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Sankalp (Sanskrit: सङ्कल्प) (alternate spellings include: sankalp, samkalpa, sankalpa, sankalpa, saṅkalpa, saṅkalpā) means an intention formed by the heart and mind -- a solemn vow, determination, or will. In practical terms, a Sankalp means a one-pointed resolve to focus both psychologically and philosophically on a specific goal. A sankalp is a tool meant to refine the will, and to focus and harmonize mind and body.
The concept of Sankalpa was known to the Vedic Rishis. Sandhyavandanam includes Sankalpam and Japa sankalpa as parts of the said ritual. In the Rig Veda, Maya meant both the wisdom of the mysterious power of the will (sankalpa-sakti) that make the gods create the splendour of the phenomenal worlds, and the deceptive or illusory as bringing about realities that lack a certain degree of reality.
In matters mundane
Bhavana is feelings and also imagination. Kalpana and Vikalpa, the two words derived from Kalpa meaning doing or generating suggest mentation or intellection generally and imaginative creation specifically. The third derivative from the same root Kalpa is Sankalpa i.e. thought, intention, determination or imagination.
Ordinarily, the word, Sankalpa, means the resolve to do, that is, to perform to achieve an objective, as a vow or a solemn promise to oneself. Sankalpa also means concept or idea; a concept is an idea. It is the determination or the will in the mind which precedes all actions. It is considered to be creative in character and superior to ordinary thought because it activates the body; it makes one perform a predetermined act in order to achieve a pre-set goal. It means – I will be decisive. I will be whole hearted. My growth is certain. I know I will make mistakes, but I will pick up and continue. Such is the attitude of Sankalpa without which no progress can be made. Determination does not take root all of a sudden; it is conception of a deep rooted desire to achieve, to accomplish good intentionally, sincerely and truthfully.
In psychology and philosophy
In Indian Thought, Sankalpa has been variously defined as the great delusion, a mental and physical sickness, desire and anger, superimposition, all suffering, all faults, all blemishes, time and space, manifold forms, illusion of the world, universal nature, primal ignorance, numerous differences, nescience, pairs of dyads, all beings and all worlds, the body and such, listening and such, the thought of oneself, and all else as a variety of psychological reflection.
Lord Rama wanted to know about the mind which is of the nature of Sankalpa, dwelling in the body, inert and without an independent form. Here Sankalpa means Thought, which is the imagining of an object as pleasing or painful that leads to desire or aversion of the object. Rishi Vasishta explained that the enemy that is the mind rises by virtue of mere Sankalpa i.e. thought, Sankalpa needs to be destroyed to free the mind to dispel delusion, end all forms of misery and experience delight.
A sage of the Chandogya Upanishad speaking about the all-pervading power of Will views it in the context of the conflict between Voluntarism and Intellectualism that centuries later Schopenhauer too experienced to conclude that the whole world seems to be filled with the force of will, that motivation, stimulation and mechanical processes are but different manifestations of the same force. Sanat Kumara or Sanatkumara, the oldest of the progenitors of mankind and in the Mahabharata called the eldest born of Brahman  identified with Skanda by Chandogya Upanishad, was the teacher of Sage Narada. Towards establishing the primacy of Will, he tells Narada –
- संकल्पो वाव मनसो भूयान्यदा वै संकल्पततेऽथ मनस्यत्यथं वाचमीरयति तामु नाम्नीरयति नाम्नि मन्त्रा एकं भवन्ति मन्त्रेषु कर्माणि ||१||
- 'Will is greater than the Mind. For when wills, one reflects, then he utters Speech, then he utters it in Name. In the Name mantras become one; and in the mantras, the sacrifices become one (VII.iv.1).
He explains that Mind is subtler than Speech, the mind should be studied and what is thought, why that is thought about and how thoughts affect speech and actions should be contemplated upon. In case the mental noise i.e. unrest, cannot be quietened then the mind should be filled with the awareness of Brahman, the highest truth. Then, an even subtler force – Sankalpa (determination) will become noticed and that is the subtle desire springing from the core of one’s being and the driving force which is behind the activities of one’s mind. Because it is not easy to control Sankalpa the activities of the mind go unchecked, it is so because determination is affected by one’s samskaras, the subtle impressions of our past, and by thoughts, speech and actions which get stored in the citta, the mindfield, and whose storehouse is the unconscious mind where they stay dormant and which stored material affects our determination without ourselves being aware of it. These have to be awakened for nothing is totally unconscious. Contemplation is a facet of our conscious thinking that triggers corresponding samskaras in order to awaken these subtle impressions affecting our Sankalpa and the conscious mind, and prevents control of the conscious mind. It is our power of determination that makes contemplation effective. Contemplation is more powerful than the unconscious mind; he instructs that we should fill our contemplation with Brahman-consciousness by keeping the highest goal in our mind throughout our study of scriptures, our discourses and our reasoning, for the lower knowledge thus gained through worldly sources becomes the means of gaining the highest truth. Study and teaching are merely actions; no one can achieve freedom through actions alone. Knowledge must be made functional, and active knowledge takes life from ichchaa shakti, the unrestricted power of the will. The power of the will, the power of knowledge and the power of action enforce each other. The power of the will is the initial, primordial divine desire which has to be unfolded.
Legend has it that Mahasena, who wanted to know - when the external world and the internal world co-exist, then why were noticed differences in time and space between these two worlds, was told that willful determination is either perfect or imperfect, the willful determination untouched by doubt is said to be perfect. The absence of doubt is the ability to hold one thought in the mind to the exclusion of all others, there is actually no difference.
In the Yoga System, Sankalpa is the forerunner of any penance. In order to achieve a particular motive and to achieve a particular aim a specific resolve in the form of penance is necessary which should be accompanied by Sankalpa. The daily practice of Sankalpa Mudra is recommended to make that resolve firm and specific. Then the body and the mind becomes charged with special waves that make a person self-confident, resolute and motivated. The practice of Yoga-Nidra allows the Sankalpa to go very deep in one’s psyche. Sankalpa is a call to awakening. It makes one able to direct consciousness through the chakras. In popularized culture, it's like a resolution--a determination that you commit to focus on, that is then repeated so that your mind becomes receptive and may recall the instructions in your subconscious mind.
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