Purusha, Prakriti, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and Samkhya

Purusha, Prakriti, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and Samkhya


I thought it would be interesting to
delve into…into these two concepts that have…that have been helpful for me, they’re…I think they’re…they’re core ideas in a lot of contemplative traditions. In some
way you find them – kind of in some way – in the contemplative
traditions and not a lot of people know the terms – I think if you’re…if you’re
just getting into yoga practice and you… you haven’t studied many of the texts,
then you might not be introduced to…to these terms – so I wanted to talk about
them, and the ideas behind them, and the context surrounding them, and…and see
what happens – how does that sound? That sounds good. Okay cool. So can you
tell me a little bit about…give us an introduction to Purusha and Prakriti? So
these are two terms in the Sanskrit language which can be translated
approximately; Purusha – it does have a more general meaning as person – but in
the philosophy of Yoga, Purusha is the cosmic Purusha – so the idea of pure
consciousness. And a principle, an absolute principle, of being that is pure
consciousness. And Prakriti is a complimentary term which signifies
nature, or material reality – the mundane world that we live in – so the world of
objects and experiential reality. And these two terms together are what we
might call co-fundamentals – so together they make up the totality of the
experience of reality. And depending on what school of philosophy you are
viewing these pair of principles through – depending on your lens – they’re either
understood to be completely separate i.e. dualistic – in that, they don’t
interconnect or engage in any way; or there are various degrees of
connectedness or interaction, all the way through spectrum of interpretation to
philosophies which might view Purusha and Prakriti as being integrally related,
connected in some way. But if we’re thinking about the field of Classical
Yoga and the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in particular – which is my research topic
for my PhD – then we’re talking about Purusha and Prakruti as dualistic, as
separate. So the principle of pure consciousness and the principle of
material reality, which account for the sum total of reality, but which don’t
actually interconnect or engage. Okay I’ve a few questions about that, but…but
before I get into those, can you say a little bit about the…the school of
thought – you mentioned Classical Yoga and Patanjali and the Yoga Sutra – can you say
a little bit about the…the school of thought that these terms come out of? Yes.
So when we look back on what we call, Classical Indian Philosophy, there are
traditionally six schools of thought and one of these is familiar to us –
that’s the school of Yoga Philosophy – and this has a hand in glove relationship
with another school called Samkhya, and the word Samkhya itself means
“enumeration” – contains the idea of counting – and this reflects the fact that
Samkhya is really centered around a theory of how the whole cosmos comes
into being. And it lays out for us a map which accounts for all the different
levels of reality numerically. So according to Samkhya, there are 25
levels or principles, or Tattva’s, that make up realit,y and 23 of these emanate,
or come from, the principle of Prakriti. So Prakriti which is gendered as
feminine – the principle of materiality – is responsible for generating or emanating
the whole material cosmic reality around us. The twenty fifth principle – which
stands apart – is Purusha, the pure consciousness, the witnessing
consciousness. So this whole idea starts from Samkhya Philosophy – which we can
trace to the early centuries before the start of the Common Era – so we’re talking
about a body of thought that is significantly older than the Yoga Sutra,
and as scholars have noted over the years, Samkhya Philosophy is integral to
the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, it’s…it’s woven in there, it supports the ideas. I
would argue it’s not the only school of thought that’s reflected in there, but
it’s certainly presented as the main frame on which the author of the Yoga
Sutra’s hangs the ideas about Yoga.