Nov 7, 2010

PHILOSOPHY OF SAMSKARA - And the making of a personality

Humanly nature, qualities and behaviours are the most difficult for anybody to understand. It is as intriguing for me as for anybody else. And if we do not understand the hidden character of a person, then there are chances that either we will be deceived or hurt in our personal or social life. Apparently, it is difficult to understand the true character of a person as everybody looks the same in whatever circle we move in. This apparent behaviour is so deceiving that sometimes those who talk very sweetly, are not truly sweet, and are putting up a facade to impress. Sometimes, a person can be rude in response but very soft and kind hearted from inside. Sometimes, people project their image as gentle, honest and faithful, whereas in reality, they can be entirely different. Very few people understand the value of their words or actions. Sometimes, their ideology changes to suit their interests. Is it called street smarts or the ability to survive in the odds?  Is it mood swings or their backgrounds or their samskaras which they have inherited from their family, society, or from past lives? If it is the samskaras, then does it vary with the change in situations? Does education, social, or financial factors affect the samskara of a person in presenting themselves to the world?

I have raised a very strong topic to discuss with you all. Therefore, fasten your seat belts and be ready for your mind to take off. Do not feel shy in participating in the discussions. If you do not respond, then I will think that you agree with me fully, whereas I want you to disagree with me in order to enlighten my mind as well as our readers with your valuable inputs. Furthermore, the topic for discussion is purely a product of my mind and as such, I do not wish to quote or bring our ancient scriptures into the discussion, with a few Vedic terminologies as exceptions, to make our discussion easy.

Samskaras may be defined as the values which one carries in his or her life. The values may be moral or ethical forming the character of a person. Moral values differentiate a person from being good or bad. Society teaches us certain moral values and some we inherit from our families. Some moral values come naturally to us as instinctive. Ethics or ethical standards guide us through right or wrong and provide a sense of judgment in our reasoning. Therefore, if a samskara is of higher quality, then it may stop us from doing wrong or in contrary, encourage us to do something which is not acceptable from the social, religious, or ethical point of view.

Now the controversy of who decides these moral or ethical standards or in other words, what is the yard stick of measuring these standards in order to determine samskaras of a person, may arise.

The social rules and regulations are methods to govern a civilized society and they have nothing to do with the values of a person. To my mind, these values come from four sources:

1)    The Family – From the first day when we are born, we see how our parents act or react in different situations. If our parents are religious and we keep seeing them talking or doing good things then our mind gets programmed accordingly. Alternatively, if we see that our parents try to justify every wrong thing like stealing, lying, speaking poorly about others, or other immoral activities, then accordingly a shadow is cast on our minds, and we perceive those things as ‘right’ and create our own moral standards accordingly. This makes our samskaras follow the example of – “Like father like son or like mother like daughters”. However, here I am not talking about exceptions, which are always present.
2)    The Society – the society in which we live casts a heavy influence on our personalities and the way we think. If the society is full of hypocrites and demonstrative people, then we also become like them, or if we live in a society full of scholars and just people, then we also start thinking and behaving like them, which in turn makes our samskaras.
3)    The Religion(s) – Religion plays a dominant role in the making of our thinking and reasoning of a situation. If religion teaches us to be tolerant, kind or God-loving then we become like that, or in contrary, if it teaches violence or differentiates human beings on the basis of caste, creed or religion, then our mind and behaviour gets programmed accordingly.
4)    The Soul – For those who believe in past lives and travelling of the soul from one body to another, some of our samskaras of previous births get carried over to the present life. One may find several examples of this belief on YouTube which shows how children of a tender age can speak several languages fluently or write lyrics of any music by just hearing it once etc., which is otherwise not possible even by the people of the highest scholastic background.

Therefore, keeping in view the above sources of values, the samskaras can be influenced by three Gunas or qualities such as Sattvik, Rajsik or Tamsik, which play critical roles in the making of a personality.

