Many declare that the new-born child is tabula rasa, a blank slate, conditioned and shaped by family, friends and culture. The environment that newborn grows up in is purported to have significant influence in shaping the person and character. Here, Sage Vasishtha clarifies that good and bad tendencies are carried over with the mind from a previous birth.
vasana: tendencies or desires
jiva: individual soul embodied as a person. Soul with a body.
purushartha: the repository of spiritual knowledge acquired by endeavour in pursuance of the precepts obtained from sages and scriptures
dharma the pursuit and practice of right conduct in everyday living;
sadhana spiritual practice
Question 18: Sir, if good and bad actions are the consequence of strong vasana (tendencies or desires) of the previous births, then what is within the powers of a jiva ?
Answer: Ramji, it is true that a jiva performs actions according to the tendencies (vasana) of his previous birth. But he who is superior, that is to say, he undertakes purushartha and has sharp intelligence, can with his efforts neutralise the vices of his previous
births and attain salvation. All this is easily achieved when one follows the injunctions of saints and scriptures.
Question 19: Sir, how to identify the evil tendencies of previous births ?
Answer: Ramji, when the tendencies in the mind are contrary to the directions of scriptures and drag one towards indulgence and luxuries, or when they are opposed to good actions, then this should be assumed to be the result of evil tendencies of previous births. But if the mind is inclined towards holy company and scriptures, then it should be assumed to be the result of good actions of previous births.
In another place, Sage Vasishtha says, inter alia,
The idea of the Universe is strong in your mind. It is difficult to erase strong tendencies of mind. When you practice the opposite direction, that habitual attitude can be erased. As is the nature and strength of the attitude, so is the phenomenon.
- attitudes are feelings
- influenced by beliefs
- that predispose our reactions to
Sage Vasishtha is saying we can change our attitudes that have been embedded within the mind during many births. It is a hard struggle to change one’s self-identity toward something that is not the object of the senses; we cannot see the soul, we cannot cut it out, we cannot burn it, we cannot put it out on display for all to see. It takes much self-exertion over time to change an attitude, to adopt and persevere with spiritual feelings, beliefs and practices towards awareness of Atma, something that is not any object of the senses. We cannot see, hear, smell, touch nor taste this thing we call soul. So it takes a strong effort, a strong determination, and strong self-exertion to follow this path.
Manifest the power that lies in self-exertion! Do not resort to the weak stratagem of imitating others. Instead absorb the good qualities that others may possess. We plant a seed in the soil. Then we supply it with the ingredients it needs – water, air, manure. The seed sprouts. It grows into a sapling. It becomes at last a huge tree. You will notice that it does not become either soil or manure, or air or water. These it makes use of, but it sticks to its own nature and grows into a tree.
May you too live like that tree. Of course we have much to learn from others. There is no need to doubt this fact. Those who refuse to learn thus, declare themselves fools. Whatever can promote your spiritual advance, you can learn from others. Imbibe them to the full, according to the lines laid down for your own progress in your own moral path or dharma. You must live as you, not as someone else. Do not allow anyone to divert you away from your innate nature. Be immersed in your God, in your own imaginings and feelings, in the bliss that springs from your own heart, and in the delight derived from your sadhana (spiritual practice). When others try to prevent you from doing this, whatever plans they weave and whatever contrivances they employ, resist them at the cost of your own lives. Do not deny yourself that Divine awareness and that Divine ecstasy.
Strong feelings, strong beliefs that cause reactions to others, to events, to inner feelings or thoughts need to be examined. We are meant for a life of peace, and with effort, we can change ourselves and remove the darkness within.
Imagine a house full of darkness for many centuries. You may enter the house and pray to the darkness to leave the premises; or, you may shower abuse on it for days together; or, frighten it by threatening force. The darkness will stay, it cannot be diminished at all. It will not yield to your tactics. It cannot be scared out. But light a lamp, and it will flee that instant. The lamp of wisdom can save man from age-long darkness. This truth has to be well-recognised by men and women everywhere, and, once recognised, they have to shape their lives accordingly.