This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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10.4. Purusha and Prakriti

Purusha, prakriti, and the human person

We must mention again here the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti, although we have already done so when discussing the overall characteristics of Indian doctrine. We will in fact return to this subject throughout our study, because by its nature it must be dealt with from various points of view depending on where we find ourselves, just as here, now, certain comments which would have been out of place earlier will be necessary. Again, we emphasize that Purusha and Prakriti out to be taken as identical to the Aristotelian notions of ‘essence’ and ‘substance.’ On the other hand, they should never be taken to represent the dichotomy of spirit-matter, due to the fact that these two ideas, as taken in contemporary thought, have no place in traditional doctrine. In order for manifestation to be produced, Purusha must enter into correlation with another principle. Ultimately, this relation is non-existent, that is to say it is illusory if Purusha is viewed in its highest aspect; but from the relative point of view its correlative is Prakriti, which we have already mentioned above. This is why Prakriti is represented as feminine, being the passive principle, and Purusha the active and masculine. These are the two poles of manifestation, unmanifested themselves. Through the union of these complements, all states are produced, including the human individual state.

Purusha, Prajapati, and Manu

If we instead consider a whole degree of existence, such as the individual domain in which the human state unfolds, Purusha is identified with Prajapati, ‘Lord of produced beings. Prajapati is also Vishvakarma, ‘universal constructive principle, and so his name and function are susceptible to various applications depending on the context. Considered in another more particular form, as that Will relating to each cycle, it become Manu, which gives each cycle its Law or Dharma.

Microcosm, Macrocosm, and Universal Man

The Western tradition uses the terms ‘microcosm’ and ‘macrocosm’ in correlation to refer to the relationship between the constitution of universal manifestation and that of the individual human modality. On the basis of this relationship, the features of the individual man can be transferred into the order of universal manifestation and taken as its symbolic representation. Islamic esoterism refers to the ‘Universal Man’ (al-Insan al-kamil). The Hebrew Kabbalah, likewise, has the Adam Kadmon. The Chinese speak of the ‘King’ (Wang).[1] All of these can be likened to the Purusha-Prakriti pair, which will be spoken of in terms of the ‘Universal Man’ in sections that follow, these statements based on the analogy just established.

[1] Tao Te Ching, chap. 25.

Prakriti, mother of forms

From the metaphysical point of view, Purusha is determinant, the active principle, while Prakriti is the determined, the passive principle. And we also said that from the point of view of Vedanta, which is pure metaphysic, that their opposition is only apparent, due to Pure Being polarizing itself with respect to manifestation, of which it is the principle. This should not be forgotten when, in order to examine Prakriti, we adopt the point of view of Sankhya, which is not ‘dualist,’ but which adopts the point of view at which this duality has its relative reality. We find then that Prakriti is the first of the twenty-four tattvas enumerated by Sankhya. Prakriti is the ‘substantial principle’ of manifestation, capable of every kind of determination (although unable to determine itself apart from the influence of Purusha). All things are therefore produced by Prakriti, as modifications of it, taking into account the fact that, in Sankhya, ‘production’ takes place from the standpoint of substance. The erroneous view of Prakriti as self-sufficient is also perhaps due to the place of Purusha in this darshana, which is given last, as a ‘twenty-fifth tattva,’ but the fact that it is in a way ‘superadded’ to the first twenty-four is significant. Mula-Prakriti is the Arabic al-Fitrah, or ‘primordial Nature.’ In the Puranas it is further identified with Maya, or ‘mother of forms,’ which is appropriate since the womb does weave together of itself a ‘production’ made possible by the fact of an implantation from without. Prakriti is also said to be Pradhana, ‘that which is laid down before all other things,’ which contains all determinations potentially. Here mula means ‘root’: ‘Root, it is without root, since it would not be a root if it had a root itself.’[1]

Prakriti, root of all, is not a production. Seven principles, the great [Mahat, the intellectual principle, or Buddhi] and the others [ahankara, or the individual consciousness, which generates the notion of the ‘ego’, and the five tanmatras or essential determinations of things] are at the same time productions [of Prakriti] and productive [in relation to those which follow]. Sixteen [the eleven indriyas or factulties of sensation and action, including manas or the metnal faculty among them, and the five bhutas or substantial and sensible elements] are productions [but unproductive]. Purusha is neither produced nor productive [in itself].[2]

That is to say, to Purusha belongs the ‘actionless activity’ that is the highest form of action, and which determines all of Prakriti’s productions. We again note an almost precise correspondence within the Christian tradition, found in Scotus Erigena’s De Divisione Naturae:

It seems to me that the division of Nature must be established according to four different kinds, the first of which is that which creates but is not created; the second, that which is created and itself creates; the third, that which is created and does not create; and lastly the fourth, that which is neither created nor creating.[3]

But the first and fourth kind [assimilable to Prakriti and Purusha, respectively] coincide in the Divine Nature, for it can be called creative and uncreate, as it is in itself, but also neither creating nor created, since, being infinite, it cannot produce anything outside itself and likewise there is no possibility of it not being in itself and by itself.[4]

We note the correspondence, but also must point out that here the idea of ‘creation,’ which as we said above is a conception specific to religious traditions, is substituted for ‘production’; also, where Erigena speaks of Divine Nature, we must understand this as Universal Being, since it is only there that Prakriti and Purusha are united.

