Purusha is Consciousness & Samkhya’s Potter’s Wheel


Know that Nature [Prakriti] and the Spirit [Purusha]

Both have no beginning!

- Ganguli XIII.19


Krishna now teaches Arjuna how Purusha and Prakriti serve to cause the world. Purusha is often translated into English as Spirit, however both Rene Guenon and Abhinavagupta agree that Purusha is Consciousness. Certainly Purusha should never be confused with any western concept of spirits as the waveform after-effects of the dead.


The Supreme Self (Paramatman) through the power (Shakti) of Its Maya creates the appearance of Separation. These apparent distinctions are the multitude of Beings, the Atman. Atman is the true Self or the Soul.


Atman (or Atma) is the ‘Living Soul’ that dwells in the Heart. Once in a body, Atman is defined as Purusha. Purusha is the eternal present because in the Light (jyotis) of Knowledge, ‘all things are in perfect simultaneity’ (Rene Guenon). Time does not exist outside the temporal illusory hologram and the Atman is beyond Time.


Now is described Atman, whose nature is incomprehensible to the ordinary understanding. It is the unchanging Consciousness present in man, and the Witness...


...the Purusha, who remains awake [conscious] while the sense-organs [of the gunas] are asleep [unconscious], shaping one lovely form after another, that indeed is the Pure, that is Brahman, and that alone is called the Immortal. All worlds are contained in Him, and none can pass beyond.

- Katha Upanishad II.ii.8


In spite of the multiplicity of bodies, Atman is one and non-dual.

- ibid.II.ii.9


Purusha enters into an apparent ‘correlation’ with Prakriti. Prakriti is Nature and the abode of the three gunas (rajas, sattva & tamas). This is a polarity universe, thus Purusha is the male active principle and Prakriti is the female passive principle. Together they produce all that is manifested, but remain the Unmanifest.


Purusha is the Witness. Prakriti produces effects for his enjoyment. Purusha is ‘solitary, neutral, a spectator, and non-agent’ (Samkhya Karika). Purusha is solitary because even though as consciousness he is the Witness to the effects produced by Prakriti and her three gunas, Purusha remains pure and untouched.


The three gunas are born of Prakriti. It is their imbalance that causes the wheels-within-wheels to turn and produce the hologram. After a cyclical Dissolution of the world the gunas return to and remain in a state of perfect balance until next time of Creation. Purusha abides in Prakriti (prakritsthas) as Witness to the effects of her gunas (BhG.XIII.21).



Purusha’s Confusion


Here Samkhya becomes very subtle and perhaps a bit weirdly mysterious. For it seems that the Creator allows Its Self as Purusha to become somewhat confused for a time. Even though Purusha as Witness remains untouched by the gyrations and effects of Prakriti’s gunas, Purusha temporarily mistakes these ‘transformations’ as his own (B.Marjanovic).


Purusha wrongly assumes that he is the ‘agent’ of Prakriti’s manifestations. The Samkhya Karika states that it is his proximity with Prakriti that causes this false impression. In the process of his enjoyment of the world, Purusha begins to consider the polarities of pleasure-and-pain (sukha-duhkha), etc. as his own. This confusion, caused by attachment, eventually makes Purusha realize that he has become bound in the webs of Maya that are produced by Prakriti's gunas.



Pain is the wake-up alarm


The Creator understood that there must be some fail-safe that would allow all Its Selves to find eventual release from the temporal illusory hologram. Surely God would never trap Its Self in any limited form for all eternity. When pleasure turns to pain, the alarm goes off. Hopefully the mind starts to activate the intellect (buddhi) which can discriminate between what is Real and the unreal.


Therefore after experiencing pain, Purusha realizes that he has become attached (guna-sangas) to those polarities which are the cause of the endless cycles of birth and death in both good and evil wombs (sad-asad-yoni-janmasu).



Like this ...


