Before continuing, we should first be reminded that what is said of Brahman and Prakriti is also to be applied to the individual spirit, the purusha, and its individual energy levels or prakriti.
Know that both Prakriti and Purusha are beginningless; and know that the modifications and the gunas arise from Prakriti (13:19).
This verse is quite pivotal for our correct understanding. First of all, both prakriti and purusha are eternal–without beginning, and therefore without end. This means that prakriti is not a dream or mirage, something that will cease to exist when realization is attained, though our mistaken ideas about prakriti will melt away. Prakriti is like the screen in a theatre. The movie will end, but the screen will remain. Next, all things originate in prakriti, and so do their modifications; for the gunas, the primal building blocks of manifestation, themselves are prakriti. (The next chapter will be about the three gunas.)
Two important ideas come into play here: 1) Nothing ever comes from spirit (purusha) or is done by spirit. 2) As Poe said: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”–namely, prakriti, the creative energy.
Therefore, although we must never forget our essential nature as spirit, everything in our experience–in the field–is an objectification of mula-prakriti, the root-energy from which all things are formed. For this reason yoga is very much a matter of prakriti, for it is prakriti that needs to be refined and evolved to become a perfect reflection of the purusha. That alone is liberation. So yogis pay great attention to such things as diet and health. Meditation practice itself entails certain necessary elements, which is why Patanjali lists asana, pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana as prerequisites for meditation.
To cultivate a false, abstract “spiritual-mindedness” that denies or ignores prakriti is to be in error. For:
Prakriti is declared to be the cause of that which is to be done, the instrument and the doer. The Purusha is declared to be the cause in the experiencing of pleasure and pain (13:20).
This verse is extremely difficult to translate. The idea is that prakriti is the source of both action and the instrument of action, but purusha is the source of the internal experiences and internal reactions, our experience of pleasure and pain that result from the movements of prakriti. Consciousness is an attribute of the purusha. The more conscious we are–the more we identify with consciousness itself rather than objects of consciousness–the more “real” we are.
The knower in the field
The Purusha abiding in Prakriti experiences the gunas of Prakriti; attachment to the gunas is the cause of its birth in good and evil wombs (13:21).
This is really rather simple. We experience the different modes (gunas) of materiality, and our reaction to them–whether positive or negative–intensely attaches our awareness to prakriti. The character of our attachment/aversion determines the kind of birth we will have. Most translators employ the expression “good and evil wombs,” and Prabhavananda has “pure or impure,” but the Sanskrit says sadasadyonijanmasu–birth in real (sat) and unreal (asat) wombs, or birth in true/real or false wombs. This is a purely psychic/spiritual expression.
Sentient beings within prakriti exist in a vast scale, from totally ignorant and basically unconscious up to subtle and expanded consciousness that approximates and reflects the Consciousness that is Brahman. It is this degree of reflection of the divine consciousness that determines how real or unreal the birth and body will be. The closer to God we are, the more real we are, and the further away we are, the more unreal we are.
This is completely psychological, not spatial. Nevertheless it should make us think carefully about every aspect of our life, including those we associate with. How real are we, and how real is our life? If we wish to approach Reality and unite with it, this is a basic requisite. A sure sign that an aspirant will fail in spiritual life is his neglect of this crucial scrutiny. It is an extension of the adage: If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail.
A bit of reflection. It is so common for spiritual aspirants to say that they are different from their families, that they feel alien to them, etc. But this cannot be true. We are only born in families of people with whom we have a deep affinity. True, that affinity may be more subconscious than conscious, but it is there and is a force to be reckoned with. We have no doubt all known people who denounced their parents or family for traits which they themselves possessed. I knew a scrupulously honest young man who was born into a family of low-level criminals. It would have been wisdom for him to realize that criminality was latent in him and watch his mind carefully to guard against it. Again, we all know people who rebelled and cut the cord and got away only to return after some years and become exactly like their parents. Look at the militant hippies of the sixties. Most of them became more bourgeois than their parents. Jane Fonda became a Cub Scout den mother! “Sadhu, beware” is always wise counsel.
We have really completed the subject of Prakriti, though it will be mentioned again, so now I would like to make a summation of the subject. To do this we must consider the very common concept of Shiva-Shakti. Shiva is Consciousness and Shakti is Energy. They are Unity seeming to be Duality. Shiva is Shakti, and when there is no more need for manifestation/creation whatsoever, Shakti merges in Shiva–or rather, is revealed as Shiva. As Sri Ramakrishna frequently pointed out, Brahman and Shakti are like fire and its power to burn.
We need to understand the actions and effects of Prakriti-Shakti, especially as it affects us, but always keeping in mind that Shiva alone exists. I am making a point of this because some teachers in India maintain that Prakriti is just a kind of inert lump that exists coeternally with Brahman and becomes shaped into moving manifestations when Brahman “enters” Prakriti as Ishwara. This is an impossibility. Only Purusha, either infinite or finite, really exists. Prakriti/Shakti is only the thought, the dream, of Brahman/Shiva. We have to talk about it because we are presently in the net woven of creative energy by the will of the Weaver: Brahman/Ishwara.
The Supreme Spirit in this body is called the witness and the consenter, the supporter, the experiencer, the Great Lord, and also the Supreme Self (13:22).
Let us take this a bit at a time.
The Supreme Spirit [Parampurusha]. These are all titles of the One who is incarnate in the universe and in all bodies. These major titles reveal its function within matter. We are considering the Absolute here, not any intermediary or secondary aspect or secondary form-manifestation of the Supreme or our own spirit. All is under the direct control of God, and of us, as well. Ishwara means the ruler, the controller. Just as God is the Great Ruler, so are we on the individual level. We are in total control of our personal life-sphere. True, that control depends on the supreme control of God, but it is none the less absolute, though finite.
