The Lower and the Higher Nature

Just as the Gita modified traditional Sankhya with respect to the status of the Purusha, the Gita now has to take up the unresolved issues of the relation between Purusha and Prakriti with respect to this modification. Having presented the concept of 3 statuses of the Purusha (active connected to Prakriti, inactive unconnected to Prakriti, supreme Purusha encompassing both the active and the inactive), we need to now understand how the Gita proposes to address the question of Prakriti or Nature.

In traditional Sankhya, Nature is divided into 24 principles, of which one, the ego-sense, represents the individualising principle within Nature. The Gita’s active Purusha does not fit within this schema anywhere. Sri Aurobindo describes the issue: The 24 principles …”is a perfectly valid account for the apparent operations of the cosmic Prakriti with its three Gunas, and the relation attributed to Purusha and Prakriti there is also quite valid and of great use for the practical purposes of the involution and the withdrawal. But this is only the lower Prakriti of the three modes, the inconscient, the apparent; there is a higher, a supreme, a conscient and divine Nature, and it is that which has become the individual soul, the Jiva. In the lower nature each being appears as the ego, in the higher he is the individual Purusha. In other words, multiplicity is part of the spiritual nature of the One. This individual soul is myself, in the creation it is a partial manifestation of me…and it possesses all my powers; it is witness, giver of the sanction, upholder, knower, lord. It descends into the lower nature and thinks itself bound by action, so to enjoy the lower being: it can draw back and know itself as the passive Purusha free from all action. It can rise above the three Gunas and, liberated from the bondage of action, yet possess action, even as I do myself, and by adoration of the Purushottama and union with him it can enjoy wholly its divine Nature.”

It is important to understand these distinctions so that as we follow the thread of the Gita’s teaching, we can understand the framework upon which it is based, and how it differs from some of the more traditional views that held sway at the time this teaching was presented to Arjuna as the basis for his rising to a new level of understanding.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 8, Sankhya and Yoga, pp. 73-74,

The Three Statuses of the Purusha In the Gita’s Synthesis

It remains still unresolved as to how the Gita is able to account for the apparent multiplicity of beings and the observed fact that the liberation of one does not immediately lead to the liberation of all. The Gita deviates from Sankhya on this point, and the solution it provides is to posit a 3-fold status of the Purusha, taking up a concept proposed in the Upanishads. In doing so, the Gita also wants to bridge the gap caused by the emphasis on duality we find in Sankhya.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “Thus there are three, the Kshara, the Akshara, the Uttama. Kshara, the mobile, the mutable is Nature, svabhava, it is the various becoming of the soul; the Purusha here is the multiplicity of the divine Being; it is the Purusha multiple not apart from, but in Prakriti. Akshara, the immobile, the immutable, is the silent and inactive self, it is the unity of the divine Being, Witness of Nature, but not involved in its movement; it is the inactive Purusha free from Prakriti and her works. The Uttama is the Lord, the supreme Brahman, the supreme Self, who possesses both the immutable unity and the mobile multiplicity. It is by a large mobility and action of His nature, His energy, His will and power, that He manifests Himself in the world and by a greater stillness and immobility of His being thatHe is aloof from it; yet is He as Purushottama above both the aloofness from Nature and the attachment to Nature. This idea of the Purushottama, though continually implied in the Upanishads, is disengaged and definitely brought out by the Gita and has exercised a powerful influence on the later developments of the Indian religious consciousness.”

Ultimately, the entire creation is then a unified field, with a poise of consciousness that is involved in and manifesting itself through the works of Prakriti, Nature; another poise that is separate from and an immobile Witness of the manifestation of Nature, and a higher, integrating consciousness that can hold both the movement and the immobility together in a state of unification without conflict.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 8, Sankhya and Yoga, pp. 72-73,