Thirty Six Elements (Tattvas)

-Swami Lakshman Joo

"To begin with I will explain to you the nature of that which is known as the tattvas or elements. In Vedanta we are told that there are only twenty five tattvas, however in Saivism we know that there are really thirty six tattvas. These thirty six tattvas are the most important points for entering into Saivism.

I will give the explanation of the tattvas in the way of rising and not coming down. We must rise up to Parama Siva. I like rising, I do not like coming down, so we must rise. I will, therefore, explain the grossest element 'earth' first and proceed to explain subtler and subtler elements until we reach the subtlest element, the finest, which is Parama Siva."

36 Elements
Panca Mahabhutas - Five Great Elements

prithvi - earth
jala/Apas - water
tejas - fire
vAyu - air
AkAsa - ether

Panca Tanmatras - Five Subtle Elements

gandha - smell
rasa - taste
rUpa - form
sparsa - touch
shabda - sound

Panca Karmendriyas - Five organs of Action

upastha - creative organ/genitals
pAyu - excretory
pAda - foot
pAni - hand
vAk - speech/tongue

Panca Jnanendriyas - Five organs of Cognition

ghrAna - nose, organ of smelling
rasanA = tongue, organ of tasting
caksu - eye, organ of seeing
tvak - skin, organ of touching
srotra - ear, organ of hearing

Antahkaranas - Three internal organs

manas - mind
buddhi - intellect
ahamkAra - ego connected with objectivity
prakriti - nature
purusa - ego connected with subjectivity

Sat kancukas - Six Coverings

niyati - limitation of place
kAla - limitation of time
rAga - limitation of attachment
vidyA - limitation of knowledge
kalA - creativity
mAya - illusion of individuality

Suddha Tattvas - Pure Elements

suddha vidya - 'I'ness in Iness, 'This'ness in Thisness
Isvara - Thisness in Iness
sadAsiva - Iness in Thisness
sakti - Iness
siva - Iness (Being)


Man and God

"Man knows himself to be a living being and calls death that mysterious process wherein that something, which he commonly designates as the breath of life, is withdrawn. On its withdrawal, the form disintegrates. The cohesive vitalizing force is gone, and this produces that falling apart into its essential elements of that which has hitherto been regarded as the body."

"This life principle, this basic essential of being and this mysterious elusive factor is the correspondence in man of that which we call spirit or life in the macrocosm. Just as the life in man holds together, animates, vitalizes and drives into activity the form and so makes of him a living being, so the life of God - as the Christian calls it - performs the same purpose in the universe and produces that coherent, living, vital ensemble which we call a solar system."

- Master D.K


Mantra and Vidya

Mantras may be classified according to the number of syllables they contain:

Pinda = Mono-syllabled mantras
Kartari = 2 syllables
Bija = 3 to 9 syllables
Mantra = 10 to 20 syllables
Mala = 20+ syllables

The difference between a mantra and a vidya is that the former is addressed to male deities and the latter to female deities.

Bala Tripurasundari


(An excellent article on mantra sadhana reproduced from www.kamakotimandali.com).