In this body. In its essential nature, Purusha is beyond any designation or discussion, but when it enters into embodiment–the Supreme Purusha as the cosmos or the individual purusha as a relative, incarnate being–then we can speak about it.
The witness. Upadrashta means that the purusha perceives everything–nothing is left unknown to it. This applies both macrocosmically and microcosmically. But equally important is its implication that the purusha is always observing, but itself is never the actor nor does it become somehow transmuted into what it witnesses. In no way does it become part of what it sees. This eternal objectivity is a prime trait of the spirit.
The consenter. Anumanta is a very interesting word. It means someone who consents, permits, and even approves something. The idea is that both God and the individual spirit have agreed to the process of evolutionary creation. We did not just get dumped here by a deity who gave us no choice. We decided to enter into relative being, and on the strength of that act of will we did so. We have agreed to everything that has happened to us, from when we were manifesting as an atom of hydrogen and all along up the scale to right now. You are only reading these words because you have already decided to in your higher mind. And your reaction to them will be determined accordingly. Now please understand that consent is not approval and enjoyment. We see just by looking back in this life that we have done things that did not merit approval, that we should not have desired. For example, revenge may be sweet for some temperaments, but it is never right or worthy of us. Yet, when we agreed to come onto the playing field we were aware of what might befall us.
We allow everything that happens to us, because it is necessary for our learning. We have always, from a long time ago and far beyond this world, permitted the whole thing. We are not being helplessly carried along, though the ego-mind thinks so. Yes, we even approve of all the past, present, and future, for ultimately it will lead to our perfection in God. The little steps along the way may be miserable and even contemptible, but however mucky or chancy the rungs of the ladder may be, they get us to the top, and once we step off into freedom it will all be seen as well worth the doing
The supporter. Nothing exists without the substratum of Spirit. It supports and bears up all that is. So it is called bharta.
The experiencer. This is very interesting. We have already been told that spirit is seeing everything, but now the word bhokta tells us that it also feels it as well as sees it objectively. So the spirit is both objective and subjective, both transcendent and immanent, yet without really becoming anything other than what it eternally is. This is a crucial insight. Further, it tells us that ignorance, indifference, or numbness in relation to the world is not spiritual but degraded. We see this in the saints. They are more conscious, more reactive and more involved than anyone else, yet they remain ever what they truly are, and never forget it at any time. They are both “here” and “there,” just as is God.
What a storehouse of deepest wisdom is the Bhagavad Gita! You can see how necessary it is to delve into the Sanskrit text. Learning Sanskrit as an additional language is a herculean labor, but with a few good dictionaries and word-for-word translations (especially Sargeant’s) you can mine the treasures for yourself.
He who thus knows the Purusha and Prakriti along with the gunas, whatever be his state of evolution, he shall never be born again (13:23).
This means that anyone who turns toward knowledge of the Self, of Spirit, can come to that knowledge and be free from rebirth in the material plane. This does not mean that a person can live in any vile or foolish manner, then get religious and escape the consequences of his actions. Nevertheless it is true, as Krishna has said, that even the worst person who resolves to purify himself can succeed, but that is a coping with evil, not a jumping over it or a circumventing of the moral law. This is, certainly, a statement of great hope and optimism. No matter what our present degree of evolution may be, whatever our present situation, if we go directly to the heart of things and experience and manifest the Self, then there will be no more need for birth in this lowest of worlds. Consequently this subject of the field and the knower of the field is vital for us.
Ways of gaining this knowledge
In the next two verses Krishna is going to give a broad outline of the ways in which we can come to know the field and its knower.
Some perceive the Self in the Self by the Self through meditation, others by Sankhya yoga, and still others by karma yoga (13:24).
The first half of this is an explanation of what authentic meditation really is. All that glitters is not gold, and all that is called meditation is not really meditation. Krishna will help us determine what is real meditation.
Meditation is the process by which we “perceive the Self in the Self by the Self.” We both start and end with the Self. We do not bother with anything that is not the Self. Meditation is direct, immediate experience of the Self. Just as it takes a while to take in a vista reaching from horizon to horizon, in the same way it can take time to fully see the Self in its infinity, but still we start out perceiving it, even if only in the form of the peace and stillness that is a trait of the Self.
How is the Self the means by which we perceive the Self? When you eat salt you know what salt is. Nothing else will give you an idea of the nature of salt. Nothing is needed to lead up to the experience of salt except salt itself: just taste it. It is the same with meditation that reveals the Self. First we must take hold of the Self as an instrument of perception.
Krishna then tells us that by jnana yoga, study of the Sankhya philosophy along with pondering on its principles, the seeker can also gain glimpses of the truth of the Self. This is because “thoughts are things,” and the Sankhya philosophy is the thought of the sage Kapila, about whom Krishna has already said: “Among the siddhas, I am the sage Kapila.” When we study the teachings of Kapila we will absorb some of the power of his enlightenment that lies behind his words. It is a matter of vibration. And the same is true of the Gita, which is why we should read it every day till the end of our lives.
Also Krishna says that the Self can be intuited by those that engage rightly and wholeheartedly in karma yoga–acting with the consciousness that the Self alone is real while dedicating each action to God, the Supreme Self.
In the next verse Krishna says:
Others, also, not knowing thus yet hearing from others, worship. They also cross beyond death, devoted to what they have heard (13:25).
Krishna is not talking about just any kind of teaching, but rather the teaching of the ancient sages. If we carefully study them, learning from those that have understood them, and apply them as best we can, we shall rise above the death of material consciousness and enter into spiritual awareness that in time will bring us into complete understanding and the capacity for liberating yoga practice. It is all in the doing.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Seeing the One Within the All