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

Page 2: The two purushas

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

It may be necessary to keep a copy on hand.



7.purusha, the canvas, untainted by the painting of prakRti


All forms and qualities, changes and modifications belong to the realm of matter.  Atman or Brahman is the changeless substratum in the presence of which this interplay takes place.  The cinema screen is the only basic presence and inherent reality whereon all the turmoil and turbulence of the actions of the movie take place. The screen by itself is untainted by any of that action. The purusha by himself has no samsAra.  But when He identifies himself with the body and the senses which are the effects of prakRti, he becomes the  experiencer.


From this point onwards it would help if the reader keeps on hand a copy of the chart on The Self for ready reference. The subtle points connected with oneself, one's self, one's Self and The Self are depicted there in chart form.


As the all-pervading space is not tainted because of its subtlety, so also the Atman permeating the entire body, is not tainted by anything that the body, mind or intellect does.  The Atman is like the Sun which illuminates the whole world but is at the same time uncontaminated by anything of the world. Every action of the world as well as of the body, mind and intellect is dominated by prakRti.  By coercing it and suppressing it violently you cannot win over it. This is the meaning of the famous verse  III - 33 of the gItA. It would be worthwhile spending a little time on this verse.


8. Coercion versus self-control


Usually the common man and the unwise interpret this verse to mean that whatever we do is according to prakRti and so there is nothing under our control.  And one stretches the meaning to conclude that we are total slaves of our Fate  -- and this verse is very often cited to condemn Hinduism as a fatalist religion.  The verse simply means:  All beings, even the wise men, follow their own nature;  what can coercing or restraint do?  This means that a coercion, or suppression or violent resistance to one's svabhAva ( = own nature and becoming) will  be of no avail.  But this is not a cry of despair.   We do not have to resign ourselves to the wayward tendencies of our mind, inherited by its Vāsanās.   The use of the word 'nigraha' is significant.  What is decried is'nigraha', coercion, violent resistance and suppression. In the very next verse and in scores of other places Lord Krishna extols 'samyama' , self-control, disciplined restraint and practice in controlling the senses.   We have to give due respect to the devil of our own svabhAva, which is our own speciality of a prakRti, go along with it and in due time control it, as much as possible.   This verse is an excellent example of how Hinduism, instead of being a fatalistic and pessimistic religion, is actually  very realistic and constructive.


9. Two purushas


We said of the purusha that when he identifies himself with the body and the senses he is the experiencer.   He it is that enjoys and suffers, he it is that is subject to pleasure and pain and he it is that thinks he is the doer and the experiencer.   But deep within him, within this purusha, there is another purusha, the changeless, non-participating witness, the Sakshi.   Krishna takes great care to distinguish between these two purushas.   In Chapter l5 of the gItA, this is elaborated with perfect clarity.  (XV - 16)..  First of all, purusha and prakRti are not two separate entities.  prakRti is only the Power (Sakti) of the purusha.   It is simply the executive power of the soul.  The soul manifest in nature and bound up with its action is the kshara (Perishable) purusha.


This kshara-purusha is 'one's self'

 in the chart: The Self


It is He who is under the constant spell of mAyA.  Beyond him there is the silent, immutable, all-pervading motionless self-existent Self -- sarvagatam achalam.  He is the akshara purusha -- purusha, the Imperishable.


This akshara purusha is 'one's Self'

in the chart: The Self


The kshara purusha is involved in the actions of Nature.  He reflects the varied workings of the Gunas of prakRti.  He is saguNa, personal.  He associates himself with the doings of prakRti and thinks he is the doer.  He identifies himself with the play of personality and clouds his self-knowledge with the ego-sense in nature so that he thinks himself as the ego-doer of works  (III - 27).  On the other hand when the purusha takes the poise of akshara, he is nirguNa, impersonal.  The guNas have fallen into a state of equilibrium.   He is dissociated from the doings of the guNas.   He is the inactive non-doer and witness.  He is aware that prakRti is the doer and himself only the witnessing self  (XIII - 29).


