Tag Archives: 36 tattva

Foundational Concepts & Philosophy for Vedic Astrologers

Introduction to Parashara astrology

Vedic astrology is called the supreme limb of the vedas, what are the 6 limbs of the vedas?

      1. Kalpa: (Hands) Ritual
      2. Jyotisha: (Eyes) Astrology/astronomy
      3. Nirukta: (Ears) Etymology – the roots of words
      4. Chandah: (Legs) Metre – Number of syllables in a line
      5. Sikaha (Nose) Phonetics
      6. Vyakaranam (Face) Grammar – Panini

Three main divisions of Jyotish: 

      1. Hora: movement of the planets and the meaning of that movement
      2. Samhita: Technical manuals for doing or building things in right relation to the planets. Also details how to read signs & omens. (precursor to astrology)\
      3. Ganita: Mathematics. Trigonometry, algebra, geometry, ect

Lineage of 18 Sages

Surya, Pitamahah, Vyasa, Vashishta, Atree, Parashara, Kashyapa, Narada, Garga, Marichi, Manu, Angira, Lomasha, Paulisha, Chayavan, Yavana, Bringu, Saunaka.

Parashara: Grew up with his grandfather after his father was killed by a demon. Grandfather was a great rishi named Vashishta. Parashara sought revenge for his father’s death by seeking to kill all the demons with a special worship for the purpose. Eventually he was told that it was his father’s karma to be killed that way and he was only going to make new karmas for himself if he continued his deadly worship. 

In addition to this Hora shastra, Parashara is known to have compiled several sections of the vedas. His son, Ved Vyasa, is famous for having composed the Purana which made the knowledge of the Vedas accessible to common people. Vyasa is the product of a somewhat controversial union between Parashara the daughter of a boat man (or fisherman). She was operating the ferry to cross the river. She was known as Matsyagandha (stink of fish). Parashara’s desire for her overwhelmed him. He promised to mask their union as well as allow her to retain her virginity after the union. He also took away her fragrance and gave her a divine fragrance.

There was a dispute between Parashara and Brigu which caused Parashara to curse Brigu’s method as capable of predicting the past with accuracy, but not the future.   

Qualities of a student

      1. Should be a good person, honour their teachers and elders, speak the truth and be god fearing.
      2. We should not teach an unwilling student, an atheist, or a crafty person. 


      1. Creator and sustainer of the universe
      2. Endowed with the 3 gunas: Sattva, rajas, tamas
      3. Creates and administers with ¼ of his body: perceptible aspect

Mahavishnu + Shri Shakti = Vishnu (the sustainer}

Mahavishnu + Bhoo Shakti = Brahma (the creator)

Mahavishnu + Neela Shakti = Shiva (the destroyer)

GOD = Generator + Operator + Destroyer

  1. ¾ of his body is filled with divine nectar: imperceptible. The aspect of Vishnu can only be known by philosophers of maturity when they know the essence of things.
  2. Jeevatma amsha: The portion (amsha) which is mostly human
  3. Paramatam amsha: The portion of reality that has a preponderance of divinity. 

Six schools of Orthodox Philosophy

      1. Sankya: Dualistic, rational, atheistic
      2. Yoga: sankya + theism
      3. Nyaya: realism, analytics, logic
      4. Vaisheshika: Nyaya + atomism + naturalism
      5. Purva Mimamsa: Ritualism
      6. Vedanta (uttar mimamasa): Upanishads. Vedanta also has six limbs.

Theistic Philosophies (Tantras & Agamas): Kashmiri Shaivism is said to bring together not only the tantra under a single system or framework of philosophy, but to also incorporate the wisdom of vedic and upanishad corpus of texts. 

      1. Pashupata: forest naturalism 
      2. Shaiva: sankya + shiva/shakti worship (theism)
      3. Pratyabhijna: recognition
      4. Panini: grammar
      5. Rasgshvara: alchemy

Maya: the material cause that brings to fruition what is waiting to manifest. It does this by putting limits on unlimited potentiality. 

