Beach 8: One's Nature vis-ą-vis One's Duty

Wave 2: The Secret of Secrets from the bhagavad-gItA

Drop 5: The Secret of Secrets - 2

Page1: prakRti

Note: All references on this page, unless otherwise specified, are to the bhagavad-gItA.

It may be necessary to keep a copy on hand.


In giving His five arguments to convince Arjuna,  Krishna gives the whole world five injunctions for spiritual uplift. In the humble opinion of this writer these five arguments and the five lessons almost exhaust the gItA.The word 'guhya-tamaM'  meaning 'secret of secrets' is used once in the 9th chapter and again in the 15th chapter. The first one was the 'Secret of Secrets No.1'. We shall take up the second one now. The reference is to the relationship between prakRti and purusha. The Cosmic nature of the Lord as an all-pervading and an everywhere-immanent one is described by the Lord in the tenth chapter and the actual Form is shown to Arjuna by opening his eyes to the divine vision. This transcendental phenomenon is described in the 11th chapter of the gItA. The very last verse  of this chapter is the inspiration for the number 'five' in our statement above that there are five lessons given out by the Lord to all  humanity.

Among the five arguments of Krishna, the fourth is the argument of Faith and the fifth is the argument that prakRti is the doer. The former is the plea that the Almighty God is the doer of everything; without Him none can lift  a finger, not a leaf can move, no being can breathe. When that is so how does He bring in  a mysterious factor of prakRti and contend, in the fifth argument, that it is the doer and God is not? And again, if God is the real doer, is He then responsible for all our actions and  thoughts - good and bad? (If the reader is in a hurry to have an answer to this question, it may be seen at the bottom of Next Page) This is the dilemma that we have to sort out. And the Lord Himself anticipates this dilemma in us and He explains it by giving  us the Secret of Secrets No.2! In order to talk about this we have to go back and refresh ourselves about the gItA's handling of prakRti.

1. Energy more fundamental than matter

The concept of prakRti is most fundamental to the understanding of Indian philosophy and also to the central core of teaching in the metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gItA.  The nearest English translation of the word 'prakRti' has to be 'Cosmic Energy', though the innocuous word 'Nature' is very often used . The difference between the connotation of prakRti as used in Vedanta and the meaning of the word Energy as used in modern science is actually at the root of the matter.   In modern Physics, Matter is fundamental and self-existent;  its motive power is Energy.  In Vedanta on the other hand, Energy is self-existent and Matter is the product of this ever-present Energy.   Consequently in any exposition about Cosmic Energy, it is not advisable to use the words Matter and Energy in their scientific connotations.   Instead, we shall consistently use the word 'prakRti' itself.

2. Spiral method of teaching

As soon as He begins the exposition of the gItA, the Lord makes clear the rock bottom fundamentals of Hindu religion.  What is not, can never be;  and what is, can never not be.  (II-l6)   Starting from this foundation He  develops the logic of Karma Yoga, the appeal of Bhakti Yoga and finally the self-consistency and self-revealing nature of jnAna Yoga for Arjuna. In the process almost every facet of the subject of Hindu philosophy  -- metaphysics, psychology, svadharma, avatAra concept, dedication and surrender, matter and spirit, prakRti and purusha -- everything in the complex labyrinth of Indian Vedanta enters the discussion.  And the Lord, in presenting these topics, uses a spiral approach; that is, the same concept or idea comes up more than once -- as would naturally happen in an extended conversational discourse --but each time it appears, it is taken up with more depth, broader context and wider application.  This, we know, is a sound strategy for effective communication. So also it happens with the concept of prakRti.

3. prakRti does everything

The first time the Lord mentions prakRti is in the third chapter. Nobody can live even for a moment without being engaged in some action.  (III - 5).  It could be mental, if not physical.  Even just living is an action.   This is natural for every human being.  This naturality is part of prakRti.  Man is almost a prisoner  (avaSaH) of the qualities inherent in him as a  human being.  It is only later in the same chapter that the Lord elaborates on prakRti.  The verses 27, 28,  29 are significant.  All actions are being done by prakRti; the ego-centred person however thinks that he is the doer (III - 27). The knower of the truth, on the other hand, who knows how to discern the Gunas of prakRti (= modes of Nature) and their responsibility for actions, knowing  full well that it is the modes of nature which are interacting with modes of nature, does not get attached. (III - 28).

A beautiful analogy is given by Sage Ramakrishna for this interaction of modes of nature  with modes of nature! Clouds in the sky interact with other clouds in the same sky, create lightning and thunder; but the sky (=space)  is all the time untainted by any of the commotion!

But those who are confounded by the Gunas of prakRti get stuck with the actions that arise out of the Gunas. (III - 29).  They do not know it, however, so those who know should not confound them!

