There are two Sanskrit words that can be translated as “nature,” though both have primary meanings beyond that.
The first is prakriti. Prakriti usually means causal matter or the fundamental power (shakti) of God from which the entire cosmos is formed. Prakriti is undifferentiated matter, the root base of all elements, the material cause of the world. It is also known as Pradhana.
Prakriti can be translated “nature” when the fundamental energy (shakti) of an object is being spoken of. It is not a perfect simile, but a stone sculpture can give us some idea. If it is a sculpture of a horse it can be referred to as either horse or stone. If we had many sculptures of varying subjects, “stone” would be applied to all of them when speaking of their fundamental nature.
The other word sometimes translated “nature” is bhava. Bhava is the subjective state of being–attitude of mind, or mental feeling. Although rendered “nature,” bhava is a state of prakriti, the way “carved” would be applied to our theoretical stone horse. This is in contrast to prakriti being used for nature; for in that instance it is the character, the quality of something that is being indicated–stone, for example.
Let us stay with our horse sculpture simile to clinch the idea. Suppose we have identical horse sculptures, but some are wood, some are clay, and some are stone. Sculpted, soft, hard, smooth, or rough would be the “bhava.” Wood, clay, and stone would be the “prakriti.” One is the shape of something and the other is its substance.
The Gita speaks
There are many impossible things in this world. One is that it is impossible to find an irrelevant statement in the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. In this small book Vyasa has said virtually everything we need to know regarding spiritual philosophy and spiritual practice. It would be pointless to attempt rating the level of importance of each verse, but surely one of the most informative is this:
One acts according to one’s own prakriti–even the wise man does so. Beings follow their own prakriti; what will restraint accomplish? (3:33)
Prakriti is vibratory energy. Krishna tells us that all living beings act according to their prakriti. For example, under intense pressure a wheel made of rubber will bend, one made of wood or plastic will break, and one made of iron or steel will hold its shape and endure. The shape may be the same, but the substance makes the difference.
The prakriti of each one of us–especially the energy of our minds–determines how we act, think, and speak. It is possible to temporarily suppress the natural movements of our prakriti, but in time we will revert to our fundamental modes of behavior. Sri Ramakrishna illustrated this fact, saying: “At Kamarpukur mongooses live in holes up in the wall. When a mongoose stays up there, it is very comfortable. Some people tie a brick to its tail, so it is forced out of the hole by its pull. It is forced out of its hole by the pull of the brick as many times as it tries to go inside to stay in comfort there.”
The mongoose is the individual and the brick is the prakriti. The brick has been tied to the mongoose’s tail, and our prakriti has been attached to our Atma-Self. It is inescapable. We must deal with it–not by merely controlling or repressing it (though sometimes this must be done), but by transmuting it into a higher form.
Krishna’s statement is not fatalistic, but optimistic, for we can change the present state of our prakriti, especially through continual japa and meditation. We can–and must–change the prakriti-lead into prakriti-gold. This is possible through yoga. Ethics and religious orientation can certainly assist the process, as can external purification and right behavior, but they can only produce a favorable condition for the necessary transmutation.
When Krishna asks: “What will restraint accomplish?” he is not subscribing to the prevalent Western attitude that suppression or repression are harmful to the individual. Rather, he is telling us that mere behavior modification is valueless because in time reversion to negative or foolish activity will occur. If the prakriti is not changed the behavior will not be permanently changed.
More than behavior
Prakriti determines our psychological state, and that is the source of our thought and action. The way a person thinks and speaks is a matter of prakriti, as is his view of himself, others, and life itself. This is why we cannot reason or cajole a person into thinking differently than he presently does. Externally-produced conversion is actually impossible, though a person may discover ideas that vibrate in consonance with his prakriti and intellectually adopt them. This is particularly true in religion. Religion shapes no one’s mind–it is the other way around. Religion does not make people bigoted or hateful. Instead, bigoted and hateful people create or gravitate to bigoted and hateful religion. Cultish people join cults. Idiots join idiotic movements and ideologies. As the prophet said: “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). And Jesus: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14). There is nothing we can do; they must do it.
All right, what should we do with ourselves? Krishna is not counseling doing nothing until our yoga sadhana transforms us. Instead, he says:
Attraction and aversion are inherent in the contact of the senses with sense-objects. One should not come under the power of these two–they are indeed his enemies (3:34).
This verse is about bhava, and it tells us what to do: resist it when it is negative or foolish. Realize that it prevents our ascent in consciousness. The word translated “enemies” can also legitimately be translated as “hindrances,” or “opponents.”
The shifting movements of body, emotion, and intellect are natural, because they are manifestations of the present character (quality) of our prakriti. Krishna prescribes none of the positive-prettythink strategies so beloved in the West. He has only one counsel: Hold on! Do not give way. Resist. And in the meantime fill every waking moment with higher consciousness. This is why he says: “Make a habit of practicing meditation, and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord, who is the light-giver, the highest of the high” (8:8. Prabhavananda).
Krishna speaks of the “attraction and aversion [which] are inherent in the contact of the senses with sense-objects” to let us understand that the attraction and aversion is purely material–prakriti based–and has nothing to do with us in the truest, the atmic, sense. Feelings do not come from the intelligence or the inner consciousness. They are a mayic delusion. Here again we see why we must change our prakriti.
The spiritual alchemy of yoga is the answer. It always is.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Swadharma