      1. Raga: attachment
      2. Vidya: limits knowledge
      3. Kaala: limits time
      4. Kalaa: limits power
      5. Niyati: necesity (cause and effect)

Malas: 3 self imposed limitations

      1. Anava mala: Desire. Sense of finitude
      2. Mayiya mala: Knowledge. Ontological division
      3. Karma mala: Impurity of action. Action being the cause of transmigratory existence

Karma: four kinds of karma 

      1. Sanchita: Accumulated karma of lifetimes (most fated)
      2. Parabdha: Current life karma
      3. Kriyamana: The free will to act in the moment
      4. Agama: ability to make choices not which will affect our future (most free willed)

Also keep in mind the three divisions of karma: 

      1. Fixed: (unchangable)
      2. Fixed – Non fixed: (we have minimal power to change this)
      3. Non-fixed: (we are capable of choosing our karma in the moment or makinging long term effort in order positively affect our future karma)

The 36 Tattva of Tantra 

“The individual experient also, in whom citi or consciousness is contracted, has the universe (as his body) in a contracted form.” ~Shiva Sutra~

“The Sun is the soul of Kalapurusha; the Moon, his mind; Mars, his strength; Mercury, his speech; Jupiter, his knowledge and happiness; Venus, his sexual love; and Saturn, his misery.” ~Jataka Desh Marga. Shloka 34~

“The 12 signs beginning from Aries are respectively the head, face, arms, heart, stomach, hips, space below the navel, the private parts, thighs, knees, ankles and feet of Kalapurusha.” ~Parashara, 4/4~

Self knowledge, the equal of universal knowledge in most of India, it is one of the most prized areas of knowledge. Various sciences and systems have been created just for this purpose. One of the oldest branches of knowledge in India is called Samkya and was compiled by a sage named Kapila. This is a dualist and materialist branch of knowledge that sought to map out and empirically categorize the various elements of material existence that allow us to have this human experience. Kapila can be credited with the arrangement of the lower 25 tattva from purusha and prakriti to fire, earth, air, water, and ether. Non-dualist looked at this and thought that something was clearly missing since all this matter is inert, insentient and incapable of the complexity that we see in life. So, the sages looked deeper and eventually expanded the categories of tattvas to include several higher elements that connect us to a divine well-spring of power that infuses matter with sentience. These higher tattva reflect the lower, just as Shakti is said to be a reflection of Shiva, and yin a reflection of yang. The interplay between each of the tattva as well as that between the microcosmos and macrocosms is dynamic, relative, and eternal.     

“As the world is inside, so it is outside.” ~Manduka Upanishad~    

The tattva are the cornerstone of most of the Indian sciences and philosophies: Ayurveda, the Science of Life, or what we would consider the health sciences; Jyotish, the Science of Light, otherwise known as Vedic Astrology, which, in times not so long past would have include all of the natural sciences; as well as Yoga, Tantra and the various spiritual sciences, which we might today categorize as psychology. Of course, anyone wishing to follow any of the paths of knowledge laid out in India should have at least a cursory knowledge of these tattwa. Since maya is essentially both this world that we must deal with as well as what abilities we have to deal with it, I have given a detailed outline of maya separately below the tattva. 

The 36 Tattva:  

The Macrocosmic & Microcosmic Existence of Man and the Universe


“…. Then he unfolds Himself in the totality of manifestations viz., principles (tattvas), worlds (bhuvanas), entities (bhaavas) and their respective experients that are only a solidified form of Cit-rasa [the juice of universal consciousness].” ~Pratyabhijnaahrdayam, Sutra 4~


Shiva Tattvas: Pure tattva 

Divine or blessed tattva: what they call citshakti or mahamaya. 

  1. Shiva Tattva

 Shiva is infamous for the performance of five functions in a cycle. One full rotation thru this cycle constitutes a movement of spanda: 

        1. Nigraha: act of self limitation/contraction. 
        2. Srsti: act of self manifestation of the world. 
        3. Sthiti: preservation of the world. 
        4. Samhara: absorption/withdrawal of worldly manifestation. 
        5. Anugraha: revelation or dispensation of grace. 


