Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

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LonnyJarrett
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Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by LonnyJarrett » Sun Feb 17, 2019 2:55 am

Hello Friends,

Is anyone able to make a distinction for me between samskaras and vasanas? They both seem to be defined in the 3-4 sources I look them up almost synonymously as the 'imprints in the storehouse consciousness from thoughts, actions, and experience that condition an incarnation." I know the Chinese characters are different with vasanas related to 薰fragrance (the fragrance of a plant that beclouds the mind and leads us through desire back to habits as the fragrance of incense is still in the bowl even after it has burned out) and samskaras perhaps more to 行 actions.

Any insight is appreciated. I've looked them up in Soothill, Princeton and Oxford dictionary, and a Buddhist encyclopedia and can't discern the difference.

For bonus points, It's interesting to me that the character for samsakara xing 行, figures in the Chinese Five elements 五行....the five conditioned movements around the sheng cycle (the wheel).......

Thank you in advance, Lonny Jarrett

blueBodhi
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by blueBodhi » Mon Feb 18, 2019 6:02 am

Hi, I think the difference is subtle and more by degree or word choice. Vasanas are variously translated as imprint, infusion, residue, traces, and so on. The metaphor is that the mind is infused with the flagrance of the action, similarly to your example of the incense container. I think Vasubandhu uses an example of a container holding sesame seeds holding their sent after they are gone. People have translated this a bunch of different ways: formations, karmic formations, conditions, mental formations, habitual tendencies. Samskara is translated into Tibetan as འདུ་བྱྱེད་ ('du ched) which combines the words collecting or conditioning or bringing together and acting. At least in this Buddhapalita commentary on the MMK chapter on the 12 links, there seems to be some usage of these component meanings: https://www.bootl.org/html/Buddhapalita ... _26.htm#12.

I think samskara is more the direct karmic potency, whereas the vasanas are the "tendencies," "residues," etc. left over by those karmic actions. For instance, in the Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Tsongkapa's telling of the path, arhats get rid of delusions and so do not have the root delusion ignorance, but they still have the vasana of ignorance. Buddhas, on the other hand, purify both the delusions and the "residues" of ignorance through the cleansing power of great compassion and the infinite merit it produces.

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anjali
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by anjali » Tue Feb 19, 2019 5:46 am

From the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (I've added paragraph formatting),
saṃskāra. (P. saṅkhāra; T. ’du by ed; C. xing; J. gy ō; K. haeng 行). In Sanskrit, a polysemous term that is variously translated as “formation,” “volition,” “volitional action,” “conditioned,” “conditioning factors.”

In its more passive usage (see SAṂSKṚTA, P. saṅkhata), saṃskāra refers to any thing that has been formed, conditioned, or brought into being. In this early denotation, the term is a designation for all things and persons that have been brought into being dependent on causes and conditions. It is in this sense that the Buddha famously remarked that “all conditioned things (saṃskāra) are impermanent” (anityāḥ sarvasamskārāḥ), the first of the four criteria that “seal” a view as being authentically Buddhist (see CATURNIMITTA).

In its more active sense, saṃskāra as latent “formations” left in the mind by actions (KARMAN) refers to that which forms or conditions other things. In this usage, the term is equivalent in meaning to action. It is in this sense that saṃskāra serves as the second link in the twelvefold chain of dependent origination (PRATĪTYASAMUTPĀDA). There, saṃskāra refers specifically to volition (CETANĀ) and as such assumes the karmically active role of perpetuating the rebirth process; alternatively, in the YOGĀCĀRA school, saṃskāra refers to the seeds (BĪJA) left in the foundation or storehouse consciousness (ĀLAYAVIJÑĀNA).

