Gita Series – 134: Bhagavad Gita Chapter XIII. Verse 19 – 23

Know that both Purusha and Prakruti are beginningless. All modifications and qualities are due to Prakruti. Prakruti is the cause for the body and its senses, whereas, Purusha is the cause of experiencing happiness and unhappiness. Purusha by being seated in Prakruti, experiences the three guṇas. Attachment to the three qualities is the deciding factor for being born in a good or evil womb. The Purusha in a body is the Brahman and is being spoken of as the witness, guide, the sustainer, the experiencer and the Supreme Self. He, who thus realizes Purusha and Prakruti along with the three guṇas are liberated and not to be born again.”

After having explained about knowledge and later about the Brahman, Kṛṣṇa now proceeds to explain the difference between Purusha (soul) and Prakruti (Nature). The following explanation is based on Sāṃkhya philosophy.

In the creation of God, there are countless souls (Purusha-s) that manifest as the living beings. These souls do not undergo any changes at any point of time. They do not have energy and will and are passive in nature. Since it is said to be smaller than an atom, it is not visible even under a powerful microscope. Though clinically the presence of soul has not yet been established, sufficient research is underway to interpret the phenomenon. As the soul is considered as the divine secret, the ultimate result of any clinical study is doubtful. However, elaborate non-clinical studies more or less describe the soul in a unified voice. Soul is considered as the reflection of the transcendental essence of the Brahman. This goes to prove the statement that souls do not have energy and will of their own. This phenomenon of the Brahman – soul concept can be explained like the moon deriving its light from the sun. The light of the moon is illusionary making one to believe that the moon has its own light. However, the fact is that it gets reflected by the light of the sun. Moon is not self illuminating. So, by and large, the soul and the Brahman are not different, though there are certain subtle differences. Probably, the one main difference is the karma. The Brahman is not bound by karma, whereas the individual soul is bound by karmas. There is another school of thought (The second and most important part of the Mīmāṃsā or third of the three great divisions of Hindu philosophy called Vedānta either as teaching the ultimate scope of the Veda or simply as explained in the Upanishads which come at the end of the Veda), which advocates that the Brahman takes the form of Purusha or the individual soul, enabling the individual beings to act, but remains unconnected to the actions or to the results of actions.

Purusha is the term used by Sāṃkhya school of thought (one of the three great divisions of Hindu philosophy and so called either from, discriminating in general, or, more probably, from reckoning up or enumerating twenty-five tattva-s twenty three of which are evolved out of Prakṛiti the primordial essence or the first-producer viz. buddhi (intellect), ahaṃkāra (ego), the five tanmātra-s, the five mahābhūta-s (air, fire, etc)and mind and the twenty fifth being Purusha) and Ātman is the term used by the Vedāntic school of thought. Both these terms refer to the individual soul. The soul continues to exist in a gross body as long as the body functions. Once the gross body ceases to function after death, the soul also leaves the body along with prāṇa which is also known as the vital force. The fate of the soul after death is determined by the law of karma that remains embedded in the soul, wherever it goes. Karma is like a voice recorder in an airplane, where in the results of all the actions and thoughts are recorded. If someone believes that he is doing an action unaware to anybody, he should always bear in mind that his actions are recorded in his karmic account. It is to be understood that karma is the result of various decisions made by the mind that ultimately determines the destiny of the soul after death. That is why pursuing spiritual path and firmly establishing spiritual progress are considered as essential factors in reducing the impact of karma. Karmic account is not only historical but also contains long forgotten evolutionary aspects as well. Therefore, ultimately the soul unfolds its actions in a physical body depending upon its karmic account. In such a situation, the soul does not undergo any change or modification based on the fact that it is a mere reflection of the Brahman or the Supreme Spirit. The soul can manifest only if it is associated with Prakruti. 