  1. Shakti Tattva 

Shakti is known for her five modes of expression. Shakti is herself the power of Shiva:

        1. Cit-shakti: conscious force; works thru Shiva.
        2. Ananda-shakti: power as bliss; works thru Shakti.
        3. Iccha-shakti: power as will; works thru Sadashiva. 
        4. Jnana-shakti: power as knowledge; works thru Ishwara.
        5. Kriya-shakti: spontaneous action as power; works thru Shuddhavidya.   

3.  Sadashiva: Unity 

4.  Ishwara: Unity in division

5.  Shuddhavidya : Division

Vidya Tattvas:

The tattwas which obscure true knowledge and bind us to our bodily existence 

  1. Maya:  and her five kanchukas (klosha/coverings): 
  2. Kalaa: limits power. 
  3. Vidya: limits knowledge.
  4. Raga: limits fullness.  
  5. Kaala: experience of time/change. 
  6. Niyati: experience of cause and effect. 


Atma Tattvas: Elements of the Individual Soul 

  1. Purusha (Iccha, will. The individual soul, the subject): at the place and time of our birth, the individual soul, complete with the karmic qualities of eons of time, meets with nature (prakriti) and there is the birth of an embodied soul.
  2. Prakriti (Kriya, spontaneous activity. The creatrix, the object): Prakriti provides Purusha with everything he needs for enjoyment. The physical body along with the senses of knowledge of powers of action. Prakriti is made up of the three gunas (kapha, vatta, pitta). 

Instruments of Cognition (Chitta or Antar-karana):  

 14.  Buddhi: (Intelligence) Buddhi is the abode of vital energy prana-shakti. It is the contracted  power of jnana-shakti. From here it flows through the different parts of the body via the nadis (the  meridians, channels and collaterals). This is the locus of every human experience.

“The emergence of the vital breath marks the submergence of the blissful awareness which is the repose of consciousness enjoys of its own nature” (Stanzas on Vibration 372). “The vital breath is essentially a state of consciousness which manifests as the movement of two breaths – prana and apana.” 

Five kinds of Prana-vayu (movements of prana): (for more on this topic)

      1. Prana: exhaled breath. Vital breath moves outward from the body, rests in the external object and then returns to the body. Sun. It’s considered receptive like the sense organs.
      2. Apaana: inhaled breath. moves downward. Moon. In Ayurveda they say move downward and outward. Like for the elimination of bodily waste. 
      3. Samaana: According to Ayurveda, it moves inwards, spinning towards a centre point like meditation. In the waking and dream state, pranaapana is active, however in states of deep-sleep samaana (the Equalizing breath) balances the inhalation and exhalation. They call it” the equinox.”
      4. Udaana: The Ascending breath. According to Ayurveda, it moves outwards, like speech, sound, and the limbs of the body. 
      5. Vyaana: expansion in all directions radiating from the navel outward in all directions. Often considered as the nadis energy system similar to the meridians of Chinese Medicine.       

15. Ahamkara (Ego/ I-sense): Instrument of rationality. Supervises/controls organs of knowledge and action. This is who we generally think we are when our awareness is not wandering down with our senses.   

16. Manas: Mind the material cause of events. Whatever is in the mind will reach out to its object, rest there, and withdraw again.

These last 20 Tattva connect us with the external world. Senses of Knowledge (Tattva 17-21) Senses of Action (22-26) Subtle Elements (27-31) Gross Elements (32-36) 

The Bhuta Planetary Ruler

(not part of Tattvas)

The Tanmatra Jnana Indriyas Karma Indriyas
Earth Mercury Odour Smelling Excretion
Water Venus (Moon) Flavour Tasting Pleasure
Fire Mars (Sun) Form/Colour Seeing Locomotion
Air Saturn Feel Touching Touch
Ether Jupiter Sound Hearing Speech

Extra Notes on Maya 

“Maayaa is the lack of discernment of the principles beginning with Kalaa.” “The principles (that obscure the individual soul) form a group that ranges from Kalaa to Earth. (They are called) “principles” tattva because the entire universe is pervaded by them. Kalaa is said to be (the individual soul’s) limited power of action.”  ~Aphorisms of Shiva 3/3 ~