Saṃskāra is also the name for the fourth of the five aggregates (SKANDHA), where it includes a miscellany of phenomena that are both formed and in the process of formation, i.e., the large collection of factors that cannot be conveniently classified with the other four aggregates of materiality (RŪPA), sensation (VEDANĀ), perception (SAṂJÑĀ), and consciousness (VIJÑĀNA). This fourth aggregate includes both those conditioning factors associated with mind (CITTASAṂPRAYUKTASAṂSKĀRA), such as the mental concomitants (CAITTA), as well as those conditioning forces dissociated from thought (CITTAVIPRAYUKTASAṂSKĀRA), such as time, duration, the life faculty, and the equipoise of cessation (NIRODHASAMĀPATTI). saṃskāraduḥkhatā.
vāsanā. (T. bag chags; C. xunxi/xiqi; J. kunjū/jikke; K. hunsŭp/sŭpki 薰習/習氣). In Sanskrit, literally, “perfumings,” hence “predispositions,” “habituations,” “latent tendencies,” or “residual impressions” (and sometimes seen translated overliterally from the Chinese as “habit energies”); subtle tendencies created in the mind as a result of repeated exposure to positive or negative objects.

Vāsanā are described as subtle forms of the afflictions (KLEŚA), which hinder the attainment of buddhahood. According to the DAZHIDU LUN (*Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra), ARHATs remain subject to the influence of the vāsanā—for example, ŚĀRIPUTRA’s anger and NANDA’s staring at beautiful women—just as the scent of incense remains behind in a censer even after all the incense has burned away. Thus, only the buddhas have removed all such latent tendencies.

In the YOGĀCĀRA system, the vāsanā “perfume” the “seeds” (BĪJA) of wholesome and unwholesome actions that are implanted in the storehouse consciousness (ĀLAYAVIJÑĀNA). The CHENG WEISHI LUN (*Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi) lists the following three types of vāsanā: (1) linguistic predispositions (C. mingy an xiqi), the impressions created by concepts and expressions through which one evaluates his experience; (2) grasping-at-self predispositions (C. wozhi xiqi), impressions fostered by grasping at false notions of a perduring self (ĀTMAGRĀHA), which create an attachment to I and mine; and (3) cause-of-existence predispositions (C. y ouzhi xiqi), impressions that engender wholesome and unwholesome karmic retributions, which lead to continued rebirth in SAṂSĀRA.
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anjali
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by anjali » Tue Feb 19, 2019 6:19 am

anjali wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 5:46 am
From the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (I've added paragraph formatting),
saṃskāra. (P. saṅkhāra; T. ’du by ed; C. xing; J. gy ō; K. haeng 行). In Sanskrit, a polysemous term that is variously translated as “formation,” “volition,” “volitional action,” “conditioned,” “conditioning factors.”

In its more passive usage (see SAṂSKṚTA, P. saṅkhata), saṃskāra refers to any thing that has been formed, conditioned, or brought into being. In this early denotation, the term is a designation for all things and persons that have been brought into being dependent on causes and conditions. It is in this sense that the Buddha famously remarked that “all conditioned things (saṃskāra) are impermanent” (anityāḥ sarvasamskārāḥ), the first of the four criteria that “seal” a view as being authentically Buddhist (see CATURNIMITTA).

In its more active sense, saṃskāra as latent “formations” left in the mind by actions (KARMAN) refers to that which forms or conditions other things. In this usage, the term is equivalent in meaning to action. It is in this sense that saṃskāra serves as the second link in the twelvefold chain of dependent origination (PRATĪTYASAMUTPĀDA). There, saṃskāra refers specifically to volition (CETANĀ) and as such assumes the karmically active role of perpetuating the rebirth process; alternatively, in the YOGĀCĀRA school, saṃskāra refers to the seeds (BĪJA) left in the foundation or storehouse consciousness (ĀLAYAVIJÑĀNA).

