The Relationship Between Purusha and Prakriti

In its normal relationship to nature, the conscious being, what Sri Aurobindo calls Purusha, the Witness Consciousness, is essentially passive and subject to the action of nature. And the normal experience we have in life is that nature drives us whithersoever it will, and we essentially are under its control. This led, among some souls dissatisfied with this relationship, to the attempt to liberate the soul from nature, and the entire range of yogic, mystical and religious otherworldly experience.

One of the first liberating experiences in yoga is to step back from the action of nature and adopt the standpoint of the witness consciousness. Sri Aurobindo discusses this “If the Purusha in us becomes aware of itself as the Witness and stands back from Nature, that is the first step to the soul’s freedom; for it becomes detached, and it is possible then to know Nature and her processes and in all independence, since we are no longer involved in her works, to accept or not to accept, to make the sanction no longer automatic but free and effective; we can choose what she shall do or not do in us, or we can stand back altogether from her works and withdraw easily into the Self’s spiritual silence, or we can reject her present formations and rise to a spiritual level of existence and from there re-create our existence. The Purusha can cease to be subject, anisa, and become lord of its nature, isvara.”

This in fact represents one of the keys to the spiritual evolution in the individual. First, achieving the separation of the consciousness into Witness and Active Nature; and then later taking control of the Nature from that separated standpoint. In this wise, we are not bound to deny or disregard nature; but rather, we can take it up and transform it. This is a distinction of signal importance in the yogic path set forth by Sri Aurobindo as opposed to the traditional path of renunciation of nature.

In Sri Aurobindo’s yogic view, Purusha and Prakriti need not be irreconcilable opposites, but rather the passive and active, static and dynamic standpoints of one integral whole, the all-encompassing, all-containing, all-creating Brahman.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 348-349

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Brahman as the Self of All Existence

We recognize the Brahman as the transcendent Eternal, immobile, silent and without Form, but we also can experience the Brahman in the manifestation of the universe as (as Sri Aurobindo aptly describes it) the “Self of all existence, Atman, the cosmic Self, but also as the Supreme Self transcendent of its own cosmicity and at the same time individual-universal in each being…” Because “all this is the Brahman” we cannot simply choose to deny the reality of the manifested Universe and we must be able to see Brahman as that “Self” of existence, in all the levels or aspects, the individual form, the universal cosmic Being and transcendent of both.

Maya is the creative power of the Brahman, the “Atma-Shakti”. Sri Aurobindo describes Maya thus “…we can see that the Conscious-Power, the Shakti that acts and creates, is not other than the Maya or all-knowledge of Brahman; it is the Power of the Self…”

The first experience in consciousness of the Self is usually “in a silence of the whole being or at the least in a silence within which draws back or stands away from the surface action; this Self is then felt as a status in silence, an immobile immutable being, self-existent, pervading the whole universe, omnipresent in all, but not dynamic or active, aloof from the ever mobile energy of Maya.”

This experience, while overpowering and essential is, however “not the total realisation.” Sri Aurobindo points out “there can also be a realisation of Self in its power, Self as the condition of world-activity and world-existence.” “This Self can be experienced as the Self of the individual, the Self of the thinker, doer, enjoyer, but even so it always has this greater character; its individuality is at the same time a vast universality…and the next step to that is a sheer transcendence or a complete and ineffable passing into the Absolute.” The Self can then be recognized as both constituting and pervading the entire manifestation, and it is not therefore subjugated to the dynamic working of the power of the universe, but constituting and supporting it.

“To realise the Self is to realise the eternal freedom of the Spirit.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 346-347