“The more consciousness is freed from the impurity (mala) the more the light of the self is revealed.” ~Kashmir Shaivism p 377~

“He who is deprived of his power by the forces of obscuration (kalaa), and a victim of the powers arising from the mass of sounds (shabdarashi) is called a fettered soul.”  ~Stanzas on Vibration 45~

Maya is essentially the ground beneath our feet. Many traditions debase it by calling it illusion, but this is not entirely correct. Maya is not the truth, but it’s also not different from truth. If the whole of god, the whole of this universe, is within each speck of his dust, then maya is surely divine. In any case, it’s all we have to work with, negating it is not an option and ignoring the fundamental connection we have with it on both a material and divine level is not the key to advancing beyond where we are now. The key is just the opposite, it’s in attuning our self to maya; understanding it and learning the rules before we learn how to break them. “As within, so without,” so anything we do to understand ourselves or the world will be beneficial; there are no limits to spiritual knowledge since any knowledge that helps to bring the macrocosms and microcosmos in tune is spiritual knowledge. Knowledge is vast, the purpose is one. Replacing ignorance (ajnana) with knowledge (jnana) is the main prescription of Shaivism as well as most other spiritual paths. 

The impurities are due to the five coverings (kanchukas) and two types of ignorance (ajnana): 

    1. Paurusha ajnana: the innate ignorance regarding the truth of the self. 
    2. Bauddha ajnana: ignorance of the buddhi. We consider the subtle body and the gross body to be the self on account of what they call ashuddha vikalpas (ideation or thought constructs, irrational or psychological thought). 

There are three kinds of impurities (mala) of which maya is one with five parts. Those three impurities are: 

    1.  Anava mala: The root impurity. “The impurity of individuality.” (Aphorisms p15) This occurs in the first moment after Shiva self contracts to take manifestation in (and of) the universe.  Our true power becomes obscured by the notions of subject and object and of existence and non-existence.  This occurs at Sadashiva level. There are two kinds of root impurity 
          1.  Impurity which veils knowledge of divine awareness, but leaves     freedom of action intact. This is the human condition as we know it. 
          2. Impurity which leaves knowledge of divine awareness, but veils ability    to act freely. This is the condition of those gods or energies which do not descend thru maya.
    2. Mayiya mala: The impurity of maya and the five coverings (kanchuka). This    gives us our gross and subtle bodies by measuring out or filtering the various    divine attributes. This impurity brings about the sense of duality, robs us of all    sense of divinity and makes us oblivious to our true nature. The five Kanchukas (coverings/sheaths/klesha): Kalaa: limits power; Vidya: limits knowledge; Raga: limits fullness; Kaala: experience of time and change; Niyati: experience of cause and effect.
    3. Karma Mala: provides us with our physical body which is essentially a collective of residual impressions designed to carry out certain activities. Once karma mala defiles the jiva (the limited soul before it has taken a body), embodied individuals (humans) are then created (born, made manifest). This is where the whole microcosms above comes together to give us our individual characteristics and life as we know it.


Tattwa: A foundation of Indian Philosophy

“Detached from the outer show, he sees the inner essence and recognizes that life is merely the spontaneous acting out of the roll consciousness has assumed in the drama of universal manifestation.” — Aphorisms of Shiva; Dyczkowski

When we look into this philosophical or metaphysical questions of, “who am I?” or “what is knowledge?” and “How do I know what I know?,” or “What is reality?” we often turn towards categories to understand. We break the problem down and we look at ourselves from different perspectives. We see the typical parts of the self that we identify with: I am this body, these emotions, this intellect, this vital force, I am this breath; to say nothing of the host of external identifiers by family, nation, race, religion. Certainly we are all of these things and many more; but we’re much more even than that.

The tattva are a central component of the traditional sciences and philosophies of India. They are mentioned in the Yoga Suttras & the Bhagavad Gita, and one of the core differences between Tantra and Vedanta is the inclusion of 11 extra tattva in the former. It’s also a core concept for ayurvedic or jyotisha understanding of reality.

