The idea of a soul, of a higher inner consciousness is fundemental to nearly all religious beliefs. It is a central part of the Yoga philosphy and also one of the more confusing topics to understand. In this article I will discuss some of the most important concepts of the Yoga Philosophy.
In the Yoga Philosophy there are several different beliefs as to what the soul, called the Purusha, is and its relationship to the higher, universal consciousness, called the Atman or Brahman. For our discussion below we will present what is called the dualistic philosophy. In the dualistic philosophy, there is a separation between the physical world and the spiritual world and each person has their own individual Purusha. We will discuss the differences between the dualistic and non-dualistic in more detail later in the article.
In the dualistic philosophy, the physical mind that perceives the world through the five senses is considered to be separate from a non-physical, spiritual part of the mind that can perceive on a higher level. This non-physical part of your mind is called the Purusha. The Purusha is the true observer of your actions and the motivator of your actions - it is what you would normally call your “consciousness mind”. All awareness, all consciosness, comes from the Purusha. The statements "I am" or "I exist" is a reflection of consciousness and comes from the Purusha.
Once we view our “conscious mind” as being something separate from our physical mind we can begin to understand how the mind functions. The Purusha, the conscious mind, receives information from the physical word through our five senses. This information is passed from the five senses through the manas to the lower mind where Buddhi, intelligence, and smrti, memory are used to interpret the information coming from the five senses. Our sense that we are separate from the world, our “I”ness, called Ahamkara, is also part of the lower mind. This would look as follows:
In the article on Satya, Truthfulness, we will discuss the Buddhi and Manas in much more depth. The Buddhi, being part of the physical mind, has no consciousness itself. Like the moon has light that is a reflection of the sun, the Buddhi has consciousness that is reflected from the Purusha.
Normally, the Buddhi is what we would consider to be the entire mind, all of our thoughts, everything that exists. But, in the Yoga Philosophy there is much more. In addition to our Purusha, there is also the Atman or Brahman, the higher mind, the part of us that is connected to the entire universe. The Purusha and the Atman are two different aspects of the soul; the Atman is universal soul, the part of us connected to all of the universe while the Purusha is our consciousness.
Just as it is possible for the sun to illuminate the world around us, our own Atman, our soul, also shines light outwards and illuminates the world around us with spiritual light and energy. When you see the light from the sun reflected off a leaf you think of the light as coming from the leaf, but it is really reflected from the sun. When you see the energy vibrations around you, feel the energy of the universe around you and see the life force around you, you are seeing the spiritual light coming from your soul, your Atman, reflected in everything around you. This would look as follows:
Since all life has a purusha, a soul, there is spiritual light that is being emitted from it. If our mind is clear and free than we can see this light coming from others as well as having the light from within us illuminating all of the world around us. When our mind is free and clear of these than we are able to put our spiritual light into the world, see the world illuminated by this light, and see the spiritual light being given off from other life around us.
Unfortunately, our minds are not usually clear like the above diagrams. The mind is usually clouded by the kleshas, which are afflictions. The kleshas are avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga (great attachment), dvesha (great aversion), and abhiniveshah (fear of death). Avidya is the root of the other kleshas and can be interpreted as not seeing the true nature of reality. It is also called Maya in Vedanta philosophy, which means "the great illusion". Dvesha is similar to Raga, as both force you to constantly think of the object you are either avoiding or trying to attract.
These five kleshas will prevent consciousness from shining from the Purusha to the Buddhi, resulting in the reflected consciousness in the Buddhi from being accurate leading to the conscious mind receiving false information. After the information from the physical world passes from our five senses to our lower mind the kleshas will hide the true nature of the information that is coming from our five senses. Just as the kleshas block the flow of pure consciousness from the Purusha to the Buddhi, they also block the flow of the spiritual light of the Atman down and out to the world around you, i.e. they block the illumination of the world around you with your own spiritual light. This would look as follows:
As you can see in the above diagram, the kleshas not only alter the information coming from the physical universe through our five senses, it also blocks the light of our soul, the Atman, from going out and illuminating ourselves and the world around us.
