The Relationship Between Purusha and Prakriti

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter One, Verses 5-7:  “There is One, unborn, white and black and red, who is ever bringing forth many creatures with forms and her one unborn loves and cleaves to and lies with her; another unborn abandons, when all her enjoyments have been enjoyed.  Two winged birds cling about a common tree, comrades, yoke-fellows; and one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, the other eats not, but watches.  The Soul upon a common tree is absorbed and because he is not lord, grieves and is bewildered; but when he sees and cleaves to that other who is the Lord, he knows that all is His greatness and his sorrow passes away from him.”

The Upanishadic sages explored numerous concepts about the creation of the worlds and the interaction of awareness with action.  One of the solutions that arose from their contemplation eventually became known as Sankhya.  The idea that there is an active Nature which creates all the forms and beings and a witness consciousness that observes, sanctions and supports the creations of Nature is expressed in this Upanishad.  Prakriti, Nature is identified as female and the creative power of the universe.  The colors referenced here are for the three gunas, or qualities, that are said to be constantly interacting in their creation of everything.  These gunas, sattwa, tamas and rajas are identified by most commentators by the colors white, black and red respectively.

The Gita describes the two unborn as the Kshara Purusha, the witness involved with, enjoying the action of Nature through active participation and the Akshara Purusha, the uninvolved, separated witness who observes but does not participate.  When the Soul has had enough of enjoyment, of the joys and sorrows of attachment to the actions of Nature, it turns to a status of non-attachment.   These are not separate beings, but aspects of the consciousness of Brahman.  The Gita goes on to describe the supreme Purusha, the Purushottama, which incorporates both the manifest and the unmanifest awareness into its one conscious Presence.

The two birds are the individual Soul or Atman and the Divine.   They are inseparable and represent a status of involvement in the world, and a status of non-attachment to the specific actions of Nature.  The common tree with its fruits is another image for Prakriti, Nature.

We can appreciate the viewpoint here.  When we are deeply immersed in the actions of Nature, we joy and sorrow as the gunas transform the action and event constantly.  We identify with Nature due to our absorption in this process, until we are able to shift our standpoint away from this total absorption and realize that the Purusha is actually free and independent of the action of Nature and is in reality the Lord and Master, as the Divine Presence which in fact creates and manifests, while yet transcending, all the worlds and processes and beings created through its active aspect, Prakriti.  Then there is unending bliss, Ananda, when the awareness is liberated from its absorption and the consequent suffering that arises from desire and attachment.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

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