prakṛtiḿ puruṣaḿ caiva
viddhy anādī ubhāv api
vikārāḿś ca guṇāḿś caiva
viddhi prakṛti-sambhavān

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 13.20

Material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

By the knowledge given in this chapter, one can understand the body (the field of activities) and the knowers of the body (both the individual soul and the Supersoul). The body is the field of activity and is composed of material nature. The individual soul that is embodied and enjoying the activities of the body is the purusha, or the living entity. He is one knower, and the other is the Supersoul. Of course, it is to be understood that both the Supersoul and the individual entity are different manifestations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The living entity is in the category of His energy, and the Supersoul is in the category of His personal expansion.

Both material nature and the living entity are eternal. That is to say that they existed before the creation. The material manifestation is from the energy of the Supreme Lord, and so also are the living entities, but the living entities are of the superior energy. Both the living entities and material nature existed before this cosmos was manifested. Material nature was absorbed in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Maha-Vishnu, and when it was required, it was manifested by the agency of mahat-tattva. Similarly, the living entities are also in Him, and because they are conditioned, they are averse to serving the Supreme Lord. Thus they are not allowed to enter into the spiritual sky. But with the coming forth of material nature these living entities are again given a chance to act in the material world and prepare themselves to enter into the spiritual world. That is the mystery of this material creation. Actually the living entity is originally the spiritual part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, but due to his rebellious nature, he is conditioned within material nature. It really does not matter how these living entities or superior entities of the Supreme Lord have come in contact with material nature. The Supreme Personality of Godhead knows, however, how and why this actually took place. In the scriptures the Lord says that those attracted by this material nature are undergoing a hard struggle for existence. But we should know it with certainty from the descriptions of these few verses that all transformations and influences of material nature by the three modes are also productions of material nature. All transformations and variety in respect to living entities are due to the body. As far as spirit is concerned, living entities are all the same.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

“You have described the paramatma as knower of the field, but speaking of the jiva who is also the knower of the field, how does the jiva come in contact with maya and when did it start?”

Know that maya (prakrti), and the jiva (purusa) are both without an origin (anadi), having no first cause. This is because they are saktis of me, the Lord who is also without origin (anadi). In verses 4 and 5 of chapter 7 it was said:

bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me bhinna prakrtir astadha

apareyam itas tv anyam prakrtim viddhi me param
jiva-bhutam mahabaho yayedam dharyate jagat

From this it is understood that, because matter and jiva are both without origin, being my saktis, their connection is also without origin (anadi). But there is a real difference between them, even though they are mutually connected. Know that the body, senses and other elements (gunan) and the transformations of the gunas such as happiness, distress, lamentation and illusion (vikaran), all arise from prakrti. Know that the jiva is very different from that prakrti which has transformed into the field.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

13.20 Know this Prakrti and Purusa (self) are uncreated and are beginningless. Know that the modifications, desire, hatred etc., which cause bondage, and the qualities of modesty etc., which cause release, originate from Prakrti. The Prakrti, having no beginning, develops into the form of the body, and conjoint with the self, causes bondage through its own transformations such as desire and hatred. The same Prakrti, through its transformations like modesty etc., causes release. Such is the meaning. The difference in the functions of Prakrti and Purusa in combination is stated —

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Thus the ksetra or field of activity along with its qualities and attributes has been concisely described up to this point. Now Lord Krishna by affirming the beginingless nature of prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence and the Purusa or the Supreme Lord both are the cause of transmigratory existence. What are the ksetra’s modifications, from whence does it arise and what are its forms. Also what is the nature of the entity known as the ksetra-jna or knower of the field of activity and what are its powers and potencies. All these things are eruditely explained in this verse and the next four. If prakriti were to have a beginning then we would have to accept that there must be another prakriti as the cause and then another as that cause and another as that causes and on and on. Therefore Lord Krishna elucidates this point by declaring that both prakriti and the purusa are without beginning. Prakriti is a modification into the material of the Purusa which is a manifestation of the Supreme Lord. It should be understood that the evolution of the body, the senses, the gunas or modes of material nature of goodness, passion and ignorance and their modifications such as happiness, misery, delusion all arise from prakriti.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Before Lord Krishna explained in detail the questions posed in verse four concerning the characteristics and nature of the ksetra. Now He describes in brief the modifications of prakriti or the material substratum pervading material existence and purusa the supreme in the form of the atma or immortal soul. The modifications of prakriti are the three gunas or modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. At the time of universal dissolution whatever accumulation is remaining from prakriti a small part of that will be from these gunas. In the Madhuchanda section it has been mentioned that this small portion of accumulation will constitute action as well as inaction. As desires are modifications of the jiva or embodied being the gunas are modifications of prakriti. Even though prakriti is the source of the gunas it is uninfluenced by them as they are in seed form and ready to burst into sprout once they enter the material manifestation. They do not come into existence like transient desires but are potentially established in the act of dissolution. The entire material creation which cyclically manifests and dissolves has inherent within it traces of the potentiality of recreation programmed into its atomic substratum. Thus all phenomena in manifestation and dissolution is influenced by the gunas and reabsorbed by its potentiality back into the matrix of existence exactly the way it was previously.

Now begins the summation.