Removing the kleshas would also allow us to see the information from the physical world clearly without any distortion. The higher and lower minds would look as follows if there were no kleshas:
The image above is really quite amazing and shows the power of a mind that is clear. The information from our five senses can come into the Buddhi and the full power of consciosness from the Purusha can shine onto the Buddhi without any interference or distortions. The light from the soul, the Atman, is also without interference and it can shine down onto the physical world with spiritual light illuminating not only the physical world around us, but also our lower mind and all that is within us. The light from the Atman and Purusha shining in the physical world illuminates the physical world and can be seen by the Purusha, the conscious mind, when the Purusha is using a higher vehicle (see below). This information becomes another source of information of the world around us, i.e. the conscious mind can now see the spiritual light that is all around it. We would normally call this the “sixth sense” but it is very different than other five senses, as the five senses are of the physical world and the sixth sense is of the spiritual world, of the higher mind.
Most importantly, in the above diagram the light of the Atman and Purusha are now able to fill the Buddhi directly with consciousness, light, from the soul. As the Atman is directly connected to the universe and to the higher energy, or what most people call G-d, the direct illumination of the Purusha and mind by the Atman allows us to see the universal knowledge of the universe and see our true selves.
I used the term "I"ness instead of "ego" for Ahamkara because there is much confusion between the ego, Ahamkara, and the Klesha asmita, egoism. Ahamkara, the ego, is the part of us that realizes that we are seperate from the world around us and is an essential part of the functioning of our mind. Without we would be mentally ill. Asmita on the other hand is the belief that the intellect, the Bhuddhi, is really the conscious mind. The intellect is really the sum of all of our knowledge, our memories and part of the physical mind. . Asmita leads us to believe such thoughts as "I am better than everyone else", "I am always right", etc.
You could call the Buddhi, intellect, our lower consciousness. The Buddhi has the ability to have cognition (awareness of a situation), subjective and objective reasoning, and volition (the will to do something about a situation) through its illumination from the Purusha. Since the Buddhi is part of the physical mind it is closely associated with the Ahamkara, our ego, our sense of identity. The Buddhi usually focuses on cognition and volition that relates to ourselves. “I am hungry, I should eat something healthy, I will get up and make myself a healthy dinner” are all thoughts of the Buddhi. “I am hungry” is the cognition, the awareness of the situation. “I should eat something healthy” is the objective reasoning. “I will get up and make myself a healthy dinner” is the volition. Notice that all of these revolve around the word “I”. The Buddhi, being part of the phsyical mind, is also closely connected to memory. The Buddhi reasons using the information stored in your memory. You can always figure out the logic of your decisions made with the Buddhi.
The Purusa, being connected to the universe, to a higher consciousness, and to universal knowledge, allows awareness at a higher level than the Buddhi that is tied to the ego and memory. Because the Purusa is connected to the Atman - the higher soul - it is all of our higher consciousness, all of our awareness that goes beyond ourselves. Like the Buddhi it also contains cognition, subjective and objective reasoning, and volition, but for the Purusa these do not revolve around our “I-ness”. When thought, awareness, decision, reasoning that does not involve the word “I” it is moving towards the Purusa, our higher consciousness. While the Buddhi taps into our memories, the Purusa connects into the universal knowledge. We cannot explain a decision made by the Purusa, the reason is beyond us, we just feel the reasoning is in harmony with the universe, the answers vibrate in a way that feels right. We normally call this intuition. The Purusa lets us find answers that are beyond our own memories and reasoning, to find the answers that vibrate all around us in the universal knowledge.
For example, making a decision not to eat meat because you understand that animals suffer when they are bred and slaughtered is using your buddhi. Your concept of suffering is based on your memories and experiences, and you apply that to the animals and make a logical decision not to eat meat. If asked why you made this decision, you can explain your understanding of suffering, explain what you know about how farm animals are cared for and slaughtered, and give an entire lecture explaining your reasons.
Holding a piece of meat in your hand and feeling the suffering of the animal, feeling the pain the animal suffered, sensing the disturbance in the universe surrounding the piece of meat, and not eating it because of the negative energy surrounding it, that is using your Purusa. You do not know the exact details of what was done to the animal, you can not give detailed lectures explaining why it is wrong to eat the meat, you just simply know that it is wrong, it is not in harmony with the universe.