10. The pot-space and the water-space


The concept of the two purushas -- or two poises or roles of the one purusha -- and a consequent grand design of a triple purusha, is an essential contribution of the gItA to the understanding of the eternal Upanishads.  In order to explain this grand design to ordinary people different masters give different illustrations. Vidyaranya's Panchadasi has a whole chapter on this subject. The analogy that Vidyaranya gives and sustains throughout his work is so graphic that no presentation of prakRti and purusha as adumbrated in  Advaita Vedanta can be complete without mentioning Vidyaranya's analogy. 

Imagine an empty pot. Even though empty, it encloses space  ( = AkASa).  We may call this enclosed space, the pot-space (= GhatAkASa).This is not different from the universal space (= mahAkASa) which is outside the pot -- except that the pot-space is space  enclosed, conditioned by the material of the pot, whereas the universal space  is unconditioned (= nirupAdhita).  Now fill up the pot to the brim with water.  The pot-space seems to have disappeared.  We only see water now but in the water we see the universal space reflected.  This reflection shows the sky, the stars or whatever there is in the sky or the space, like buildings, trees, clouds, etc. with all their different shades of colour. This reflected presentation of the outside space may be called water-space  ( = jalAkASa). Water-space shall not mean  'the space occupied by water' but shall mean the reflection, in the water, of the mahAkASa, which is everywhere.  Now the water-space hides the real space, namely the pot-space within and projects a falsity of an outer space, inside.   This is the grand delusion in which we are all in.  The water-space corresponds to the jIva  (the individual soul) or the kshara-purusha.  It hides the presence of the ot-space within.  The pot-space is the akshara purusha. Without the substratum of the pot-space there cannot be any water-space.  We in our delusion think that the water-space is all there is.  We forget that there is a pot-space within and it is the real space and that the water-space is only a false projection of the reality.  Without the substratum of the imperishable purusha within, the jIva or the kshara purusha or what we think as our personality has no existence.  The imperishable purusha is also called kUTastha, the immovable, or the immutable, that which remains like the unchanging iron-piece (anvil) on which the blacksmith does all his hammering.  The water in the pot is the mind or intellect. It is the reflection in our intellect of the universal consciousness that generates the feeling, an individualised feeling, in us, of 'I' and 'mine'.


11. 'Thou'  is the pot-space and 'That' is the universal space


The mind of Man has two alternatives -- either to be bound by prakRti in the mutations of quality and personality or to be free from Her workings in immutable impersonality.  On one side there is the status of the akshara purusha or kUTastha and his immutability.   On the other there is the action of the kshara purusha or JIva and its mutability in prakRti.   Both these coexist.   They coexist as two contrary sides, aspects or facets of a supreme reality (mahAkASa) which is limited by neither of them.  This reality which is the Ultimate, is the uttama purusha, different from the other two.  (XV - 17 ).  He is the purushottama.  That is His param bhAvam. (supreme nature of existence).  He is the sarva-bhUta-maheSvara,  the great Lord of all beings.  People foolishly think that the visual manifestation is all there is.  (IX - 11 ).  They allow the water-space to hide the real pot-space within and revel in the virtual  glory of the water-space.   But deep within us, by clearing our minds of all its 'contents', we must get to the pot-space, that is the akshara purusha.  It is the substratum  which makes way for all the actions of the individual purusha.  The actions themselves are because of the prakRti -- its three strands -- which in the analogy is the reflecting capability of the water-mind.  We should be able to transcend the mind and the reflections that it carries with it and delve deep into our real Self, the silent watching Self.  This latter is nothing but the all-pervading Space (brahman) except for the limitation by the material of the pot.  Thou art That!

In summary therefore, to answer our question as to who the doer is: It is one's self which has identified with oneself. This identification itself is due to the fact that the intellect has allowed the vAsanAs to hold the fort rather than overcome them and turn the identification towards one's Self. PrakRti comes in the picture because the vAsanAs are one's prakRti.(See the chart The Self for the distinction among oneself, one's self and one's Self)


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October 29, '99   Ó Copyright  V. Krishnamurthy