However in spiritual practice, it is difficult to experience the Reality simultaneously in the Transcendental, Universal and Individual poises. A more common experience is to initially feel the immobile and all-pervading silence of the Transcendental Self, overwhelmingly omnipresent but not dynamic and even aloof from the "mobile energy of Maya". (Ibid)
With a little more effort the spiritual seeker can become aware of the Self as the Purusha or Conscious Being separate from Prakriti that represents the activities of Nature. Does this separation of Purusha and Prakriti, Soul and World-Energy, represent the Truth of Reality? Sri Aurobindo explains the focus on the Purusha at the cost of Prakriti is an exclusive concentration of one status of Reality to show that Brahman is not limited by activities and therefore "it is an essential realization, but not the total realization". (Ibid) Purusha and Prakriti are not dual and separate but represent a biune Reality because the Shakti or Conscious-Power that creates is actually the Maya or all-knowledge of the Brahman and therefore Prakriti is the working of the Purusha. They are as inseparable as Fire and the power of Fire! (Ibid, pg.347)
The Self can therefore realized not only in its silent and immobile status but also in its status of dynamism and power that sustains world-activity and world-existence. Yet there is a psychological twist to this integral poise of the Self. Despite being equally poised in Silence and dynamism, the concept of the Self carries a certain stress on its impersonality and consequently on freedom. It is as if "freedom and impersonality are always the character of the Self". (Ibid)
This stress on impersonality arises as the Self is equally present in the individual, universal and Transcendent poises in a way that each poise is not a water-tight compartment but flows into each other. Individuality expands into universality which then passes into the Transcendence.
What happens when the Self is realized in the three poises? Two consequences follow:
(a) A swift way "towards individual liberation, a static universality, a Nature-transcendence" (Ibid) is achieved.
(b) Moreover it also dawns that the Self not only sustains the manifestation but also envelops the manifestation as well as constitutes the manifestation so as to be "identified in a free identity with all its becomings in Nature". (Ibid)
This huge complex understanding of the Self ensures that while the Self can have unique powers for each of its independent, universal and transcendent poises, it is, simultaneously, free from "subjection to its own Power in the universe, such as the apparent subjection of the Purusha to Prakriti. To realise the Self is to realise the eternal freedom of the Spirit." (Ibid)
The Self as the Purusha
The Self is not only aloof, detached impersonal and free from the play of the manifestation or Nature. It can also be in the poise of the Purusha, a Conscious Being who is the support, witness and enjoyer of Nature or Prakriti. And this function it can serve while remaining impersonal, universal-individual. This means that in spite of its impersonal dimension, it can also exhibit a personal dimension. [The Sankhya philosophy exaggerated the personal aspect of Purusha to posit multiple Purushas interacting with a single universal Nature, but that is a different perspective.]
Sri Aurobindo explains that the Conscious Being in its relation to Nature constitutes the experiential concept of Purusha-Prakriti. Purusha imparts its sanction to Nature by transmitting its consciousness to it; accepts Nature's workings as if poised like a mirror but it can also withdraw that sanction.
The different equations of Purusha and Prakriti determine the play of consciousness in human psyche:
1. If the Purusha in us is passive and allows Nature to act in its own way, we have our normal state of Ignorance where the soul and its instruments-the mind, vital and physical dance to the whims and turbulences of Nature. (Ibid, pg.348)
2. If the Purusha in us becomes aware of itself as the Witness and stands detached from Nature - "that is the first step to the soul's freedom...it is possible then to know Nature and her processes and in all independence." (Ibid) Two possibilities would open up. (a) We can stand detached from Prakriti and withdraw into the Self's spiritual silence. (b) We can reject the present formation of Nature and rise to a spiritual level from where we can "re-create our existence". (Ibid, pg.348-349) In other words, we can shift from the formation of Lower Nature and be related with a Higher Nature free from the ego and its dualities. The Purusha would then no longer be merely the subjective Reality in contrast to an objective Nature but become "lord of its nature, Isvara". (Ibid, pg.349)
The Sankhyas in Sri Aurobindo's perspective
The metaphysical idea of Purusha-Prakriti have been developed very thoroughly in the Sankhyas. It is interesting that despite Sri Aurobindo not accepting the Sankhya idea of eternal duality of Purusha and Prakriti and the idea of multiple Purushas confronting a single universal Nature or Prakriti as fundamental truths, yet accorded them a pragmatic value valid at a certain level of experiential quest.