The tattva are components of reality and show us the course thru which each of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) follows though our lives to unfold reality through each of our senses and inner faculties of the mind. The tattvas represent both subject and object as well as all of the elements that lie between the subject and object. In short, the tattva are the elements of existence.

Different schools of philosophy have different perspectives of how the tattva fit together and relate with each other but ultimately they all agree that there is a subject, and object, and something that connects the two, and that the tattva make up the basic components of that three part reality.

Two of the most popular grouping of tattva suggest that there are either 25 or 36 tattva though quite often they also refer to the five mahabhuta (earth, water, fire, air, ether)primary elements alone as the tattva.

From these five, they also list the organs of knowledge (the abilities of the senses) as well the elements of the senses. Hearing and sound, touch and feeling, seeing and form, tasting and flavour, smelling and odour. Each of these represent a certain aspect of reality. They also list five ways that our body interacts with the world are also considered elements of our existence: speaking, grabbing or holding, moving in space, procreating and excreting waste.

Raising our awareness to more subtle heights we find our sense of individuality and uniqueness (ahamkara), we can witness our mind weighing options as an indeterminate knower. Its from here that our sense typically reach out to the world in order to determine and define knowledge and our individuality. Many modern people call this “excersising our free will.”

It’s at this level of existence where we find out minds fluxuating, vibrating, moving and changing. The manas and the ahamkara are the areas Patanjali brings our awareness to. For meditation, and to still the vibtations of the mind we are advised to follow the inward course of the tattva rather than the normal outward course thru the senses.

As we continue moving our awarness inward we will come to the buddhi the highest faculty of knowledge that just seems to know things. This is the silent knower who doesn’t argue because it doesn’t have to; the buddhi just knows. The buddhi is always endowed with truth; not necessarily the highest truth, but certainly what is true for the individual soul.This is one of the key differences between the buddhi and the manas. The manas is always seeking truth, usually from the outside world, while the buddhi silently knows the truth emanating from the individual soul.

The individual soul is essentially a combination of the purusha and prakriti. The individual soul, purusha, differs from the individual ego, ahamkara, in that it recognizes the connection between our “thisness” (idam) and that’s “thatness” (aham). The individual ego is that which disconnects our thisness from thats thatness. So, as we continue on our inward journey we do not loose ourselves but rather reconnect to that greater self and the universal purpose for our existence.

However, even when we are living from our ego, blind to the inherent interconnectedness, we are none the less also completing our universal soul quest; nothing can ever knock us from this path. The difference being that the ego has to struggle greatly with the vibrations of the mind always seeking knowedge but never gaining satisfaction. The mind is just vibrating from one thing to the next, from subject to object and back again without finding the source from which both of these emanate.

Once we know we are connected, once we realize our true nature, there is no question, no vibration between this and that; there is just the free and natural flow of karma without trying to hold onto this karma or rejecting that karma.

You will find a list of the tattva with explanations below

36 Tattvas of Tantra
Macrocosmic Universe: ParamaShiva: the great ultimate is said to be beyond the tattva. Tantra specifically, and most other branches of Indian thought usually have some little bit left over in their accounting of reality. There is always some residue which cannot be explained; something which is beyond explanation.

36. Shiva tattva: This is the entire universe in the form of illumination. In the process of manifestation of the world, Shiva performs five crutial functions. Since Shiva tattva is the tread that connects all the tattva, we could say that Shiva performs these five functions thru each tattva as well as to the whole system. Shiva is often identified as Prakash, the light of consciousness while Shakti is Vimarsha, cognitive awareness

  1. Nigraha: the act of self limitation or contraction. Concealment of his true nature.
  2. Srsti: Creation. The act of self manifestation as the world.
  3. Sthiti: Preservation of the manifest world.
  4. Samhara: Destruction, absorption or withdrawal of worldly manifestation
  5. Anugraha: Grace; revelation of his true nature

Pure Elements: the next four elements are elements of the Tantric goddess Usma, who is the embodiment of the internal heating and swelling of creativity.