I think this is why it is often so difficult to explain the concepts and meanings of Yoga. For example, for me, Aparigraha, Non-Possessiveness, is something that I just know is correct. When I live my life in such a way that I do not hold onto material objects I feel harmony with the universe, the vibrations in my life create a beautiful music. But, when I write an article on Aparigraha I have to try to explain why it is the right way to live. If I simply tell you "It is right because it creates harmony in your life, in the life of those around you, and in the universe" you will protest and demand proof unless you can also feel that it is right. All I can do to explain to you why it is right is to study texts on the subject and than to open myself to the universal knowledge, to let if flow thorugh me, and to give the answers that I see. My explanations are a tool. If I have written well, my words will vibrate within you and you will feel that they make sense, that the ideas create a harmony within you. The answers I give to you are only the beginning of your journey. The explanations as to why you should follow the eight fold path are there to hold you to the path until you too can feel the vibrations of the universe and can connect to your Purusa, open up to the universal knowledge, and feel what is right. When you can do this, you too will know your path without explanations. Even I am only at the very beginning of this journey -the vibrations of the universe are only a faint whisper to me, but I am working hard to open myself further.
The conscious mind consists of the Purusha and the Buddhi, where the Buddhi is our lower consciousness dealing with ego and memory and the Purusa is the higher consciousness involved with all higher awareness. It is like a lake where the Purusa is the water and the Buddhi is the land, the shore, around the water. Without the shore there can be no lake, without the water there cannot be no lake, it is the union of the two that creates the lake. The land and water are very different, but they come together to create one thing. The water is really the true lake, the shore is only the containner, as the Purusa is the true consciousness and the physical mind, including the Buddhi, it only the container. The Atman could be considered the underground spring that feeds the lake. That is how the Buddhi and the Purusa are, the Buddhi, the physical part of consciousness, and the Purusa, the spiritual part, coming together, seperate but connected, to create a joined consciousness in the physical and spiritual words.
While the components of the physical and spiritual mind are drawn as separate entities, once the mind is cleared of fluctuations caused by the Kleshas they are all interconnected. This is seen more clearly when one views the five Kosas, the sheaths that make up the physical and spiritual body.
The five Kosas are
A crossection through the Kosas would look as follows:
If we were to draw the flow of energy and information as it passes through the Kosas, it would look as follows:
In the above drawing, you can see that when the mind is open the prana (energy) and information of the universe flows into the Anandamaya Kosa, the Blissful Body. This corresponds to universal prana and information flowing into the Purusha from the Atman in our earlier drawing. When there are no fluctations, no Kleshas that are blocking the movement of energy, this energy in the Blissful Body flows through all of the other four Kosas and finally back out into the universal prana and energy. This is the connection that you can have with the universe - the flowing of prana into you from the universe, through you, and back out of you to the universe when your mind is open and connected.
The food we eat comes into Annamaya Kosa, the Physical Body. Prana also comes into the physical body with each breath and passes to the Pranmaya Kosa, the Energetic Body. Once in the Energetic Body the energy flows through all of the Kosas and back into the universal prana.
Information passes through our five senses in the Physical Body to the Manomaya Kosa, the Mental Body, where it is perceived. From there the information is passes onto the Vijnanamaya Kosa, the Intellectual Body, the Buddhi, where the information is first processed. Finally, it is passed to the Blissful body where it enters consciousness and action can be taken based on this information. Once in the blissful body, if the mind is open, the information can be passed into the universal knowledge adding to the information in the universal knowledge.
The diagram above is showing the flow in the Kosas when a person reaches Samadhi and are one with the universe. Looking at the diagram, you can see why Samadhi, the final stage of the eight limbs of Yoga, is called a state of unification. The energy and knowledge of the universe flows through you and your energy and knowledge flows through both and the universe. The separation between the Kosa, between the physical and spiritual body, do not exist and there is complete unification of all of the Kosa. When there is this complete unification, when you are connected to the universal soul, than there is truth and oneness.
What is the Difference Between Purusha, Atman and Brahman?
One of the topics that I have found most confusing is the difference in the meaning of the words Purusha, Atman and Brahman. Often, Purusha and Atman are used interchangeably to mean the soul. The confusion stems from the fact that the Yoga Philosophy arises from texts that were written over a period of more than five thousand years that have slightly different theories on the soul and sometimes use these terms with different meanings.
The above discussion is based on the dualistic theory that believes there is a separation of the physical world, prakriti, and the spiritual world, Purusha. This theory is outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutures. In addition to everything having its own Purusha, there is a universal consciousness that pre-existed all things, the "I AM" that the individual Purushas come from and will return to once they are liberated.