A human being is composed of five layers: the sthUla sharIra (the gross physical body), li~Nga sharIra (the etheric body), sUkShma sharIra (the astral body), kAma sharIra (the mental body) and kAraNa sharIra (the causal body). parAshakti pervades and illuminates all these bodies through different aspects of prANa assimilated through different mechanisms e.g. breathing for the sthUla sharIra. The energetic link between the lower and higher bodies is the breath or prANa and the path to transcendence lies in its neutralization. Every technique of upAsanA is in one way or the other aimed at modifying the breath current or prANa so as to refine it and intensify awareness of the subtle and inner breath currents connected with the higher bodies. The simplest way to accomplish the same is through the might of unmoving attention directed towards an external or internal object, breath itself being an important option. The acts of silencing the mind and the breath are interconnected and mantra is an important way to accomplish both. The generally chaotic mind is regulated through powerful waves of energy generated by the mantra and the focused attention of the sAdhaka on the mantra or iShTa acts as a means to sublimate the breath and the mind.
A quick parallel one would now think of would be the Buddhist practice of Shamata, practiced commonly through techniques such as Zazen, Anapanasati etc. Buddhist votaries such as Shinzen Young go on to describe the superiority of mindfulness methods over mantras with the assumption that mantras completely fit the definition of Buddhist samata, its practice and goal. That however is not completely true. Mantra practice accomplishes not only the shamata aspect (i.e. the cessation of thoughts resulting in trance or absorptive states on account of mindfulness or attention to breath or another object) but more. While the shamata-vipassana categories of meditation focus on the now, mantra has the capability to transform the now and hence everything else. The prevailing conditions before and after the perfecting of a mantra are not the same and that is the key difference between mantra-based and simple mindfulness practices. With shamata/vipassana kind of practices, you observe things as they are, but with an activated mantra, things are as you want to be or how they should be. The transformative effect of the mantra should not be underestimated.
The generally chaotic mind has its own pattern of radiation and energetic imagery, and that keeps changing infinitely. Similarly, mantra, which has an energetic mind of its own, also has a specific energetic pattern associated with it. This pattern is generally traceable to a deity or a seer associated with the mantra. As the mantra is repeated over and over in the mind, more importantly with utmost mindfulness, the ripples of energy produced in the mind by the mantra slowly begin to transform the energetic make of the subtle bodies, molding them to resemble the energetic make of the mantra, and eventually of the deity represented by the mantra. While the tamo guNa of parAshakti acts chiefly on the sthUla sharIra, rajas or activity characterizes the astral and mental bodies, making them active and restless. By using focused attention and the energy generated by the mantra together, one is able to effectively neutralize the chaos of these bodies, integrate them and gain access to the causal realms. The state of unmanI is the goal of both mantra and prANAyAma if one analyzes both carefully.
For those that would like to approach deities or devatAs neutrally, these can be viewed as archetypes of energy existing at the higher causal realm. Mantras, when received through a lineage master via dIkShA, establishes a link to this archetype and recitation further strengthens this link, eventually allowing the sAdhaka to use the archetype as a vehicle to ascend to higher realms of formlessness. The same is true w.r.t nAmasmaraNa as reciting the names of great avatAras such as rAma, krShNa or nrSimha allows access to those archetypes.
The kind of mantra one picks for recitation is also of significance. For example, the bIja mantras, mahAvidyA-s etc. have an embedded energy structure in them that link them to the archetype without the need for a specific intent. Let’s say a person receives the mantra of jagadambA kAlI from sadguru and recites it regularly as taught. Firstly, the act of dIkShA establishes the link to the archetype (which is kAlI) here and the practice of mantra intensifies this link. Even if there is no specific intent on the part of the sAdhaka to imagine kAlI, meditate on her specific form and request to connect with her, all that happens automatically due to the inherent energy field embedded within the mantra. When the intensity of the mantra is heightened to a suitable level, the archetype or deity begins to reveal herself to the sAdhaka in all her glory. Intention or contemplation, if used along, amplifies the practice. bIja mantras are prelingual sounds which transcend the boundaries of fixed sound, concept or meaning. On account of this, their nature cannot be completely comprehended and conveyed through words or thoughts that are limited by a fixed scope. bIja represents purity of the divine thought expressed as nAda that pre-dates language as we know today. Lord parashurAma hence qualifies the power of bIja mantras as simply achintya or unimaginable.
In the case of nAma smaraNa, the phonetics of the mantra may not have direct connection with the associated divine archetype, but the intention and mental association on the part of the sAdhaka does the trick. When the name of a certain archetype like an avatAra or a siddha is invoked, the essence or energy of the corresponding archetype is awakened in the sAdhaka, serving as a catalyst to allow the deity to come forth in its higher spiritual significance. When both the embedded phonetic of the bIja mantra and the intent to connect to the divine archetype (as in the case of nAma-mantra) are combined, the results are phenomenal.
Every deity is roughly an energetic pattern within the Universal Mind of parAshakti and it is that Supreme Source one is trying to connect to through these archetypes. In the case of impersonal and passive techniques such as AnApAna or zazen, this entire piece of ascension through the archetypical energy-vehicle is absent. Though the TheravAdins fail to note that, the practitioners of vajrayAna and mantrayAna borrow this knowledge from their Brahmin counterparts and attach great importance to mantra and deity practices. Those with an appropriate level of clairvoyance can psychically see the effect of a mantra when recited – the etheric form of the associated archetype, the color and intensity of the energy radiated etc. It is also easy to note that though different archetypes or deities are all impressions within the one Universal Mind of the paramAtman, they have very specific structures in the domain of names and forms and hence grant different fruits at different speeds. samskAra/vAsanA determines the affinity of an upAsaka to a particular archetype and the degree of success in connecting to it. The mind of the sAdhaka (through the transformation of the underlying subtle bodies) is replaced by the luminescence of the deity or archetype as a result of dedicated upAsanA and one gradually accesses the Universal Mind through the archetype.
However, for the deity or devatA to manifest within the mind or subtle bodies, relying merely on the phonetics of the mantra is quite insufficient except when the mantra embeds in itself a massive energy imprint or is imparted fully energized by the Master. An example would be the ucChiShTa gaNesha mantra which requires no samkalpa, dhyAna, nyAsa etc. for siddhi and can be perfected merely through the power of phonetics when the mantra is received through authentic dIkShA. In most other cases however, focused attention on the mantra and thus on the deity are required without which the phonetics alone do not generate sufficient energy to manifest the archetype within the subtle bodies. Various techniques such as nyAsa, maNDala dhyAna, akShamAlA etc. serve the purpose of attaining focused and sustained attention on the mantra and hence regulate the breath and energy bodies. The ultimate siddhi of the mantra is when the lower mind of the upAsaka and the higher mind of the archetype of the deity (which serves as a vehicle for ascension or transcendence) are both dissolved into the Universal Mind of the paramAtman like a wave that arose and subsided, realizing the state of abheda with the One. At the brim of savikalpa samAdhi, the state of the lower-causal consciousness is reached and the archetypal deity, which is now identified as one’s own Higher-self, dissolves into the Supreme One, with the current state of subtle audible-luminosity of the mantra transforming into grand silence and self-luminescence. The self, which moved through a series of identifications starting with the body, thoughts, mind, subconscious mind, higher self/deity etc. is eventually revealed to itself as The Supreme and the final perfection is attained. Some may choose to describe a further stage where the Supreme or God-Self is also dissolved into formlessness or its own essence or ground (bhUmi) resulting in no deity, no meditator, no meditation, no mantra, or an awareness of the absence of any of these! This is described as pUrNa brahma, mahA-shUnya, the great radiance etc.
At some level, mantra does not differ much from the process of tattva-vichAra or self-enquiry. It is frequently pointed out by vedAntins and the likes that one would need to indulge in exclusive tattva vichAra after reaching a certain level through the mantra. This, however, is neither true nor representative of the true intent of the seers of mantra yoga. The mantra begins by acting on the coarse thoughts, regulating them and facilitating the sAdhaka to look beyond them. Due to the radiance of the mantra and the effect of focused attention, the increased vibratory state of the sAdhaka enables him to look behind the thoughts, at the screen or canvas of the mind on which the various thoughts appear and disappear. The awareness, riding the energetic vehicle of the radiance of the mantra, progresses to the subconscious and further towards the mind itself, noting its movements and activities as a witness. Thus, one progresses from being unaware to being aware of the thoughts, followed by a stage of identifying the self with the thoughts and eventually identifying oneself with the mind. The first spark of mantra-siddhi is kindled at this stage and the transformative effects of the mantra on the sUkShma, linga and kAma sharIras become evident. With further kindling of the mantra chaitanya, limited identification with the lower mind is lost and a sense of identification with the deity’s Higher Mind becomes established, eventually leading to the dissolution of mind-concept. With each progressive step, the activity of the mantra also begins to sublimate and refine, at some point resulting in a state where nothing but the awareness remains. When all that remains is undifferentiated awareness, one is awakened to the truth that all that is – is the Universal Mind. This can be described as the highest level of shaktyaNDa. There is yet another step to ascend to achieve complete non-differentiation and that involves the sUtrAtman. That being a pathless path and requiring no paraphernalia of the physical, mental or energetic worlds, there is not much one can write about it here. Once you get there, you know what needs to be done. It is this stage that the great avadhUtas refer to when speaking of no path, no activity and no doing. Till that point, there is doing, there is a path and there is activity – gross and refined, internal and external.
A few words on dIkSha is necessary here. The act of planting the seed is what dIkShA is all about and the birth of the baby or the first sprout from the seed is the initial sign of mantra siddhi. Without dIkShA, no amount of tilling, watering or fertilizers help as the seed capable of germination is missing to start with. As evident, the entire process of mantrayAna or the vehicle of mantra follows a systematic step-by-step process i.e. is krama-baddha. Based on the needs of the upAsaka, multiple mantras may be used to facilitate the ascension of the consciousness through the different levels or energy bodies, as in the case of krama path involving specific mantras at specific stages. For example, when the consciousness enters the ‘dark night of the soul’, the samayeshvarI named kAlarAtrikA is invoked to transform darkness into luminescence by first identifying the self with the darkness and using the deity-archetype to achieve the required transformation. Some mantras are relevant at certain planes whereas others are multi-dimensional; they reveal a new aspect of reality at every plane and can lead the sAdhaka from the beginning to the end. The four mantras that can be quoted as belonging to this category are kAlikA, ShoDashI, praNava and prAsAda (specifically parA-prAsAda and prAsAda-parA) or the shAmbhavAmnAya manus to be specific. When the sAdhaka goes through the difficult stage of kR^ipAshUnyAvasthA where one’s Karma are burnt by a state of complete absence of the iShTa’s grace, one is able to surge forward to higher energetic realms propelled by guNa, shIla and the bala of earlier upAsanA (i.e. virtue and merit of practice).

