What Is Prakriti?

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prakṛti (the principle of matter in the sāṃkhya philosophical system)

Prakriti Definition

In Indian philosophy, particularly in the context of yoga, Vedanta, and Samkhya philosophies, prakriti is a fundamental concept that refers to the primal and unmanifested aspect of nature or the material world.

Prakriti is often contrasted with ‘purusha,’ which represents pure consciousness or the self.

the earth with the sun rising behind it

Prakriti Deep Dive

Prakriti as Primal Material Energy

Prakriti is considered the source of all material existence. It is the unmanifested, primordial energy or substance from which the entire physical and material world arises.

Prakriti is often described as having three inherent qualities or gunas: sattva (purity, harmony), rajas (activity, passion), and tamas (inertia, darkness). These gunas are responsible for the diversity and dynamics of the material universe.

Duality and Manifestation

Prakriti is inherently dualistic, meaning it contains the potential for differentiation and multiplicity. It is through the interplay of these dualities within prakriti that the manifest world of objects, beings, and experiences emerges.

In essence, prakriti is the canvas upon which the colors of the material world are painted.

The Three Components of Prakriti

In the Samkhya philosophy, prakriti is further divided into three primary components or aspects, known as the ‘mahat,’ ‘ahankara,’ and ‘tanmatras’:

  1. Mahat (Buddhi): This represents the cosmic intelligence or cosmic mind. It is the source of wisdom, discernment, and the capacity to understand and make decisions.
  2. Ahankara: Ahankara translates to the ego or the sense of individuality. It is responsible for the feeling of “I” or “me” and the identification with the physical body and personality.
  3. Tanmatras: These are subtle elements that form the building blocks of the physical world. There are five tanmatras: sound, touch, form, taste, and smell. They serve as the basis for the five senses and their corresponding objects in the manifest world.
4 people representing the senses seeing, hearing, selling, and tasting

Prakriti’s Role in Yoga and Spiritual Evolution

In yogic and spiritual practice, it is important to understand the relationship between purusha (consciousness) and prakriti (matter).

The goal is often to transcend the influence of prakriti, including the ego and the material world, to realize one’s true nature as purusha or pure consciousness. This realization is a central aim of various yogic paths and spiritual traditions.

Prakriti and the Cosmic Dance of Shiva and Shakti

In some forms of Hinduism, especially within the Shakta tradition, prakriti is personified as the divine feminine energy or Shakti. The interplay of Shiva (representing pure consciousness) and Shakti (representing prakriti) is seen as the cosmic dance that gives rise to the universe.

In summary, prakriti is the primal, unmanifested material energy or substance from which the material world and all aspects of nature arise. It is characterized by dualities, qualities, and the potential for differentiation.

Understanding prakriti and its relationship to purusha (consciousness) is integral to many Indian philosophies and spiritual practices, particularly in the pursuit of self-realization and transcendence of the material world.

a statue of Shakti, the Hindu deity

Prakriti In Your Life

Incorporating the concept of prakriti into your life can provide valuable insights into the nature of the material world and your own existence. Here are some ways to integrate the concept of prakriti into your daily life:

1. Mindful Observation of Nature

Spend time in nature and observe the natural world mindfully. Pay attention to the diversity of life forms, the changing seasons, and the interplay of elements. This practice can deepen your connection to prakriti and foster an appreciation for its beauty and complexity.

2. Understanding the Three Gunas

Learn about the three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas. Reflect on how these qualities manifest in your life and behavior. Strive to cultivate sattva (purity and harmony) by engaging in activities that promote inner peace, clarity, and compassion.

3. Balancing Daily Routine

Align your daily routine with the rhythms of nature. Wake up early to synchronize with the natural cycles of day and night. Eat fresh, seasonal foods to harmonize with the changing seasons. This helps you attune to the qualities of prakriti as they manifest in the external world.

stones balancing like weighing scales

4. Practicing Mindful Consumption

Be mindful of your consumption habits. Consider the environmental impact of your choices, such as the products you use, the food you eat, and the resources you consume. Strive for eco-friendly and sustainable choices that respect prakriti.

5. Yoga and Meditation

Engage in yoga and meditation practices that allow you to explore the relationship between purusha (consciousness) and prakriti (nature). These practices help you transcend the ego and connect with your inner self.

6. Self-Reflection

Reflect on your own nature and tendencies. Recognize the influence of your ego (ahankara) and the gunas in your thoughts, emotions, and actions. This self-awareness can lead to personal growth and transformation.

7. Simplicity and Contentment

Embrace simplicity and contentment in your life. Avoid excessive materialism and consumerism. Strive for a balanced and sustainable lifestyle that respects the natural order of prakriti.

8. Environmental Stewardship

Take an active role in environmental stewardship. Participate in conservation efforts, support initiatives that protect natural habitats, and reduce your ecological footprint. By doing so, you contribute to the well-being of prakriti.

5 hands holding soil and little green seedlings

9. Study of Indian Philosophy

Explore the teachings of Indian philosophies like Samkhya, Vedanta, and Yoga that delve into the concepts of prakriti and purusha. Studying ancient texts can deepen your understanding of these concepts and their relevance in daily life.

10. Cultivate Compassion

Recognize the interconnectedness of all life forms within prakriti. Cultivate compassion and empathy for other beings and the environment. Engage in acts of kindness and service that reflect an understanding of our shared existence within the web of prakriti.

Incorporating the concept of prakriti into your life can help to foster a sense of connection with the natural world, promote inner balance, and contribute to a more sustainable and harmonious way of living.

This will encourage a deeper appreciation for the intricate dance of nature and consciousness.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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