In the non-dualistic theory there is only one universal consciousness and all things, both physical and spiritual, are part of that universal consciousness. It is due to Maya, or illusion, that we believe that each of us are separate and individual and that the world around us is separate. Imagine that a movie is playing on the screen and the characters on the screen had consciousness. They would think that they are all individual and separate, but in reality, they would all be part of the projection on the screen and they would all exist due to the light of the projector. In a similar way, the universe is a projection of the consciousness of the Atman, or Brahaman and is all part of Braham. It is our illusion that makes us think that we are separate.
How is the Purusha supposed to change, evolve if it never changes?
I think one of the most confusing concepts to understand is how the soul can never change but still evolve over time. Let us explore the idea of the Purusha, its interaction with the physical world, Prakrti, and see if we can find what changes and what stays the same.
To get a better grasp on this problem you have to understand the reason that the soul, the Purusha, actually exists. In the Yoga sutra it states:
II 18 The Seen [Prakrti, the objective side of manifestation, the physical world] consists of the elements and sense organs, is of the nature of cognition, activity and stability (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) and has for its purpose (providing the Purusha with) experience and liberation.
This tells us that the physical world, Prakrti, exists to give the Purusha, the individual soul, experience that allows the Purusha to reach a state of liberation. This idea is again repeated in II 21 and 23:
II 21The very being of the Seen is for his [Purusha] sake (i.e. Prakrti exists for his sake)
For us to really get an understanding of this we have to return to the idea discussed above of Kosas. The kosas are considered to be sheaths but also can be called vehicles. The Purusha can work through a kosa, a vehicle, and what is revealed in the Buddhi through the reflection of consciousness from the Purusha in an individual is dependent on what vehicle the Purusha is using. In this discussion of where the Purusha is working we will only look at the inner Kosas, the Manomaya Vijnanamaya Anandamaya Kosas.
Think of it this way. I can put the identical premium unleaded gasoline into four vehicles: a Yugo, a Toyota, a Porsche and a Massarati. With this gasoline the Yugo will move very slowly, accelerate slowly and perform poorly. You will be moving so slowly that you be watching each individual object passing by. In the Toyota we will get better performance with the same gas and the Toyota will be sufficient to fulfill our basic driving needs. You will be able to drive fast enough that now you have to start grouping objects together, such as group of trees or a group of stores. The Porsche will give you great performance with the identical gas, and now you will be driving so fast that you will start putting the groups together and see how they all interconnect. Finally, the gasoline in the Massarati will go so fast that everything will just blur together and become one.
The Purusha operating in the different Kosas is exactly like the gasoline working in the different cars. When the Purusha operates in the Manomaya Kosa you can identify individual objects on the simplest level. When the Purusha operates in the Vijnanamaya Kosa you have a more complex understanding of the world and you can group objects together. Anandamaya Kosa is where we begin to have insight and to see the universal connection between all objects and all things. In Anandamaya Kosa objects still have an individual identity, but this becomes less important as the larger, interconnection of all things takes precedence. In the last stage, when consciousness melds with Atman, the universe connection of all objects becomes apparent.
It is literally like the Purusha is stepping into different vehicles, each with their own performance that creates their own view of the world. It is always the same Purusha, just was the same gasoline in all three vehicles. The difference in perception of the consciousness depends on how each Kosa functions. With this understanding of how the Purusha functions in the different Kosas, we can now understand what is actually changing.
When the Purusha joins with Prakrti the Kosa that it works in depends on how evolved the Purusha is. Thus, the Purusha itself does not change or evolve. What does change and evolve is how an individual soul, Purusha, interacts with Prakrti. Thus, a more enlightened soul may work in the more inner Kosa, such as the Anandamaya Kosa. This happens through the transformation of the Buddhi. Each Purusha (in dualist theory) is united with a Buddhi through all of its incarnations. The Buddhi contains all of the patterns and karma from ones current and past lives. The Buddhi is actually what is getting transformed. As the Buddhi becomes more purified, and it becomes more purified, is able to allow the consciousness, the light, of the Purusha to shine to the higher Koshas. When the Buddhi has been totally purified the Buddhi dissolves back into the unresolved Prakriti and the Purusha is liberated and reunites with the Atman, Brahman.
