What is a Vasana?

Ramana Maharshi taught us about vasanas

Derivation of the Notion of Vasanas

The term “vasana” is used in Vedantic literature. The Vedanta is the non-dual literature at the end of the Hindu Vedas which discusses enlightenment. Usually called the Upanishads, they mentor us on how to achieve enlightenment. The Bhagavad-Gita is often included in this class of literature. These books describe the obstacles to enlightenment and the primary obstacle is our vasanas.

This survival of vasanas is why we hear of gurus, who may have had levels of enlightenment as high as seventh-chakra Brahmajnana (God Realization), also called kevalya nirvikalpa samadhi, who still have vasanas.

They still create skewed, exploitative sexual relations with their students, or assault them, or hit them up for money, etc. They consider themselves beyond karma, dismiss their behavior as eccentricities or “crazy wisdom” but eventually go too far and fall.

One cannot experience liberation or moksha, which occurs in sahaja nirviklalpa samadhi, as long as one has a single vasana, Sri Ramana Maharshi tells us. Sahaja sees the spiritual heart (hridayam) permanently open. (1) Then we are liberated from birth and death. We have attained freedom from physical reincarnation.

I’ll look more at this side of things later. For now, I’d like to consider vasanas from an everyday point of view.

How Vasanas Come to Be

Vasanas could be defined as the automatic, mechanical, or habitual ways we have of responding to situations. They are ingrained patterns of behavior.

They could also be thought of as our unpaid bills in life, our debts, our accounts payable. They are our karmic residue, the precipitate of, or what’s left over from, our perpetrations in life. They also can be seen as our old issues, unfinished business, excess baggage in life. They skew our behavior and we’re seldom aware they’re operating. While they’re widely known in the growth movement and spirituality, I’m not aware that the subject is taught in schools. Most people do not know what vasanas are.

Vasanas are the main obstacle to our well-being and happiness in life. They are the Tin Man in us, the robot, the automaton. They are the gruff troll, the witch, the ogre. All the fairy tales about these beings are, in the end, about vasanas.

Alice in Wonderland is all about vasanas

They derive from decisions made in response to earlier incidents or episodes in life that involved shock and loss, which convinced us to never do some things and always do others. In some way, we shut down to life, stopped responding spontaneously, and became a robot.

Usually our vasanas do not subside. They are persistent and their influence on us grows over time as we commit fresh perpetrations when they erupt in situations of upset or crisis, as they did with some of us recently (me included) during the recent episode with SaLuSa.

We saw, in the series on “Understanding Soul Contracts,” how we agree before birth to handle some area of karma in the upcoming lifetime. Often this learning process is switched on by the occurrence of some traumatic incident. We lose a parent or child. We suffer a debilitating accident. We contract a terrible disease. We lose a job, a house, an opportunity.

When early childhood incidents occur, we often make decisions about how to be and how not to be in life.  I’m never going to love again. I’m always going to be cautious. A vasana is rooted in these incidents and decisions. It ramifies itself each time a later, similar incident occurs and we reaffirm and follow the pattern. We become creatures of habit, predictably and faithfully following our vasanas.

As a result, our wider experience of life narrows or shuts down completely. We close ourselves off to spontaneity and become sclerotic, arthritic, petrified, fossilized, concretized, or calcified. We become the walking dead, lacking any impulse to just be and enjoy.

Vasanas have been described by others as “sleeping volcanoes” (S.N. Goenka) and the muscular tension in the body associated with them as “character armoring” (Wilhelm Reich) and the “pain body” (Eckhart Tolle). Werner Erhard called them “records,” “rackets,” and “incompletions”; Eric Berne, “games”; Claude Steiner, “scripts” – most psychologists and growth leaders have some way of referring to them.

I’m pretty sure they are what Lisa Renee meant when she spoke about “control programs.” If you look at the channelled literature we’ve been reading for perhaps the last year, you could say that a large portion of it has been about vasanas, telling us over and over again to complete our unfinished business; i.e., to “flatten” our vasanas.

As sleeping volcanoes, they erupt when the stress placed upon us by our attitudes moves the tectonic plates of our muscle tension. Creating a crack in our plate of armor, up rushes the lava of unfinished business, which we project onto others, sometimes killing off  relationships.

Every time we become inflamed, cranky, crabby, obstinate, or angry, express resentment, get ornery, fussy, inhibited, we are responding to our vasanas. And, what’s worse, they grow and grow with each fresh explosion.

