Self-Realization through Yoga Meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra

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Sankhya Yoga,
Prakriti and its Evolutes:
Returning to Self-realization

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

Rediscovery of pure consciousness: The process of Self-realization is one of attention reversing the process of manifestation, of retracing consciousness back through the levels of manifestation to its source. To have a general understanding of this process is extremely useful, if not essential in the practice of Yoga.

Evolutes of
Unmanifest Matter

(See also the chart below on retracing)

You don't have to know much: As you read through the descriptions below, please keep in mind that it really does not take a tremendous amount of understanding of these subjects to begin doing the self-awareness and meditation practices.

If you understand the general principle of systematically shifting awareness inward through the evolutes, then the process of meditation can truly be directed towards Self-realization, and not merely relaxation designed for stress management (as useful as that might be). The subtler and subtler practices and insights will come with practice, built on the foundation of simple understanding. With practice, the principles of Purusha and the evolutes of Prakriti become ever more clear.

Real and Unreal: Sankhya philosophy views anything that is subject to change, death, decay or decomposition as being "unreal" rather than "real." This does not mean that the objects are not there in front of you. Rather, they are not ultimately "real" in that their form keeps morphing from this to that to the other. What is considered "real" is that final substratum which never changes, cannot die, and cannot possibly decay or decompose. It is the direct experience of that "absolute reality" which is being sought.

Something evolves out of something: Ornaments can be said to evolve out of metal. Pots can be said to evolve out of clay. Our world is filled with objects. Objects are made of compounds. Compounds are made of molecules. Molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of particles. Particles are made of a subtler substratum. While one evolves out of the other, all of these levels of reality coexist and interact with one another.

Humans are also multi-leveled: So too, is the construction of the human being. We are multi-leveled beings, with the next level emerging out of the previous, while those levels still coexist and interact with one another (see the charts). While the human is made of physical material, we are also constructed of subtler levels of reality, which are products of the unmanifest, primordial essence called Prakriti in Sanskrit.

Familiar human evolutes: We are all familiar with the process by which our quiet mind has a memory arise, which triggers emotions, causing chains of thoughts to emerge from that, and to then further emerge into actions and speech. Each of these is a process of one level of functioning emerging or evolving out of the previous, while each of those levels still exists on its own. (See also the article on Karma and the Source of Actions, Speech, and Thoughts)

In this way, the actions and speech (which emerged from mind) still coexist with the whole of the conscious mind, as well as with the whole domain of the unconscious mind, and also with the still, silent center of pure consciousness (whatever we might call this consciousness, or however we might individually perceive it). All of these coexist, while one leads to the next, with the grosser emerging from the subtler. So it is with all the levels of Prakriti.

Evolutes of Prakriti: Similarly, our whole being, in the spiritual sense, is multi-leveled, with the next stage emerging or evolving from the previous. This is the subject of Prakriti, which can be loosely described as unmanifest, primordial matter (which is subtler than the gross realm of quantum physics). This Prakriti ("matter") is infused with pure consciousness, which is called Purusha. Here, however, we are not just talking about the evolutes of chains of thought and emotions, but also the evolutes of the instruments by which we think and emote. This is taking us to the core of our being.

Experiencing consciousness alone: Yoga has been described as a process of realizing the direct experience of consciousness (Purusha) as independent of all levels of false identity (manifestations of Prakriti). These false identities are all seen as evolutes of the primordial stuff or matter (Prakriti) from which they emerge. Purusha (consciousness) is actually at all times independent of the interplay, but has become falsely identified with all of this.

Retracing our way back: The reason this is important is that the process of enlightenment (or awakening) is one of reversing the process, of tracing our way back through the stages of evolutes. The chart above shows the evolutes, and the chart below shows the journey of tracing our way back to consciousness alone, which is the meditation process of systematically withdrawing consciousness from the evolutes.

