Tamasa Samskara: Reflections on a Dark Impression

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the mid 1980’s I embarked on, or perhaps lucked into, a career as a computer graphics artist. Successive opportunities led quickly to a position with a firm that specialized in channeling sales of computer graphics and video hardware through a network of re-sellers. My job was to demonstrate how the technology worked and train people how to use it. It was exciting because the technology was esoteric stuff at the time. It was also my first job of consequence after having spent my early twenties in yoga ashrams and my later twenties wondering what to do next.

Business trips were totally new to me. The computer graphics industry, like most others, had periodic trade shows and going to them was part of my job. In fact, practically the whole company went: it was a very small firm and we all had a role to play at such events. I joined the company in June and by August I was traveling to my first major convention, SIGGRAPH, an annual conference on computer graphics that was held in a different city every year. In 1986, the year I went, the conference was in Dallas, Texas.

The owner of the company, a man 30 years my senior, was a generous employer running a successful business who believed that business trips were opportunities to live large. So, we all flew first class, checked into a swanky downtown hotel, and gathered in the lobby to go out to a fancy dinner on the company’s dime. The restaurant was up in the Reunion Tower, a Dallas landmark that looks like a giant golf ball sitting on a very tall tee, and it featured a revolving floor that facilitated a view of the entire city and beyond. I sat right next to the spacious window with my back facing the direction the floor was moving in, the city slowly revealing itself to me from behind my right shoulder.

Fine dining meant slim pickings for vegetarians back then so it didn’t take long for me to figure out what I could order. I put the menu down and stared out the window. Off in the distance, the Texas sky reclined on a vast horizon. Right below us, the cluttered downtown slowly gave way to a clearing; a park cut into onion-shaped puzzle pieces by a convergence of curving roads. An uncomfortable feeling crept under my skin. I’d never been to Dallas before but as I looked out onto the plaza below there was something eerily familiar about it. Something about the place made me… uncomfortable.

As the plaza rolled counter-clockwise, an imposing cube of brick, conspicuous in its isolation, entered the stage from the corner of my eye. I turned my head. The building looked imperiously down on the plaza, a monolithic sentinel guarding an invisible shadow. It’s squat symmetry, distinctive arches, and angle to the plaza sparked instant recognition: the Book Depository Building. My ears pulled back, my eyes widened, my inhalation froze, my belly tightened, the corners of my mouth clenched, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck reach for the sky.

“Creepy, isn’t it?” My employer, sitting across from me, had apparently witnessed the evolution of my grim realization. “Yeah.” That was really all I could say about it.

I watched a lot of TV when I was seven years old. There were only three networks, two local channels, and a public television station to choose from. And for a few days that late November there was only one thing on: coverage of Kennedy’s assassination. School was cancelled. I watched it all; from the downcast newscasters struggling to retain their composure to the solemn procession down Constitution Avenue. In between, I watched Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted out of the Dallas police station: murder on live television.

Places hold on to the impression of the things that happen there just as our minds retain impressions of experience. In Sanskrit those impressions are called samskaras and it’s understood that the nature of the samskaras we accumulate determine the shape of our mind. The character of the impressions from our past form the natural impulses we feel in the present.

On a summer evening in 1986, the invisible shadow over Dealey Plaza leapt 500 hundred feet into the air and threw an icy chill onto a slumbering impression that a dark day 23 years past had imprinted on my young mind.

It was creepy.


  1. sara
    Posted November 22, 2013 at 9:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    very relevant and what an incredible image of samskara you have offered!

  2. Jimmy
    Posted November 24, 2013 at 8:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Namaste. thanks for sharing this surreal experience. In sharing this experience, you adequately explained Tamasa Samskara. How do we deal with these Tamasa Samskara and Rajas Samskara?

    • Posted November 24, 2013 at 9:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment and question, Jimmy. The best way I know of to counteract the effects of negative samskaras is by actively accumulating positive samskaras. The word ‘samskara’ is used most often in the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam to indicate a purifying ritual. And Patanjali tells us in his Yoga Sutras that, just as there are conditioning impressions, there are liberating impressions that we can accumulate by yogic practice. Therefore we can set and act on an intention to create an environment steeped in satya guna, the mode of goodness, and consciously engage in activities that will make more elevated impressions on our minds.

      I hope you find my answer helpful. – Hkd

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