Tag Archives: samskara

Are We Biased to Believe?

Many years ago, while studying Nyāya and Vedānta, my Nyāya teacher said:  

tattva-pakṣa-pāto hi dhiyāṁ svabhāvaḥ

“The nature of the intellect is definitely biased towards truth.”

At the time, I did not understand the deep implications of this statement. Recently, while teaching Sāṅkhya-kārikā (64), I came across the same statement in Vācaspati Miśrā’s commentary. I then understood more fully the dynamic of accepting the words of others as truth. The intellect is biased toward believing rather than doubting. We tend to believe first and doubt only when necessary. 


Why? If we doubt our every experience, it will be impossible to function. For example, when I am thirsty, I buy a bottle of water. If I doubt that water is really water, then my thirst will never be quenched. Or, if I doubt that I am truly thirsty, then I will make no attempt to even obtain water. We believe and accept our sensory experiences so readily because not doing so would make even the simplest functions of life—like eating and drinking—almost impossible to complete.

Thus, we tend to believe what we see and hear, and doubt only if and when necessary. This is called svataḥ-pramāṇya-vāda (“self-authorizing judgement”).

There is yet another, deeper reason why we are biased to believe. When one of our cognitive senses, such as the eyes, comes in contact with a visible object, such as a pen, the image of the pen is sent from the eyes to the mind. The mind then sends the image to the intellect, which searches for a similar image (saṁskāra) stored in its memory (citta). On finding a matching image, the intellect realizes that the image is that of a pen, and the mind comprehends the experience.

If we doubt that our intellect has correctly matched the incoming image, we can “rethink” the perception. This significantly delays the time it takes to comprehend an experience. Imagine if we constantly doubted every judgment made by our intellect—it would take minutes to process experiences that last only nanoseconds, and we would be unable to keep up with the flow of time. It would be impossible to make judgments or decisions in real time.  

Incidentally, this also explains why “first impressions” are so important. The first time our intellect deciphers aspecificexperience, it stores the information in the memory, and that stored impression becomes the template to which all subsequent experiences of similar things are compared. Later experiences are interpreted through the lens of the first impression. This also explains why childhood experiences are so impactful on the rest of our lives.

However, there is an adverse side effect to this mental tendency: It makes us liable to be cheated. If a conman tells us something, we tend to believe him. We do not disbelieve until we are given a reason to do so, by which time it is often too late. By then, we have already been cheated. Throughout history, even the smartest people have been deceived due to their tendency to believe or trust. It is no wonder that a person like Bernie Madoff deceived astute and highly successful corporations for millions of dollars, just with his words and charismatic demeanor.

Cheating and betrayal happens especially within romantic relationships; we don’t believe that our partner would cheat us. Even though we see red flags, we tend to overlook them because of our natural bias to believe. This is why deceptive individuals and organizations initially “love bomb” their victims—generating first impressions that will take a long time to disbelieve.

We naturally assume that the people we are dealing with are honest. Only when we are forced, do we stop believing thisand sometimes, not even then! Leaders, relatives, and friends often continue to cheat, and we continue to believe, even in the face of blatant lies and solid proof of deception. Instead, we find some way to rationalize and justify the deviant behavior of a leader, lover, or friend. Moreover, human beings are averse to change. Fear of the unknown compels us to further delay entertaining serious doubts about what we believe and accept. 

The bias towards believing is helpful and essential, but we must protect ourselves from its negative side effects by being more alert and perceptive of “red flags” when further experiences do not line up with our “first impressions.”


Short Questions and Answers


Question: What is a saṁskāra?

Answer: A saṁskāra is an impression in the unconscious mind (citta). Samskāras guide our thought processes and desires. 

Question: Can I consciously choose a saṁskāra?

Answer: Yes, if you are a master of your mind. 

Question: Can I edit, delete or modify saṁskāras? If yes, how?

Answer: Yes. That is the whole purpose of sādhanā. This needs to be learned from a qualified teacher. 

Practicing Bhakti in the West

Question: Can anyone involved in the worldly business reach the stage of anartha-nivritti by doing daily japa? I often think it is impossible to reach that stage for those in the West who are involved in business and regular life.

