The recognition of the separation of the Purusha, the inner witness consciousness and the Prakriti, the active nature that operates in the mind, life and body, is an important step in the practice of yoga, whether for total abandonment of the outer world and liberation of the being, or as an essential phase in the eventual transformation of the nature to take up and manifest the divine intention without the distortions caused by the ego-consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo describes the experience of the emergence of the Purusha, and its potential to change the direction and scope of action of the Prakriti. He also reminds the seeker that the transformation process is not one that can occur overnight, as the body-life-mind complex is bound by habitual patterns of long-standing nature, and this is actually amplified by the corresponding habits in the society and in material nature itself. All of these embedded patterns were developed for a reason over time, and they have an incredible amount of inertia that makes them hard to shift into a new direction or mode of action.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The consciousness you speak of would be described in the Gita as the witness Purusha. The Purusha or basic consciousness is the true being or at least, in whatever plane it manifests, represents the true being. But in the ordinary nature of man it is covered up by the ego and the ignorant play of the Prakriti and remains veiled behind as the unseen Witness supporting the play of the Ignorance. When it emerges, you feel it as a consciousness behind, calm, central, unidentified with the play which depends upon it. It may be covered over, but it is always there. The emergence of the Purusha is the beginning of liberation. But it can also become slowly the Master — slowly because the whole habit of the ego and the play of the lower forces is against that. Still it can dictate what higher play is to replace the lower movement and then there is the process of that replacement, the higher coming, the lower struggling to remain and push away the higher movement. You say rightly that the offering to the Divine shortens the whole thing and is more effective, but usually it cannot be done completely at once owing to the past habit and the two methods continue together until the complete surrender is possible.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, The Witness Consciousness, pp. 179-181

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.