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According to traditional Indian psychology, vasanas are the cause of compulsive thinking, and they must be destroyed before we can become Self‑realized.

Ramana Maharshi photo lm_09

By N.R. Narayana Aiyer

When a thought occurs and passes off, it leaves an impression on the subconscious mind; when the same thought occurs again it underscores the original impression and if the same thought frequently occurs, the impression becomes deeper and when it gets a good hold, the thought recurs uninvited.

These impressions recorded in the subconscious mind take a seed form and sink deep into the heart at the time of death and do not perish; they are carried over to the next birth as vasanas or purva samskaras or latent tendencies. They, in right time, sprout forth from the Heart.4 The Self safeguards these vasanas in its closest proximity within itself, the Heart, just as a miser keeps his valued possessions within himself and never out of contact.5 When a vasana is released from the Heart and comes to play, it is associated with the light of the Self and the person is said to think. It passes from the heart to the brain and on its way the transformed thought grows more and more until it holds sway all alone; for the time being all other vasanas are held in abeyance. When the original vasana has spent itself, another more insistent and waiting vasana takes the field and occupies the mind and so on.6

Reverting to thought impressions, it must be stated they determine the character of the individual. They make or mar a spiritual man. When thoughts of God and of kindness to fellow-beings engage the mind and predominate, they elevate him and gradually lead him to ripeness for spiritual discipline and later to eminence in the spiritual field.

Contrarily, selfishness, indifference to the sufferings of others, envy, egotism, anger and hatred lead to vindictiveness, cruelty, and the primitive savagery of man. Persons as they advance in age, if they are not careful of their thoughts and persist in their old, crooked, cunning and lustful ways, become cantankerous and insufferable and people avoid them. They suffer hell even while alive. If these evil samskaras are carried over to the next birth, it is not hard to divine the nature of the child and God in His wisdom places him in families and environments suitable to his nature (B. G. XVI).

The only easy remedy to get over these evil propensities is recourse to japa and constant remembrance of God. These will certainly sublimate all evil tendencies and change the individual, completely. There need be no doubt about this.

In jagrat (waking) state when a man is idle his mind is kept engaged by these latent vasanas. The mind is never idle. It is like a running mill wanting grist to grind and the vasanas supply it.

In the Arunachala Ashtaka or the Eight Verses on Arunachala, in the sixth verse addressing the Heart Sri Bhagavan says, “Thou art Thyself, the one Being ever aware as the Self-luminous Heart. In Thee, there is a mysterious Power which without Thee is nothing. From it proceeds the phantom of the mind emitting its latent dark subtle mists, which, illumined by Thy light of consciousness reflected on them, appear within as thoughts whirling in the vortices of prarabdha, later developing into the psychic worlds and, projected outwardly, as the material world transformed into concrete objects which are magnified by the outgoing senses and move like pictures in the cinema show. Visible or invisible, Oh hill of Grace, without Thee they are nothing!”

Incidentally this gives the key to the saying that all manifestations including world, body, etc., are objectified thoughts and are therefore not real.

So these vasanas transformed into thoughts obstruct the aspirant during meditation. So long as vasanas remain and are not completely destroyed realisation cannot be achieved. These vasanas can be obliterated only by concentration on that which is free from vasanas, that is, the Heart.7

The seekers aim should be to drain away the vasanas from the Heart and let no reflection obstruct the light of Consciousness. This is achieved by the search for the source of the ego.8 This is the direct method. The state free from vasanas is the primal state and the eternal state of purity.

On another occasion speaking about the scheme of liberation Sri Bhagavan said, “Just as water in the pot reflects the enormous sun within the narrow limits of the pot, even so the vasanas or latent tendencies of the individual acting as the reflecting medium, catch the all pervading light of Consciousness arising from the heart and present in the form of reflection the phenomenon called the mind. Seeing only the reflection the ajnani is deluded into the belief that he is a finite being, the jiva. If the mind is introverted, through Self-enquiry, into the source of Aham Vritti, the ‘I-thought’, vasanas become extinct and in the absence of the reflecting medium, the phenomenon of reflection, namely the mind, disappears, being absorbed into the light of the one Reality, the Heart’’,9 incidentally, it may be mentioned that this is why the jiva or the individual self is called the reflected Consciousness (chidabhasa).

Viveka Chudamani verse 276 says that vasanas get extinct to the extent to which the mind is absorbed in the Heart.

“Contemplation of one’s own Self uninterrupted by ideas of external objects is necessary and thereby the instinctive tendencies of the mind which are the causes of birth and death are put down. Until the sole idea of the Self naturally and without effort flows in a continuous current, contemplation should be practised. Then the vasanas perish. All the Upanishads direct a man to kill vasanas by contemplation of the Self.”

Mandukya Upanishad directs the fixing of the mind on the ardhamatra or the last syllable of the mental articulation of the sound in ‘OM’ and remaining thought-free which is virtually fixing the mind on the Heart.

The Bhagavad Gita VI. 25-26 says, “With resolute will, gradually get the mind fixed on the Self and obtain mental stillness; thereafter remain thought-free. Whenever the mind gets outward, bring it back and establish it on the Self.”

Bhagavan Sri Ramana instructing Kavyakantha Ganapathi Muni on tapas said, “If, when a mantra is repeated, one keenly watches wherefrom the mantra sound emanates, the mind will get absorbed there. That is Tapas.”

Sri Bhagavan in “Who am I?” says, “To keep the mind turned within and abide in the Self is Atma Vichara.”

Again in Upadesa Sara Verse 10 says, “To abide at the source of the ego, that is, the Heart, is Karma, Bhakthi, Yoga and Jnana.” Abiding in the Heart means to keep the mind focused on the Heart and remaining thought-free.

Here it should be stated that Heart, Atman, Brahman, Self, Spirit, Guru and Void are synonymous. So also Jiva, mind, ego, chidabhasa, and reflected consciousness are synonymous.

Just as the ether in a pot is no other than the all-pervading ether, the Self in the heart of every individual is no other than the all-pervading Supreme Spirit or God.


4. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 108.

5. Ibid., Talk 402.

6. Ibid., Talk 616.

7. Ibid., Talk 28.

8. Ibid., Talk 616.

9. Maharshi’s Gospel, Vol. II, last chapter.

Text copyright © Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai

N.R. Narayana Iyer Aiyer was a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

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This page was published on January 17, 2019 and last revised on February 12, 2019.


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