Pathways To The Tao #2: Prelude: Samskaras


My next piece of contemplative performance art at The Stoa will be held on Tuesday, July 27th at 6 p.m. EST. To learn more and to join other participants in this free event, you register here.


In the forthcoming series of newsletter issues, I’ll be offering a rigorous, systematic overview of samskaras: what they are, how to discover them, how to help them partially fade away, and more.

I begin, in this Prelude, by setting up the argument.

Ken Wilber on Cleaning Up

Ken Wilber should be given immense credit for seeing that Cleaning Up is a process in its own right. To Clean Up is to heal our psychological wounds or to integrate the (Jungian) shadow into ego consciousness. It is to dissolve the afflictions, or many of them anyway, of the ego-self.

In “The History of Shadow,” however, Wilber implies (so far as I can tell) that Waking Up and Cleaning Up are two separate processes: one for the psychological subject “over here” and the other for the True Self, which is all. When he states, “We really want to be in touch with both—our real self and our True Self—because both of them have a certain type of reality,” so far I agree with him.

And yet, it’s clear to me that Cleaning Up, when properly understood, is really couched within Waking Up. In this sense, the two paths cannot be separated, as I suspect Wilber does, not just because doing so can lead to spiritual bypass but also because Cleaning Up consists of a set of practices whose point is to clarify who we essentially aren’t in order to realize who we ultimately are.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that in this Second Axial Age Cleaning Up (hereafter: what I call clearing) will have a supporting role to play in the larger drama of Waking Up.

We can begin to understand the seminal importance of clearing by turning to Ramana Maharshi.

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, these ego tendencies or predilections. They are, he implies, tremendous obscurations. “Why can’t I get intuitively, fully, completely what you just said? Why am I not realized right now?” In other words, “Why am I not wholly transformed right now?”

Because, Ramana states, these samskaras have not only not been seen and understood 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—and here I already turn to practice—our investigation of our own particular samskaras will be crucial for actually seeing directly who we ultimately are.

Said even more simply, the path of awakening passes through samskaras.

A Précis: The Argument At A Glance

In the following issues, I’ll unfold the argument concerning samskaras along the following lines:

1.) Certain delusions very naturally fall away as a result of constant and complete seated practice. They cease to show up.

2.) As a result of 1.), one is left with basic ego patterns or personality types called samskaras.

3.) Those samskaras can be classified into two types: wholesome (is this what Jung called archetypes? We’ll see…) and unwholesome ones.

4.) Seated meditation on its own will not, as I’ll cite Sri Swami Satchidanda as suggesting, destroy unwholesome samskaras. Rather, it will simply allow one to see, understand, and observe 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 and not mine (i.e., not what I truly am).

5.) Only, as Ramana and Satchidanda point out, 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.

6.) Finally, 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 Jungian 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.

Before jumping headlong into all of this, however, I had better be clearer with you about what samskaras are and why, even more tangibly, they are important to discover. I’ll do this next time.

With palms pressed,