Sattvik: I would like to define Sattvik as pure and true with the sense of divinity. This means a person’s mind has become absolutely pure and free of all doubts. If the samskara is Sattvik, then the person will perform every action keeping in mind the presence of the Divine. Sattvik people discharge the highest ethical and moral values in performing their duties. Their wisdom and dispassion is of par excellence.

Rajsik: The quality of the rajsik can be described as that of action, passion, and creation. Literally, rajsik may mean one that possesses princely qualities. The characteristics of a rajsik personality is more positive than the tamsik one, but lesser than the sattvik. Here, the moral and ethical values change as per the demand of time in order to manage personal or social lives with the sense of justification. People with the rajsik temperaments believe in divinity, but the belief changes to suit their requirements. Therefore there are elements of greed, passion, and attachment to the fruits of action. They do not give away anything without the prospect of a gain or respect in return.  

Tamsik: Out of the three Gunas (qualities) tamsik is considered to be of the lowest category. It represents darkness of the mind or complete ignorance of the real self or the soul. Tamas, from which the word tamsik has originated, may also mean intoxication. It means the mind is intoxicated with impurities. These kinds of people tend to think that they are the body and the body is the main source of enjoyment.  They try everything to gain physical and mental pleasures.  They live for the body and give value to materialistic pleasures. They may be selfish, self-centred, greedy, and jealous and justify these things to suit their personal interests. In order to gain materialistic or physical pleasures, they are more than willing to compromise morality, ethics, or principles of life.

Therefore, every soul is born with the qualities of one of the above gunas and once they associate with the body, then they appear to have tamsik qualities. When the soul associates itself with the mind, then appears to be rajsik, and if the soul gets associated with the intellect and divinity, then it appears to be sattvik. However, if a soul goes beyond all the three gunas then it’s called Nirguna or traigunatya. I would not like to dwell on them in order to avoid deviating from the main topic.

The above gunas or qualities provide a measuring tool to assess the levels of their presence in one’s personality, which makes up their overall samskaras. As per my experience, if two people get along well in life then their samskaras seem to be the same. Birds of the same feathers flock together. If people are too clever, foxy, jealous, critical, gossipers, or flaunt their wealth and/or knowledge and can get along well with similar types of people, then they will have common samskaras. Similarly, if one is religious in nature, God-fearing, wealthy but down to earth, truthful, and sincere, then they will get along well with similar types of people. The problem concerning people’s attitudes and behaviours comes in personal or social lives, when our samskaras do not match. Therefore, it is very important to understand and judge the company of people we know and interact with in our day to day lives.

Furthermore, samskaras also depend upon the varna (class) of a person from which they belong. Varna does not mean the caste system but instead, the inherent nature and the capability of a person to perform work. I have seen several people born in the so-called ‘higher class’ having tamsik nature and indulging in immoral activities. In that case, only fools and the spiritually illiterate will treat them as a person from a higher class. I believe that samskaras can be judged only by the presence of one of the above gunas in a person’s personality.

The role of education plays a greater role in shaping the samskaras of a person. If education is earned for the purpose of enlightenment of the mind and for knowing the true-self (the atman or soul), the source of its origin, the travelling path and how and where it is going to be culminated, is a true education. Otherwise, worldly education tends to emphasize reading books for the purpose of getting a job or earning for livelihood. Therefore, one should not get swayed away from the educational backgrounds of a person as they may be deceiving. One may find many illiterates or not so educated people having enlightened minds with the qualities of Sattvik or Nirguna (beyond gunas). In the modern time, the best example is Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa who was not educated from the worldly point of view but was above and beyond all the gunas.  His teachings are yet to be understood by the most qualified people in the world. He inherited godly qualities by performing Bhakti Yoga or supreme devotion, and as such, the world knows him as God incarnated.

Your feedback and intellectual outburst on the topic will certainly kindle the light of enlightenment in the minds of our readers, and will be much appreciated.

Suman Saran Sinha