The Knower and the Field

In Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna gives us a reminder of the basic human dilemma…the duality of the “knower” within and the “field” of the body and the world around. The “knower” is also referred to as purusa in yoga – the inner self, the atman, previously in the Gita also brahman, changeless and timeless. The field is also known as Prakrti – Nature, all other than the purusa, all that is changeable.

In the Yoga Sutras, the largest obstacle we face as humans, our “original sin” if you will, is our spiritual ignorance of forgetting who we are – Avidya. Our practice and process of yoga is to remember that we are not all the things in Prakrti that we attach to or identify with…we are not the Field.  We are the Knower…we are purusa. The Gita also reminds us of this – “Discrimination between Field and Knower is the highest kind of knowledge.” But in order to discriminate between the two, we first must know what each are.

Prakrti – Nature – The Field : Nature has a whole list of properties that I will not go into detail with here, but will cover some of the “highlights”. The “stuff” we tend to be able to touch, see, hear, etc…and the senses we use to detect that “stuff” are part of Prakrti – 5 elements, sense organs, organs of action. That is the easy part to discern. What is difficult are the parts of Nature we believe are part of ourselves as individuals. Citta (individual consciousness) is made up of three parts that also are considered part of Prakrti and NOT purusa – ego, intellect, and mind. The ego in this case is the part of us that discriminates between individuals – it is necessary for life in a body and in the world, it is not the ego that is prideful, protective, possessive. Intellect is our discriminative ability. Mind is the function of processing input. THESE ARE NOT THE KNOWER! 

Purusa – Pure Inner Self -The Knower : Purusa is the “knower”, “the seer”, the “inner light”, the “soul”. It has many translations, but it is pure, changeless, timeless consciousness undisturbed and not tied to Nature. It is that which we come to know in our practice as our True Self and not all the rest we attach to within Prakrti. “Subtle beyond the minds grasp; so near us, so utterly distant: undivided.”

This Chapter also highlights something that I find helpful in understanding this relationship between Purusa and Prakrti – The Knower and the Field – and the whole Metaphysics and Cosmology yoga arises from. They are without beginning and without end. It is the relationship between the two that is “existence”. In order to realize Purusa we have to use Prakrti. In order to be free of Prakrti we need to understand Purusa. “All are come forth from the seeming union of Field and Knower, Prakrti and Purusa.”

If we understand their difference. If we can exist in the Truth within that lights our way instead of being caught up in the Nature of things, then we will experience yoga.

“By the single sun this whole world is illumined: by its one Knower the Field is illumined.”


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