The separation of the words prakritim purusancaiva differentiates the animate and sentient purusa and its immortal soul from the inanimate and insentient prakriti. The modifications such as desire and attraction along with the attributes of goodness, passion and ignorance being different are mentioned separately although both arise solely from prakriti. The purusa which exemplifies the Supreme Lord is completely independent of prakriti and thus is exclusively referred to as the witness, the monitor, the ordainer, etc.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

It can be seen that Lord Krishna’s two-fold potency consisting of the inferior external energy and the superior internal energy as described in chapter seven, verse five is non-different from the ksetra or filed of activity and the ksetra-jna the knower of the field of activity. Here Lord Krishna refers to matter as prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence and purusa or the supreme eternal spirit of all as the atma or immortal soul are both beginingless and attached to each other from time immemorial. It should be understood that prakriti is the lower form of existence known as the ksetra which is insentient containing the three modes of material nature and is the cause of all modification and transformations on the physical plane of existence. The purusa is the higher potency of existence known as the ksetra-jna and is completely different in nature being sentient. Both are beginningless and have no cause due to the fact they are both potencies of the Supreme Lord and thus they themselves are their own cause. It is not possible for any other prime cause to exist other than the Supreme Lord and an endless succession of causes and effects makes such a hypothesis untenable. There is no need to discuss the position of the atma or immortal soul as it is eternal and unborn. The Katha Upanisad I.II.XVIII beginning na jayate mriyate va meaning: The atma is never born neither does it ever die. Nor is the atma ever subject to any modifications or transformations of prakriti such as attraction and aversion, desire and repulsion, etc. which are the cause of endless bondage to the jiva or embodied self. Also the 20 super excellent virtues given in verses 8 to 12 commencing with reverence and humility which become the cause of liberation through knowledge also arise from prakriti. The purport is that matter is constituted of beginningless actions while insentient by modification force the jiva to endlessly revolve in samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death. Yet this matter when possessing the super excellent virtues of spiritual endowment can liberate the jiva as well.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

13.20 Viddhi, know; ubhau, both; prakrtim Nature; and also the purusam, individual soul;-these two; Nature and the soul. the aspects of God-to be api, verily; anadi, without beginning. Those two that have no beginning (adi), are anadi. Since the godhood of God is eternal, therefore it is logical that even His aspects also should have eternality. For God’s god-hood consists verily in having the two aspects. Those two aspects through which God becomes the cause of creation, continuance and dissolution of the Universe, and which are beginningless, are the sources of mundane existence. Some interpret the phrase anadi in the tatpurusa [Tatpurusa: Name of a class of compounds in which the first member determines the sense of the other members, or in which the last member is defined or qualified by the first, without losing its original independence.-V.S.A.] sense of na adi, not primeval (not cause). (According to them) thereby indeed is established the causality of God. Again, if Nature and soul themselves be eternal, the mundane existence would surely be their creation, and the causality of the mundane existence would not be God’s. That is wrong because, there being nothing to rule over before the emergence of Nature and soul, there will arise the contingency of God ceasing to be God! And if the mundane state be uncaused [Uncaused, i.e. not caused by Nature and soul, but by God independently of those two aspects.] there arises the contingency of the absence of Liberation, [If God were. Himself the sole cause of mundane existence, independently of His two aspects, then it would be endless because there would be nothing to prevent liberated souls from being put under bondage again.] the scriptures becoming useless, and the absence of bondage and freedom. On the other hand, all these become justifiable if God and the two aspects be eternal. How? Viddhi, know; the vikaran, modifications that will be spoken of-the intellect etc., the body and the organs; ca eva, as also; gunan, the qualities (sattva etc.)-manifest in the form of the mental states of happiness, sorrow and attachment; as prakriti-sambhavan, born of Nature. Nature, Maya, is the power of God, which is the cause of the modifications and which consists of the three qualities. Those modifications and qualities, which have that Nature as their source,-know those modifications and qualities as ‘born of Nature’, as transformations of Nature. Which again, are those modifications and qualities born of Nature?

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

13.20-23 Prakrtim etc. upto parah. The Material Cause also is beginningless, because it has no other casue. Modifications : the cloth and the like. What is known as Material Cause is the basis for the process of cause-and-effect. But, the Soul, because of Its importance, constitutes the enjoyer. [Thus] the Material Cause and the Soul have verily an existence of interdependence just as that of the lame and the blind. Hence, the nature of the Soul is described by the authors of the scriptures by nomenclatures having different forms such as ‘the Spectator’ and so on. The meaning, intended here is this : The Material Cause, Its modifications, the fourteen types of creation and also the Soul – this is all beginningless and perennial as it is completely illuminated by the category Brahman and is identical with it. Hence [the Bhagavat] said :

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

prakrtim purusam caiva
viddhy anadi ubhav api
vikarams ca gunams caiva
viddhi prakrti-sambhavan

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

prakṛtim — material nature; puruṣam — the living entities; ca — also; eva — certainly; viddhi — you must know; anādī — without beginning; ubhau — both; api — also; vikārān — transformations; ca — also; guṇān — the three modes of nature; ca — also; eva — certainly; viddhi — know; prakṛti — material nature; sambhavān — produced of.