Is there any fundamental difference between vasana and samskara?
Vasana and samskara are essentially the same thing.
Vasana are the impressions that are left on one’s psyche from one’s past experiences.
They are not the memory of every detail of the experience, but rather the general sense of pleasure or pain associated with any given object/experience.
For instance, if one shares an intimate moment and find it pleasurable, then a positive impression of the experience will be etched in the mind.
While a more detailed memory of the experience may linger in or be accessible to the conscious mind.
Vasana are stored in the subconscious mind or what is called the causal body.
Causal Body is the unmanifest realm of pure potentiality that we experience in states as deep-sleep and nirvikalpa samadhi.
Within the Causal Body, the vasanas lie dormant until their “input” in required by the intellect in order to make a decision about how to interpret and respond to a given stimulus.
So, for instance, the next time an opportunity for one to share intimacy arises, the vasana formed by your previous pleasurable experience will “tell” your mind that intimacy is enjoyable and you should go ahead and engage in the activity.
This example, of course, is an extremely simplified version of how a response to any particular stimulus is derived at. There are many factors involved in any given circumstance or encounter, all of which have vasana associated with them that play a part in influencing one’s reaction/response.
Each time we engage in a particular activity or indulge a given vasana, we strengthen it.
In this way, over time vasana gain a sort of life of their own, so to speak. That is, rather than simply waiting around to be consulted by the intellect when it has to make a decision related to an object with which the vasana is associated, the vasana begins to demand satisfaction, as it were.
This is the cause of our desires, attachments, habits, and, in extreme cases, addictions.
When they are indulged regularly, vasana can grow strong enough to assume control of our mind.
Then, rather than consulting the vasana for advice on what decisions it should make and actions it should take, the mind is controlled by the vasana and compelled to act at its behest.
In terms of our example, rather than simply responding to intimate opportunity should it arise, one begins to seek intimacy and may flirt, go to bars, parties, participate in on-line chat-rooms, play the dating game, etc., in an effort to secure a partner.
If the vasana is not kept in check, managed with common sense, and indulged moderately, it can develop into an addiction or at least gather enough strength to impel one to transgress dharma, ethical/moral law, in order to satisfy it.
When the vasana controls the mind and compels one’s actions, it is a binding vasana. At this stage, the person believes that his or her security and happiness depends on the object of the vasana.
Vasana are not bad in and of themselves. It depends on the object of the vasana, the nature of the action it causes one to perform, and the degree of attachment one has to it.
Our positive inclinations (i.e., those that are dharmic or ethical and promote our spiritual growth) are just as influenced by vasana as our negative.
The problem arises when vasana are binding, for the compelling likes and dislikes, desires and fears, they give rise to not only can cause us to transgress dharma, but also agitate and extrovert the mind to such a degree that we are prevented from sustaining the inward focus that affords us the capacity to do self-inquiry and ultimately recognize our true nature.
Samskara is basically the same principle as vasana.
Sometimes, however, samskara is explained as a vasana so deeply ingrained in the psyche that its binding nature not only influences one’s situational behavior, but is an innate aspect or rudiment of one’s personality.
In this regard, samskara might be thought of as stars in the constellations that constitute different archetypes (i.e., the “responsible parent,” the “curious child,” the “class clown,” the “drama queen,” the “abuser,” the “victim,” the “power monger,” the “control freak,” the “intellectual,” the “artist,” etc.) or as the various components that constitute one’s particular character.
In either case, samskara would be the subject matter for such disciplines as astrology, the enneagram, or the element that, to a limited extent, the Briggs-Myers test attempts to identify.
For all intents and purposes, however, it is safe to consider vasana and samskara as synonymous terms.