How To See Off Samskaras

In a short essay, “Freedom from Binding Ego Tendencies: The Essence of Spiritual Liberation,” Timothy Conway discusses the “constricting ego tendencies of attachment and aversion (variously termed samskarasvasanaskleshasnafs, sins, etc.), and cessation of the ignorance which creates a sense of a separate ‘me” (italics in the original). Of course, a good number of these ego tendencies simply fall away as one is on the path, but what about the “stickier” samskaras (and as Stephen Wolinksy suggests, some samskaras can be especially sticky)?

Here’s the pith from Conway:

As for these binding, heavy likes and dislikes (we’re not talking here about harmless preferences, e.g., preferring brown rice to white rice)—a good sign of spiritual progress is that these tendencies, these karmic habit-patterns of the egoic soul, become thinned out as one lets go, lets God. So, even if it seems that one can’t right now entirely drop certain “unwholesome” or “sinful” patterns of pride, anger, greed, lust, hatred, revulsion, apathy, disgust, envy, jealousy, shame, guilt, pettiness, and so forth, one can endeavor to have these patterns thinned out—letting them arise and pass away more quickly by simply seeing them off. One realizes, as the Buddha so often advised 2500 years ago about any body-mind identifications, “This is not me, this is not mine, this is not my Self.” (my emphases in bold)

It’s worth asking: what approaches can help these sticky samskaras to thin out? What follows are some helpful approaches/meditations:

Let it be energy. Take the label off of the samskara and have it simply as energy.

Let it be energy–and add a koan. Take the label off of the samskara and have it simply as energy. Additionally, ask: “Where does this vital energy come from? Where does it go?”

Use self-inquiry. “To whom does this samskara arise?” “To me.” “Who am I?”

Play with: little mind… Big Mind…. First, become intimate with the samskara, noticing where and how it shows up in the physical body. Next, give it a label that has some strong emotional charge. For instance, if it’s hatred, it could be: “Hell is other people.” Notice what it’s like when that phenomenon is really charged. Next, come to the heart space and give this a provisional label like “love,” “vastness,” or “openness.” Dwell in this heart space. Next, toggle back and forth between the samskara (“Hell other people”) and the heart space of openness (“love”). Finally, abide in and as love. (Cf., similarly, Integral Zen’s approach called Conflict Liberation.)

Use a Tantric approach. Suppose the samskara is fear. First, be very intimate with the fear. Ask: “Can I merge with this fear, merge with it entirely?” Next, ask: “What is it that this fear truly longs for?” See that it truly longs for all-things-being-abidingly-all-right-or-OK. Finally, allow it to be with, and as, the abidingly OK. See: what is that like in direct experience?

Hold it in a steady gaze. Simply and kindly hold the samskara in a steady gaze, neither indulging it nor being repulsed by it. Let the gaze be very steady, secure, humble, simple, and loving. Observe as the samskara fades away (cf. the Buddha’s first discourse).

Be behind the mind. As Nisargadatta says, “Look at the mind from the outside.” As Th Diamond Sutra says, “Mind arises, but I do not abide.” Here, look at the samskara from the outside. Can you establish yourself “out and back”? Can you realize that, always, you are “behind” the mind?

These are just some approaches I’ve used. Experiment: see what works for you.

In all things, Nisargadatta would urge upon us earnestness, sincerity, and patience. So too here. The desire to get rid of a samskara is not the way. (That’s, in fact, just more of the same, isn’t it?) Help in patiently and earnestly seeing it Home is.