Purusha: Meaning the Example of a Farmer

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Bhagavad Gita" by Eknath Easwaran. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the purusha meaning? How does The Bhagavad Gita explain the concept of Purusha, or the soul?

Purusha’s meaning is, simply put, the soul. Krishna explains this in terms of a farmer and a field. The farmer is the physical body the farmer is connected to, and it is tempoerry. His soul, or Purusha, is permanent and is his true self.

Read more about Purusha and its meaning in The Bhagavad Gita.

Purusha Meaning: The Body Creates Spiritual Obstacles

This section begins by exploring two ideas: the so-called “field,” and the one who knows the field. In the simplest terms, we could think of the field as the body, and the knower as the true self that inhabits that body. 

Krishna then returns to the subject of the gunas, this time to discuss how living by each guna affects your next life. While on the topic of reincarnation, he also explains the difference between what he terms “divine” and “demonic” tendencies. People who are driven by divine tendencies show the qualities that he’s been describing all along, like selflessness and spirituality. Those who are driven by demonic tendencies are selfish and atheistic; they don’t believe in God at all, and think that life has no higher purpose than reproduction. As with the gunas, people will be reborn according to their tendencies.

Understanding the knower of the field—the true self that inhabits the body—is crucial in order to embrace divine tendencies and free oneself from the three gunas. This is one method of attaining enlightenment.

The Field and the One Who Knows It

This is where Arjuna learned about the “Purusha” meaning. Krishna compares the temporary body to a farmer’s field, and the true self that lives in it to the farmer—the one who knows and tends the field. The “field” is made up of a number of different things: the five senses, the five elements (earth, fire, air, water, and akasha), and the five organs of action (the mouth to speak, the feet to move, the hands to work, the anus to excrete, and the sex organs to reproduce). 

Beyond physical matter, the field also includes the three components of the mind (manas, which experiences and remembers sensory input; buddhi, which is intelligence and reason; and ahamkara, self-will or sense of self), and the raw energy from which all of those elements were formed. In other words, the field is prakriti. It’s the source of all the temporary sense-objects that pull people from the spiritual path and keep them trapped by karma. However, it’s the Purusha, meaning the soul, which experiences those sense-objects. 

Krishna explains that knowing the difference between the field (prakriti) and the knower (Purusha) is crucial to disconnecting oneself from the sense-objects that prakriti creates. He then reiterates that those who understand what the true self is, and that they all come from and are part of Brahman, know that God exists in all of them and that they’re all connected. Knowing that, they never harm themselves or anyone else. 

Finally, Krishna compares the “Purusha” meaning to the sun rising to illuminate the field. Even though all sense-objects come from prakriti, the true self is needed in order to animate the body and to experience those things.  

Paradoxically, Krishna is simultaneously the field, the knower, and the supreme force beyond both of them. People who understand that truth have reached the source of all wisdom, and will be able to reach the ultimate goal of freeing themselves from samsara, fulfilling the “Purusha” meaning.

Purusha: Meaning the Example of a Farmer

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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