Sri Aurobindo considers Consciousness as the whole Reality with its Power being effectuated as Prakriti but the Sankhyas consider Purusha and Prakriti to be eternally separate though existing in relation to each other to prop up the manifestation. In the Sankhya world-view, Consciousness is the attribute of Purusha while Prakriti is "inert, mechanical, inconscient". (Ibid, pg.349) The attributes of Prakriti which include primal Matter, life, sense, mind and intelligence also sink into the Inconscience. When the light of the Purusha falls on the inconscient matrix of Prakriti, all the attributes become conscious and active by the assent of the spirit. The Purusha can also draw back from Prakriti and refuse to be involved in Matter.
Sri Aurobindo explains how without being fundamentally true, some Sankhya realizations were pragmatic enough to expand our frontiers of knowledge. Certain areas deserve mention.
(a) Firstly, Sri Aurobindo observes that the conception of this inert matrix of Prakriti actually helped in understanding the "workings of the Inconscient in the material universe". (Ibid)The fact that everything, Matter, senses, Life-Energy and cognition sank into the Inconscience as described in the Sankhyas is similar to Sri Aurobindo's concept of the Inconscience displaying not only the psychological Inconscience but also a vital and physical Inconscience unlike the Freudian Unconscious which has only psychological connotations.
(b) Secondly, the nature of Prakriti varies as the scale of consciousness rises so that while she is inconscient Energy in the material world, she reveals herself more and more as a progressive conscious-force. (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo described that the Inconscience was phenomenal and not fundamental but contained the Superconscient in a dormant state that gets progressively revealed through the cosmic evolution of consciousness. While the Sankhyas believe that the Purusha projects its Light to activate the Inconscience in the Prakriti, Sri Aurobindo explains that the Purusha or the Divine Being is hidden and dormant in the Inconscience and progressively reveals itself through an evolution in consciousness.
(c) Thirdly, Sankhyas forwarded the unique concept of the three modes of Nature which actually represent the fundamental modes of our psychological and physical operations. These are the famous "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." (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo accepts this play of lower unequal modes but explains (in The Synthesis of Yoga")that a transformational yoga can allow the three unequal modes to "pass into the equal triune mode of eternal calm, light and force, the repose, kinesis, illumination of the divine Nature". (SABCL 20, pg.230)
(d) Fourthly, Sankhyas considered that the Purusha was multiple while universal Nature was one as if each soul was a stand-alone phenomenon. In the Aurobindonian perspective, the Jivatman is simultaneously singular and plural and therefore simultaneously impersonal-personal. In Sri Aurobindo's view, the Jivatman does not merge into the Paramatman but joins it while retaining its uniqueness though this joining takes place in the Supermind. Thus Sri Aurobindo acknowledges the Sankhya view of Purusha while not admitting its multiplicity to be fundamental!
(e) Fifthly, Sri Aurobindo does not accept the Sankhya view of eternal duality of Purusha and Prakriti but acknowledges the necessity of an apparent duality. "An apparent duality is created in order that there may be a free action of Nature working itself out with the support of the Spirit and again a free and masterful action of the Spirit controlling and working out Nature." (SABCL, pg.350)
The One Purusha in many poises
Finally, Sri Aurobindo explains that it is the One Purusha who takes different poises in relation to corresponding poises of Prakriti or Consciousness-Force at different strata of consciousness:
1. In the supreme status, the Spirit is the supreme Conscious Being, the Purushottama and the Consciousness-Force or Chit-Shakti is his supreme Nature,
2. At the level of Mind-Nature, the Purusha is the mental being (or Manomaya Purusha),
3. At the level of Life-Nature, the Purusha is the vital being (or Pranamaya Purusha),
4. At the level where material Nature dominates, the Purusha is the physical being (or Annamaya Purusha),
5. At the matrix of Supramental Nature, the Purusha is the Being of Knowledge (or Vigyanmaya Purusha),
6. At the matrix of the Supreme Transcendental, Reality, the Purusha is the Being of Bliss and pure Existence, (or Anandamaya Purusha),
7. In the embodied individual, the Purusha stands as the veiled Psychic Being, (the chaitya Purusha) supporting the other formulations of our consciousness. (Ibid, pg.350-351)
"The Purusha, individual in us, is cosmic in the cosmos, transcendent in the transcendence: the identity with the Self is apparent, but it is the Self in its pure impersonal-personal status of a Spirit in things and beings, --impersonal because undifferentiated by personal quality, personal because it presides over the individualisations of self in each individual, -- which deals with the work of its Consciousness-Force, its executive force of self-nature, in whatever poise is necessary for that purpose." (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo therefore skilfully and creatively integrates the essence of the Sankhyas in his grand integralist vision of Yoga.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu