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The entire universe consists of various manifestations of God (the Universal Consciousness) which together form the basis of all our experiences. As these are just forms of Brahman - Ultimate Reality, they are themselves called primary realities, principles or categories of existence. In short, Tattvas.

The transformation of the spirit, pure consciousness, or Paramatma (Supreme Atma or Soul) through a cascade of tattvas from spirit through knowledge to lesser consciousness to matter is depicted here as an evolutionary process and the tattvas measure the distance between individual soul and matter on the distal end and pure consciousness on the proximal end.

The ancient Indian scriptures and the different schools of Indian thought analyse the process of universal emanation in their own unique ways. They are briefly described as follows.

Tattva Number
Shaivism 36
Vaishnavism 3. also 5 acc. to Gaudapada
Suddha 5
Suddhaasuddha 7
Asuddha 24

5 Suddha Tattvas

Actinic or Pure Spiritual Energy

1. Shiva-Tattva: As the Universe is the creation of God's Own Mind (the Supreme Intelligence), the first Reality or Tattva naturally is God (Shiva) Himself. This level of Reality consists of Pure, Infinite Consciousness.

2. Shakti-Tattva: The second level of Reality is that of Pure, Infinite Bliss which is the Power whereby God experiences the Boundless Joy of His Own Existence. For this reason it is known as Shakti-Tattva, the Principle or Category of Power.

3. Sadashiva-Tattva: The third level is that of Pure, Infinite Will-Power, being the Power whereby God experiences Himself as an Unlimited, Independent Force that is ready and able to perform any action He wishes. At this stage God forms the resolve to bring His Power of Creation into operation.

4. Ishvara-Tattva: The fourth level represents God's Power of Pure, Infinite Knowledge whereby He is able to know all things. At this stage God begins to conceive in His Mind the Universe to be created.

5. Satvidya-Tattva: The fifth level is that of Pure, Infinite Action. At this stage, the Divine Power of Action which is the Power whereby God may assume, or manifest Himself as, any form or shape, comes into operation. Up to and including this stage, Creation is Ideal in the sense that it is very much one with the Mind of God just as a thought or idea is one with the mind of the person who conceives it. The Universe at this level is purely Spiritual and is inhabited by Spiritual Beings such as Gods (Angels), Enlightened Yogis (Siddhas), Sages (Rishis) and Saints (Sadhus) who are consciously aware of their Oneness with their Creator. These evolved Souls are beings of great Spiritual power. Although they may assume any form and shape they wish, they have no bodies but may be described as radiant Orbs of Spirit for which reason they are known as Devas or Devatas (Radiant Ones).

7 Suddhaasuddha Tattvas

Actinodic or Spiritual-Magnetic Energy

6. Maya-Tattva: This is God's Wondrous Power, that aspect of His Power of Action, whereby He performs the Miracle of Physical Creation. For this reason it is called the Magic Power of God or Maya Shakti. At this stage something extraordinary happens. Just as the Sun is sometimes obscured by an eclipse or by a mist or cloud which conceals his radiant orb from human view, God's Infinite, Independent and Free Consciousness appears to become obscured by a layer of dense and opaque Consciousness. This dark veil of Consciousness provides the substance from which the Material Universe is created.

Thus, as the Sun envelops himself in clouds which produce rain which nourishes different forms of life, so also God obscures His Own Infinite Majesty and Glory and appears as, or manifests, the Material Universe teeming with innumerable forms of limited life.

Just as the Sun hides himself from human view by night in order to reveal the Stars and the Moon, so also God conceals His Highest Glory so that man may see the wonders of His Creation and understand the true Power of God.

7. Kalaa-Tattva: Due to God's Power of Obscuration His Five Divine Powers (Consciousness, Bliss, Will-Power, Knowledge and Action) assume limited forms giving rise to the first stage in limited creation, called Kalaa-Tattva. It represents the limited power of action whereby an embodied being is able to accomplish but a few things.

8. Vidya-Tattva: This is the stage at which the power of knowledge associated with a sentient creature is limited so that he can only know a few things.

9. Raaga-Tattva: At this stage a living being's will-power becomes limited so that he only desires limited things.

10. Kaala-Tattva: This is that stage at which a Soul's unlimited and uninterrupted happiness becomes temporary and limited. This temporariness gives rise to the experience of limited time.

11. Niyati-Tattva: This is the stage at which the Soul's consciousness becomes so limited as for him to have only a limited experience of himself.

