Devotees would often confess to Sri Ramakrishna their inability to get over their un-spiritual nature in spite of their best efforts. Sri Ramakrishna would sympathize with them and assure them that it’s possible to turn over a new leaf. He would also give them a prescription for remedy. To explain the power of samskaras, he used to narrate a funny story.
A washerwoman had a son who grew up in an atmosphere of washing and drying clothes. Unfortunately, he died as a teenager, but was fortunately born as a son of a king in his next birth.
Even while at play he would assert his kingly nature and treat his friends as his subjects and rule over them. But one day he suddenly told them that they should play a different game. He added that he would lie down and his friends must slap the clothes on his back, by making a swishing sound even as they washed the clothes.
These were reminiscent of his days as the son of a washerwoman. These samskaras that he acquired in his former birth suddenly came to the surface of his mind and although he was a prince in this birth, his former samskaras overpowered him.
Thus Sri Ramakrishna would say that spiritual aspirants may take to a righteous path and try to live a pious life, but the tendencies acquired by them in their former lives might now and then surface and trouble them.
But one should not be afraid or give up. One should persist with one’s sadhana or spiritual striving. While the theory of karma possibly gives the best explanation for human behavior, it is not fatal or something which cannot be overcome. By the power of good actions or karmas performed in this life it is possible to slowly wean the mind away from the tendencies of the past births and take to a life of serious spiritual striving.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 6th Dec 2014