Sankhya View of Purusha and Prakriti Examined

Sri Aurobindo spends some time reviewing the Sankhya viewpoint of the relationship of purusha and prakriti, the spirit and nature, if you will, because of its practical applications for the spiritual seeker. While he points out that ultimately the duality posited by Sankhya, the eternal separation of purusha and prakriti is not a sustainable concept, he certainly recognizes some of the immediate practical benefits of this viewpoint for spiritual practice. Sankhya describes them this way: “Prakriti is Nature-power, an executive Power, it is Energy apart from Consciousness; for Consciousness belongs to the Purusha, Prakriti without Purusha is inert, mechanical, inconscient. Prakriti develops as its formal self and basis of action primal Matter and in it manifests life and sense and mind and intelligence…” “Nature acts by three principles, modes or qualities of its stuff and action, which in us become the fundamental modes of our psychological and physical substance and its workings, the principle of inertia, the principle of kinesis and the principle of balance, light and harmony: when these are in unequal motion, her action takes place; when they fall into equilibrium she passes into quiescence.” These are known as the three gunas, or qualities, tamas, rajas and sattwa. Gaining insight into the working of nature through the gunas is exceptionally important during spiritual development, and the Bhagavad Gita devotes several chapters to explicating the action of the three gunas. “Purusha, conscious being, is plural, not one and single, while Nature is one: it would seem to follow that whatever principle of oneness we find in existence belongs to Nature, but each soul is indepdnent and unique, sole to itself and separate whether in its enjoyment of Nature or its liberation from Nature.” Sri Aurobindo takes some issue with the description above, apart from its pragmatic benefits, when he states “the experience of soul and Nature as dual is true, but the experience of their unity has also its validity. …The duality is a position taken up, a double status accepted for the operations of the self-manifestation of the being; but there is no eternal and fundamental separateness and dualism of Being and its Consciousness-Force, of the Soul and Nature.” reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 348-349