Sankhya-Yoga: What we now call "Yoga" or "Raja Yoga" has also been called "Sankhya-Yoga," since the practical Yoga methods rest on the philosophical foundation of Sankhya, which is represented in the chart above. This is a widely held view of the relationship between Sankhya and Yoga (See also the article entitled Six Schools of Indian Philosophy). Some may not agree with this perspective, but that is a matter for the scholars to debate. Sankhya is thus the foundation for the Yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

To debate or not debate: Some intellectuals will also debate furiously and endlessly about whether the ultimate nature of reality is dualistic or non-dualistic. Some will say that Purusha (as consciousness) and Prakriti (as matter) are eternally separate, and therefore, ultimate reality is dualistic. Others will argue that the two are ultimately seen to be one and the same, and ultimate reality is non-dualistic. However, the seeker of direct experience through the practices of Yoga need not enter these debates intensely. While there may be some value in reflecting on these principles, and maybe even forming a provisional opinion, what is far more important is to understand and actually do the practices. (See also the article, Dualism and Non-Dualism)

This is very practical: Here, in this article, the evolutes of Prakriti are being presented as practical information for the modern seeker who is not a scholar or philosopher, but is a seeker trying to gain a basic understanding that will facilitate personal meditation practices. By having a working knowledge of the evolutes of Prakriti, the journey of moving attention in the reverse direction (involution) makes much more sense.

Universal principles: It is most important to note that the principles here are also contained in many other systems, although they may not be explained or used in precisely the same way. For example, the concepts of mind and senses, gross and subtle elements, and ego and intelligence, are universal principles. These are also included, for example, in Vedanta and Tantra as well, and also many other traditions. This is not said to force all of the many traditions into one box, but to help allow us to seek and see the underlying reality that is trying to be explained and reached through the practical application of the practices.

Uncovering false identities: The practices have to do with systematically uncovering the many false identities we have taken on by Purusha (consciousness) commingling with Prakriti (matter) (See Yoga Sutra 1.2). By starting with the gross levels (Yoga Sutras 2.1-2.9) of these false identities, and gradually discerning deeper and deeper (Yoga Sutras 2.10-2.11), our true nature will ultimately be revealed through direct experience (Yoga Sutras 1.3 and particularly Yoga Sutra 3.56).

Descriptions of the Evolutes of Prakriti: Following are some brief descriptions of the evolutes of Prakriti, which are in the two tables shown in this article. The most important principles are that of Purusha and Prakriti, which are consciousness and primordial matter. Everything else emerges from Prakriti, and then is infused with Purusha. So, for example, all the levels of manifestation of the human (gross and subtle) are Prakriti, but have life due to the infusion of Purusha. One of the easiest ways to grasp this process of evolving and infusing, as well as arising from and receding into Prakriti, is to scroll down and read about the way the senses operate. The other evolutes arise and recede in a similar way.

Purusha: Of the two companion principles, Purusha is consciousness that is untainted, ever-pure. It is self-existent, standing alone from other identities of individuality; conscious being-ness; the principle of spiritual energy.

Prakriti: The other of the two companion principles, Prakriti is the unconscious, unmanifest, subtlest of the material aspect of energy. It is the primordial state of matter, even prior to matter as we know it in the physical sense. Prakriti manifests as the three gunas and the other evolutes.

Mahat or Buddhi: This is the purest, finest spark of individuation of Prakriti (primordial matter). It is very first of the evolutes of Prakriti. It is individuation, but yet, without characteristics. Buddhi is the word, which applies to the individual person, while mahat refers to the universal aspect of this process. (See Four Functions of Mind)

Ahamkara: This is the process of ego, by which consciousness can start to (incorrectly) take on false identities. Here, the word ego is used not to mean the actual qualities such brother or sister, or loving or cruel, but the capacity itself to take on the countless identities. (See Two Egos section of Four Functions of Mind)

Gunas: Prakriti (primordial "matter") has three characteristics or attributes of lightness (sattvas), activity (rajas), and stability (tamas). These three combine and re-combine so as to form the various aspects of mind, senses, and the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space.