Under normal conditions, most of us have brief moments where our consciousness works on the inner levels and we have inspiration and vision. But, under normal conditions these insights are just mere shadows of what we could see. It is only when we reach Samadhi that we can move through the different vehicles, kosa, and begin to really see the power of insight and knowledge that is within each kosa. It is through following the eight limbs of Yoga that we learn to move through the different vehicles and eventually reach Samadhi.
While this all sounds very interesting and theoretical, how does apply to your life? If you have meditated you may have experienced the movement of consciousness through the different vehicles. If you have meditated on something, focusing all of your thought on just one thing, and than suddenly, there is a moment where you have no thought, no awareness of the world around you, where your mind loses all sense of time and space. This moment of timelessness usually last for a short time, but it is the transition from one vehicle to the other. When you move out of this timeless moment you will find that you have moved your consciousness, your Purusha, to another vehicle, and your consciousness than can see what you are meditating on at a deeper level. This moment where the mind become totally focused inwardly and all time is lost is called Asamprajnata Samadhi.
It is only after the eight limbs of Yoga have been mastered can one actually reach Samadhi. But, once you have achieved the ability to reach Samadhi, you can move through the different vehicles with each giving you different insights into what you are meditating on. What we are developing when we do Ashtanga Yoga (the following of the full eight limbs of Yoga) is to help your Purusha evolve so that it can work through the higher vehicles. This is the very essence of Yoga.
Where does the evolution of the Purusha begin?
Everyone wants to reach the higher levels of enlightenment immediately without doing any work, but unfortunately, it does not work that way. Our consciousness works from the outer kosas inward, or another words, our consciousness begins in the physical world and in the Annamaya Kosa, the Physical Body. Through the eight fold path we can move the consciousness inward to the higher vehicles. A person whose consciousness was in the outer vehicles would look as follows:
Following the eight fold path of Yoga one can eventually begin to bring their consciousness inward to higher levels, such as the Pranmaya Kosa and the Manomaya Kosa Mental Body.
The path taken depends on the individual and how evolved their Purusha is, but it must always start with allowing your consciousness to enter into your physical body, the lowest kosa. This is actually something that very few people actually do anymore. Food is one of the most important elements of maintaining you physical body. Do you maintain a conscious awareness of your hunger and only eat when you are actually hungry? Do you eat food that is nutritious, healthy and not created through the suffering of animals or the earth? Do you think about each bite of food you take, aware of its flavor and the life force it is giving you? Or, like most people, do you just eat without any thought at all? Good posture is critical for good health and a strong body, how do you sit and how do you stand? You cannot expect that you can reach the higher vehicles through meditation - to become conscious of the higher planes of existence - when you are not even conscious of the lowest planes.
You must begin your work with the outer kosas and work inward. You start with becoming aware of your external environment, being aware of how your actions affect others and the universe. Do your actions bring harmony into the lives of others, into the universe, and into your own life? Once you aware of your actions, if you are not creating harmony, you may need to change your patterns, which is why I have included the article on patterns in this website. The Yamas and Niyamas, the first two limbs of the eight limbs of Yoga, provide you the framework for creating actions that create harmony.
Once you have become aware of your actions on the external world and made the Yamas and Niyamas part of your consciousness, you can start to turn your mind inward and begin to work on the physical body. Doing Asana you do not simply focus on one part of your body but instead you allow your awareness, your consciousness, to spread to every part of your phsyical body. In addition to Asana, you begin to also work on all elements of strengthening your body - eating correctly, becoming conscious of what you are eating and when you eat, creating good posture, etc.
Once you have begun to master the Asana and your body has developed strength you can begin to move to the next kosa, the Pranmaya Kosa. Working with the next limb of Yoga you can do Pranayama and use the breath to learn how to bring energy into the body and to move the energy through the body.
Finally, once this is done, you can begin to use the other limbs of Yoga to perfect your meditation and the turning of your awareness inward and the movement of the Pusura through different vehicles.
We would all prefer if we could start with moving through the higher vehicles, and some people who have a highly evolved Buddhi might be able to do this. But, for most of us, we will begin our journey from the outside and work through the outer kosas first. As we learn how to improve our body and increase our awareness and do pranayama, we will find that we will begin to get brief glimpses into the world around us from the higher kosa. These glimpses give us a small insight into what awaits us if we keep working and continue evolving our Purusha.