Friday, August 19, 2016

The Concept of Pure Personality (Purusa) in the Philosophy of Sankaradeva

puruṣa uttama    parama puruṣa
parama ānanda sbāmī .
tayu pādapadma-    makaranda āśe
śaraṇa paśilo āmi .. (NG, 186)

The concept of a pure personality (purusa) is central to the philosophy of Sankaradeva. It is at the core of the Bhagavata's understanding of the form and nature of God (isvara) and the souls (jivas). In this blog post I attempt to lay down the foundational points for this concept and plan to discuss it in further detail later on.

First, by pure personality (purusa), a transcendental person is meant. A pure personality (purusa) is a pure person. Let us take up the conception of person given in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person):

A person is a being, such as a human, that has certain capacities or attributes constituting personhood, which in turn is defined differently by different authors in different disciplines, and by different cultures in different times and places. In ancient Rome, the word persona (Latin) or prosopon (πρόσωπον; Greek) originally referred to the masks worn by actors on stage. The various masks represented the various "personae" in the stage play.

(Note how similar is the Greek term prosopon to the Sanskrit term purusa.)

After this definition, we lay down a few basic points relating to the conception of purusa or the transcendental pure person that will form the basis of any treatise that may be developed on this subject.


A pure person (purusa) is a separate ontological category; it is distinct from and superior to the category of matter (prakrti). It is sometimes referred to impersonally (and rather technically) as brahma (spirit). This sort of a substantial definition sometimes deludes us into thinking that it is substance. But, it is not substance. A pure person (purusa) is just that: a pure personality (purusa).

A pure person (purusa) is full of afferential (sense) and efferential (action) capacities or capabilities. Knowing and doing are features essential to its nature. It is the feeler. Memory and even language are native to it.



A pure person (purusa) is genderless: it is neither male nor female nor hermaphrodite. 'He' or 'it,' in whichever case they are used to refer to this entity, is used to indicate a pure transcendental person only.

A pure person (purusa) is endowed with a beauteous form. It (or he) is certainly not absolutely formless. But this form is not a prakrti-made one.

A pure person (purusa) exists forever. It is eternal (sanatana). It just is. And just was and will be. At no point of time did the purusas ever come into existence. They are never created, not even in Vaikuntha--their native, transcendental abode--; not even by Isvara.

A pure person (purusa) is not connected to any material mind-link (manas) or any physical frame or material body. When it is so connected, then, at that time, it is referred to as jiva. The pure person (purusa) has its own transcendental mind, its own faculty of consciousness (cit). This cit is different from the material manas by which term we might mean (material) entities like subtle mind, brain, cerebral cortex, etc.

The supreme pure person is the Lord (isvara) and the souls (jivas) are also, in their native forms, pure personalities (purusas) .

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