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Purusha & Prakriti: Opposing Universal Forces

Purusha & Prakriti: Opposing Universal Forces

The concepts of purusha and prakriti come from the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy, which believes that the universe is made up of two realities. These two forces are purusha and prakriti, male and female, unchanging and changing, divine and natural.

purusha

male energy

the soul

the Self

the Witness

pure consciousness

egoless

never changes

manifested divinity

deeper than the part of the brain that thinks and reacts

the real

prakriti

mother nature, female creatrix energy

everything that changes

everything that isn’t conscious

the unreal

natural, unaltered

pure energy

body and mind

creative force

made up of rajas (creation), sativa (preservation), and tamas (destruction) – all natural forces

 

According to this philosophy, we are all made up of a balance of purusha and prakriti. Our mind, body, thoughts, and actions are prakriti, and the challenge of this spiritual path lies in connecting back to our core, soul, or essence, which is purusha.

The essence of this divide is the concept of our unchanging core, or Self, versus the physical and mental versions of ourselves. The idea is that our bodies change, our minds and ideas and perceptions change, but the core of who we are remains the same from birth until death. The path to bliss is to connect with that which doesn’t change and let go of the things that do.

It’s very easy to identify ourselves by the things that we do or think: I am a yoga practitioner; I am a student; I am a banker; I am a parent; I am a Christian; I am a Buddhist; I am an atheist. But according to the concepts of purusha and prakriti, all of these conceptions are prakriti: changing, unreal, and not who we truly are. Recognizing who we truly are at the core means letting go of all our attachments to the perception of ourselves as physical and mental beings.

In this conception of life, we let go of criticizing our bodies, because our physical bodies are not our spiritual selves. We let go of beating ourselves up for not being “enough” because our spiritual selves are exactly as they should be. We let go of criticizing others and instead recognize the divine Self that resides in the core of each and every person.

Our bodies and minds, our prakriti, will actively resist the exploration of purusha. The concentration and practice that are required in order to explore this core, spiritual aspect of ourselves is challenging both physically and mentally, and we will come up with every excuse not to “let go” of who we believe we are and who we want to be.

It is also absolutely possible to take this concept of “letting go” to its extremes; for example, starving or abusing the body because it is merely a shell for the soul. But that is not balance and it does not honour prakriti, mother nature, the creative force that comes from the elements and shapes our minds and bodies.

There is an aspect of this divide that I find problematic, and that is the gendering of the two sides – the “feminine aspect” of the world is unreal and chaotic and prevents spiritual seekers, who traditionally have been men, from attaining “purity” of consciousness. This is like blaming a woman for being too beautiful for a man to be able to  “resist” talking to them.

But there is value in the concept of letting go of the idea that our bodies and our minds equal our true selves. Our bodies, thoughts, beliefs, and the roles we play throughout our lives are transient. They all make up a whole, but the true Self is the core of that Whole Self.

The other valuable concept is that of finding balance between the energies of masculine & feminine, stability & change, real & unreal, spirit & nature, and stillness & the creative force.

If you are looking for some balance in your life, then you can take a lesson to heart from these terms and find applicability in your life. When it comes to balancing your elements of purusha and prakriti, how do you feed the two halves of your existence? What happens when you skew too heavily to one side or the other? Do you go too far into your internal life or too far external into an over-stimulating world?

Some other questions to consider in your exploration of purusha: if you take away the roles you play in life (partner, child, parent, job role, etc.) what is left? How do you connect with that part of yourself? Purusha is the divine spark, the thing that connects you to the energy of the universe. Purusha is not your yoga practice, your guru, or your beliefs – it is the core Soul that resides inside of you, waiting to be uncovered.

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