Siva & Sakti

The priciple of siva as the first evolute, is differentiated from the ultimate principle of pure and transcendental consciousness (para-samvit) in that it is the principle of active consciousness (chit), providing the subjective framework in all experience (viz. the notion of 'I', aham), without however any involvement of the objective context (Only the subject 'I' exists and the object 'this/that' is entirely absent). The principle of sakti on the other hand, evolving directly from the principle of siva, is the cosmic energy which defines the objective context (viz. the notion of 'This', idam). The phenomenal projection actually proceeds from the principle of sakti (who is therefore described as the mother-goddess, mAtA) as the three modalities of energy: 'inclination' (iccha), 'awareness' (jnana) and 'action' (kriya).

The principles of siva and sakti are undistinguished, and occur in perfect harmony in the ultimate state of cosmic dissolution (samhAra or pralaya). During creation (srshti), however, the bipolarity of the 'I' and 'This' (the functions respectively of the principles of siva and sakti) tends to become maximized; and during preservation (sthithi) the dichotomy is strictly maintained. The twin functions resulting from this polarity are 'illumination' (prakAsa) and deliberation ('vimarsa'), which pervade the entirety of phenomenal reality as well as the transactional experience of all living beings. The relation between the two principles is likened to that of the lamp and its light. The rays of light proceeding in all directions are responsible for the cosmic evolution in terms of thirty-six categories.