Mind: Mind (manas) is the instrument, which is the driving force behind actions, speech, and the thinking process. It is also the recipient of the sensory input. It is useful to know that, here, mind is being used in this more limited way, rather than the whole of the inner process called antahkarana, which includes manas, ahamkara, buddhi, chitta, along with the senses and the five elements.

Senses/Instruments: The five senses and five instruments of expression are like ten doors of a building. Five are entrance doors, and five are exit doors. These ten indriyas are evolutes of mind.

One way to understand this process of the senses being evolutes of mind is to notice what happens when you fall asleep, into dreamless sleep. What happens to your senses, your ability to perceive through those senses? They seem to go away, yet they return after sleep. Where did they go? It is in that sense that we might say the senses are still there, but that they have receded back into the field of mind from which they arose in the first place.

This same process of arising and receding happens not only with the senses, but all of the evolutes of Prakriti.

Also, if the senses arise from and recede into the field of mind, then it is also easy to see that during times when the senses are operating, they are also infused with mind, the next subtler level of Prakriti. In other words, senses without mind operating through them simply do not work. The idea of senses operating without mind infusing them seems rather silly, in fact. It is that simplicity that is in the whole concept of Prakriti manifesting outward, and the process of meditation retracing that process inward.

Elements: A further outpouring of Prakriti is when it bursts forth as the equivalent of space, as experienced in the subtle (non-physical) realm. From, and within that emerges air (thinness, lightness, airiness), then fire (energy), then water (flow, fluidity), then earth (solidity, form). When these five elements are in the subtle realm, they are known as tanmatras. When they further come outward, manifesting into the physical world, they are known as bhutas. From these, all of the many objects of the external world are composed.

Senses experiencing the Elements: Notice that the Senses and Instruments of action (Indriyas) emerge out of unmanifest matter, or Prakriti. Notice that the five Elements also emerge out of Prakriti. Thus, one set of evolutes (Senses and Instruments of action) are relating to another set of evolutes (the five Elements in the form of many objects). This is one way of explaining the mechanics of how it can be that all is one can appear to be multiplicity.


If this looks difficult: If this information is new to you, and looks difficult or confusing, please keep in mind that there are only a small number of principles on the charts above (about 25-30, depending on how you count them). While they might seem overwhelming, this really is a manageable number of principles to gradually learn.

By comparison, think of how you have learned to use the browser software with which you look at this web page. When I count the number of pull-down options on the menu of Internet Explorer, there are about 75 different commands that I have gradually come to use, and I'm no computer expert. To type a paper in Word, there are over 100 commands in the pull-down menus that I now know how to use.

This is not to say that self-awareness training is as easy as learning to use a computer. However, please don't feel too overwhelmed by the handful of principles of self-awareness. Gradually, understanding comes, and it comes through repetition and practice, just like learning to use your computer.

One of the beautiful parts of this process is that there really are only a handful of these principles through which consciousness gradually moves so as to then experience its true nature. Cultivating such a perspective makes the process simple to see, though not necessarily easy to do. However, understanding the simplicity sure is a nice place to start!

Summarizing the process of retracing: It is not possible to thoroughly describe the retracing process of the evolutes of Prakriti in this paper, as that would mean, at a minimum, recapping the entire Yoga Sutra here in this small section. However, in the spirit of keeping it simple, it is very useful to summarize in straightforward terms, so as to have a basic grasp of the evolutes and their involution so that the practices can be done.

Shortcuts: It is important to note and remember that, while the retracing method of Sankhya-Yoga leads one systematically inward to direct experience, there is also the shortcut from bestowing of direct experience, grace, or shaktipat, whether you hold that as coming from God, Guru, or some other explanation of such gift. The sage Vyasa, the most noted commentator on the Yoga Sutras, mentions this in his comments on Sutra 3.6.

Means of Retracing Prakriti to Purusha: The journey of Self-realization, or discrimination of pure consciousness (Purusha) from unmanifest matter (Prakriti) is one of systematically using attention to encounter, examine, and transcend each of the various levels of manifestation, ever moving attention further inward towards the core of our being (See Yoga Sutras 2.26-2.29 and 3.53-3.56).

