“When one has nothing to lose, one becomes courageous. We are timid only when there is something we can still cling to.”
Carlos Castaneda

The Second Ring of Power

Religiousness in Yoga Part 6: Puruṣa & Prakṛti

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

This chapter is a brief overview of Samkhya.

In this excerpt I’ve elected to let the live teaching setting in which this book originated by letting the questions come through. I believe that the questions (and answers) capture well the essence of these teachings by encountering (and re-framing) often unspoken metaphysical assumptions.

Part1: Theory

According to Yoga teachings, the world is made up of only two things. One is the puruṣa, that which sees, but it sometimes prevented from seeing clearly by avidyā. The Yoga Sūtra uses the word draṣṭṛ for seer or observer. That which is seen by draṣṭṛ is dṛśya … We think and we know that we are thinking, so we are able to see not only the outside but also the functions of the mind. Next the senses function as the instruments of perception. Finally there exist the objects of perception, all that is seen, the whole outside world. This whole process is not one of distinct events; they are interrelated. In fact, all things that fall in the realm of the seen were created from the same source … this common source, called pradhāna, had no relation with puruṣa. When the puruṣa came in contact with pradhāna it was as if a germ sprouted. This germ, prakṛti, multiplied and the material world evolved. First came mahat, the great principle. After mahat came ahaṃkāra, the “sense of I.” From ahaṃkāra came the tanmātras and the indriyas. The tanmātras are the characteristics of sound touch form, taste, and smell. They were created in this order … from the subtlest to the grossest. The indriyas include, besides the mind, the senses of perception and action. Those of perception are hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling; those of action are vocal, manual, locomotion, evacuation, and procreation. From the tanmātras came the bhūtas or elements of space, air, light, water and earth.

This is a brief and incomplete summary of the theory of evolution set forth by the Yoga system … What happens in the outside world influences us and what happens in us influences our relation to the outside world …

There is no source in Yoga that explains whether the original of primal pradhāna or puruṣa was from the Lord or simply there. there is no description of the puruṣa other than thatit sees and only through the mind. We cannot do anything about the quality of puruṣa; it is constant. Our practice in Yoga is to effect a change in the quality of the mind so that the observation of the puruṣa, which is through the mind, is not distorted. When the mind thinks it it seeing rather than the puruṣa there is avidyā, and this is the beginning of duḥkha … It is important that we remember … puruṣa is unchanging; prakṛti changes, and mind is a part of prakṛti.

… There is no other way to describe puruṣa. It cannot be seen by the mind. We only know it is present because sometimes we have clarity … puruṣa is an active witness uninfluenced by that which it sees … According to the Yoga Sūtra, the whole saṃyoga or confusion between prakṛti and puruṣa is in our life so that those who are inclined to seek clarity can learn the distinction between correct and incorrect understanding. In this sense, Yoga is optimistic; we move through our recognition of problems and confusion into a quest for clarity.

… Observation only happens if there is an energy and an inclination on the part of puruṣa to go out, as it were, and bring back an impression. This is different from modern physics where there must be light in order for an image to come to the eye … something must provoke us to see, to listen, to think. That which triggers this action comes from the puruṣa, not from the outside. Often external things try to provoke and yet we do not react …

Part2: Questions

Question: How does this relationship with the puruṣa come about?
Response: … Any stand we take will be speculative. How can we know? We develop many theories because of our discursive intellects. Who can experience the beginning of the world?

Question: Does puruṣa have the potential to explain things like what happens after death?
Response: There is no death for the puruṣa because there is no change for it, and what is death but change … any explanation we give for actions that we have or have not experienced comes from the mind because words emanate from there. Words do not emanate from puruṣa.

Question: Does puruṣa act?
Response: Its action is that it sees … It does not act in the sense of walking or talking. All actions that we are able to see come from prakṛti but the source for these action, the energy, comes from puruṣa.

Question: Does the puruṣa go into another form when we die?
Response: … There are quite a few theories on this and you can accept whichever you like.

Question: Is there an explanation for how the mind can bring about changes in itself?
Response: … it is difficult to say we changed because we practiced Yoga, Zen or any other system. There are those who change as the result of practice and those who never change in spite of practice … We never know. What we do know is that somehow the qualities of heaviness and “dancing” in the mind are eliminated … Something fundamental must happen at the right moment, something so strong and so striking that we really want to stop, think and change our course of action. After that happens, little by little we progress.

Question: Clarity is a state of mind or quality of mind. I don’t understand the need for the concept of puruṣa?
Response: … who is going to know if there is or is not clarity? We need an element outside the mind to witness clarity. That is why puruṣa is important.

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