Getting Clear About Samskaras: Putting Ramana Maharshi And Swami Satchidanda Together

Let me begin with Ramana Maharshi’s clear statement on samskaras in connection with awakening and then return to the exquisite commentary I cited yesterday.

Ramana Maharshi on Samskaras

The following is an astonishingly illuminating satsang with the radiant Sri Ramana Maharshi:

Ramana Maharshi: Awareness is jnana. Jnana is eternal and natural, ajnana is unnatural and unreal.

Questioner: Having heard this truth, why does one not remain content?

RM: Because samskaras [innate mental tendencies] have not been destroyed. Unless the samskaras cease to exist, there will always be doubt and confusion. All efforts are directed to destroying doubt and confusion. To do so their roots must be cut. Their roots are the samskaras. (Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, ed. David Godman, p. 29)

Notice the supreme importance that Ramana is placing on samskaras. They are, he implies, tremendous obscurations. “Why can’t I get what you just said? Why am I not realized right now?” Because these samskaras have not only not been seen and understand but also because they have not yet been destroyed. Ramana is arguing, then, that samskaras are precisely what prevent sudden awakening. If he is correct, then an investigation of our samskaras will be crucial for actually seeing directly who we are.

Sri Swami Satchidanda on Samskaras

Importantly, Satchidanda helps to clarify our thinking. Recall what he stated in his commentary I included in this blog yesterday.

1.) “When you meditate on these impressions [samskaras], you bring them to the surface. You can’t destroy them by this means, but you can see and understand them well….” (pp. 88-9).

2.) “When you let go of the ego, all the impressions [samskaras] in it will be lost also. But [again–see 1 immediately above] until that occurs, the impressions will not go away” (p. 89).

Putting Ramana and Satchidanda Together

Here is how I would tie everything said together:

–First, certain delusions do very naturally fall away as a result of constant and complete seated practice. They cease to show up.

–Second, one is then left with basic ego patterns or personality types called samskaras.

–Third, those samskaras are of two types: wholesome (is this what Jung called archetypes?) and unwholesome ones.

–Fourth, seated meditation on its own will not, as Satchidanda says, destroy unwholesome samskaras. Rather, it will simply allow one to see, understand, and (I would add) see certain unwholesome samskaras fade out (but not completely). Meditation allows one to see such unwholesome samskaras more and more as (a) asat (not really real) and (b) not me (i.e., not what I truly am).

–Fifth, only, as Ramana and Satchidanda suggest, by getting to the root will unwholesome samskaras finally be destroyed. That root is the ego or I-thought. To cut out the root is to destroy unwholesome samskaras.

–And, sixth, since there must be wholesome samskaras in order for the Formless to manifest itself in appropriate form and, from there, into speech, action, and the like, wholesome samskaras, or archetypes, must remain even for the jnani. In other words, wholesome personality structures remain without being in any way identified with since the jnani is, of course, beyond all that…

Samskaras Will Persist Until The Pot Is Broken

The following is an amazing excerpt from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidadanda (1978/2012), pp. 88-9.

What is in bold is a translation of a Patanjai sutra; what is unbolded after the bolded statement is Swami Satchidadanda’s illuminating commentary.

* * *

11. Dhyanaheyastadvrttayah.

In the active state, they [these obstacles or klesas–AT] can be destroyed by meditation.

The hindering thoughts come in two stages: the potential form, before they come to the surface and get converted to action, and the manifesting ones which are being put into action. It is easier to control manifested things first; then from the more gross, we can slowly get into the more subtle. Thought forms in the potential state (samskaras) cannot be removed by meditation. When you meditate on these impressions, you bring them to the surface. You can’t destroy them by this means, but you can see and understand them well and gain control over whether or not they should manifest in action. You can trace them back into their subtle form and see directly that the ego is the basis of the obstructing thoughts. Then, when you transcend the mind in the higher samadhi, even the ego is lost. When you let go of the ego, all the impressions [samskaras–AT] in it will be lost also. But until that occurs, the impressions will not go away.