35. Shakti: Shivas power which is not different from Shiva. This is Shivas power to conceal himself from himself. Shiva is the one who emanates and shakti is what is emanated; the being and the becoming. Shakti has 5 primary modes of expression. The first two are said to be his nature while the following three are the powers thru which he makes his nature known or manifest. Shakti has the experience of aham (thatness).

  1. Cit-shakti: conscious force
  2. Ananda-shakti: power as bliss
  3. Iccha-shakti: power as will
  4. Jnana-shakti: power as knowledge
  5. Kriya-shakti: spontaneous action as power

34. Sadashiva: the universe laying submerged and void within the self experience of the experiencer. Experience of aham (thatness)-idam (thisness)

33. Ishvara: self experience as “I” (aham) and an experience of the universe as a separate object with “thisness” (idam) shining unequally distinct within the self experience. Experience of idam-idam

32. Sadavidya: experience of aham-aham/idam-idam

Vidya Tattvas: these are the tattvas which bind us to our bodily existence.

31. Maya:
Three kinds of defilements:

  1. Aanava mala (mula mala: root impurity): The impurity of individuality, occurring at the first moment of manifestation of the universe as Shiva begins to contract. Shiva’s true power becomes “obscured by the notions of existence and non-existence…” (Aphorisms p15) This impurity begins to take hold as soon as he descends to sadashiva tattva. Two kinds of anavamala: a) veils knowledge of divine awareness, but freedom of action remains intact (for those existents which exist below prakriti) b) leaves knowledge of divine awareness, but veils ability to act freely (those staying above maya tattva).
  2. Maayiiya mala: maya and the five kanchukas. Makes oblivious to real nature. Robs all sign of divinity. Veils only those below Prakriti.
  3. Karma mala: Provides us with physical body. Collective residual impressions from past lives. Once karma mala defiles Shiva in his descent, embodies individuals are created, known as sakalas. There are four kinds of karma: a) Sanchita: accumulated over many lifetimes. b) Prarabha: Created in this current life c) Kriyamana: freedom to change our current life situation. d) Agama: free will to set an intention for future action.

Five Kanchukas:

The kanchukas are sometimes called the five sisters of Mayadevi are like five cloaks worn by Shiva in order to mask his true nature from himself. It’s essentially thru the kanchukas that the all powerful is capable of making a stone so large that even he cannot lift it. He does this by masking his true nature from himself. Once conscious force individualizes itself thru anavamala and maya, it takes on five more cloaks in order to transform each of the five divine powers into five limited individual powers belonging to the individual soul. From this perspective we could say that maya is actually the core of our innermost individual micro-soul; from her we seek out our mega-soul for redemption.

30. Kalaa: Contracted kriya shakti. Limits Shiva’s power and creative abilities so that one cannot do everything. Limits omnipotence and the power of agency.

29. Vidya: Contracted jnana shakti. Limits Shiva’s knowledge so that one cannot know everything. Limits omniscience.

28. Raga: Contracted iccha shakti. Limits Shiva’s sense of fullness and gives craving, desire and attachment.

27. Kaala: Contracted ananda shakti. Limits Shiva in time and space making us subject to change, death and decay.

26. Niyati: Contracted cit shakti. Limits Shiva thru cause and effect, the necessity that one thing follows another.

As Shiva makes himself into an individual in order to express his freedom, he scales back, contracts, or limits his universal power thru maya and the five kanchukas (Mayadevi and her five sisters). This leads to two main kinds of impurity (mala).

1. Paurusa ajnana: innate ignorance regarding the self. We dont know who we really are.

2. Bauddha ajnana: Ignorance of buddhi. We don’t even don’t know that this knowledge is actually inside of ourselves.

Asuddha vikalpas are the ideas, thought constructs, irrational psychological responses that make us think we are this body. Replacing ajnana (incorrect knowledge) with jnana (pure knowledge) is one of the main goals of Kashmiri Shaivism & philosophical and spiritual practice generally.

Atma Tattvas: The microcosmic mirror of the subtle macrocosm described above begins here. What follows are the traits of individuals with limited powers who are distinct from other individuals with limited powers.