The Creator desires (kama) to play in this polarity universe for the purpose of enjoyment (bhoga). The One creates the Appearance of Separation as the Atman, the multitude of Souls. The Atman enters into human bodies and becomes Purusha, which is Consciousness. There Purusha ‘correlates’ with the Unmanifest principle Prakriti, which is not conscious but has the female power (Shakti) to produce and manifest this polarity universe through the three gunas.


The proximity - a sort of illusory union - of Purusha to Prakriti causes Purusha to forget his real state, which in reality is not capable of being affected by Prakriti’s changes; and he begins to mistake these effects, pleasure-and-pain (sukha-duhkha), as his own.


I cannot help but observe somewhat wryly how this seems to play out in our mundane everyday human interactions. If you will forgive my less that pristinely metaphysical observations, what male does not become confused by those female energies which often arouse his passions to such an extent that he forgets himself, at least for a time.


Of course we must remember that we all contain Purusha the male principle and Prakriti the female within us. One thing we all know for certain is that the Creator does have an enormous cosmic sense of humor!



Release from birth and death ...


Whoso thus knows himself, and knows his soul

PURUSHA, working through the qualities

With Nature's modes, the light hath come for him!

Whatever flesh he bears, never again

Shall he take on its load.

- Ganguli


Krishna tells Arjuna that the one who Knows from direct experience (vetti) this temporal and actually nonexistent ‘correlation’ between Purusha the real Self as Atman and the unreal Prakriti who produces the illusory, is not born again! Knowledge of the Real brings release from endless transmigration (XIII.23).



Samkhya Karika & Discriminative Wisdom


The Samkhya Karika of Isvara Krsna has a charming anthropomorphic portrayal of this liberating realization. The illusion of pain is experienced by Purusha until the intellect (buddhi) is brought into being as Discriminative Wisdom. This occurs as a result of Prakriti producing her effects via the three gunas.


Purusha is the Witness and experiencer. Prakriti works through the three gunas and the five senses to produce what Purusha experiences. Purusha would not develop this Discriminative Wisdom without Prakriti providing the experiences of pleasure (sukha) and pain (duhkha), etc.



Purusha becomes indifferent ...


The game is over once Purusha realizes the mechanics of their ‘correlation’ through his newly acquired Discriminative Wisdom. He recognizes that she is distinct from him. He comes to know her. The text says literally that she is ‘seen’ by him (maya drsta) and therefore he becomes indifferent (iti upeksha-kah).


The one (Purusha) thinks: ‘she has been seen by me’ and therefore loses all interest; the other (Prakriti) thinks ‘I have been seen’ and ceases to act further. Therefore, even if there is still connection there is no motive for further evolution.

- Samkhya Karika, Verse 66


The writer of the Samkhya Karika compares Prakriti to a maiden who is modest in the sense of being extremely delicate with an acute sensitivity and ‘who cannot bear exposure to the prying glance of a stranger ... Having been seen [recognized] once by the Purusha through discrimination, will in no case expose herself again.’


My opinion is that nothing is more modest than the Prakriti: Knowing  that ‘I have been seen,’ she no more comes within the sight of Purusha.

- Samkhya Karika, Verse 61


While this comparison obviously is taken from another time when women of noble descent were not permitted to be seen by strangers or even the sun, the meaning is conveyed that for Prakriti the performance is over and she will not continue her dance. The gunas will cease their allure and stop the show.



Destroyed like a burnt up seed ...


We are told that perfect Knowledge is attained by this ‘recognition’ and afterwards Purusha ‘continues to live for a while invested with the body, just like a potter’s wheel continuing to revolve, even when the potter ceases in his efforts at revolving the wheel due to the momentum of the past impulse’ (Samkhya Karika 67).


The attainment of ‘direct knowledge’ causes the ‘entire stock of subliminal impressions of deeds,’ which are the fuel of repeated births, to get ‘destroyed like a burnt up seed, and no more produces any fruit in the form of experiences of rebirth, life, etc.’



‘ ... is not born again’


Verse 23 in the thirteenth Book of the Bhagavad Gita allows us to examine how the translations vary. Diverging interpretations are in my view - based in the belief systems of the translator and Verse 23 (or 24) is particularly informative in this regard.


(Book XIII begins with Arjuna asking a question, therefore some translations count this question as a verse while others do not which accounts for the discrepancy in enumeration.)


य एवं वेत्ति पुरुषं प्रकृतिं च गुणैः सह .

सर्वथा वर्तमानोऽपि न स भूयोऽभिजायते .. १३- २४..


ya eva vetti purua prakti ca guai saha

sarvathā vartamānopi na sa bhūyobhijāyate 13.24



sarvatha vartamano ’pi


sarvatha - in any manner whatsoever; however, in whatever way

vartamano - he continues to live; existing, moving, living

’pi (api) - even if, even, also


na sa bhuyo ’bhijayate


na - not

sa (sah) - he

sa (saha) - together

bhuyo (bhuyah) - again

’bhijayate (abhijayate) - he is born (therefore na abhijayate - he is not born)


Here are seven translations of Verse 23 which begins with the idea that the one who has experiential Knowledge of Purusha and Prakriti ...


M.N. Dutt: ... in whatever state he may be, he is never born again.


Kashmir Saivite Abhinavagupta (B.Marjanovic): ... whatever his present condition might be, such a person is not reborn again.


Swami Nikhilananda/Vedanta: (He) ... is not born again, howsoever he may comport himself.


Ganguli: Whatever flesh he bears, never again Shall he take on its load.


Gambhirananda/Advaita: (He) ... is not born again even if he continues to live in any manner whatsoever.


Winthrop Sargeant: In whatever stage of transmigration he may exist, Is not born again.


J.A.B. van Buitenen: (He) ... is not born again, in whatever way he now exists.


You can see for yourself how one might draw various conclusions from the subtle distinctions made in these seven. I would choose to interpret Verse 23 to mean that any of us can attain liberation regardless of the status given to us at birth, or what we might have done during our lives. Krishna says that even the worst criminal can be liberated by his boat of Knowledge (BhG.IV.36).


It does not matter if we are rich or poor, thieves or philanthropists, old or young, male or female, high born or low, healthy or crippled. All that matters is that we have the experiential understanding of the Knowledge of Purusha and Prakriti. When this teaching is Known and we come to recognize Prakriti’s gunas operating through the senses on their objects, we Know that we are not the Doer.


We are Purusha as Consciousness - pure Soul, Atman, pieces of the Absolute, the Supreme Self (Paramatman) - dwelling in the body which has been the creation and playing ground, the Field of Prakriti. We realize that we have intentionally veiled our true Self to enjoy being lost in the performance of guna-maya for perhaps eons.



Samkhya’s Potter’s Wheel


Samkhya’s idea that the body continues ‘even after the attainment of the Knowledge of Truth on account of previous impulses’ is intriguing. The comparison is made to the potter’s wheel which continues ‘to rotate for a while even though the potter has ceased from action, owing to the momentum of past impulses of the action’(Samkhya Karika 67).


The Samkhya Aphorisms of the great Sage Kapila offer us insight into liberation, which is called apavarga in Samkhya. Kapila states that the Soul’s (Purusha as Consciousness) aim in life is to cut short the relation between Nature (Prakriti) and the Soul (Kapila’s Aphorisms, Book VI.70). According to Kapila, the ‘Body’s existence is dependent on Soul’ (ibid.VI.64).


The body is the Field in which the insentient Prakriti manifests. The one who through Discriminative Wisdom recognizes her operations - which occur via the three gunas - ceases to be affected and therefore attached to their effects. Prakriti’s effects may continue on their own momentum, like the potter’s wheel; but they will no longer bind the Soul in the temporal illusory hologram because they have been ‘seen’ as distinct from Purusha.



