Purusha and Prakriti in Advaita Vedanta

Published: Nov 13, 2023
Edited by: Team TB

Purusha and Prakriti in Advaita Vedanta

Purusha and Prakriti (also written as Purusa and Prakrti) are two rather complex concepts in Hinduism, which are vastly differently interpreted depending on the religious or philosophical school and period. Both concepts also appear regularly in the Advaita Vedanta discourse, and we’ll take look at how they are interpreted.

A very humble explanation would be that Purusha stands for consciousness (or spirit), and Prakriti for matter, that is, the primary substance of the material universe. Yet, although Purusha and Prakriti are considered different “things,” they are actually intimately connected and two sides of the same coin.

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Purusha, the Cosmic Spirit and Consciousness and the Eternal Cause of the Universe gives appearance of consciousness to all manifestations of matter (Prakriti), that is, to the perishable, impermanent phenomena of Nature. Additionally, Prakriti is thought to function and manifest itself through the interplay of the Three Gunas i.e. three different innate qualities (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas).

It’s important to furthermore realize that Prakriti also entails the cognitive, mental, moral, psychological, emotional, and sensorial aspects of (conscious) matter. It’s living matter.

In any case, it’s thought that when Purusha in the form of I-consciousness identifies itself with Prakriti, it becomes bound in matter, desires, and duality. However, in its pure and undefiled state, Purusha is the Witness-Consciousness, Absolute Awareness, independent, free, and beyond perception.

Yet, as the Advaita Guru Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj asserts about the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti: “Imperfect spirit is matter, perfect matter is spirit,” that is, the one can become the other (which resembles Einstein’s bearing that matter=energy), and in the Advaitic stance the division or separation between Purusha and Prakriti is finally considered to be an illusion, only occurring in the mind i.e. in manifest consciousness.

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