Alice in Wonderland is all about vasanas. Most TV dramas are about them. Daytime serials run on vasanas. Sob stories, mental illness, grudges, and crimes are often if not usually mediated by vasanas.

All we’ll have left is our vasanas.

Old people rocking in their chairs and saying, “I remember George Bush. By crackey, he was a bad apple if I ever saw one. Heh heh heh,” are crippled by vasanas. They are sclerotic, inflamed fossils, lacking fuel to do anything else except rock back and forth and spout their cherished opinions.

We usually find ourselves champing at the bit to get away from them. No signs of life here. Only opinions and repetition, ad infinitum and ad nauseum. But the saddest news is that, if we don’t process our vasanas, we could very well end up like them. Many people do.

Beckow’s Theorem of Awareness

Long ago (by crackey), I saw that awareness and muscular tension in the body varied inversely. If our tension went up, our awareness went down. If our tension went down, our awareness went up. Relaxation was important to raise awareness.

The ultimate in this for me was when a fire broke out in a planetarium. My mother was killed in a housefire, which was for me an episode of shocking loss and a threat to my survival. When the fire broke out in the planetarium, the only thing I became aware of was a man shouting at me to sit down. I was not aware that I had gotten up out of my seat (the only person who had) and headed for the door. My tension went up and my awareness went down.

When we store away tension in our bodies by swallowing and storing it, we pay for it by lowering our awareness. If we constantly blow up at people, and thereby perpetrate against them, the anger, guilt and shame we experience are stored away as tension in the body. Either way, over time, we become sclerotic.

Therapies and Processes for Reducing Vasanas

There are many ways of simply reducing or removing tension. Anything that relaxes us helps. Undergoing bodywork, its most extreme being Reichian therapy, a form of deep body massage that gets at the holding patterns located in the fascia, relieves us of muscular tension in the body. Hypnosis or meditation (with the exception of Vipassana, which not only simply relaxes but actually eradicates many of our vasanas) may help. Listening to music, walking in nature, taking a a vacation all help.

But if we only engage in these therapies and pastimes and just relax ourselves without doing the conceptual or contextual work and without having a way to process issues, then we simply relieve ourselves of a load of tension but create a new load later when we fall back into our old, patterned ways.

To erase the vasanas, we must eventually re-experience the earliest similar incident that created them until our experience is freed from all shock and perception of loss; that is, until we flatten the vasana. Then the sleeping volcano will not erupt again.

Take a deep breath and, if you feel resistance to it, that indicates muscular tension, and muscular tension indicates a vasana. You can use deep breathing as a means of seeing whether you have processed the vasana. If you have, you should be able to breathe easily. If your breathing is labored, there is more processing to do.

Another way of knowing if you’ve processed a vasana is that the truth will set you free. If you feel freed up (that is, released from tension), then you gotten to the truth of the vasana and set yourself free from it.

“Good” and “Bad” Vasanas

Ramana Maharshi distinguishes between good and bad vasanas. Good vasanas, like tending to our parents’ needs, loving all people, being charitable, all of which promote the laws of nature, do not harm, but bad vasanas, which go against the laws of nature, do.

Don’t ask me why. I think that’s the way God designed it. We are meant to evolve in life until we realize God and life is designed so that bad vasanas leave residue and good vasanas promote our spiritual evolution moving us on towards enlightenment. That’s the best I can do with the subject.

Jesus said that we must be as a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. A child does not respond to life from vasanas.  It may have vasanas from former lives but they exist as latencies, until awakened by our first experience of shocking loss.  As far as I know, we must be free of vasanas and the arthritic attitudes and automatic behavior associated with them – at least in the moment – to enter the Kingdom of  Heaven.

And most of us have seen people like this – innocent, blithe, spontaneous, uninhibited. They resemble children and pass easily through the eye of the needle.

I am not free of my vasanas. I have to work hard every time they go off to get to the bottom of them, like anyone else. I just know a little bit more than some people about them, but that does not make me an expert or a saint or anything of the sort. So please don’t relate to me as if I am. That would only be an invitation to me to be unrealistic about my growth and move into pretense to maintain an image; it would not be the truth.

If you wish to process your vasanas and be free of them, these articles on this site are about the emotional clearing process used to process them. I call it “be with and observe.” It has worked for me to reduce my store of vasanas and, as far as I’m concerned and with pun fully intended, it has been a lifesaver.


On Processing Vasanas

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