jirnani Yatha Vihay
Navani Grihnaati naroparani
Tatha sharirani vihaya jirna
nyanyani sanyati navani dehi (2..22)
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones,
Similarly the soul accepts material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
Another meaning of Samskara is the sacraments of human beings that takes place at various stages of life. We will discuss this in more detail in the third chapter of the book. There are sixteen samskaras (sacraments) that are typically recommended in the Hindu tradition. We will be recommending a minimum of four samskaras that are more prevalent now. The Namkaran samskar (ceremoney of naming of the child) is conducted when a child is born. The yagnopaveet (thread ceremony) samkara when the child grows up and is ready to go to school. Vivaaha samskara (marriage ceremony) is performed at the time of marriage. The antyeshti samskaras (Final rites) are performed at the time of death. In the example of our virtual bank with virtual currency, you can take these samskaras as initiation incentives contributed to you by the society to help you do dharmic karmas in your life.
Many regard Hinduism as being synonymous with working for enlightenment. The meditations, the tapas, the yogas the mantras; all leading to moksha. The path to enlightenment does not relieve you of the virtual bank of samskar. You are still bound by the law of karma and as Buddha will say:
Aeso Dhammo Sanatana
This is the law.
So the Hindus have also worked on what happens when you do not get enlightened. Enlightenment happens to only a few. Most of us belong to the category where we carry the baggage of current and past bodily experiences to the next life. It is only when the virtual accounts becomes zero that the virtual body becomes one with the divine. This simplistic model is presented in this manner only to develop an understanding about the significance of Samskara, Karma and the journey from life to life.
A certain race, a certain religion, a certain nation carries its own samskara, which gives it a certain character. That is what has happened to India. The trees of India, the soil of India have become charged with the energy liberated from the likes of Rama, Krishna, Budha, Mahavir, Nanak, and numerous such divine entities. This has created an energy field, a budhafield that is unique. The whole development of Teerthas and dhams is based on this concept of release of focused energy. If you can be on that wavelength you can feel it too. You can be a part of it as well.
What is the source of this knowledge? How did we acquire this knowledge and where did we loose it? What do we do to rediscover it? Each one of us can develop some understanding of samskara, karma, dharma and other Hindu concepts by reading about the scriptures. But a deeper appreciation requires one to explore, research, do sadhanas and tapasyas to rediscover and further enhance the knowledge about these. Before we get into the concept of samskara let us explore the scientific concepts and learn how the intelligentsia has given time, money and energy to get to the point they have come, the distances they have covered. We believe that for hundreds and thousands of years the Hindus poured their entire intellect and resources to discover these truths. When Buddha says Aeso dhammo sanatana (this is the law) he does not theorize, he does not think so and this is not his opinion. Similarly when Mahavir says “Dhammo mangalmukkitam” that is what he knows. It is backed up by his experience, work and the work of thousands who experienced before him.
It is important to realize that we in the east were not so much interested in philosophy. Philosophy is more of a mind game. A philosopher is more interested in the logic of mind and less in the Truth and realization. We do not like to think whether or not God exists. Our Rishis were not interested in proving God’s existence. Even if you do not believe in God, it is o.k. They were more interested in the search itself. We used the word Darshan which is often translated as philosophy. But, Darshan has a totally different meaning. Darshan is face to face. Darshan is realization. That is why many of our scriptures have statements by the people who had Darshan. Vivekananda wanted to know about God. He is passionate. He goes to Ramkrishna and asks him, “where is He.” RamKrishna laughs and then touches Vivekananda with his feet. Vivekananda goes in to a trans. He had the realization that could not have been expressed in words (the darshan). There was no debate and it was not necessary.
Budha was in the audience of over 10 thousand people. Budha never spoke a single word about Truth. If some one asked him the question what is truth he would keep quiet. This day he just sat silently. A flower in his hand. It was a lotus flower. He was just looking at the flower as if the ten thousand people did not exist. Moments passed and then hours started passing and people started becoming uneasy. Then suddenly, one disciple -Mahakashyap - amongst the gathering of ten thousand - started to laugh for no reason. Budha called him and handed over the lotus flower. He said to the audience, “What I could say to you in words, I have said to you. What I could not say in words, I am giving to Mahakashyap.” This is the Darshan, face to face, a deep realization that Mahakashyap had which prompted his laughter to manifest. This transfer of realization is difficult to be expressed in words. But, when a realized soul chooses to speak, he does not simply philosophize, it is not merely a mind game. He simply states the facts as he sees them.
Our Shashtras reflect word from people who had the realization. We never paid much attention to the pundits, the intellectuals and the so called philosophers. Yes, the intellectuals have written a lot of commentaries. There are several commentaries on the Bhagavadgita and likewise there are several on Brahmasutra or Pataanjali. But the original ones, be it Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, or Dhammapada or Shankarbhashya; they were all spoken and written by the realized ones, the ones who had the face to face darshans.
With this introduction we will try to get on with the rest of the book. It is imperative that we try to understand the law of Karma, it is also crucial that we understand what we mean by Dharma and know how to perform the important samskaras.