Sanskar Meaning and Definition

1. What is a sanskar ?

        Sanskar (Subconscious impression) is a process of increasing the potential in ourselves. The word sanskar has multiple meanings, such as – to improve, to purify, to remove shortcomings in an object and to endow a new, attractive form to it. In short, the process by which positive qualities in man are developed and enhanced is known as a sanskar.

Sanskar = sam (samyak) + kar.

‘Sam’ means good and ‘kar’ means work or action.

        Every action of an individual should be enriched with good sanskars; for example, eating a banana and throwing away the skin is an action, throwing the skin in a dustbin is prakruti (Nature), throwing it on the road is a vikruti (Perversion), picking up a banana skin thrown on the road and putting it into the dustbin is sanskruti (Culture).

        Eating when hungry is prakruti, eating another’s share is a vikruti and ensuring that all in the household including guests, servants, cattle have eaten and then eating the food as Prasad (Holy sacrament) after offering it to the Deity as Naivedya is sanskruti.

समुद्रवसने देवि ! पर्वतस्तनमंडले।
विष्णुपत्नि नमस्तुभ्यं पादस्पर्शं क्षमस्व मे ॥

        One who after contemplation and holistic thinking performs an action is man. Sanskars are required to make thoughts and actions benevolent. According to Bharatiya scriptures, every action has to be enriched with sanskars; for example, on waking up in the morning, before placing your feet on the ground you should recite the following prayer to Mother Earth.

        Meaning : I offer namaskar (Obeisance) to You, O Mother Earth (and the wife of Shrivishnu), who wears clothes in the form of the sea and has breasts in the form of mountains. Please forgive me for treading on You.

        When bathing, urinating, eating etc. perform actions as prescribed by the scriptures and are enriched with sanskars; for example, when bathing recite the mantra

शं नो देवी…। आपः पुनन्तु…।

while pouring lukewarm water over the head and hot water on the body; its meaning is – May Jaladevata (Deity of water) purify my body and mind.

        While eating a meal if you chant God’s Name, offer the food to Him and partake it as Prasad, then the food gets digested easily.

वदनि कवळ घेता नाम घ्या श्रीहरीचे
सहज हवन होते नाम घेता फुकाचे ।
जिवन करि जिवित्वा अन्न हे पूर्णब्रह्म
उदरभरण नोहे जाणिजे यज्ञकर्म ॥

        Meaning : Chant God’s Name with every morsel. The morsel eaten while chanting God’s Name gets digested easily. Food is complete Brahman and it gives life. Eating a meal does not mean merely filling up the stomach, but is like a pious act of performing a yadnya. This means that you should partake of a meal with a bhav (Spiritual emotion) that from the Shakti (Divine Energy) obtained from this food you will be able to help others and utilise it for the welfare of society. These are called sanskars.

2. Giving is more important than receiving

        Taking someone else’s belongings without telling him is a vikruti, borrowing them with his permission is prakruti and giving your belongings to others is sanskruti. For this, sanskars are necessary. We tell our children, “Toffees are Rupees 100/- per kilogram. If you distribute all toffees today, tomorrow none will be left for you”. We ourselves teach our children the bad habit of not parting with our belongings.

3. Sanskar means multiplication of virtues and division of defects

        Sanskar means good action. Every action of our body and mind should be enriched with sanskars. The mind’s sanskar-enriched actions mean pure thoughts and pure intellect. Pure thoughts are good thoughts, and pure intellect means one that takes correct decisions. Body’s sanskar-enriched action means good conduct and truthful speech.

        Saint Dnyaneshwar says in Dnyaneshwari how one’s speech should be – We should speak the truth, but with softness so that others do not feel it to be harsh. All should speak less with every word dipped in sweetness and love as much as the listeners can get the experience of waves of Amrut (Divine nectar) to their ears.

        Sanskar means worship of virtues and sacrifice of defects. Sattva, Raja, Tama components are the three subtle components of the mind. Sattva component is a virtue and Raja and Tama components are defects of the mind. Ignorance and laziness are the basis of Tama component; unhappiness and hyperactivity are the basis of Raja component; happiness and knowledge are the basis of Sattva component. Though every human being has all the three components, each is classified as sattvik (Sattva-predominant), rajasik (Raja-predominant), tamasik (Tama-predominant) depending on the proportion of the major component in him.

A. Tamasik individual

आहारनिद्राभयमैथुनं च ।

        A tamasik individual engages in eating, sleeping, fear and sex. He likes to get intoxicated by consuming alcohol. Kumbhakarna (Ravan’s brother, who used to sleep for 6 months) is one example of a tamasik individual. Such people can even kill others if something goes against their wish. A tamasik individual does not think about others. Such people are happy so long as everything is going on well for them. They cannot control anger and greed. They are lazy. Another symptom of such people is – remaining in a drunken state without working and beating their wife if she does not provide money for alcohol. A tamasik individual is under the control of his body and sense organs.

B. Rajasik individual

        A rajasik individual is selfish. He is always after wealth, position and fame. He is prepared to work very hard to achieve this. For him, people who might be useful are friends, and he helps them with the expectation that they will help him sometime; but his expectations are high and if they are not fulfilled, he becomes unhappy. Since he is fickle-minded, he cannot take the right decisions.

        He easily gets angry if things go against his wish. He gets jealous of people who are wealthier and in higher positions than him. He is proud of his abilities and also boasts about it. He is happy when he can live in pleasures and worldly happiness. He does not care for others. A rajasik individual is under the control of his mind.

C. Sattvik individual

        This individual is satisfied and he has an urge for knowledge and feels happy learning physical sciences and arts. His inclination is towards Spirituality. He makes efforts to practice the virtues of sympathy, forgiveness and compassion. He gets happiness by helping others without any expectations. His attitude is ‘happiness of others is my happiness’. He is prepared to accept losses and sacrifice his happiness for others. He meticulously fulfils all his duties and responsibilities. He rarely gets angry. He likes to read literature of Saints. He likes to meditate. A sattvik individual is under the control of his intellect. All his decisions are taken by his conscience.

        Performing a sanskar means changing tamasik and rajasik people into sattvik people.

4. Why is it necessary to inculcate good sanskars in human beings ?

        Every living being constantly strives for happiness and warding off unhappiness. Every thought and action of his is to obtain happiness and to eliminate unhappiness. Shrimadbhagwadgeeta mentions three types of happiness.

विषयेन्द्रियसंयोगात् यत्तदग्रेऽमृतोपमम् ।
परिणामे विषमिव तत्सुखं राजसं स्मृतम् ॥

– Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, Adhyaya 18, Shloka 38

A. Tamas happiness

        Getting happiness through laziness, ignorance, sleep, committing mistakes and troubling and hurting others.

B. Rajas happiness

Happiness obtained through organs means happiness through the five sense organs and five motor organs. Happiness through organs is obtained instantly when they come into contact with the subject; for example, one’s tongue gets instant happiness by eating tasty food, the eyes get happiness by seeing good scenes, the ears by hearing good music, the skin by the embrace of a woman, the nose through fragrance and the sex organs through sexual intercourse. Hence, one does not have to be told to go to a hotel or to a prostitute. This happiness is instant; but eventually it leads to unhappiness. For example, when we eat delicious food, we eat a lot and then due to indigestion, we get stomach ache. If we do not get delicious food, we feel unhappy. If we eat something tasting the same repeatedly, we start disliking it. For example, if we eat a sweet or a snack for consecutive two days, we do not feel like eating it the third day. Since happiness is transformed into unhappiness, it is essential to make a sanskar of control over the tongue and mind.

C. Sattvik happiness – Happiness of the soul and intellect

Happiness that may initially seem to be unhappiness but leads to happiness in the end, and which one gets after constant practice is sattvik happiness. This happiness is acquired through knowledge and skill. A small child is required to be repeatedly told to study; but he is not required to be told to play. One gets rajas happiness while hitting a ball with a bat in cricket; but one gets bored while studying. This is because it causes strain on the brain to understand a subject; but the individual gets happiness after acquiring proficiency in a subject. Initially while learning violin or singing when the individual goes out of tune, he dislikes this effort of learning; but later, when after practicing the individual plays melodious music or a sings a song, he gets fully engrossed in it.

If a stone wants to get the happiness of becoming an Idol of a Deity, it has to undergo the hitting of the sculptor’s hammer.

        Being selfish by robbing others gives rajas happiness, but it leads to unhappiness. The reason is that the people who get robbed become our enemies. Conversely, one gets happiness in giving rather than in taking. To understand this and to get habituated to such happiness, one needs sanskars.

अभ्यासात् रमते यत्र दुःखान्तं च निगच्छति ।
तत्सुखं सात्त्विकं प्रोक्तम् आत्मबुद्धिप्रसादजम् ॥

– Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, Adhyaya 18, Shloka 36

Meaning : To eliminate defects in man, sanskars should be performed; sanskars are essential so as to imbibe and nourish virtues.

Reference : Sanatan Sanstha’s Holy text ‘Sixteen Sanskars’ and ‘How to inculcate good sanskars in children ?