There are three primary entities (tattvas) in the philosophical scheme of Sankaradeva:
- Primal matter (prakrti)
- Pure personality (purusa)
- The supreme pure personality (parama purusa).
Purusas are many while parama purusa (God) is one. Primal matter (prakrti) is also one.
From the ontological point of view, among these three entities, it is the third one (parama purusa) that is supreme. Primal matter (prakrti) is at the bottom of the hierarchy. It is dead, unconscious material substance. It is the clay of the universe.
While primal matter (prakrti) is subject to modifications (vikara), pure personality (purusa) is immutable (avikari). He—and by ‘he,’ we mean a genderless, transcendental personality—is conscious spirit. However, the main difference between pure personality (purusa) and supreme pure personality (parama purusa) is that the consciousness of purusa is eclipsable while parama purusa is of undiminished and uneclipsable consciousness.
Primal matter (prakrti) being unconscious, it is the supreme pure personality (parama purusa) who must actuate prakrti to set into motion the process of material evolution (parinama) of the entire creation. This fact is beautifully and very poetically expressed by Sankaradeva in his rendering of the 3rd book of the Bhagavata entitled Anadi Patana (Cosmogenesis), as follows:
Even lady prakrti—the primal matter—lies asleep in my belly.
She lies unconscious; she is not in actuated form.
Only I am supremely conscious, the spotlessly pure personality who cannot be covered by any material limitation. 42
Staying alone, what purpose do I achieve?
Let from my body all the unredeemed personalities (jīwa) come out.
At the hands of my tool, primal matter (māẏā), let me make manifest the world.
Let me now do the sportive activity of creation; let me have fun. 43
Thinking thus, opening His lotus-like eyes, the one ever present in time and space,
cast a sidelong glance at primal matter, maya.
The Lord infused life even into the dead material substance!
It became endowed, as it were, with eight parts of spirit and sixteen parts of vital-air! 44
In order to fulfill the desire of the Lord—the work of creation—
out of the supreme personality, emerged the great maya.
Of beginningless form, as if the wife of the Lord!
She, the great maya, was thus actuated as a means or device for creation. 45