Q. 368 – vAsanA-s

Q: Do vAsanA-s belong to the causal body or the subtle body?  

In the subtle body camp I got a response from one of Swami Dayananda’s senior students saying that the causal body is pure ignorance with no attributes and that vAsanA-s “definitely belong to the subtle body”.   In addition, from my own quick review of some of Shankara’s basic works I can find no passage that says the causal body is anything but “avidyA” and find no mention of the term “ vAsanA-s ” anywhere.

In the causal body camp I have James Schwartz and multiple pieces of Chinmayananda literature.   In fact I have seen them equate vAsanA-s to avidyA by pointing out that avidyA and vAsanA-s are both caused by the guNa-s.

Can you help with this one?   What is going on here?  Btw, as an interesting side note, in Swami Dayananda’s extensive Gita course-books the word “ vAsanA-s ” does not appear once.

Answers from Ramesam, Ted, Martin and Dennis.

A (Ramesam): If you go strictly by Advaita understanding without diluting the ajAtivAda (doctrine that nothing is ever born ) or do not mix up with dualistic theories, here is the blunt answer:

 One can cook up any cock and bull story and believe in it fully or partially just to appease one’s own recalcitrant mind. Doesn’t make any difference whether what names are invented (causal / subtle) or how complex a model is fabricated. All such formulations are equally untrue.

 vAsanA-s and vAsanAkshaya are post-Upanishadic era concepts. One does not need these artificial explanatory artifacts, when once the Advaita teaching is clearly grasped. So my earnest appeal to anyone is that it is advisable to focus one’s attention fully on getting an unambiguous understanding of the Advaita teaching rather than be trapped in stories that the mind revels in.

 Mr. John LeKay raised many questions on vAsanA-s and if you like please take a look at:

Part 1:


and Part 2:


A (Ted): In his bhashya, commentary, on the Mandukya Upanishad (4th verse), Shankara refers to vasanas as samskaras, and he likens their influence on the mind to that of the paint left on a canvas as the result of a brush stroke and to the pictures embroidered on a cloth.

 Swami Dayananda doesn’t mention vasanas directly, but instead refers to raga-dveshas, which are the offspring of the vasanas. Vasanas are simply the impressions left in the subconscious from experience. Those that are pleasurable give rise to likes/desires; those that are painful give rise to dislikes/fears. Since vasanas are the source of the likes and dislikes, the term is often used as a synonym for raga-dveshas.

Concerning the location of the vasanas, it is presented variously, depending on the source. Some say that the causal body is avidya, pure ignorance, and thus has no attributes. Others reason that since something can’t come out of nothing there has to be a source for the subtle phenomena that appear in the subtle body.

 Those that align with the latter view equate the causal body with the subconscious mind in which are harbored in dormant form the seeds for the subtle phenomena that sprout as ideas and desires in the subtle body. Conceived of in this way, the causal body also becomes the repository for the gross and subtle bodies during deep sleep. Were the causal body not an “ocean of pure potentiality” in which all manifest forms reside in a dormant state, it would seem that the gross and subtle constituents of the universe would simply cease to exist when not manifest. Were we to cease to exist during deep sleep, however, we would not wake up. Moreover, the causal body is so called because it is the cause of the subtle and gross bodies. One’s residence in the gross body is said to be the result of karma, one’s past actions. But those actions are the result of kama, desire. These desires appear in the subtle body, but must arise from somewhere else, so to speak. Since they are not always present, but quite obviously enjoy a sustained existence as is evidenced by the fact that they continue to nag us at every opportunity, they must be residing in a state of dormancy “within” a subtler realm of being when they are not manifest.

 Regarding this issue, the first camp would argue that the vasanas are stored in the chitta, the memory function of the subtle body. Since no one can see the vasanas and both the subtle and causal bodies are simply figurative representations of aspects of Maya, there is no way to determine for certain exactly where the vasanas reside.