25. Purusha: This is the individual soul; the individual subject mirroring the universal subject.

24. Prakriti: Prakriti provides Purusha with everything he needs for enjoyment. The physical body, karmendriyas, jnanaindriyas and the rest of the next 23 tattva. The three gunas (sattvic, tamas, rajas) constitute prakriti. Possessing gunas is a property of being the object of experience which depends on an experiencer. Three modes of activity of shakti are mirrored in prakriti in their limited form: will, knowledge & activity (iccha, governed by rajas; jnana, governed by sattva; and kriya, governed by tamas).
Instruments of cognition:

Also called the Antarkarana/Inner Instrument or Chitta/consciousness of the individual

23. Buddhi – Intelligence/Discrimination. Sattvic
Buddhi is the abode of prana-shakti. From here it flows thru the different parts of the body via the nadis. Locus of every experience. It is considered the contracted power of jnana shakti and thus it’s a sattvic element. Righteousness is said to reside here in the form of our conscious

Five kinds of pranavayu: 1. Prana (moves outward as do the sense organs) 2. Aapana (moves downward as with elimination) 3. Udaana (upwards as with speech) 4. Vyaana (expansion in all directions as does the movement of our limbs), 5. Samaana: (Inwards as when we meditation turning our awareness inward to a center point).

22. Ahamkara – Ego/ I-maker. Rajas.

This is where the ego connects with objective activity attributing the source of thoughts and actions to oneself (ones own limited being). This is the principle of individuality cut off from the higher tattva

21. Manas – Mind. Tamas. This is the place where thoughts are created and weighed against each other. Instrument of rationality. Supervises and controls the karmindriya, jnanendriyas, and tanmatras.
Jnana Indriyas 16 – 20: the sense faculties for knowledge. Representing the sattvic functions of the mind (manas).

20. Sense of hearing: function of the ear.

19. Sense of touch: function of the skin.

18. Sense of seeing: function of the eyes.

17. Sense of taste: Function of the tongue.

16. Sense of smell: Function of the nose.
Karma Indriyas 11 – 15: Organs of action. Representing the rajasic functions of the mind (manas).

15. Power of speech: Functions thru the mouth and vocal cords

14. Power to grasp objects: Functions thru the hands, arms and fingers

13. Locomotion: functions thru the legs and feet.

12. Power of procreation: functions thru internal and external sex organs.

11. Excretion: functions thru the excretory organs of the pelvic bowl especially the anus.
Tanmatras 6 – 10: the five subtle elements. Representing the tamasic functions of the mind (manas).

These are the objects of the sense. The sound itself. The feel of what is touched, the form of what is seen, the flavor of what is tasted, and the odour that is smelled. Tantra suggests that sounds evolves from hearing, and form evolves from sight. This is how the world is projected from within.

10. Sound:

9. Touch/Feel

8. Form

7. Taste/Flavour

6. Odour
Mahabhuta 1 – 5: the primary elements

5. Ether: Expansive, space, emptiness, vacuum. This tattva is not itself manifest, but is the supports the other tattva by providing space for their existence. Symbolized the unseeable, unknowable spirit which both transcends reality and is immanent in reality; permeating every aspect of all that is knowable and not. Relates with the vissudhi chakra.

4. Air: Movement and mobility, dry subtle, rising. It can easily penetrate everywhere (filling the void of space). We recognize it most distinctly in our breath and it is the vehicle for prana, vital energy. Relates with the Anahata chakra.

3. Fire: Transformation, hot, sharp, dynamic. Represents the masculine principle of dynamism, extroversion, passion and aggression. Also relates to the digestive fire and the intellectual fire. Relates with the Manipura chakra and thus with prakash, divine illumination.

2. Water: Fluid, liquid, cool. Represents the feminine principle and is passive and can assume any form. Water purifies and dissolves, and it relates with sexuality and birth. Relates to Svadhisthana chakra and thus represents the flow of linear time.

