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Gist: Understanding the Purusha or chetana aspect of Brahman and reason for overlap between Brahman and Purusha as also the reason for personification of Purusha as only the male god.


An answer to What is Purusha Tattva? states that Purusha means the sentient (chetana) manifestation of Brahman. The same is also supported in a conversation where Brahman in the form of Shri Hari explains:

प्रकृतिः पुरुषश्चोभे मम रूपे दुरत्यये। ज्ञा॰ ५।९ पू॰।

Prakriti and Purusha are both my forms that are uncrossable. Entering both, I activate them with my will. Prakriti is of 3 gunas without beginning or end. Under the Purusha (residing with/ being authorised by), she gives birth to the moveable and immovable (sthāvara jangama)...[description of a tattvas]... At the beginning of creation, this entire world emerges from Prakriti and during Pralaya everything merges back into her.

From this what I understand is Brahman has two aspects, Prakriti and Purusha. When the Purusha aspect (chetana) combines with the Prakriti (jada) aspect, the entire world is created. This means that even rocks and wood would have an ounce of Purusha tattva or sentience as supported by this informal site.

Usually, the Purusha aspect is personified as the male god (for which I ask Q4) and Prakriti as the female goddess. For example, the Devi Bhagavata says:

There is oneness always between me and the Puruṣa; there is difference whatsoever at any time between me and the Purusha (Male, the Supreme Self). Who is I, that is Puruṣa; who is Puruṣa, that is I. (DB 3.6)

However very often, Purusha is also thought of as Brahman and the male god. An answer to my question on Prakriti, gives two Upanishadic quotes wherein ‘Purusha (i.e. Brahman)’ is mentioned as the most Supreme, greater than Maya (or Prakriti). Furthermore, the deity, Purusha, of the Purusha Suktam is to be thought of as Brahman. The same also maybe inferred from the following quote of the Ramcharitmanas, where Ramaji, the male god is Brahman and Purusha:

आगें रामु लखनु बने पाछें। तापस बेष बिराजत काछें॥ उभय बीच सिय सोहति कैसें। ब्रह्म जीव बिच माया जैसें॥१॥

In front was Ramaji and behind was Lakshmana. In the guise of ascetics they had lustre. Between both, Sita looked charming like Maya in the middle of Brahman (Ramaji) and Jiva (Lakshmana). Ayodhyakanda Doha 123.1

Thus there are two contradictory views; one of considering Purusha as only sentient and the second considering Purusha as Brahman.

(I understand that God is above jada chetana both but there is a lot of confusion with often calling him only as Purusha. Hence I ask the below questions)

Questions: (Note some questions may sound stupid, please don’t downvote trying to understand something here)

  1. Is Purusha to be conceived as the Supreme Brahman or only the sentient tattva? If not conceived as Brahman, then what’s the difference between the two? Also which of the two would be synonymous to Paramatma (the biggest sentient atma or Brahman)? [similar to Q1]
  2. If there’s a difference between Purusha and Brahman (answer to 1 is negative), then why do the Upanishadic verses and Purusha Suktam, linked, mention Purusha as the ultimate and not Brahman? And when we read the word Purusha, then when do we infer it as Purusha and when as Brahman?
  3. If Purusha is thought of as Brahman (answer to 1 is affirmative) in line with the linked Upanishadic verses, then does Brahman (or Purusha) have only the sentient aspect or does he have jadata like Prakriti? (Refer Note). Also since he’s only sentient, does that mean, only life forms are Brahman (Purusha), and not non living things? (Brahman should be both sentient and insentient) [similar to Q2]
  4. Since Purusha is only sentient, why is an ‘only sentient thing’ (or how can he be/whats the logic for being) personified as the supreme male god in scriptures (god should be both jada and chetana)? (Is it logic to explain something?) [Similar to Q3].

    (Basically why are Purusha and Prakriti personified as male and female in Puranas when actually both male and female are Brahman and above jada chetana).

Notes: I would prefer not to have an answer with something like Purusha is equal to Prakriti. Plese explain in baby language. Would like to gain as much insight into the confusion between Purusha and Brahman. Vedantic explanation is preferable. Extremely related but not duplicate.