[1] Sankhya-Sutras, 1.67.

[2] Sankhya-Karika, shloka 3.

[3] Book I.

[4] Book. III.

Prakriti and the three gunas

We mentioned earlier on the doctrine of the three gunas, and at this point we should say that these belong properly to Prakriti. It is this triplicity of constitutive qualities which gives rise to the indefinite variety of productions. Under the influence of Purusha, this equilibrium is ruptured and organized, and the indefinite variety of the productions of manifestation are the result. The gunas are therefore fundamental conditions of Existence, and all beings are subject to them in varying proportions.

Purusha is unaffected by individual modifications

To return again to the Bhagavad-Gita,

There are in the world two Purushas, the one destructible and the other indestructible; the first is distributed among all beings; the second is immutable. But there is another Purusha, the highest [uttama], which is called Paramatma, and which, as imperishable Lord, pervades and sustains three world [the earth, the air, and the heavens, representing the three fundamental degrees between which all the modes of manifestation are distributed]. As I transcend the destructible and even the indestructible [being the supreme Principle of the one and the other], I am extolled in the world and in the Veda under the name of Purushottama.[1]

These two Purushas are the two birds, connected and perched in the same tree. The first is jivatma, the separate existence of which is contingent and passing; the second is Atma considered in its relationship to the individual and as its ‘personality’; the third, as the text states, is Paramatma, or Atma unconditioned. It is in this way that we are enabled to speak of a ‘personality’ for each being. Purusha as the personality of the individual being is likened to, ‘a portion of the Supreme Ruler [who, however, is really without parts, being absolutely indivisible and ‘without duality’], as a spark is a portion of the fire [the nature of which is wholly present in every spark].’[2] And just as the spark contains the entire nature of the fire in itself, and it not affected by any of the conditions which determine the individual, for it is Prakriti that is affected thereby, so Purusha is not affected by individual modifications. It is Prakriti that can be said, in Aristotelian terms, to pass from ‘potency’ to act. According to Vijnana-Bhikshu: ‘All modification from the original production of the world to its final dissolution, proceeds exclusively from Prakriti and her derivatives.’ By derivatives is meant the twenty-four tattvas of the Sankhya. Purusha, on the other hand, is the principle which determines the development of all these possibilities, without ever entering into manifestation itself or being affected in any way:

Thus the solar or lunar light [capable of manifold modifications] appears identical with that which gives birth to it [the luminous source, considered as immutable itself], but nevertheless it is distinct therefrom [in external manifestation; likewise modifications or manifested qualities are, as such, distinct from their essential principle, in that they can in no manner affect it]. As the image of the sun reflected in water quivers and fluctuates in accordance with the undulations of the water, yet without affected the other images reflected therein, much less the solar orb itself, so the modifications of the one individual leave other individuals unaffected and, so much the more so, the Supreme Ruler Himself.’[3]

The Supreme Ruler is, in the context, Purushattoma, and it is this principle with which the Personality in all its universality is identical, just as all sparks are identical with fire. The image of the sun–that is to say, the reflection of the sun on the water, and not the sun itself–is the living soul, jivatma. It is the reflection in the individual realm, in relation to each individual, of the Light of Atma. We can also mention that the ray of light which connects the reflection with its source and which is in this way responsible for its existence, is Buddhi, the higher intellect, standing just beyond the individual order. Buddhi is formless and supra-individual, but manifested; and because Buddhi is manifested, it can be said to derive from Prakriti as its first production. The water, which reflects the solar light, is the plastic principle Prakriti. In this context, however, it must be noticed that the water represents the possibilities of formal manifestation, or manifestation in individual mode. This is appropriate due to the subject, but it is important to acknowledge otherwise one may forget that Buddhi in truth part of manifestation.

[1] Book XV.16-18.

[2] Brahma-Sutras II.3.43.

[3] Brahma-Sutras, II.3.46-53.

Prakriti and the symbol of waters

The symbolic representation of Prakriti as water is one can be carried over into all traditional doctrines: ‘And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.’[1] Here the Spirit is again Purusha and the waters Prakriti. Above we mentioned a special case in which the waters were limited to formal manifestation only, excluding the formless so that Buddhi could be represented in its connective role between Purushattoma and jivatma. Normally, however, when the waters represent Prakriti in its entirety, it achieves this same division by separating the ‘lower waters’ (formal possibilities) from the ‘upper waters’ (formless possibilities), such as in Genesis 1, 6, and 7. The primordial waters contained a ‘double chaos’ of formal and formless before the separation which God brought about.  Moreover, we can carry the same analogy being Being and say that the waters are Universal Possibility in its totality, embracing manifestation and non-manifestation in its Infinity.

[1] Genesis 1:2.

Four worlds

The Hebrew Kabbalah mentioned three worlds: Beriah, Yetsirah, and Asiah. These represent the formless, subtle, and gross. Over them is Atsiluth, or the principal world of the non-manifested.