The soul or Purusha can manifest only if it interacts with Prakruti, which is also known as the Nature or creative self-unfolding act. This interpretation itself will explain the nature of Prakruti. It is only the Prakruti that unfolds the act of creation. When the soul is associated with Prakruti, the latter unfolds first into the subtle non-materialistic form and later into the gross form. The gross form can be identified under three broad classifications such as sthūla (gross), sūkṣma (subtle), and kāraṇa (casual). A comparison can be drawn between an automobile tyre and the three types of bodies. An automobile tyre has an outer portion made up of rubber, beneath that lies the tube that holds the air inside. A car cannot run without the effective and coordinated functions of all the three. The outer tyre is the gross body, the tube holding the air is the subtle body and the air that is the inner most and invisible is the casual body. Similarly, without these three forms, existence is impossible. These bodies, in reality, are the reflections of the levels of consciousness. The respective bodies can be recognized only if the consciousness level is modified, refined and purified. Purer is the level of consciousness higher is the level of spirituality and finer is the type of body. These three types of bodies are the reflections of the Prakruti and this reflection is known as māyā or illusion.

The gross body reflects the materialistic world, the subtle body reflects the world of vitality and the casual body reflects the casual world. These three stages are realized in the three states of awake, dream and deep sleep. The gross and subtle bodies are the effects of the casual body. The basis of these types of bodies is the casual body, or the casual manifestation of consciousness. In certain schools of thoughts, a reference to another state called the fourth state or turya state is mentioned. In fact, this turya state is to be accepted by all. Only in this state, where the consciousness transcends all bodily afflictions gets purified and becomes fit enough to be called Cit (the Absolute or the foundational consciousness). The Self in turya state is the purest form of consciousness. In this stage, the consciousness remains all alone, without any affiliations.

The Prakruti is potentially a powerful tool that binds the soul to manifest in the form of bodies discussed above, just to manifest and unfold the karma-s embedded in the soul. When the soul is under the lustful embrace of Prakruti, the soul that was part of the Supreme Brahman forgets its own nature, and identifies itself with ego. The deceptive and illusionary nature of Prakruti engulfs the soul with all sorts of addictions, afflictions and confusions and makes the soul totally discombobulated. This particular stage of the soul is said to be ignorant or the state of avidyā contrary to vidyā or knowledge. The pure soul now stands veiled by the effects of Prakruti called māyā or illusion.

There are three types of guṇa-s. Guṇa-s mean qualities or attributes, which form the inherent nature of Prakruti. The three guṇas are sattvic or sattva, rajas or rajo and tamas or tamo. In each of these guṇa-s, the other two guṇa-s are also present. Sattva guṇa is where quality and purity of knowledge attains the highest level, with the least presence of other two guṇa-s. This is where spiritual growth begins to bloom. Rajo guṇa is predominant when action and passion are predominant. It is associated with earthly plane and mundane knowledge. It involves higher passions with worldly pursuits. This is where goals are set and in order to achieve the set goals, attachment, self-conceit, arrogance, unjustness, contempt, slander and consequent sorrow and miseries are felt. This is the stage where major portion of the karmic account builds up. Tamo guṇa is inertia and ignorance. This is associated with much lower planes than earth. Illusion and ignorance are predominant here. Sluggishness, infatuation, confusion, stupidity, aversion, recklessness, vulgarity, grief, pain, anxiety, hatred, violence are some of the predominant qualities of this guṇa.

Therefore, it is basically the guṇa that determines the character of a person. A person’s character is determined at the time of birth itself,. If one’s karmic account is extremely bad, he will have no liberation in vicinity and has to undergo repeated transmigrations. Till the entire bad karmic account is exhausted, he continues to be born to those who are hardcore criminals. One gets confused, whether the person is a born criminal or a metamorphosed into a criminal. It is neither. It is his karmic account that makes him to be born in the family of criminals. Karmic account gets embedded as genes at the time of birth. This also goes to prove the existence of group karma. Group karma is passed on as genetic and hereditary factors.

Kṛṣṇa says that the one who understands the Lord’s play gets liberated. Lord’s play can be realised through knowledge and once the knowledge is complete, bliss, realization and liberation follow one after another paving the way for the final exit of the soul for good.

Further Readings:

Bhagavad Gita Chapter XIII. 7 - 11

Bhagavad Gita Chapter XIII. 12 -18

Bhagavad Gita Chapter XIII. 24 - 28