We develop habit energies during our lifetime (called vasanas in Sanskrit), and these not only motivate us in our lives but also make our karma for the future. We believe we are perfectly free in our decisions and our movements, but if we study ourselves closely and impartially we will find that we follow certain patterns, sometimes even asking ourselves why we made a particular mistake all over again. When we have found something enjoyable and then find that it is not permanent, we agonize over it – sometimes feeling we cannot do without it. This often leads to actions of anger, which become a force greater than our will power. These actions greatly affect our karma, which in turn leads us around by the nose.

By closely studying ourselves, we may be able to determine our past, or even past lives if we believe in them. An orange tree does not grow apples. The patterns grow steadily stronger and they lead us in a direction we may not really want to go.

For this reason, in disciplines that try to bring us to a state of freedom (as opposed to the bondage many religious organizations aim to impose), the goal is to, in one way or another, weaken these vasanas and bring about the desired freedom. In Zen it has to do with cleaning out the Eighth Consciousness (the alaya-vijnana, or receptacle of consciousness). In Yoga (true Yoga) the aim, according to Patanjali, called the Father of Yoga, is to weaken or suppress the mental modifications (vrittis) that lead to the making of vasanas. Ultimately, the aim is to go back the way we came and undo the causes, the mental modifications that lead to the vasanas, which become samskaras, the tendencies that last through many lifetimes. The Buddha said:

All that you are,‌
all that you ever have been,
and all that you ever will be
is the result of what you have thought.
(thought meaning the vrittis that became vasanas)

If we are not content with our lives, we might take a look in the direction of these habit patterns. If you really want to, you can change the direction in which you are heading.

This article is published in Spiritual Odyssey.