Ever wondered why you seem to think the way you think, especially when your parents think differently? What happened to the genetically inherited characteristics which should ideally make everyone down the generations, at least those who living under the same roof along with you, think, talk, behave similarly. But it appears that, its not just the cluster of neurons that reside somewhere inside your brains or those naughty chromosomes, decide your behaviour. But something quite different from all those physiological factors.
Vedanta suggests, that when you were born, only your body is new and the mind is much older. You happened to smuggle your mind in to this present life from the previous. Its like when you shift out of a town, on the job, pack your belongings and push off to the new destination. Upon reaching the new destination, you would unpack the same bundle of your old tv, razor set, the china in the kitchen shelf and continue your life like a new kid from the old bloc. Like you walk in to a mall, into a clothes shop, zip out your old jeans and the T, for a crisp new ones and walk out. The clothes would have changed on the surface but the body remain the same old, no matter any amount of shopping in any number of malls.
You may find your father and mother quite amusing many times because they have always managed to live together in some kind of compromised harmony. Because they are total strangers, even after 50 years of living together. As you grow up in life, you come to know that even you are quite different from both of them, when it comes to the style of thinking. It is ought to be like that, for the simple reason that you are functioning from the tendencies you gathered for many many lives, previous to this present life. This psychological predispositions are known as tendencies. Imagine a lamp post down the country road, standing there from time immemorial, gathered year after year, plenty of dust and rust, witnessing peoples and animals and all those noisy automobiles passing by, then it is easy to understand your mind. Your mind remained gathering dust(vasanas) while you changed bodies, life after life, like you change your hand towels.
Vasana in Sanskrit means 'the smelly and sticky impressions' which your mind has accumulated for several lives, without a break. You feel something is familiar or some place is known before many times. This familiarity with life comes from the vasanas. Impressions, habits are byproducts of this vasanas and in turn these habits and impressions also trigger the tendencies. Like the pavlov's drooling dogs, which always salivated every time they heard the bell Pavlov rang. Your mind also think in certain manner as it had been used to, in the 'distant' past (many past lives).
The reason why children in the same school and same age, in the same class room, under the same teacher, coming from similar social and economical background, behave in so many different ways, tells that they all seem to carry the impressions from the past and they just resumed in this life from where they left off earlier. So thirty year old greedy father can give birth to a totally dispassionate child and vice verse. Son of a cop can steal and daughter of a teacher can be a junior college dropout, a poor ordinary clerk can have a prodigy child, who can steal the lime light in the world arena.
Vasanas are not always bad, as many people think. There are also good vasanas. Righteousness, discipline, truthfulness, honesty and helpful are some of those good vasanas. The present life too rubs off a lot of impressions in your mind, which you might carry forward into the next life. At this moment, you are gathering some vasana. Watch out !
Disciple : So, is there really some problem with this vasanas in me?
Master : Yea sure !
Disciple : then what happens if i get out of all these vasanas ?
Master : Enlightenment !
Vasanas are the binding factors in your life. Imagine you are propelled to think and act in a way, which you have no control. That's called as bondage. The impressions, or tendencies, or vasanas quietly keep you in this cage of bondage, however good or bad they are.
Disciple : How do I come out of these vasanas?
Master : You don't have to come away. But they have to !
The vasanas need not be destroyed or smothered. But can be sublimated.
They can be exhausted. During meditation, among many other things, the exhaustion of vasanas happen too, only if you are aware of your vasanas. Next time observe a particular tendency in you which you seem to be entertaining helplessly. It could be fear of loneliness or excess desire for food, to name a few, are all vasanas. Don't fight with them but allow them get exhausted in your meditation.
Disciple : How do i identify my vasanas?
Master : Sit quietly in meditation and observe the urges that rise.
Disciple : Yes. I always do. They disturb my meditation !
Master : On the contrary, they are wanting to get exhausted !
Disciple : So what should i do when i get those disturbing thoughts?
Master : Watch them like bubbles in the water. Bursting one after other.
Like the bubbles come from the depths of water bodies, bursting on the surface, when you sit for meditation, these vasanas start rising and come to the surface. Instead of pushing them back inward, allow them to come to surface and let them burst in to oblivion. Your freedom is just a few hundred bursts away !