The term ‘Para’ in Sanskrit is used in multiple ways. It is an adjective that denotes something superior, subtle and profound. The antonym for this term is ‘Apara’ which means inferior, gross, visible and ordinary. When we study nature, attributes, qualities, powers and other faculties we see them in two groups of subtle or gross, superior or inferior, hidden or apparent and visible or invisible. In Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna has said that his nature is of two types. The gross one called ‘Apara prakriti’ is eightfold comprising earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and the ego. These are visible and inferior aspects of the divine nature. The subtle one called ‘Para prakriti’ is that nature by which the entire creation, animate and inanimate is sustained.
The three states of matter bhumi, solid earth, apah, liquid water and vayu, gaseous air, the manifested energy anala (or the fire) and the non-manifested energy kham (or ether) are the five elements that make up the universe of things that are seen and perceived by the senses. Manas is the instrument of measurement and a faculty of doubt. Buddhi is the resolve which differentiates the respective capabilities to the rest of the seven divisions. It creates similarity and differentiation amongst the senses. This is the "apara" (the lower) nature. There is a "para" (higher nature) which holds or bears this lower nature. In the macrocosm, the visible universe, it is similar to the basic force like "gravity" that holds the whole of universe together. In the microcosm, it is the vital force (the life force) that equally powers all the five senses, mind and intellect; without which the body is dead.
The higher nature is non-differentiated. It is Universal. Due to the impact of ahamkara i.e., ego, the lower nature appears to be differentiated in eight fold universals as well as within each category infinite divisions of particular individual identities! These differentiated matter energy appearances build infinite microcosms of different sizes, shapes and tastes, emotions! That gives rise to this entire universe enveloping animate and inanimate matter. That makes the visible world that we live in and of which we are a part. Since the differentiated nature of this world is said to be only an appearance, in philosophy it has been termed as ‘Maya’ or illusion. In fact it is not so; it is a reality in its right but the fault lies in the vision of the perceiver. Once he perceives it as the manifestation of the supreme reality, he will see and realise that it is also a reality.
It is a matter of common knowledge that every action and every deed is preceded by a thought. This thought is said in our scriptures to have four stages. Initially it is deep rooted in our mind in a subtle form, when even we are not aware of it. This position is called ‘Para’ position of the thought. Thereafter it gets kindled by some external or internal inducement and starts getting sprouted as it were. This position of the thought is known as ‘Pashyanti’, which literally means that the thought begins to see or throb. Then there is the middle stage between the subtle and the gross when it is eager to get expressed and made known to others. Naturally, therefore, it is called ‘Madhyama’ or the middle one. In the end it is expressed as a word of mouth and is heard by others. This fourth stage is called ‘Vaikhari’ and it is the gross form of the thought. Thus the thought of a human being travels from ‘Para’ or the subtle position to ‘Apara’, the gross position, where it gets expressed before it gets executed in the form of an action or a deed.
The force or the energy is also categorised as of superior and inferior qualities referred to in the scriptures as ‘Para Shakti’ and ‘Apara Shakti’ respectively. Para Shakti is the Supreme Force that exists throughout the entire manifest universe. Scientists have been carefully studying its principal attributes, heat and light, for as long as we have inquired about the nature of the cosmos. In an article on the internet there was a confession in as much as it was stated that ‘but for all its investigation, modern science knows only a little about light. It cannot even be said with certainty if it is a particle or a wave. But we can measure many of its physical properties. The same is true of heat. Whether measuring heat on the Earth, on the moons of other planets, or way out in the galaxy, we generally know how hot or cold things are. However, with regard to "spiritual" light and heat, we have very little in the way of scientific data, because there are no mechanical tools available to study or measure these phenomena. These are felt and perceived intuitively. Spiritually speaking, the light of the aura is a manifestation of Para Shakti. Similarly, the Tibetan practice of generating intense body heat, called tummo, is Para Shakti in action.’ The Chinese ‘Chi’ also denotes the same idea, it appears. That is why it is considered to be the vital force or a form of ‘Para Shakti.’
The capacity or power is studied under three headings, power to know, ‘Jnana shakti’, power to will or desire, ‘Iccha shakti’ and power to act, ‘Kriya shakti’. Let us consider these and their actual nature.
Jnana Shakti is the power of the intellect, of real wisdom, of which there are two main divisions. The first involves essential attributes of the mind. The self-aware mind can recall previous events and activities through the faculty of memory. It adds to the richness of understanding through the use of data that comes from the senses. To do this, the mind categorizes things into coherent groups that are analyzed and then stored either in short-term or long-term memory. The mystics also speak of the nonmaterial attributes of the mind that are powered by Jnana Shakti, such as the ability to understand events that seem to transcend time and space. Any real ability of clairvoyance is powered by this shakti. We have seen and heard saints and sages perform miracles through this faculty of ‘Jnana shakti’. They are able to read other’s minds and see far into the future and predict the forthcoming events.
The power to will, ‘Iccha Shakti’ is something we often associate with our resolve and determination. But there is really much more to it than that. First, there is the energy of original thought, then comes the energy of the thought transmission to the concerned parts of the body and finally, there is the action of the limbs and other parts. Iccha Shakti activates all of these. Through Iccha Shakti we move from place to place through locomotion. We manipulate objects with our hands. With ‘Iccha Shakti’ we harness the power of Jnana Shakti, the mental power. It is through ‘Iccha Shakti’ that the life energy, ‘prana’ is transmitted. Iccha Shakti, as willpower, is a type of power separate from the purely cognitive powers covered by Jnana Shakti. It manifests in our resolve to know things, to execute acts and to select any course of action in addition to will things of our liking.
Then there is ‘Kriya Shakti’, power to execute what is known or willed. This is the mysterious power of manifestation. Through this power, acting in combination with Jnana Shakti, we create art and music and can achieve creative synthesis for new advances in any field. Although there is a fine line between intuition, a function of Jnana Shakti, and creativity, a function of Kriya Shakti, it is the latter that is the source of manifestation. It is this that translates our thoughts and resolve into a reality and accounts for our actions and deeds.
Here again the powers or the energies can be subtle and profound, an inner power or ‘Para Shakti’. The outer one, on the other hand would be inferior, gross and visible and thus may be termed as ‘Apara Shakti’. To accomplish our spiritual and material objectives, we need to understand the relationship between the inner shakti, sitting at the base of the spine, and the outer abundance of energy that exists in states represented by the various divisions of shakti.
All the spiritual work with mantras, yoga and other spiritual techniques has steadily increased the available and usable spiritual energy in the subtle body. Accordingly, the shakti releases increased amounts of energy into the spine in the subtle body. Because our capacity has increased, shakti gives us more energy with which to work. Such enhanced spiritual powers are seen in saints and sages and those who have mastered the Para Shakti. This para shakti looks inwards, sees unseen, knows unknowable and fathoms depths. It travels millions of kilometres, goes places and transcends time and space, without moving even a centimetre.
About the state of human consciousness it is said that normally there are three states, ‘Jagrat’, wakefulness, ‘Swapna’, dreaming and ‘Sushupti’ or sleeping. But the scriptures mention yet another state called ‘Turiya’, which transcends rest of the three. This again is a ‘Para’ state, because it is superior, subtle, inner and indescribable state where mind and intellect are at the highest point of spiritual experience. A human being reaches this stage with the dint of his actions but the Supreme Divine transcends even this stage because of which it is called ‘Turiyaateet’, one above even the fourth stage. It is perhaps in this context that about God it is said in ‘Purusha-sukhtam’, ‘Ati tishthat dashaangulam – He stays higher by ten measures.’