12. Purusha-Tattva: This is the crucial point at which Consciousness, having become limited, comes into existence as an embodied Soul, complete with the above mentioned limited powers of consciousness, happiness, will, knowledge and action. Hence it is known as Purusha or personal Soul.

24 Asuddha Tattvas

Odic or Gross-Magnetic Energy

13. Pradhana-Tattva: Also known as Prakrti, it represents that aspect of the Soul which, following the limitation of his consciousness, becomes unconscious and forms the Soul's first objective experience. For this reason it is called Pradhana or Primary Matter from which all objective experience arises.

Pradhana consists of the three qualities (Gunas) of Light (Sattva), Darkness (Tamas) and Activity (Rajas), the last-named being the interaction of the first two. They are experienced as pleasure, insentience and pain, respectively and together represent the sum total of the Soul's future experiences such as thoughts, emotions and sense perceptions, resting within himself in potential form.

Pradhana corresponds to what Western psychology terms a person's "unconscious". While every Soul has his own Pradhana (or Unconscious), the Collective Unconscious is nothing but the Mind of God which is unknown and therefore "unconscious" to the personal Soul.

14. Buddhi-Tattva: This is the first product of Pradhana, formed from its light-aspect (Sattva), in which both Soul and his experiences reflect themselves as in a mirror, resulting in thought processes. In everyday life, Buddhi constitutes a Soul's Intellect or Power of Reasoning whereby he analyses his experiences and forms a judgement in respect of the same.

15. Ahamkara-Tattva: The offshoot of Buddhi-Tattva, it represents the Power of Personality or Identity whereby the Soul creates or builds a sense of Identity for himself out of sense perceptions, emotions, thoughts and memories. Hence it is called Ahamkara or "I-maker".

16. Manas-Tattva: The Lower Mind (as opposed to the Intellect or Higher Mind) whereby the Soul selects sense perceptions out of the general sense data, builds them into intelligible images, names and classifies them and presents them to the higher levels of the mind for further processing.

For the sake of convenience, the remaining 20 Tattvas are dealt with in groups of five.

Tattvas 17 to 21.The Five Faculties of Perception (Jnanendriyas)

17. srotra tattva: hearing (ears)

18. tvak tattva: touching (skin)

19. chakshu tattva: seeing (eyes)

20. rasanâ tattva: tasting (tongue)

21. ghrâna tattva: smelling (nose)

Hearing, Feeling by Touch, Seeing, Tasting and Smelling are the Soul's Powers of Perceptual Knowledge and extensions of the Lower Mind, whereby the Soul experiences the multitude of sense perceptions that constitute the external World.

Tattvas 22 to 26. The Five Faculties of Action (Karmendriyas)

22. vâk tattva: speech (voice)

23. pâni tattva: grasping (hands)

24. pâda tattva: walking (feet)

25. pâyu tattva: excretion (anus)

26. upastha tattva: procreation (genitals)

Speaking, Grasping, Moving About, Excreting and Sexual Activities are the Soul's Powers of responding to and interacting with, the external World.

Tattvas 27 to 31. The Five Primary Sensations (Tanmatras)

27. sabdha tattva: sound

28. sparsa tattva: feel/palpation

29. rûpa tattva: form

30. rasa tattva: taste

31. Gandha tattva: odor

Sound, Touch, Colour, Flavour and Odour constitute the Soul's sense data that together form his external experiences.

Tattvas 32 to 36. The Five Gross Elements of Matter (Maha Bhutas)

32. âkâsa tattva: ether

33. vâyu tattva: air

34. tejas tattva: fire

35. âpas tattva: water

36. prithivî tattva: earth

Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth are condensations of the above described Primary Sensations. They represent the constituent forces that in various combinations make up the material substance of which physical objects are made. For example, that which gives solidity to an object, belongs to the Earth-Tattva. That which gives fluidity belongs to the Water-Tattva. That which gives form and shape belongs to Fire. That which gives movement belongs to Air. And that which gives location and extension in space (i.e., size, direction, etc.) belongs to Ether.

Due to variation in their materiality or subtlety, the Gross Tattvas are perceived variously. Earth is perceived by its qualities of odour, taste, colour, feel and sound; Water by its qualities of taste, colour, feel and sound; Fire by its qualities of colour, feel and sound; Air by its qualities of feel and sound; and Ether, being the most subtle, is perceived by its quality of sound, only.

What becomes evident from the above is that the Tattvas are defined by their exclusive capacity to perform a specific function in the scheme of reality. And as the sole agent or acting force is Consciousness, it follows that the Tattvas are nothing but functions of Consciousness.