Dual and Non-dual. Purusha and Prakriti. Let’s do this.

I want to blog about dual and non dual things, specifically in how they relate to yoga, but I can’t say I have a real sophisticated grasp on the concepts.  Is that going to stop me? Nope.  Should you quote me? Maybe not…  Here’s what I’ve got so far: Yoga is one of the six darsanas –schools of Indian philosophical thought that are based on the authority of the Vedas.   Yoga came from one of these darsanas, Samkhya, which is a dual system.  Some Yoga has a dual perspective and some does not, but for the sake of conversation here, I’ll talk about the non-dual yogic perspective and why the heck it matters to YOU and ME.

In Samkhya, there is purusha or pure consciousness, thought to be our true identity.  On the other side, there is everything else– the material world or prakriti, thought even to contain things like our organs, senses and intellectual facultiesSometimes we confuse purusha, our true self, with prakriti .  We think that we are prakriti, that our thoughts and memories, ego,  bodies, relationships and jobs are who we really are, and when we see our existence in this way, it leads to suffering.  We suffer because we connect our “selves” with all this stuff that changes all of the time and we don’t have a whole lot of control over any of it, really.  When seeing this from a dual-perspective, purusha vs. prakriti, we see these elements in opposition to one another.  We work to overcome our connection to the material world in order to access and live in the knowledge of the True Self. “Samkhya looks upon what we call reality as the result of a temporary error, illusion, want of discriminaton…” (Max Mueller)

In 788-830ce lived a philosopher/Spiritual Master (PSM) by the name of Shankara (or maybe he liked his name to be spelled, Sankara…)  He brought the concept of advaita  or non-dualism to the scene.  Shankara, PSM, said that there is only Brahman, (only atman or SOUL , only pure consciousness) and that’s it.  Prakriti is not at odds with purusha.  Prakriti becomes consciousness when seen by purushaThere is the experience of the divine in the material world because we as divine beings full of that special consciousness bring it.   Freidrich Max Mueller (1823-1900), the father of comparative Religion, expresses this  thought with a poetic phrase:  “There is in reality but one Atman or Self, as it were, one sun reflected in the countless waves of the world –ocean.”   We see our divine selves reflected in the material world and we are reflections of the Divine.  Max Mueller says Prakriti contains in itself the possibilities of all things, but by itself it has no consciousness.  Prakriti  simply grows or develops into consciousness when seen by purusha.  WE BRING consciousness to the material world when we give it our attention and take it in. Prakriti is the wiring, the fixture, the lightbulb and Purusha is the electricity, the ZING. Purusha needs Prakriti for creation.  Lightbulbs need electricity to shine.  From a non-dual perspective, we aren’t in a lifelong battle with the material world, we are in it together, but to reduce the suffering in this life, we have to be clear about the difference between purusha and prakriti and we use that awareness to understand the roles of each in our lives.  (I’m sorry for all the bold, italics and all caps, people– it was all I could do to avoid long strings of exclamation points.  I really love this. )

The dual and non-dual perspectives are dealing with the same ideas:  there is suffering in the world and there are the ways to reduce that suffering.  Both perspectives accept that the two elements, purusha and prakriti, are there and at work and they have roles to play, but it is how we relate to the elements that is the difference.   The dualist sees the elements in opposition to one another and we work to move beyond the realm of the material so that we can live in the other spiritual realm. The non-dualist sees purusha and prakriti an integral parts of the human experience and our work is to direct our awareness and keep a clear understanding of the difference between them.

I was talking to one of my teachers, Eduardo, about this topic and what he said gave me chills: What we bring to consciousness has to do with how we direct our awareness.  What are the things (healthy choices, relationships, work, even the media we seek out…) that need a little more attention and energy to really shine brightly?  It is sort of like the “priorities” conversation my mom had with me in my 8th grade year, “when you know what is important, even difficult decisions are much easier.”  When we know the difference between our Divine Self and all the other stuff, we can establish priorities that nourish our souls even if it means giving up a relationship, dedicating oneself to a practice, choosing one thing over another.

Yoga gives us a way to connect to the unchanging self, to see the difference between this divine consciousness that we are and the changing material world.  How does that work?  We learn, through asana (postures), mantra (chanting), pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation (focusing of the attention) how to still the mind so that all the mental chatter can be quieted and we can access who we really are; we can connect again to our atman, our purusha, our true self.   We live and experience the joys and pains of the material world through our bodies, thoughts, relationships, our experience with nature and our roles without thinking that we are those things. Yoga gives us techniques and really practical ways to disentangle our Self from the material world and then to connect with awareness and clarity to what’s important and nourishing.

Thanks, Joel, for the link to this paper. This is an excellent dual/non-dual essay by Doug Keller who seems to really know what he is talking about.  If you are wanting more, check it out: Starting Points:  Yoga and Dualism  


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