The descriptions below are intended to give you a feel for this inner process, not to be literal, step by step instructions. While the systematic process below is accurate, the specific practices are the subject of the Yoga Sutras. Hopefully, by better understanding the general process below, the meditation processes and practices of the Yoga Sutras will be clearer.

Meditation on objects composed of the five elements: Meditation often starts with awareness of gross objects of one kind or another. It might be be done with the eyes open, or with the eyes closed. It might be some religious or spiritual object, a picture, a geometric form, or a point of concentration, such as a candle flame or light visualized in the inner mind field. The object of attention might be scanning ones own physical body, or awareness of the mechanics of breath regulation.

In each of these and other cases, we are dealing with the gross world of objects, which are each related to the world of earth, water, fire, air, and space. One might use a single object of meditation, or a variety of objects. The objects might be constructed of the physical five elements (bhutas) or their subtle counterparts (tanmatras). They might be experienced as solid or heavy, like in the waking state, or as thin or vaporous, like in the dreaming state.

One might focus on many such constructed gross and subtle objects for many years. However, we might move to subtler meditation, where the object of meditation becomes the five elements themselves, and the sensing instruments themselves.

Meditation on the five elements themselves: Gradually, as the meditator progresses in attention training, there comes the ability to focus on and explore each of the five elements themselves, one at a time. This can sound a bit baffling at first, because the element itself does not have form, in the conventional sense of a form having shape and dimensions, etc. Here, you are seeing more subtly how all objects are constructed, which helps to temporarily set aside all such objects during meditation.

You are literally meditating on the element of earth, or water, or fire, or air, or space. Because you see all of the grosser objects as being only constructs (made of the five elements), non-attachment comes more easily and naturally (See Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16 on vairagya, Sutras 2.10-2.11 on subtle meditation, and Sutras 3.45-3.46 on the five elements).

Meditation on senses or means of cognition (jnanendriyas): As meditation progresses still further, we come to explore the senses themselves, as objects of meditation. We are now examining the instruments with which we experience all of those objects (described above). The senses (jnanendriyas) are our doorways to the external world. Imagine for a moment the way a telescope works.

  • There is some object out there, such as a mountain in the distance.
  • There is a person in here ("me" or "I"), who is experiencing that distant mountain.
  • The telescope is a third part of this process, and is the instrument by which the perception occurs.

In this metaphor, we might focus our attention not only on the mountains in the distance (the objects), but we might also focus attention on the telescope itself, the instrument with which we have previously been using to look at the mountains.

Similarly our five cognitive senses (smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, and hearing) are instruments by which the indweller (however you conceptualize or name that) experiences the external world. As meditation progresses, we turn our attention inward, in such a way that we are examining those instruments themselves.

Those senses appear to be physical instruments, such as a physical eyeball. However, we also, for example, see in our dreams, so we come to understand that the sense of sight (as well as the other senses) are internal or mental processes.

In our meditation practices, whether at seated meditation time or meditation in the world (mindfulness, if you prefer), we first may use our senses to explore and witness objects (whether physical or mental). However, at some point we withdraw our senses from those objects, and begin to explore the nature of the senses themselves, or the other internal evolutes of Prakriti, which do not seem to be objects in the conventional sense of physical objects.

Meditation on instruments of action (karmendriyas): The instruments of action (karmendriyas) are also doorways to the external world. These instruments (elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, and speaking) are the means by which the indweller expresses outward into the world.

So, these instruments of action (karmendriyas) are the exporters, so to speak, while the cognitive senses (jnanendriyas) are the importers. Both are in service of the indweller. Together, they form a complete communication system between the inner and the outer.

At meditation time, we not only turn the cognitive senses inward, we also withdraw these instruments of action as well. This is why, at the grossest level of meditation practice, we both close our eyes and we sit still; one has to do with the exporter, and the other with the importer. This is a process of turning inward of the jnanendriyas and the karmendriyas.