Note for Q1: See as stated above, Purusha and Prakriti are both Brahman indeed but as Prakriti or Maya is described elaborately and separately, I’d like a similar description for the Purusha aspect clearly differentiating between Purusha and Brahman. Please elaborate on Purusha tattva I’m not satisfied with this description, while also mentioning the job of Purusha tattva, since it is Prakriti who makes everything i.e. the Mahat and everything dissolves into her?

Note for Q3: Technically if you say Brahman has jada too, you are talking about his Maya/ Prakriti aspect and when you say Brahman has chetana you’re talking about his Purusha aspect. However if you say Purusha = Brahman, then Purusha can’t be the only sentient thing it would be Brahman/ Purusha=sentient tatva+Prakriti (jada)

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  • I explained Purusha and Prakriti in detail year back hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/38232/22687 . In simplest words Purusha/Nirguna Brahman is pure formless omnipresent intellect/consciousness who is the brain behind all forms of prakriti and even has everyone's hair count, also called en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akashic_records . Thats why God can't be understood through finite Prakriti intellect but only through God or Guru or Atman Gyan and Gurus like Dakshinamurthy explain Nirguna Brahman through silence.Saguna Brahman like Shiva etc., are 33 forms of God & controller of Prakriti. – user22687 Jun 7 at 13:14
  • If you really want to understand Purusha or Nirguna Brahman rationally and logically, study core Advaita books like Ashtavakra Geeta, Avadhut Geeta, Yoga Vashishta etc., not Dvaita biased sectarian Puranas. – user22687 Jun 7 at 13:21
  • @ManuKumar okay thank you I’ll check the books – Archit Jun 7 at 17:48
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    Advaita perspective: 1. Purusha = brahman 3. Brahman is consciousness, it is not jada. Both life forms and non living things are superimposed on brahman (just as an unreal snake is superimposed on a real rope). Generally, only advanced life forms like humans can realize that they are brahman. 4. Brahman has no gender. Brahman wielding the mAyA (prakriti) is Saguna brahman/Ishwara. Ishwara can take any form - male or female etc to bless devotees....brahman is the only sentient entity. – zero Jun 7 at 20:58
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    There are two ways of understanding the word purusha. One is purusha as jIva and other of course as brahman. (It doesn't make much difference in advaita as jIva is ultimately brahman). Brahman, being the material cause of the universe, also includes prakriti - thus the explanation for both purusha and prakriti being forms of brahman. However, it is only a superimposition on brahman, in which sense brahman is material cause. In this sense, jIva (purusha) is also an unreal superimposition, with only consciousness being real. – zero Jun 8 at 5:05
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The best answer to your question is given by Sakta Agama. Prakriti (Primordial nature or Adya Sakti) is not jada or unconscious. An unconscious Prakriti will violate the Upanishadic dictum 'Sarvam Khavidam Brahma'.

First read through Sir John Woodruffe's explanation. After that I will make some comments that will further clarify the matter.

The ultimate or irreducible reality is 'Spirit' in the sense of Pure Consciousness (Cit, Samvit) from out of which as and by its power (Sakti), Mind and Matter proceed. Spirit is one. The Spirit which is in man is the one spirit which is in everything and which as the object of worship, is the Lord (Ishvara) or God. Mind and Matter are many and of many degrees and qualities. Atma or Spirit as such is of the whole (Purna) without section (Akhanda). Mind and Matter are parts in that Whole. They are not-Whole (Apurna) and are the section (Khanda). Spirit is infinite (Aparicchinna) and formless (Arupa). Mind and Matter are finite (Parichinna) and with form (Rupa). Atma is unchanged and inactive. Its Power (Sakti) is active and changes in the form of Mind and Matter. Pure Consciousness is Cit or Samvit. Matter as such is the unconscious. And Mind too is unconscious according to Vedanta. For all that is not the conscious self is the unconscious object. This does not mean that it is unconscious in itself. On the contrary all is essentially consciousness, but that it is unconscious because it is the object of the conscious self. For mind limits Consciousness so as to enable man to have finite experience. There is no Mind without consciousness as its background, though supreme consciousness is Mindless (Amanah). Where there is no mind (Amanah), there is no limitation. Consciousness remaining in one aspect unchanged changes in its other aspect as active Power which manifests as Mind and Body. Man then is Pure Consciousness (Cit) vehicled by its Power as MInd and Body.

