The concept of Soul and Nature is an idea or rather an intuition which was accepted by almost all schools of Indian Yoga, except the Buddhist. This article examines this concept in the context of its application to yoga.
The Indian Sankya philosophy, which is the metaphysical foundation of Rajayoga, resolves the entire human and cosmic existence into two fundamental principles. The Spirit or conscious Being Purusha, the Nature or Energy of Being Prakriti. The Spirit or Purusha is the eternal Soul of man, which is unconditioned, infinite and free. The essential nature of the Spirit in Man, the Purusha, is pure self-luminous Awareness, aware of the whole of Nature and every activity and every movement of Nature as a free detached Witness. Spirit is the ultimate subjective principle; the deepest and inner most core of the human being and the source of all consciousness, the absolute, eternal and self-luminous Knower. On the other hand Nature or Prakriti is the eternal Energy manifesting herself as the ever changing world of Matter, Life and Mind; she is the ultimate metaphysical principle behind all objectivity, the Known. Nature is essentially inconscient and mechanical. It is interesting to note that in the philosophy of Raja Yoga, human mind, the mental principle which is part of Nature is considered as essentially inconscient, mechanical and material. The consciousness or intelligence in the mind is not something intrinsic but derives its light of awareness from the reflected light of the Purusha.
These metaphysical principles of Raja Yoga applies to the individual as well as the cosmos. But since in Yoga the individual human being is the central actor, we will consider only the application of these principles to the spiritual liberation of the individual. In the individual, the Spirit or the Purusha is the eternal soul-principle in man beyond the mind. Nature or Prakriti is the body, life-force and the mind, or in other words the psycho-physical organism made of her physical, instinctive, emotional, vital, intellectual and volitional energies. In the inner being, in the consciousness of man, this duality of Soul-Nature manifests as Awareness and the Energy. In other words, our human organism has two aspects, the pure light of Awareness of the conscious being and the activity or energy of being which expresses itself in the form of thoughts, feelings, will and other psychological activities. In the Indian Vedantic philosophy Soul and Nature or the Awareness or Energy of Being are not two distinct principles forming a trenchant duality as in Raja Yoga. They are the two aspects or poises of indivisible Consciousness. But these metaphysical distinctions do not matter much in Yoga. In Yoga what is important is their practical implication for inner discipline. And this dual principle has a very important practical implication for Yoga.
In our “normal” consciousness, Soul and Nature, or the Awareness and the Energy of Consciousness are indistinguishably mixed together. The Soul is subject to Nature and the Awareness is lost in and runs along with the energy of consciousness. But by an inner discipline, the Awareness can be extricated and separated from the activities of the energy of consciousness. In other words the Awareness can stand apart from the activities of the Energy of consciousness and watch its activities as a detached, and uninvolved Witness. This inner discipline by which the essential light of pure awareness inherent in our consciousness-by which we know our own existence and all that is within and outside us – is separated from the energy and instrument of consciousness is the key to liberation and mastery. This discipline has two aspects self-knowledge through self-observation and self-identification with the Reality through concentration. To begin with the seeker tries to understand and distinguish the principles of Soul and Nature by intellectual analysis and discrimination. But intellectual understating is utterly ineffective without a living experience. And this living experience comes only by self-observation. So the first aspect of the discipline is consciousness or Mind turning within and upon itself to watch and study its own activities with the same scientific objectivity of a scientist who studied the outer world. When this discipline of self-awareness is put into practice in the right way, it brings the same or similar type of understanding and mastery which modern science and technology has over outer physical Nature on our inner nature.
Just like the scientific observation of outer nature reveals laws and processes of physical Nature, the scientific observation of our inner nature reveals the laws and processes of our Consciousness. And knowledge is Power. Just like right understanding of the laws and process of physical Nature, leads to a more efficient and innovative utilization of the energies of physical nature, so also right understanding of the laws and process of our consciousness leads to a more efficient and innovative utilization of the powers our consciousness. So the practice of Raja Yoga releases all the tremendous powers of the mind which remains unmanifest in us. These powers include the power of mind over mind as well as mind over matter. Raja Yoga, with its thoroughly scientific approach to inner development, accepts all these powers which develops as the seekers progresses on the path. But since these powers can be either misused or distract the seeker from the spiritual goal, the masters of Raja Yoga warn the seeker not to give too much importance to or get attached to these powers.
The second discipline is Concentration. The ultimate liberation of the Purusha from Prakriti, comes from Concentration. Concentration is the discipline by which the mind acquires the ability to focus all its attention and energy on a single point or an object of the inner or outer world. First, the awareness in the mind is separated from the activities of the vital, physical and mental energy; the activities of the mental nature are stilled in silence; the awareness with all its energy no longer dissipated in externalized activities, but stilled and concentrated in itself, is turned inward toward the innermost Purusha. In this way the, seeker trains himself to plunge deeper and deeper into increasing depth of his inner being. And finally in the last and the highest stage of inner concentration, awareness in the mind leaps, plunges and disappear into the supramental awareness of the Purusha in a deep trance of Samadhi.