Vāsanā (T. bag chags; C. xunxi/xiqi) refers to habitual patterns of thought, speech or action that are imprinted in the mind. In the Yogacara school, these subtle habitual patterns, or "karmic seeds", are imprinted in the alaya-vijnana (storehouse consciousness).
Vāsanā is sometime translated as "perfuming," in the sense that thoughts and actions are "perfumed" by the vāsanā.
Vāsanā can refer to imprints that carry from one life to the next. And vāsanā can be pure or impure.
Damien Keown's A Dictionary of Buddhism defines the term as follows:
"vāsanā (Skt.). Habitual tendencies or dispositions, a term, often used synonymously with bīja (‘seed’). It is found in Pāli and early Sanskrit sources but comes to prominence with the Yogācāra, for whom it denotes the latent energy resulting from actions which are thought to become ‘imprinted’ in the subject's storehouse-consciousness (ālaya-vijñāna). The accumulation of these habitual tendencies is believed to predispose one to particular patterns of behaviour in the future."
Translations of this term
There are many translations of this term into English, such as:
- habitual tendencies,
- habitual patterns,
- karmic traces,
- karmic residues,
- unconscious propensities,
- and so on.
Three types of vāsanā
- 1. linguistic and conceptual habits;
- 2. habits of self-interest and "grasping self" (ātma-grāha), i.e., the belief in self and what belongs to self; and
- 3. Habits leading to subsequent life situations (bhāvāṅga-vāsanā), i.e., the long-term karmic consequences of specific karmic activities.
Within the Cheng Weishi Lun
- Vāsanā of 'names and words' or 'terms and words (Chinese: ming-yen hsi-chi'i) which equates to 'latent linguistic conditioning'. These seeds, planted in the 'root consciousness' (Sanskrit: alaya-vijnana) by 'terms and words' are the 'causes' (Sanskrit: hetu) and 'conditions' (Sanskrit: pratyaya) of each 'conditioned or caused element or phenomena' (Sanskrit: samskrita dharma). There are two forms:
- 'Terms and words indicating a referent' (Chinese: piao-yi ming yen) through which a mindstream is able to express (Chinese: ch'uan) meanings (yi, artha, referent) by differentiation of vocal sounds (Chinese: yin-sheng ch'a-pieh); and
- 'Terms and words revealing perceptual-fields' (Chinese: hsien-ching ming wen), through which a mindstream discerns (Sanskrit: vijnapti, upalabdhi) perceptual-fields (Sanskrit: visaya) as ' phenomena of mind' (Sanskrit: citta dharma; caitta dharmas).
- Vasanas of self-attachment (Sanskrit: atma-graha-vasana; Chinese: wo-chih hsi-ch'i) denoting the false attachment to the seeds of 'me' and 'mine'.
- Vasanas which link streams-of-being (Sanskrit: bhavanga-vasana; Chinese: yu-chih hsi-ch'i) denoting the karmic seeds, 'differently maturing (Sanskrit: vipaka) that carry over (Chinese: chao) from one stream-of-being to another in the Three Worlds (Sanskrit: Triloka). The bhavanga (linkage from one stream-of-being to the next) is of two types:
- Contaminated yet advantageous (Sanskrit: sasrava-kusala; Chinese: yu-lou shan) that is actions (Sanskrit: karma) which produce desirable (Chinese: k'e-ai) fruits; and
- Disadvantageous, that is actions which produce undesirable fruits.
Four types of vāsanā
- mngon brjod kyi bag chags - predispositions of verbalization
- bdag lta'i bag chags - predispositions of the view of self
- srid pa'i yan lag gi bag chags - predispositions of the branches of cyclic existence
- rigs mthun pa'i bag chags - predispositions of [perceptions of] similar type
According to THL dictionary, these four types are identified in the Gelug school.
- Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. vāsanā
- Keown, Damien (2004). "vāsanā." A Dictionary of Buddhism. Source:  (Accessed: Sunday November 1, 2009).
- What is and isn't Yogācāra
- Lusthaus, Dan (2002). Buddhist phenomenology: a philosophical investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7007-1186-4. Source:  (accessed: Sunday November 1, 2009) pp.472-473
- Powers, Wisdom of the Buddha, p. 331
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