In theology this Pure Consciousness is Siva, and His Power (Sakti) who as She is in Her formless self is one with Him. She is the great Devi, the Mother of the Universe whoas the life-force resides in man's body in its lowest centre as the base of the spine just as Siva is realized in the highest brain centre, the cerbrum or Sahasra-Padma. ............

Some worship predominantly the masculine or right side of the conjoint male and female figiure (Ardhanarisvara). Some, the Saktas, predominantly worship the left, and call Her Mother, for She is the Great Mother (Magna Mater), the Mahadevi who conceives, bears, and nourishes the universe sprung from Her womb (Yoni). This is so because She is the active aspect of Consciousness, imagining (Srsti-Kalpana) the world to be, according to the impressions (Samskara) derived from enjoyment and suffering in former worlds. It is held natural to worship Her as Mother. The first Mantra into which all men are initiated is the word Ma (Mother). It is their first word and generally their last. The father is a mere helper (Sahakari-matra) of the Mother. The whole world of the five elements also springs from the Active Consciousness or sakti, and is Her manifestation (Purna-vikasa). Therefore men worship Her as the Mother...

The Serpent Power by Sir John Woodruffe, Chapter 2, Bodiless Consciousness

Sakta Tantra gives a better pedagogical picture of Purusha (Siva) and Prakriti than Sankara's Kevala Advaita.

In the Sakta picture Siva (Brahman) is the inert aspect of Consciousness while Prakriti is the Active aspect of Brahman or Pure Consciousness. If Prakriti also remains inert then there cannot obviously be a jagat or universe. Prakriti is considered feminine because she gives birth to the universe and this automatically makes Purusha or Siva as the male aspect. In reality neither is Purusha male nor is Prakriti female. The terms male and female are used only as analogies.

In Sankara's Advaita Brahman is inert and there is no active aspect. Hence this pretty much makes the universe illusory and maya anirvachaniya.

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  • I have upvoted but don’t agree/ understand/ know somethings. And it mostly doesn’t answer the question 100%. It talks of only the Prakriti aspect. Will try and explain hopefully. – Archit Jun 7 at 15:05
  • 1. Jada prakriti won’t violate the dictum because in the very first quote, Brahman says: Purusha and Prakriti are both my forms. This shows even Prakriti is Brahman (of which in Sat chit Ananda, Chit is only an aspect and doesnt describe him in entirety). – Archit Jun 7 at 15:09
  • 2. ‘Man then is Pure Consciousness (Cit) vehicled by its Power as MInd and Body. In theology this Pure Consciousness is Siva, and His Power (Sakti) who as She is in Her formless self is one with Him.’ - here if we and Shiva only are pure consciousness and our ultimate aim is to realise pure consciousness, then what’s the point in worshipping something which is not pure consciousness? This is an error. Devi can’t be only power of pure consciousness. Devi herself is both pure consciousness (Purusha) and power (Prakriti). You can’t say Shiva is consciousness and Devi is only power. – Archit Jun 7 at 15:32
  • For this entire thing I have another Q which is linked here where I’ve been clearly told the supreme mother is not merely Maya or power or Prakriti. She is Brahman herself. – Archit Jun 7 at 15:33
  • If you say power is active but the Brahman is inactive, then the power can think will and do stuff. why do you need Brahman or pure consciousness if the power does everything. It’s only if I will can I use my power. That’s why it’s only when Brahman wills, he can use his power or Prakriti to create. Hence power is jada it can’t be chetana or active. What you are saying is- like saying the knife cuts vegetables and hence active. I’m saying I’m the one who uses the knife to cut the vegetables and hence the logic doesn’t apply. If the knife could cut vegetables itself why was I needed? – Archit Jun 7 at 15:38

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