As with the senses (noted above), the instruments of actions themselves also become objects, so to speak, of exploration in meditation. We learn to witness the tendencies of expression themselves. We become aware of the inclinations toward moving and speaking, for example, becoming literally aware of the cessation of these processes, as we come inward towards stillness. It is as if the senses and instruments of action are beginning to come inward in such a way that they are receding back into the mind and Prakriti from which they originally emerged. This process of withdrawal of the ten indriyas is described in the Yoga Sutras, as part of Pratyahara, which is rung 5 of the 8 rungs of Yoga (Yoga Sutras 2.54-2.55).

Meditation on mind itself: Notice in the charts above that the senses and means of cognition (Indriyas) as well as the five elements (Tanmatras and Bhutas) emerge from the field of mind (Manas) at the very subtle level of mind. Gradually, one has the ability to use mind itself as the object of meditation. This is extremely subtle, beyond our normal idea of what it means to witness the flow of thoughts in the mind. Here, again, we are literally aware of the instrument of mind itself.

In the eight rungs of Yoga (Yoga Sutra 2.29), rung five is Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses. This is often mistaken to mean that we sit still and close our eyes. While that is very important, it is not the real meaning of sense withdrawal, or Pratyahara. Here, when we truly turn attention inward from not only the typical objects of attention, but also inward from the senses themselves, we encounter the deeper ability to concentrate on mind itself. Mind itself is formless, in the conventional sense of an object having shape and dimensions, just as the senses and elements were also described as formless in the conventional sense.

Like meditation on the elements and the senses themselves (as objects), awareness of mind (Manas) itself has a bewildering quality to it, as we come back into our day-to-day awareness and try to understand or explain this. By being aware of this, it is easier to hold the subtlety of such experience.

Meditation on I-am-ness: Most of the time we mistakenly think that "who I am" is my mind and personality. However, as we gradually come to witness the subtle elements, the senses, and the mind itself, we come to see that there is a still subtler aspect, which simply declares "I am!" When it stands alone in this way, it is independent of the other manifestations.

To be aware of this "I-am-ness" (Ahamkara) is a further stage along the journey to realization of pure Consciousness (Purusha). This Ahamkara (literally "I-maker") becomes the coloring agent for attachments and aversions, which define our personalities and false identities. In meditation on this subtle level, those have subsided along with the senses.

Notice, once again, that the process is similar to dealing with gross objects of meditation, as well as the elements and senses. Something emerged from something, and now we are simply becoming aware of that substratum, letting go of the more surface manifestations. (Take a look at the third level of concentration in Yoga Sutra 1.17, which is on I-ness. Also see the article on the Four Functions of Mind).

Meditation with Buddhi standing alone: Still subtler is Buddhi, which is the individuated intelligence itself. It doesn't yet declare itself to be this or that identity, but is the very intelligence, which supports the ego (Ahamkara), the senses and instruments of actions (Indriyas), and the constructs of the inner objects and physical body (Tanmatras and Bhutas).

One of the final resting places of the individuated person is to know oneself as Buddhi, this most fine vehicle of consciousness (Purusha). It is still constructed of Prakriti, leaving that final discrimination or uncovering yet to be done. To know oneself at this level of Buddhi is sometimes called the level of bliss or ananda, as all of the other levels and false identities have temporarily come to rest or been transcended.

Purusha resting in itself: Finally Purusha, pure consciousness, rests in itself, alone, separate from all evolutes of Prakriti. The seeker on the path of Self-realization seeks even a minute or a moment of this highest glimpse of Realization, after which he or she continues to purify the remaining samskaras and karmas. (See Yoga Sutras 1.3 and 3.56)

Keep it simple: As already said above, these descriptions are intended to give you a feel for this inner process, not to be literal, step by step instructions. The specific practices are the subject of the Yoga Sutras. The journey is systematic, and flows much more smoothly by having a general understanding of the process. This understanding, along with oral counsel, and the most important part of all, which is practice, gradually brings one to direct experience, which is the goal.



This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.