The devotees would often approach Sri Ramakrishna and plead about the inability to get over their negative tendencies. In spite of all their efforts in practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, japa, meditation, etc, they would say that they find it impossible to get rid of their desires and tendencies towards enjoyment, etc.
Sri Ramakrishna would console them and explain to them that the difficulties are due to their samaskars or results of actions in their earlier births. He would explain this through a beautiful analogy from daily life. He would say that people bring home and cage the parrots when they are very young. With great difficulty they make them learn the holy names such as Rama, Krishna, etc. They have to spend hours day after day in training the parrots. They stand before them and utter the holy names repeatedly so that the young ones become familiar with the sounds and start repeating them. After tremendous effort with great patience and perseverance they make the parrots remember and repeat the holy names. Once they are taught, the parrots repeat names such as Rama and Krishna very easily. But, in spite of such tremendous effort in training them, when they are attacked by a cat which catches them by the scruff of the neck, they forget all that they had learnt. They only give out the natural cry of fear and despair having been caught in a death trap.
Thus Sri Ramakrishna would say that in spite of practicing spiritual disciplines such as prayer, japa, etc, spiritual aspirants may deviate from the path of righteousness in the face of temptation and succumb to desires. Such is the power of samaskaras or tendencies from previous births due to actions performed in those births.
But, Sri Ramakrishna assured the devotees that by persisting with spiritual practices and not losing faith in the face of failure it is possible to overcome the effects of samaskaras and march ahead in spiritual life.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 4th Oct 2014