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Addendum H - The Concept of
Vasana in Yoga[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]

Throughout this study we have been mostly concerned with the East's

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contribution to a discussion of the relationship between the normal or bifurcated state of consciousness and the transcendent, primordial, or non-bifurcated state about which Western psychology has had comparatively little to say. We have presented the Eastern approach as deriving its insights into the structure and functioning of normal consciousness from a contrast with the transcendent state. We have seen that descriptions of the normal state arrived at in this manner bring into relief the bifurcated structure of normal consciousness. We haven't however, concentrated attention on specific descriptions of the normal state the East has to offer. In this section we shall briefly consider such a description, the one offered by Yoga. We shall give an interpretation of the concept of vasana that will show the Yogic understanding of the complexities of the normal state to be compatible with our description of it in terms of subsidiary awareness/object of attention.

According to this interpretation the Yogic references to vasanas are to be understood to be references to contexting components of subsidiary awareness. This follows on our model if Eliade is right in identifying vasanas with subliminal perceptions, since the attentive model allows us to experientially identify subliminal perceptions as contexting components of subsidiary awareness, thereby giving them their place in consciousness. The basis for this interpretation is a passage in Eliade's book Yoga: immortality and freedom. The interpretation depends upon construing the reference in the passage to 'cittavrittis' to be a reference to 'states of consciousness'; according to Eliade this is how the term should be translated.

The concept of vasana ... is of primary importance in Yoga psychology; in Patanjali's text, the term has the meaning

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'specific subconscious sensations.' The obstacles that these subliminal forces raise on the path of liberation are of two kinds; on the one hand, the vasanas constantly feed the psychomental stream, the infinite series of cittavrittis; on the other hand, and this by reason of their specific (subliminal, 'germinal') modality, the vasanas constitute an immense obstacle-- for they are in the highest degree elusive, difficult to control and master. By the very fact that their mode of being is that of 'potentiality', their own dynamism forces the vasanas to manifest, to 'actualize' themselves under the form of acts of consciousness. 200

The claim that passage from one state of consciousness to another is induced by vasanas can be interpreted to mean that the change from one state of consciousness to another is induced by changes in contexting components of subsidiary awareness. On this interpretation the elusiveness of vasanas is attributable to the elusiveness of subsidiary awareness. Components of subsidiary awareness cannot be brought under the scrutiny of attention without losing their subsidiary status, yet as subsidiary they influence the direction of attention. Another passage from Eliade makes clear the effect vasanas have on attention and underscores the importance of mastery over the elusive vasanas if mastery is to be gained over states of consciousness themselves.

Completely at the mercy of associations (themselves produced by sensations and the vasanas), man passes his days allowing himself to be swept hither and thither by an infinity of disparate moments that are as it were, external to himself. 201

The methods prescribed for mastering the vasanas and controlling attention are complex. We shall not discuss these, although we mention that they entail a hierarchy of involved procedures having to do with life style, attitudes, bodily posturers, and the like, such as one might expect would have to be employed in the attempt to break into the feedback loop which underlying feeling state and object of attention comprise.

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200. M.Eliade, Yoga, immortality and freedom, op.cit., p.42.
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201. Ibid., p.47.
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