In Verse 27 of Ramana Maharshi’s translation of “Devikalottara,” we read: “The mind, hankering after things of the world, is more restless than a monkey. If one controls it from wandering after external things and holds it in the void of non-matter one will attain liberation directly” (The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, p. 140).
In my rendering, we can “go backwards”–from the arising of thoughts to the vasanas to samskaras to the “I am the body idea.”
The mind has an “outward-going” tendency. That tendency, to be discussed in a moment, gives rise to thoughts and thoughts and thoughts.
Therefore, our meditations, at least early on, must naturally begin with the evidence of thoughts (they are directly experienced) as well as with the firm conviction that thoughts are only apparent and, in that sense, unreal.
What gives rise to thoughts?
Vasanas refer to the mental tendencies to give rise to thoughts and emotions. In my understanding, vasanas are like tendency-based propulsive forces. They’re like conatus or “the will to manifest.”
Vasanas help to explain the outward-going, or extroverted, disposition of the mind. They also account for the “jerky” or “volatile” nature of thoughts arising. Thoughts seem to “yank us” from the deep silence, seem to “pull” the mind into expressivity.
I submit that samskaras can be distinguished from vasanas. If the latter refer to the volitional aspect of risings that concretize as thoughts and emotions, then the former, still more basic or one hypostasis higher, signify the false identities on account of which there are these mental tendencies, or vasanas, in the first place.
One does well to investigate samskaras with a view to deducing their existence from the evidence, i.e., the rising of certain kinds of thoughts. I speak about this at great length in this post.
1. I Am The Body Idea
Samskaras–like “I am powerless,” “I am alone,” and so on–provide the basic contours of the personality, the dis-eased (dukkha) personality at that. Even more subtle, and therefore “farther up or back,” than samskaras is the “I am the body idea.” This idea is formal in nature, not content-rich as are samskaras.
Once one’s meditations go deeper, one begins to sense this “I am the body idea.” It is a localization: “I” am here (as opposed to there) and now (as opposed to before or after).
What must be seen through is this localization and limitation. Ask: “Am I, my essential nature, localized? Am I limited or limitless?”
Contemplate the following poem in conclusion.
A Poem by Swami Rama Tirtha
I am without form, without limit;
beyond space, beyond time.
I am in everything, everything is in me.
I am the bliss of the universe.
I am everything.