“There are the samskaras, the tendencies from your other lifetimes, ways of seeing, habits that are so strong, they affect you now. They are the operative situations in your life that are created by karma.” -Frederick Lenz

What are Samskaras?

Samskaras are basically a psychological imprint upon our mind that is ingrained so deeply that it causes a change in our emotional state as the memory of a past occurrence manifests itself. This memory is triggered by a thought or event similar in nature to the one that first created a global belief with its emotional entanglement within us.

The outer rim of The Wheel of Life is known as The 12 Links of Dependent Origination. Samskaras, or mental formations are on the wheel of life between ignorance, and consciousness. The Wheel of Life depicts mental formations as potters making pots.

(We wrote an article to help you learn more about The 12 Links of Dependent Origination)

Karma is a word in Sanskrit that means action. Many people refer to karma as the law of cause and effect, but contrary to that ideology, karma is the cause or action, and the effect or reaction is samskara. Karma, and Samskara together make up who we are now, and create who we will be in the future.

Our mental formations will overwhelm us, and control us if we allow that part of us that identifies with our physical selves, and the world around us to dominate our thinking, because in all of us there are two minds. There is the one who takes action, and by thinking too much also reacts without logic or wisdom. The second is the observer who is watching the life we are living.

Every action or intent in our lives cause an emotional response which is then stored in our Chitta, or subconscious minds. All of our senses come into play as we develop our Samskaras.

Our physical senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and our thoughts as well all contribute to our perception of our reality. Sometimes these perceptions are positive, and other times they are negative.

The positive experiences in our life are uplifting in nature. They are helpful, and bring us happiness, peacefulness, and enlightenment.

The negative experiences in our life will fuel our anger, hate, and rage. This mental state is known as Dvesha in Sanskrit and Dosa in Pali and is one of The Three Poisons.

It is our Kalpana, or imagination based on our memories that bring our samskaras to the surface, and cause the disruption of our mental state, and inner peace.

For example let’s assume that you had a new car in the past and somebody who was jealous of your good fortune keyed your car and left a big scratch across it.

If you had inner peace this event would have no effect on you, but being an average human you would react in anger. This anger response would create an anger induced mental formation in your memory that will affect your future thoughts not only in this lifetime, but in future lifetimes through reincarnation as well.

Samskara will then make its presence known sometime in the future as you are watching a movie or a YouTube video, and in the movie you see someone vandalizing somebodies vehicle… how will you react?

Your deeply emotionally engrained mental formations will cause you to react in anger as you remember the time that somebody scratched your beloved vehicle.

This anger will manifest inside of the part of you that acts, leaving the part of you who is aware and watching the show of your life bewildered, and wondering why you are now emotionally compromised due to a scene in a movie that has no effect on you.

Emotional triggers cause these Samskaras to surface, and control our mindset to react unbecoming of our true self. The part of us who is aware looks upon our actions and attempts to analyze them based on wisdom.

It is what Buddhists refer to as Ayatanas, our senses, which creates our samskaras.

I remember getting yelled at and into trouble for misbehaving in elementary school by the female teachers. Sometimes I was innocent of the accusations, but they were always accompanied by the sound of high heels tapping the hard floor as they walked.

What I now know as my samskaras remind me of those bygone days every time I hear the sound of heals hitting the floor as a woman walks.

If our mothers use to force us to eat mushy cooked broccoli, than the mere smell of it will awaken those memories in the future.

Sensual lust is another causation of a samskara in our chitta, or subconscious mind. We will have sensual lust for someone that we find attractive, and after having sex with that person we will desire that experience again.

When we see someone that we find attractive after that, our Kalpana, imagination and our smriti, memories of that past experience will create the desire within us to do it again with the person we find attractive.

Our samskaras will even be directed towards innocent people from time to time.

Imagine feeling road rage because an older model, red Toyota pickup, cut you off in traffic. Then a week later you see a similar truck in a parking lot with a person standing next to it.

If you have feelings of rage building up again that are directed towards this person as you wonder if they are the one who cut you off, that is your samskara controlling your mental state.

We must learn to let go of our negative mental formations through meditation, or yoga practice.

If we don’t heal what hurt us, we will bleed on people who didn’t cut us.

Through meditation we can associate ourselves with the observer within us, and see the big picture of our thoughts, and actions. When we understand the concepts of impermanence, no-self, and the Ten Fetters we will know the foolishness of holding on to our samskaras.

What reincarnates into our next life?

Samskaras will create our future life as it is our samskaras that reincarnates into our next life. The Buddhist teaching of Anatta or no-self teaches that we have no permanent everlasting self.

If we have no permanent self, what is it the reincarnates into our next life?

Everything is just energy, the chair that you are sitting in, the bed that you sleep in, the electronic device that you are reading this on, and yes, even your thoughts and psychological imprints are just energy too.

It is this energy that reincarnates into our next life.

This happens in one of two ways.

The first way is a rebirth based upon your global beliefs, and your talents and abilities from your past lives.

For instance if you are a musician in this lifetime, you will most likely be reborn into a life with musician parents who will impress upon you a love for music, and help you to improve your abilities even more, if that is your wish.

If you lived a life of spiritual awareness, and have released within yourself the first three of The Ten Fetters, and have become a Sotapanna , then in your next lifetime this energy will most likely be born into a family that embraces Buddhism.

Your journey into enlightenment will then continue to expand as you will most likely become a Buddhist monk, and continue awakening your wisdom.

The second path is for your higher self to choose a lifetime which may include one of suffering to help you grow, and release your samskaras from the past life.

If you were a handsome man who used women for sensual pleasure, and took advantage of them financially in your past life, assuming you have avoided a rebirth as a hungry ghost according to the wheel of Samsara, you may experience a rebirth as a less desirable man in your next lifetime.

You will have the same desires for using women, but you will not have the appearance, or charisma as you did before.

You may find yourself meeting these women again whom you have taken financial advantage of in your last life who are now attractive and in need of your financial assistance.

You of course will help them financially because you believe that this financial assistance will bring you that which you desire, but it will only bring you heartache.

Perhaps this is meant for Karmic Retribution.

It may be a means to offer you a way to repay past karmic debts, and to let go of your sensual desires.

Those of us who are awake and enlightened know the path to enlightenment can take many lifetimes, those who are still asleep remain ubiquitously unaware of the path to enlightenment.

Awaken your wisdom, and let go of your attachments.

Don’t let your samskaras block your path to nirvana

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