Weekly Focus Week 3: Purusha

In dualistic yogic cosmology the universe itself is made of two parts: that which is eternal and unchanging, and that which is mutable and shifts. Purusha is the Vedic name for the cosmic eternal aspect of the universe from the roots “pur” meaning “city” and “Sheta” meaning “living” or “dwelling”. Purusha is eternal and sometimes also translated as “immutable universal intelligence.” Purusha outside of the concept of creation is also known as Ishvara, or the manifest experience of Brahman.

It the earliest descriptions from the Rg Veda, Purusha was depicted as a cosmic man: “This Puruṣa is all that yet hath been and all that is to be”.  He was said to have thousands of heads, eyes, and feet and stood beyond anything imaginable, awesome to behold. “I know this supreme person,” sings devotees chanting the Purusha Suktam “who has the brilliance of the sun and who is beyond ignorance. He who knows him conquers death in this world. The God is action in the universe”   

Over time and specifically in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, Purusha evolved into a more ethereal formless constant.  On a personal level, the yogi attempts to witness the Purusha as both pure consciousness within the self – the aspect of the seeker which is eternal and unchanging.  

The key to understanding purusha is recognizing it is a form that is beginning-less and end-less and is unchanging and omnipresent. It will remain constant. Like the natural laws of physics, energy is neither created nor destroyed though the form it is expressed through may be incredibly varied. Purusha connects all beings and all things. Sometimes it’s translated as Spirit, as it’s common in other schools of thought to imagine the spirit as something that lives in beyond physical experience.  Over time, as the yoga practitioner becomes more and more skilled, Purusha, becomes visible as the yoga student themselves. The true self emerges from our changing existence, our thoughts, our lives, our actions, and we glimpse in deepest practice that we are actually the Cosmic Self.

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