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 prakriti. Even the wise man does so. Beings follow their own prakriti; what will restraint accomplish?” (3:33)
The word used here for nature is prakriti. 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. We can–and must–change the prakriti-lead into prakriti-gold. This is possible only 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. This is true. 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. 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 (raga) and aversion (dwesha) are seated in the senses in relation to their objects. One should not come under the power of these two; they are indeed one’s 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 “obstacles.”
The shifting movements of body, emotion, and intellect are natural, because they are manifestations of the present 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 japa and engage in meditation. This is why he says: “Of words I am Om; of sacrifices I am japa” (10:25). And: “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).
He speaks of “the attraction and aversion which the senses feel for different 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 prakriti.
The spiritual alchemy of yoga is the answer. It always is.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Swadharma
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.
Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.
Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary