What is material nature? This is also explained in Gītā as inferior prakṛti, inferior nature. The living entity is explained as the superior prakṛti. Prakṛti is always under control, whether inferior or superior. Prakṛti is female, and she is controlled by the Lord just as the activities of a wife are controlled by the husband. Prakṛti is always subordinate, predominated by the Lord, who is the predominator. The living entities and material nature are both predominated, controlled by the Supreme Lord. According to the Gītā, the living entities, although parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are to be considered prakṛti. This is clearly mentioned in the Seventh Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā. Apareyam itas tv anyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām/ jīva-bhūtām: "This material nature is My inferior prakṛti, but beyond this is another prakṛti-jīva-bhūtām, the living entity."
Material nature itself is constituted by three qualities: the mode of goodness, the mode of passion and the mode of ignorance. Above these modes there is eternal time, and by a combination of these modes of nature and under the control and purview of eternal time there are activities, which are called karma. These activities are being carried out from time immemorial, and we are suffering or enjoying the fruits of our activities. For instance, suppose I am a businessman and have worked very hard with intelligence and have amassed a great bank balance. Then I am an enjoyer. But then say I have lost all my money in business; then I am a sufferer. Similarly, in every field of life we enjoy the results of our work, or we suffer the results. This is called karma.
Īśvara (the Supreme Lord), jīva (the living entity), prakṛti (nature), kāla (eternal time) and karma (activity) are all explained in the Bhagavad-gītā. Out of these five, the Lord, the living entities, material nature and time are eternal. The manifestation of prakṛti may be temporary, but it is not false. Some philosophers say that the manifestation of material nature is false, but according to the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā or according to the philosophy of the Vaiṣṇavas, this is not so. The manifestation of the world is not accepted as false; it is accepted as real, but temporary. It is likened unto a cloud which moves across the sky, or the coming of the rainy season, which nourishes grains. As soon as the rainy season is over and as soon as the cloud goes away, all the crops which were nourished by the rain dry up. Similarly, this material manifestation takes place at a certain interval, stays for a while and then disappears. Such are the workings of prakṛti. But this cycle is working eternally. Therefore prakṛti is eternal; it is not false. The Lord refers to this as "My prakṛti." This material nature is the separated energy of the Supreme Lord, and similarly the living entities are also the energy of the Supreme Lord, although they are not separated but eternally related. So the Lord, the living entity, material nature and time are all interrelated and are all eternal. However, the other item, karma, is not eternal. The effects of karma may be very old indeed. We are suffering or enjoying the results of our activities from time immemorial, but we can change the results of our karma, or our activity, and this change depends on the perfection of our knowledge. We are engaged in various activities. Undoubtedly we do not know what sort of activities we should adopt to gain relief from the actions and reactions of all these activities, but this is also explained in the Bhagavad-gītā.
The position of īśvara, the Supreme Lord, is that of supreme consciousness. The jīvas, or the living entities, being parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are also conscious. Both the living entity and material nature are explained as prakṛti, the energy of the Supreme Lord, but one of the two, the jīva, is conscious. The other prakṛti is not conscious. That is the difference. Therefore the jīva-prakṛti is called superior because the jīva has consciousness which is similar to the Lord's. The Lord's is supreme consciousness, however, and one should not claim that the jīva, the living entity, is also supremely conscious. The living being cannot be supremely conscious at any stage of his perfection, and the theory that he can be so is a misleading theory. Conscious he may be, but he is not perfectly or supremely conscious.