Answer: Bhakti is not dependent on place—East or West. It is the religion of the heart. Just as people can have a love affair in the West as much as in the East, so also bhakti is possible. But the main requirement is to understand bhakti. It is not a material activity and we do not have bhakti-saṁskāras. That makes it difficult to grasp. Once you understand it properly, then it becomes easy to practice it. 

How to Attain Kṛṣṇa’s Grace?

Question: Why am I not good enough for Kṛṣṇa’s grace? Why does He give His grace to some ātmā’s and not others? I think this is the root of my anger because this is all I have been asking and begging for. When I say “grace,” I mean liberation from this material world. 

Answer: Grace is at your doorstep but you need to accept it. If it is raining, in fact pouring, and you stay indoors, then you get no rain on your head. You can’t blame the clouds then.

You were already in the midst of bhakti but I think you did not open yourself to it. To accept something you need to make space for it. If your cup is full of wine and you want milk, you need to empty the cup. So please do not be angry at Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa gives His grace through His devotee. Kṛṣṇa is like an ocean and devotee is like a tap from which you can get drinking water. But you need to open the tap and put an empty cup under it to catch the water. The very fact that you are getting angry, which is a product of your ahaṅkāra,shows that your cup is not yet empty. 

Ontological Status of Nārada Muni

Question: According to Bhāgavata Purāṇa (Cantos 1 and 7), Nārada was a dāsiputra, son of a maidservant (1.5.23), and prior to that a Gandharva (7.15.69). From that, it seems that he is an excellent example of a sādhana-siddha. However, I have noticed that on some occasions he is referred to as a nityasiddha. Moreover, some say that according to Viśvanātha Cakravarti Thākura, he is partially a sadhana-and partially nityasiddha. However, I have been unable to trace where Viśvanātha Cakravarti claims this, nor do I understand what this status actually means. Furthermore, according to Jīva Gosvāmī’s Krama-sandarbha (tīkā to Bhāgavata 1.6.30), Nārada has an eternal form, and sometimes special jīvas are able to take up this eternal form of Nārada (atredaṁvivecanīyam–sarveṣu vaikuṇṭheṣu, sarveṣu kāleṣu ca, śrī-nāradasyanityatāśrūyata iti, yad yapyetannaghaṭate, tathāpinitya-śrī-nārada-sārūpyādikaṁ prāptaṁ mahā-bhāgadheyaṁ jīva-viśeṣam avalambyaghaṭata iti ||31||). Also, if jīvas do take up the form of Nārada, is then Nārada’s position considered to be a certain post (such as Brahmā’, Indra, etc.) meant to fulfill certain universal tasks? 

Answer: From Jīva Gosvāmī’s commentary it seems that there is an eternal associate of Kṛṣṇa in Vaikuntha called Nārada. The story in the 6th and 7th chapter of the 1st canto of  Ṡrimad Bhāgavatam is that of a sādhana-siddha, who also attains a form similar to Nārada. Thus it seems that there is a nityasiddha Nārada and a sādhana-siddha Nārada. I don’t know where Viśvanātha Cakravarti Thākura says he is a partial nityasiddha and partial sādhana-siddha, but assuming he says this, it is understood that the sādhana-siddha Nārada attains sāyujya with the nityasiddha Nārada.

Karma, Samskaras and the Final Dissolution

Question: When Brahma’s life ends after 100 of his years or 311,040,000,000,000 earth years, this universe faces a final dissolution and all the living entities are destroyed along with the entire material creation. This material creation is absorbed back into the Lord. From what I understand,  the samskaras (which are the records or memories that drive karma) are stored in the subtle body or chitta which is material. When a living entity passes this world it is assigned a body based upon the karma associated with the samskaras collected in the prior life.

What happens to the samskaras that have collected at the end of the maha-kalpa?  Since the chitta is destroyed along with all matter, does this mean all the living entities start from an equal point when the creation begins again?  Or is it all by the will of the all knowing Lord who is the witness within all beings to know the samskaras of all living entities regardless of any material vehicle such as the chitta?

Answer: During dissolution prakriti exists in its original or causal state. The jivas also have a link to their causal bodies in which all the samskaras are stored like a zip file. These samskaras are unzipped as chitta in the next creation.