My understanding of Prakriti and Purusha grew during my studies alongside a wise and powerful teacher. Although I had spent much time studying the ancient texts during my training’s and workshops during my many periods in India, it was not until I committed to a 6 month Philosophy training in The Netherlands, did the teachings really move from a conceptual “I get it” to a more heart centered space integration of “I am it”.
The Samkyha School is just one of the traditional six schools of Vedic Philosophy. The word Samkhya can be translated into “enumeration” or “list” which allows us to understand that it is a categorical and analytical approach to accessing spiritual knowledge. The full teaching is expounded in a treatise called the “Samkhyakarika”, dating from around the 2nd century which identifies itself as Tantric, however, Samkhya concepts are also found throughout the classics such as the Upanishads and the beloved Bhagavad Gita. Samkhya and its many divisions and categories are mapped out tools for the recognition of unity behind diversity.
To start, because it is a big subject, we can define Samkhya’s guiding principle as the idea that all reality is composed of two principles, the primordial pair of Purusha and Prakriti. In a nutshell, it goes something like this: Everything in reality is a combination of these two with Purusha as the formless witness/awareness (Please use your own terminology here as we can get caught up in the naming, when that is not what is important here) whilst Prakriti is the ever changing elusive material realm; all the things that are experienced in time. Purusha and Prakriti are essentially defined, similar to what we in the west define as the “Subject/Object” of all experience. The Bhagavad Gita referred to this as “The Field and the Knower of the Field”.
It is during our practice of Hatha Yoga that this essential duality is illuminated, and whilst holding and contemplating these concepts of duality that we arrive to the awareness of oneness, in itself, a spiritual liberation.
Purusha is defined as the Cosmic Self, Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Principle (Again, I encourage you to find the names that resonates with you) Some scholars place the birthing of this concept during the Vedic era when it referred to a cosmic man who was sacrificed by the gods to create all life. That’s up to you to decide..
Both Samkhya and and the yogic philosophy schools define Purusha as a masculine force, one that is opposite to the feminine primal creative energy of Prakriti. Purusha referring to Spirit and Prakriti referring to Matter and both schools believe that the true realization of Purusha is a step on the path to Moksha (spiritual liberation).
So, in the spirit of learning, I will continue to expand wordage so that we can grasp the essential meanings of each, but then the concepts must stop and the experimental learning starts as you listen carefully on your inwards journey to experience these opposing natures…
Purusha (Masculine. In Sanskrit: nature, spirit, consciousness or source) is the eternal and beyond perception state which, when meeting Prakriti (Female. In Sanskrit: Matter, Material, Physical and Psychological character, constitution, temper etc) , the marriage is consummated and it starts a process of evolution that takes us through several stages, right through to the creation of the existing material world.
It is said that whilst Purusha is the masculine in every living being as consciousness, Prakriti is the feminine and substrate (underlying) which accepts the Purusha. Prakriti is made up of three Gunas (qualities of matter) which are the guiding cosmic factors that come to characterize all nature. But the matter of Gunas is worthy of its own post…. To follow
Prakriti is nature is time.. everywhere we look and everything we see shows us that move and change is constant. The Yogis’, Seers and Wisdom Seekers recognized this we see that modern day science is catching up. It is accepted that living cells are not only moving within themselves but are also continuously migrating and traveling around the host organism. All of nature including inanimate nature is composed of perpetual vibrations of subatomic particles. I invite you to explore the works of Rupert Sheldrake and his morphic resonance theory.
Microcosm to macrocosm, nature is indeed on the move. That is Prakriti. When the Yogi Seers observed this, they also observed there is something timeless, unchanging and permanent, which forms a contrast to all the change at play. It is through it’s opposite that we are able to perceive the first. Modern day physics now aligns with this theory in its proposal that the unchanging constant is light; it is the effortlessly aware and eternal light of inner self: Purusha.