Purusha is Not the ‘Doer’


The Soul as Consciousness realizes that it never was affected by Prakriti’s endless machinations, those effects she so gracefully produces so the Soul may experience the worlds and attain Discriminative Wisdom.


The ‘emancipated has understood that he never was really otherwise’ (ibid.IV.43). Purusha is pure, untouched by it all! We come to recognize the habitual patterns produced by the gunas. We know when another performance is beginning, for these shows have been running for us in repetition for lifetime after lifetime, in yuga after yuga, and manvantara after manvantara.



Neo in the Matrix


We discern an old and familiar desire, but we are no longer under the power of its compulsion. We know where it leads, all pleasure eventually leads to pain - sukha-duhkha. As Trinity, the lovely girl in the first Matrix film, said to Neo - “Because you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that's not where you want to be.”


Once the Wisdom of Discrimination has been attained, there is ‘no reason why the emancipated should be subject to Nature’s invasion’ - even though it will continue to invade others (ibid.VI.44).


Like the momentum of the potter’s wheel which continues after the potter has ‘ceased from action,’ we go on living and observing the gunas with that consciousness of Non-attachment that Krishna teaches, until the momentum has run its course.



The Choices of the Enlightened


Each one of us is uniquely different owning to thousands of lives and experiences in a myriad of forms with all their possibilities due to the endless fractal-like variations produced by the imbalances of Prakriti’s three gunas. How could the Immeasurable Immensity be otherwise?


What we do once we have Become liberated (jivan mukti) through our own experiential Knowledge is up to us. We may choose to work for the well-being of the world (lokasamgraha), as Krishna urges Arjuna to do. Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair states that the Samkhya of Vyasa’s Krishna is not the same as Kapila’s Samkhya. Our Indian scholar says that the world is ‘the design of a conscious intentionality’ and therefore ‘Purusha is not aloof from Prakriti’ (The Mahabharata, A Literary Study).  


For Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair enlightenment comes with the responsibility to work for the well-being of the world and the become the instruments of this Divine Intentionality.


In the Mahabharata before the war takes place, Krishna offers to go to the enemy and try to make a peaceful alliance. He tells Yudhishthira, Arjuna, and the others that ‘human affairs are accomplished both by divine providence and by exertion on the part of man’ (M.N.Dutt; Udyoga Parva, Ch.79.5).


This ‘exertion’ on your part might take many forms. We are all aware of the multitude of monumental problems in the world today - our toxic environment, political corruption, religious fanaticism, poverty and overpopulation being just a few.



The Razor’s Edge


I believe that the God-within will direct you on your Path after enlightenment. But be aware that this is still the Kali Yuga and the Sage Kapila warns that it is possible to fall. Think of walking on the Razor’s Edge and apply your hard earned Discernment and Discrimination in each moment and at every crossroad. Stay immersed in the Heart even when you are confronting the demonic.


Some of you may choose to teach others, or write to share the Knowledge in a way that reflects your own experiences. Some may remain in solitude until the wheel loses all its momentum and at long last stops turning. Even in silence the presence of the enlightened ones will have been felt around the planet to balance the frequencies of this Kali Yuga.


Whatever you choose to do will be done in complete humility based in the Knowledge that God is All - Vasudeva sarvam iti. Whatever you do will be done with no attachment to the results, for you are not the Doer!






The Katha Upanishad

The Upanishads, Vol. One

Translated by Swami Nikhilananda, 1949

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center; 2003, NY


Man & His Becoming According to The Vedanta

Rene Guenon, 1925

Translated by Richard C. Nicholson

Sophia Perennis, 2001; Gent, NY


Studies in Hinduism

Rene Guenon, 1966

Translated by Henry D. Fohr

Sophia Perennis, 2001; Gent, NY


Samkhya Karika of Isvara Krsna

Translated by Swami Virupakshananda

Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1995, Madras


The Samkhya Aphorisms of Kapila

Translated by James R. Ballantyne

Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2003, New Delhi