 But whether the vasanas abide in a state of dormancy within the causal body and sprout as desires in the subtle body or are nestled all along within the chitta makes little difference. We know that they exist as subtle objects and that they are the products of the deluding power of Maya, ignorance, that either is the causal body itself, in which case the causal body itself would be the “veil of ignorance” that obscures our ability to “see” our true nature, or is the projector of the causal body, in which case the causal body would be the product of Maya and exist as the “pool of pure potentiality” whose constituent elements are the three gunas and in which the forms that comprise the manifest universe abide in an unmanifest state. In either case, the vasanas must be rendered non-binding in order for the mind to be still enough to accurately reflect the unmodified nature of pure awareness and, thus, afford itself the “vision” of the self through which it realizes it’s true nature. And, moreover, no matter their place of residence, the means of neutralizing the vasanas is the same. In other words, the location of the vasanas has no bearing on the sadhana necessary to quell their agitating and extroverting influence and thereby prepare the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge.

 Assigning a location to the vasanas is simply one aspect of the orderly presentation of the essential components that comprise the grand mechanism of the manifest universe and the functions that contribute to its cohesive operation. Whether they are assigned to the causal body or subtle body has virtually no affect on the obvious “intelligent design” that underlies the “creation.” Thus, intellectually titillating as it might be, the exact location of the vasanas has little bearing on the fundamental point of Vedantic cosmology, which is simply to account for Brahman as the adhishthanam, the substratum, of every aspect of manifestation and, thereby, illustrate the truth that Brahman and atma are one and the same consciousness, that the reality informing the existence of the universe is the same reality informing the existence of the apparent individual. This is the knowledge by means of which one gains moksha, ultimate inner freedom. This is the point of Vedanta.

A (Martin):

 1) “The question is do vasanas belong to the causal body or the subtle body?”

I would say that – from the tradition of advaita – vasanas belong to the subtle body, as they are latent tendencies, predispositions or conditionings, and shot through with largely unconscious desires and expectations.

The causal body, ‘enveloped in ignorance’, is equivalent to Maya (where the three gunas are in their unmanifest state), which in turn is the product of ignorance, but, in my understanding, the causal body is not “pure ignorance” as such.

 2)  “In fact I have seen them equate vasanas to avidya by pointing out that avidya and vasanas are both caused by the gunas.”

 I can’t see the sequence, or correlation, as thus expressed, in those three: avidya, gunas, and vasanas, despite being in fact interrelated. Avidya, tied up with adhyasa or superimposition, is primary, even though it is not a positive entity (only mistaking something for something else). The gunas of Shamkya philosophy have no substantiality, belonging as they do to the relative realm of phenomena, or ‘becoming’.

 Finally, vasanas have even less substantiality as far as I understand, given that there are no separate individuals in reality – only pure consciousness (Atman-brahman) as the only reality which, furthermore, is not in space or time.

A (Dennis): All this is adhyAropa only, to be given up completely when you realize the truth. In reality there is only brahman; the ‘rest’ is just name and form, material and conceptual, imposed by a ‘mind’.

However, questions about vyavahAra ‘operation’ are perfectly valid within the teaching stages of course and my answer would be as follows:

Everything relating to a jIva is resolved and unmanifest in the deep-sleep or causal state. We wake up into a ‘gross world’ with a physical waking body-mind, and we enter a dream state with a subtle world entirely generated by our minds, in accordance with our vAsanA-s. So both answers are correct. If you are talking about how we behave in the waking or dream worlds, then the vAsanA-s ‘belong’ to the subtle body. But both gross and subtle resolve into the causal state in deep-sleep, so they ‘belong’ to the causal body. Obviously in this state, we know nothing (the mind is resolved), so it is often ‘equated’ to ignorance. A better way of putting it is that deep-sleep is characterized by ignorance but there is no erroneous mistaking of the real for something else. Both waking and dream states are characterized by both ignorance and error. (Who we really are, of course, is characterized by neither.)

All this is explained by Gaudapada and Shankara in my new book due out later this year (A-U-M: Awakening to Reality).

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