It is in the Buddha’s words, that once we ‘cross over to the other shore’, that we gain freedom. The suffering that we are witness to around is through identifying with temporary forms (Prakriti) and not with identification and alignment with the eternally witnessing Purusha (Sometimes called the Sarva Sakshi: The Witness of all).
In many practices but as Yogi’s, we are extracting ourselves and detaching our attention from the temporal to sharpen our discernment of the eternal witness consciousness. Yoga in all its many forms is not a practice to intensify our exhausting identification with the ever changing body. On the contrary – it is to aid in our merging with the effortless aspects of ourselves, beyond time and change which govern our man made world.
In Samkhya Yoga Texts, Prakriti is the potency that brings about evolution and change in the empirical universe with the Bhagavad Gita describing it as the ‘primal motive force’ as the essential constituent of the universe and is the basis of all the activity of creation.
A common metaphor that is often shared is of the going to the movies: As we sit and watch the screen, the drama unfolds with all its ups and downs and we become immersed and emotionally involved in the plot and its characters, often aligning with the heroine or hero and what they endure. And we become so engrossed that we forget that what is illuminating the action on screen is a single, neutral bright and very powerful light being used in the projector. The film that is passed through and in front of the light is comparable to Prakriti whilst the light, is Purusha. The potent combination of the two produce the drama.
Such as is the Art of Yoga, not only the asana – they are the last to fall into place – it is a concern with the process of turning inwards to perceive that inner light of Purusha (Sukshma Yoga; subtler than the subtlest) and feel the life within the body., working to quiet down the nervous system, cleanse it of distortions and allow awareness to reveal itself.
Similar to the projector metaphor, if during the movie the drama suddenly stopped, we would turn around to see what the problem is; yoga is the process of ‘turning around’ – a minimization of the fluctuating mind; becoming the observer or the witness of the mind. In essence; The subject becomes the Object and here we meet the marriage of the two principles. We move in Hatha yoga to experience this inner stillness.
We often as humans reject the unpleasantness Prakriti aspects that we don’t wish to deal with; We wish for things to stay exactly the same.. And we project the ‘happy ever after’ onto fairy tales yet we wander our days seeking this peak experiences, when the reality of life shows us we are in need of both: Natures time is what binds us. The marriage of Prakriti and Purusha is needed for her teachings to drive our adaptation and evolution. It is through managing and cultivating our relationship to the neutral witness that we develop our identify beyond ego self. Flowing from one asana to another is the simplest expression of this skill in remaining centered whilst coping with transitions.
Compassion becomes their true nature, just as heat is the nature of fire, coolness the nature of water and fragrance and beauty, the nature of a flower.
-The Eternal Truth ~ Mata Amritanandamayi
The above is asking us to consider the eternity of Purusha; the inner Light and yoga as a vehicle allows us to taste it for ourselves. No-one, no books, classes, teachers or papers of qualifications can lead us to this tasting of our own eternal aspects of finding Purusha or as in mystic language “obtaining immortality”. Tantric teaches us to marry the mind with her constant changes, through love and acceptance to the inner Witness and allow them to become a couple who delight in each others natures, pouring our love and total awe of creation into our practice, both on and off our mats.
There is of course a lot lot more to explore here, including the important division of Prakriti into her three gunas (tendencies or modes of operation) known as Rajas (Creation), Sattva (Preservation) and Tamas (Destruction).
Release or Spiritual Liberation (Moksha) comes about from the spirits extrication from Prakriti by own recognition of its own total difference from it and by non involvement in it.
Easy right? 🙂
During the philosophy training I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, we were tasked with a final project: No spoken words to be used and to somehow convery the very essence of Prakriti and Purusha (Dance, Art, Song etc) I chose the medium of video and I would love to share this with you all now..
I hope the video invokes a sense of what these concepts are about and you feel a deepening connection to your heart space.
You can find the video here: https://youtu.be/-KHrotRizT8
Let us conclude here and an invitation to zero on in during your practise with a focus on the timeless essence of Purusha illuminating all action… becoming one with the witness…. Enjoy the show 😉