4. Three primary strands of prakRti

In these three verses the Lord makes use of the key technical words: prakRti and Her guNas. The ordinary meanings of these words, namely Nature and Modes of Nature may carry us through at this stage of the discussion but as we already mentioned the Lord comes back to these topics in later chapters and goes deeper into them.  So we shall take these later explanations to our advantage.  It is in the seventh chapter the Lord explains what His prakRti is. It is the entire world of inert matter comprising the five elemental sources, plus, Mind,  Intellect and the Ego. (VII - 4) God's creation starts with these.  So   prakRti is the material cause for all matter, creation and movement.   Everything that we see before us is nothing but a certain combination of the eight-fold contents of prakRti and nothing else.  Later in the ninth chapter He says that prakRti is His making, it works out whatever it does, because of the power of His presence and it is because of this that everything in the world happens the way it does.  (IX - 10).  And in the fourteenth chapter He dissects the prakRti further.  It has three strands:  satva, rajas and tamas.  These may be called its Modes.   They together constitute prakRti. The Samskrit word used is 'Guna' -- to be translated into 'attitudes'.   They are the primary bricks of prakRti.   They are like the 'bases' of the DNA in modern science.   They are the 'tendencies' making up the twisted rope of Nature .  satva is the tendency which takes one upward towards enlightenment;  rajas is sanything that is dynamic and aggressive; and tamas is that of ignorance, indolence and inaction.  (XIV - 9).


For more on satva, rajas and tamas, go to thetype2.


Every creation of God is a combination of these three strands of Nature.  (VII - l3).  Thus the handiwork of prakRti covers the entire universe of inert and inanimate matter.  But all this is His Lower prakRti, says the Lord in the seventh chapter itself, as soon as He mentions the eightfold macro-constituents of prakRti (VII - 5_  He says that there is another prakRti of His, the Higher prakRti -- Parā-prakRti -- this is the one which becomes  (jIva-bhUtAM) the multiplicity of souls in the world.  It is by this prakRti the entire universe of men and matter is sustained.  (VII - 6).  This Higher prakRti is the one spiritual current vibrating in all living beings as their life-force.  It is the supreme womb from which the whole world of beings is born.  In that sense He is the Father of the Universe.  He is the Origin and in Him is the Dissolution.  It is at this point in the seventh chapter it becomes clear that prakRti is nothing but the Power, Sakti, of the Supreme Godhead, namely, Brahman.

5.Advaitic Cosmology

There are, as it were, two Saktis of Brahman, the Absolute Reality.  They are parA Superior) and aparA (Inferior) prakRtis.  jIva, the soul, the spiritual undercurrent vibrating in us, is matter viewed in relation to spirit.  Matter came from the aparA Sakti  or aparA prakRti. This is where Vedanta differs from modern Physics.   In the latter, it is the quantitative matter, their weight, their substance, their constituents that are fundamental.   In Vedanta it is the quality that is at the bottom -- the qualitative guna or svabhAva from which all the quantitative matter arises.   It is the qualities inherent in the Cosmic Energy that gives matter its substance.


That is why prakRti is also called pradhAna,  the Fundamental.

It is also called kshetra, the Field, because it is the base of all action.

It is jaDa, because it is insentient.

It is avyakta, the unmanifest, because it is not  perceptible  to the senses.

It is kshara, the Perishable, because it alternates between manifestation and non-manifestation.

It is mAyA because it deceptively hides the Spirit behind Matter and projects falsity.


jIva the spirit component is a fragment of the cit-Sakti of Brahman.  cit-Sakti functioning through a matter envelopment becomes the living organism. To quote Swami Chinmayananda, "'That' dressed up in matter becomes the  egocentric 'Thou'.   Man undressed of Matter is the eternal and ineffable spirit".   When spirit is thus enveloped by  matter it is called jIva.   He is the purusha with all his individuality.  Without the interaction of the purusha the experiencer, and prakRti that is, Spirit and Matter, there is no expression, no experience.  When man looks inward of his insentient matter-layer he is nothing but sentient vital consciousness.

6. vAsanAs

Mind itself is matter. It is the effect of the play of prakRti.  The latter, individualised  to each soul is the unmanifested factor, which, in consequence of the good and bad performances in the previous lives, has begun to give fruition in this life.  That which rules the functions of a given mind and intellect determines its reactions to the world outside is the  unmanifested factor, also referred to in the literature, as the vAsanAs.  Incidentally, the gItA never uses the word vAsanA.  It uses the word avyakta for the unmanifested factor standing for the totality of vAsanAs, either individual or collective.  In its macrocosmic aspect, the total universe of men and things spring from the aggregate of vAsanAs of all living beings.  This totality is the source of the whole universe at the beginning of the kalpa  (IX - 7, 8).   It is because of this that jIva is under the spell of mAyA or prakRti -- through whcih Brahman functions to bring about the universe of men and things.   The play of matter and spirit in this manner is Samsāra.


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October 29, '99   Ó Copyright  V. Krishnamurthy