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What the Heck is Purusha & Prakriti?



Bridge Pose in Yoga
Bridge Pose in Yoga

So you've started taking my Yoga Sutra Study Class (or you're seriously thinking about it) and you're wondering...what the heck is Purusha and Prakriti?


(Side note: I thought I wouldn't run another online Yoga Sutra Study...but after a bunch of requests, I am now running another Yoga Sutra Study Group this year! Starting July 3, 2024 - at 8:15 pm EST on Tuesdays/8:15 am Bali time on Wednesdays! You can sign up for the Sutra Study at this link. Use the coupon code: SutraStudyDiscount for 20% off (Only five 20% off spots available!)




In the heart of yoga philosophy lies a narrative that unfolds the essence of existence and consciousness: the dynamic between Purusha and Prakriti. These two Sanskrit terms encapsulate the core principles of Samkhya philosophy, which significantly influences classical yoga. To understand this dynamic duo, I'm going to tell you a story to bring these concepts to life.


The Eternal Observer and the Dynamic Dancer


Imagine a grand stage set in a mystical forest where nature’s beauty is at its peak. On this stage, two entities engage in an eternal dance: Purusha and Prakriti.


Purusha, the Eternal Observer, is like a serene, undisturbed lake, reflecting the sky above. It is pure consciousness, unchanging, and passive. Purusha doesn’t act or move; it simply observes. This entity represents the soul, the true self within each of us, untouched by the chaos of the world.


Prakriti, the Dynamic Dancer, embodies nature, the physical and mental realms of existence. Picture Prakriti as an enchanting dancer, constantly in motion, creating and transforming the world with her every move. She is dynamic, ever-changing, and active. Prakriti is responsible for the material universe and the mind, encompassing everything from thoughts and emotions to the physical body.


The Beginning of the Dance


Once upon a time, in the tranquil realm of consciousness, Purusha and Prakriti existed separately. Purusha, the observer, was content in its own being, while Prakriti, the dancer, reveled in her potential energy, yet unmanifested. The universe lay in a state of equilibrium, a perfect balance of stillness and potential.


One day, a cosmic impulse stirred within Prakriti. She began to dance, and with each step, the universe started to take shape. Mountains rose, rivers flowed, and life emerged. The mind and intellect, ego, and senses—collectively known as the antahkarana—sprang into existence. Prakriti’s dance brought forth the multiplicity of the world, but all this was witnessed by Purusha, who remained a silent spectator.


The Illusion of the Dance


As Prakriti continued her dance, she wove intricate patterns that captivated Purusha’s gaze. This interaction gave rise to the illusion (maya) that Purusha and Prakriti were intertwined. In reality, however, Purusha remained separate, merely observing the dance without being a part of it.


In a small village nestled within the forest, lived a young seeker named Arjun. Arjun, much like the rest of us, was caught in the whirl of Prakriti’s dance. He experienced joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, all the while identifying with these emotions and thoughts as his true self. Arjun’s life was a constant flux, mirroring Prakriti’s endless movement.


One day, Arjun met an enlightened sage who told him the story of Purusha and Prakriti. Intrigued, Arjun began to see his own life as part of this grand dance. He realized that while he was swept up in the rhythm of Prakriti, his true self, his Purusha, was merely observing.


The Path to Liberation


The sage taught Arjun the practices of yoga, emphasizing meditation and self-inquiry. Through these practices, Arjun started to detach from the ceaseless dance of Prakriti. He learned to witness his thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled in them. This detachment didn’t mean indifference; rather, it allowed Arjun to experience life fully, without losing sight of his true nature as Purusha.


Over time, Arjun achieved a state of kaivalya (liberation), where he recognized that his essence was not bound by the fluctuations of the mind or the material world. He realized that his true self, Purusha, was eternal and unchanging, merely observing the dance of Prakriti without getting caught in it.


Conclusion: Embracing the Dance


The story of Purusha and Prakriti teaches us a profound truth about our existence. While we navigate through the complexities of life, facing challenges and experiencing a spectrum of emotions, we are often like Arjun, identifying with Prakriti’s dance. However, through the wisdom of yoga, we can awaken to our true nature as Purusha, the eternal observer.


By embracing this perspective, we can live more harmoniously, appreciating the beauty and dynamism of Prakriti’s dance, while remaining rooted in the unchanging essence of Purusha. This balance is the heart of yoga philosophy, guiding us towards a life of peace, clarity, and ultimate liberation.


So, the next time you find yourself caught in the whirlwind of life, remember the dance of Purusha and Prakriti. Reflect on the serene lake within you, observing the captivating dance of existence, and find solace in the timeless observer that you truly are.


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Are you intrigued to learn more about Purusha and Prakriti?


I thought I wouldn't run another online Yoga Sutra Study...but after a bunch of requests, I am now running another Yoga Sutra Study Group this year! Starting July 3, 2024 - at 8:15 pm EST on Tuesdays/8:15 am Bali time on Wednesdays! You can sign up for the Sutra Study at this link. Use the coupon code: SutraStudyDiscount for 20% off (Only five 20% off spots available!)


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