Saṃskāra is also the name for the fourth of the five aggregates (SKANDHA), where it includes a miscellany of phenomena that are both formed and in the process of formation, i.e., the large collection of factors that cannot be conveniently classified with the other four aggregates of materiality (RŪPA), sensation (VEDANĀ), perception (SAṂJÑĀ), and consciousness (VIJÑĀNA). This fourth aggregate includes both those conditioning factors associated with mind (CITTASAṂPRAYUKTASAṂSKĀRA), such as the mental concomitants (CAITTA), as well as those conditioning forces dissociated from thought (CITTAVIPRAYUKTASAṂSKĀRA), such as time, duration, the life faculty, and the equipoise of cessation (NIRODHASAMĀPATTI). saṃskāraduḥkhatā.
vāsanā. (T. bag chags; C. xunxi/xiqi; J. kunjū/jikke; K. hunsŭp/sŭpki 薰習/習氣). In Sanskrit, literally, “perfumings,” hence “predispositions,” “habituations,” “latent tendencies,” or “residual impressions” (and sometimes seen translated overliterally from the Chinese as “habit energies”); subtle tendencies created in the mind as a result of repeated exposure to positive or negative objects.

Vāsanā are described as subtle forms of the afflictions (KLEŚA), which hinder the attainment of buddhahood. According to the DAZHIDU LUN (*Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra), ARHATs remain subject to the influence of the vāsanā—for example, ŚĀRIPUTRA’s anger and NANDA’s staring at beautiful women—just as the scent of incense remains behind in a censer even after all the incense has burned away. Thus, only the buddhas have removed all such latent tendencies.

In the YOGĀCĀRA system, the vāsanā “perfume” the “seeds” (BĪJA) of wholesome and unwholesome actions that are implanted in the storehouse consciousness (ĀLAYAVIJÑĀNA). The CHENG WEISHI LUN (*Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi) lists the following three types of vāsanā: (1) linguistic predispositions (C. mingy an xiqi), the impressions created by concepts and expressions through which one evaluates his experience; (2) grasping-at-self predispositions (C. wozhi xiqi), impressions fostered by grasping at false notions of a perduring self (ĀTMAGRĀHA), which create an attachment to I and mine; and (3) cause-of-existence predispositions (C. y ouzhi xiqi), impressions that engender wholesome and unwholesome karmic retributions, which lead to continued rebirth in SAṂSĀRA.
My own take is that the two are connected as: the habit energies (vasanas) that influence future volitional actions (samskaras).

Others may have a different take. :shrug:
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Grigoris
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by Grigoris » Tue Feb 19, 2019 2:54 pm

Seems to me that they are synonyms.
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anjali
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by anjali » Tue Feb 19, 2019 5:50 pm

Grigoris wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 2:54 pm
Seems to me that they are synonyms.
Possibly, but the two terms do seem to point to different aspects of a single process. At least from what I can understand regarding the root meanings of the words.

In the context of yogacara and the alaya-vijana, there is this quote that seems to show the complimentarity of the two notions,
https://www.britannica.com/topic/alaya-vijnana wrote:That storage consciousness contains all the impressions of previous experiences (vasanas, “perfumings”), which form the seeds (bija) of future karmic action
This is more-or-less echoed in the comment by the Princeton BD,
In the YOGĀCĀRA system, the vāsanā “perfume” the “seeds” (BĪJA) of wholesome and unwholesome actions that are implanted in the storehouse consciousness (ĀLAYAVIJÑĀNA).
The impressions from previous experiences (residual impressions/vasana) are the conditioning factors for future karmic actions (samskaras).

As far as I can tell, it seems to be somewhat like the difference between potential energy vs kinetic energy in physics. Using the example of a spring, a compressed spring has potential energy, and would represent the vasana aspect. When released, the potential energy transforms into kinetic energy. The kinetic energy represents dynamic action, which would be the samskara aspect.

Whether it's compressed (residual impression) or released (volitional action), it's all about energy. I guess this is why I like the translation of vasana as "habit energy," even though it seems to be an outlier translation.
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blueBodhi
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by blueBodhi » Fri Feb 22, 2019 6:42 pm

Hi, I agree generally with Anjali's comments. I think "volition" is not a great translation and I would go with "intention." So samskara is equivalent (in its usage in the 12 links) to intentional action.

LonnyJarrett
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Re: Difference between Samskaras and Vasanas

Post by LonnyJarrett » Sun Apr 21, 2019 12:50 am

Thank you all!

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