The Unfolding Mirror
In order to understand the experience of yoga, the earliest schools of yoga postulated that there are two different principles of all experience which operate in a profound relationship to each other; that of Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha, which is pure being and pure consciousness, always has as the content of any experience Prakriti, which is creative, always changing energy.
Purusha is the seer, the witness, the real you or me. Prakriti is the seen, the experienced, the form, even down to the most subtle of mental events. Any ideas or feelings, even those about Purusha, are composed of the impermanent, interconnecting braids of a mutable, timeless energy, or Prakriti. Since Prakriti is the content of all experience, Purusha cannot be “experienced” as such, but is realized by the full releasing of Prakriti.
Technically we cannot even say there is a relationship between Purusha and Prakriti, since Purusha is completely unthinkable. Any relationships are actually between various complementary and opposite functions within the unified field of Prakriti. Philosophically the relationship between these two metaphysical absolutes comes to a halt in a knot of self reference paradox. This is not actually a problem. It happens eventually in all systems and is a beautiful and essential disappearance of the mentally constructed thinker.
Purusha and Prakriti are brilliant metaphors, which aid in the actual yoga practice and the experience of observing all phenomena as impermanent construction. For example, we can say that the process of realization in yoga can be likened to the simultaneous unfolding of millions of flowers (Prakriti) to face the light and glory of the rising sun (Purusha). The Kamakalavilasa Tantra also says, “The awakened flower energy, as Mulaprakrti or primordial Sakti is supreme; being in the nature un-originated and undisturbed joy, eternal, utterly incomparable, the seed of all, the spotless mirror in which is revealed the radiant form of Siva.”
Grounded in metaphor and myth, ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Tantra all state that it is the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti or between Shiva and Shakti which is the propelling force behind the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe.
Mythologically the deep process that one awakens in the other can only be compared to that of a profound love affair in the depths of its illusions, the complexities of its situations and the heights of its joys. The Yoga Sutra explains that, “the purpose of the coming together of Purusha and Prakriti is the gaining by the Purusha of the awareness of His true nature and the unfolding of the creative power inherent in Him as Prakriti.”
The Samkhyakarika explains that ultimately the emergence and evolution of the manifested world is to play out the process of the apparent bondage and liberation of the Purusha. Everything is for the sake of Purusha, the witness, consciousness: and, when illusion is finally removed, the Prakritic process is seen to be indescribably tender. “It is my thought that there is nothing more delicate than Prakriti who (says to Herself) ‘I have been seen’, and never comes into sight of the Purusha….says the Seer (Purusha)’I have seen (Her)’. The other ceases (saying) ’I have been seen’, though the two are still in proximity, no creation takes place.”
It is from this apparent paradox of love, the primordial duality-in-unity of Purusha and Prakriti, that the whole universe of yoga unfolds. Philosophically the Samkhya universe is understood in terms of consciousness, i.e., in terms of how it appears to the Purusha. In fact, this is the key; that the universe is what appears to Purusha. It is what is seen (Drshya). Its entire purpose is to put on a show, an extraordinary theatrical event of sorts, to show the Purusha the wonder of it all.
“A connoisseur draws out love with tender care from the pulsation of leaves, from the rays of flowers.”
The primary axiom of the system is the absolute distinction between Purusha and Prakriti; Purusha as pure, contentless consciousness, and Prakriti as the unconscious content thereof.
As it appears normally, consciousness is always conscious of something. Consciousness then appears as the thing of which it is conscious. What is unconscious then appears as conscious. Purusha appears as what it is not, and Prakriti appears as what it is not. A double negation occurs (“appears” within Prakriti) where both principles reveal what they are by appearing to be what they are not. The appearance of this paradoxical double negation forms the epistemological bind of illusion (Avidya), the confusion of Prakriti with Purusha, consciousness with its fleeting contents, the field with the knower-of-the-field.
The nature of the duality proposed here is subtle and the correct understanding of it in real life is liberation of the Seer. This is not a duality of the Cartesian variety where there is an ontological distinction between mind and body, thought and extension or awareness and matter. Quite paradoxically, Samkhya likes to include all distinctions within the category of Prakriti, allowing for a subtle reductive materialism in which gross arises from subtle which in turn arises from more subtle, and so on.
Ordinary consciousness or awareness is a manifestation of Prakriti as “Citta Vritti” or “Antahkarana Vritti”, meaning modifications of mind-stuff or modifications of the internal instruments. Ordinary awareness or thought is an intentional, striving, active construct of subtle material energy. On the other hand, Purusha is pure witness, contentless consciousness, never reducible to gross Prakriti or subtle Prakriti. Yet only when the subtle Prakritic vehicle waxes clear or flowers is the epistemic distinction between awareness as subtle Prakriti and the Purusha seen by the embodied Purusha.
Thus, the problem of bondage and release appears only within Prakriti as the adventures of a subtle Prakritic vehicle mistakenly identified as consciousness itself. The Samkhyakarika states: “Nothing, therefore, is bound, nothing released, likewise not anything transmigrates. Only Prakriti in its various forms transmigrates, is bound and is released.” Enlightenment reveals what has always been the case, a principle beyond Prakriti, always free as pure consciousness. This principle is no-thing: it is, however, indicated by seeing the negative dialectics within Prakriti. As the Upanishads say, “Neti, Neti”, “not this, not this”.
So now there is nothing left to examine or to explain but Prakriti. But a close observation of Prakriti can bear the greatest prize for the observer. The Yoga Sutra states, “Liberation is when there is equality of purity of the Purusha and Sattva (intelligence/ Buddhi)”. What is observed, Prakriti as intelligence, can be tuned so as to reflect the pure light of consciousness. Descriptions and thoughts about Prakriti, any conditions from which they might have arisen, and any reactions they might produce are also Prakriti. Prakriti apprehends Prakriti. When the Prakritic vehicle of Sattva (intelligence) is free of epistemological confusions the very process of Prakriti appears, to the delight of the Purusha, as the delicate flowering of truth.