1. Earth: All of the tattva are fully manifest in earth. It is the most dense, the heaviest, the most solid and grounded of the tattva. Related with Mother Earth principle of patience, creativity, sustenance; as well as the lunar principle of progression, rhythm and change. It’s often said that Shiva loves this tattva the most because this is the limit of his contraction. In it’s relationship with muladhara chakra this is the residence of kundalini.

The connection between the primary elements and the tattva looks something like this.

Ether – Sound – Speech – Hearing — Jupiter — Prana — HAM — Crystal Clear disk — Eyebrows to top of head — Cit — Om hraum sadashivaya akashadhipataye shantyateetakalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Air – Touch – Grasping – Touch — Saturn –– Apana YAM — Six sided/six circles smokey grey or grey blue — Heart to Eyebrows — Ananda — Om hraim ishanaya vayuvydhipataye shantikalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Fire – Form – Locomotion – Sight — Mars — Vyana RAM — Red Triangle — Navel to Heart — Iccha — Om hrum rudrya tejodhipataye vidyakalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Water – Taste – Procreation – Taste — Venus — Udana– VAM — White Crescent moon — knees to navel — Jnana — Om hrim vishnave jaladhipataye pratisthakalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Earth – Odour – Excretion – Smell — Mercury — Samana — Anus — Dhananjaaya: remains in the corpse until it’s burned — LAM — Yellow Square — Feet to knees — Kriya — Om hraum brahmane prithvidhipataye nivrittikalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Photo from Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis

The Shaivist conception of these tattva has Shiva constantly evolving and devolving thru the tattva. Shiva is the eternal subject, the first illuminator, the first enjoyer. His movement thru the tattva an expression of his joy. This movement has many names (spanda, wave, force and it shows his movement from Shiva tattva to earth and back to Shiva tattva. The process of creation and destruction going on continually. But even this is not as it seems. Most of us would assume destruction is happening as Shiva makes his way back to himself, but actually earth will be the first to die. Being fully manifest puts us most solidly in the world of death, sorrow and suffering. This is where all this fire and brimstone of kali and Shiva’s burning ghats comes from.

So, when we turn our attention, thus identifying with the body (the earth), we will surely only know suffering, change, confusion and lack of control. When we turn our attention, and thus our personal identification inwards we limit that suffering step by step. Getting past the mind and the emotional being is one of the greatest hurdles. Only matched by the struggle a young yogi will go thru to get past their ego (ahamkara).

The ego is an important topic for discussion in tantra. Shiva is essentially a supreme egoity; the self of all selves. The purusha is ones individual soul; this is certainly a big part of who we are. And then we have the ahamkara which is who we think we are. These are like three levels of ego: The ahamkara is the ego which is cut off from inner truths; it only sees what is on the surface. The purusha is that ego which understands our connection to the universal. People who strongly identify with their individual soul approach life as an instrument of the divine. This is the beginning of saintliness. But only one who has fully realized their divine nature as all of this whole universe will experience Shiva’s true freedom (svatantriya).

This is a little like saying that there is more than one truth, though they might each seem to be incompatible with the other truths. A big part of our job as yogis is to assimilate such contradictory truths and ultimately experience the illumination of this world thru each lens. It’s not that the world of this body and these sensual desires is not true, but it represents a limited truth; a tamasic, impure truth. The truth of our individual soul is quite another level of truth which represents a rajasic truth, which manages to be both pure and impure. Only the highest truth is truly pure and sattvic, but this does not negate the others. Shiva is fully present in each of the tattva. His illumination shines from everywhere. From whichever perspective we take, we can recognize Shiva and realize ourselves as that infinite being of all being.

Short Bibliography

The Advaita Saiva Philosophy of Kashmir, by Debarata Sensharma

The Philosophical and Practical Aspects of Kashmiri Saivism, By Pandit

Tantra Illuminated, by Christopher Wallis

Aphorisms of Shiva, translated by Mark Dyczkowski

Tattwa Shuddhi, by S. Saraswati (Bihar School)

Vedic Remedies in Astrology, Sanjay Rath

Painting of “Sri Yantra” by Tania Satori (used with permission) see tania_vaculty on Instagram.