It is something like using the herb asafoetida. Asafoetida is a product that aids digestion and helps control gas. In India it is used in curries and kept in a mud pot. But it smells so much that even if you clean the pot hundreds of times, the smell will stay. How can you get rid of the smell? The only way is to break the pot. The ego has the “smell” of your thoughts in a subtle form. But you can only understand the smell and see that the thoughts are there when they are manifest. To get rid of the impressions completely, you have to break the ego. So, first you clean the superficial things, and ultimately you break the pot. By meditation you understand the thought forms and clean them up. Then you have gotten a glimpse of where and how they are, you can slowly trace them to their root and finally cut it [namely, the ego–AT] out. When you want to uproot a tree, you cut the branches first and then dig to the very root. (My italics)

RIP Pete Sims (1981-2021), Cont’d

In later years, Pete liked to wear colorful socks. A Canadian living in Denmark and teaching at a quirky quasi-bohemian school, he was a tad eccentric. And a tad eccentric are just my style.

You see Denmark, at least in my reckoning and as a rule, is pretty square. Think of geometric interiors (rectangles, squares, and so on), of cool colors (blond hardwood floors, bright bluish whites, chrome handles), of rule following (one rarely sees someone cross the street until the signs indicate that it’s legal to do so), of flat farmland, of social democracy, and more.

To give you a visual, Pete’s uniform might look something like this: a pair of monochromatic Nike sneakers, a pair of dark skinny jeans, a dark or light t-shirt, a gray cardigan–and throw in some playful socks. He had mirth in spades.

In fact, Pete was both order and spillover, synthesis and levity, theater and analysis. He moved, as he himself pointed out, like a dancer, he used his hands as extensions of his words, he had an air of the theatrical, and yet, like a genuine philosopher, he also cared about getting clear about the big ideas of our time. He dreamed, for instance, of being a member of a new model eco-village, one that would demonstrate how to use regenerative techniques to live in harmony with nature. He was geeky but he wasn’t just geeky.

But that dream of a regenerative community was just the start since on top of “infrastructure” would need to be something like a community that actually made good on the promise of human flourishing within the context of Epicurean friendship. It would need to braid together the best of tradition with the best of innovation. Its leftist political and ecological infrastructure would provide the foundation for its meaning-laden superstructure.

At the heart of Pete’s vision of a good life, I see now, was true friendship. A true friend, the Classical Athenians held, was philia: caring for that one, for each one for his or her own sake. In all true friendship, therefore, there is magnanimity as well as–to bring in the yogis and the Buddhists–sympathetic joy. It was not enough to be egalitarian in spirit. One also needed to be able to hold another’s hair back as she, wrenching with sickness, vomited in the toilet.

Pete, a true friend to others and to me, was big-hearted: he wished others well and, over 10 years at Kaospilots, helped many to flourish. Following Pete’s example, may we all be learn to be friends to one another.

RIP Pete Sims (1981-2021)

My dear friend Pete died on July 1st, 2021, of Stage 4 brain cancer. For the past 12 years, he’d lived in Denmark. A memorial service was held for him on July 8th.

I first met Pete in 2012. He was just finishing up an “epic project” in Bogota, Colombia, as part of the program abroad with Kaospilot students. Thanks to Skype, which only then was becoming more widely utilized by entrepreneurs, Pete and I were able to speak while he was in Bogota and I in Brooklyn.

As we hopped on the call, it turned out that Pete had forgotten his earbuds and couldn’t find them just then. As a result, the entire conversation was held via the chat field. And what did we write about? It was, I later found out, one of Pete’s favorite subjects: how to reform Kaospilots the school by rethinking the curriculum from the ground up.

Pete, a dreamer yes, was more so a schemer. He liked to hatch plots, but even before hatching plots, he liked to see how everything–everything- fit together. Before he was a designer, then, he was a philosopher. It wasn’t enough to synthesize this and that; he wanted to see the whole thing resolved into an elegant and complete form.

Therefore, before he was a designer and a philosopher, he was an artist. Only his canvas was a school, his medium a curriculum, and his ambition to see beautiful souls–that is, resourceful, bright, relevant, and with-it students–arise out of the lost souls that they were when they first arrived three years before.

I’ll miss my dear friend Pete. Psychonaut Terence McKenna once told us to “find the others.” Pete was one of my others, someone I’d found and we’d lost too soon.


In the next post on Pete, I’d like to speak about what is truest about Pete and that was his love of friendship.