Panchatattva: The Five Elements, Matter is composed of !


Tantra stipulates that all matter is composed of a combination of five tattvas or bhutas, i.e. elements.

Shiva Swarodaya explains that “Creation takes place due to the five tattvas and by them, it is sustained”. In the Tantraraja Tantra, Shakti asks Shiva, “Where do all the tattvas exist, in the body or out of it?” Shiva replies that the tattvas permeate the entire body and mind. Everything you do and think is under the influence of this tattvas. Therefore, in yoga, it is necessary to know how the tattvas behave and in which manner they can be controlled and utilized.

The Five Tattvas are :

  • Akasha or Ether

  • Vayu or Air

  • Agni or Fire

  • Apas or Water

  • Prithvi or Earth.

However, these five tattvas should not be mistaken for physical or chemical elements. Prithvi is not the earth we see around us. Water is not the water we drink or bath with. Nor is the fire that which we burn to keep warm and so on. Rather they should be regarded as an effect of light and sound emanations which are created by different energy.

The science of astrology has confirmed that the first four of these tattvas or elements, earth, water, fire and air, have a major influence on our individuality, mind, emotions and destiny, but the most subtle and important element, i.e. ether, is responsible for Spiritual practice and attainment. However, the science of tantra and yoga, which has examined the tattvas in greater aspect, has evidently stated that man is composed of, and continuously subject to, the influence of this five tattvas.
The tantric texts enumerate an entire science of the tattvas, according to which a specialist can not only predict the future but also control the results accruing from his actions throughout the day. Of course, this should not be the aim for which we strive to attain this knowledge. It is the intimate connection between the tattvas and the entire structure of your life so that that it is even possible for you to change your destiny through tattva-jnana, i.e. knowledge of the elements. These five tattvas form part of a connected series in which each successive tattva is derived from its predecessor.

The first tattva to evolve is akasha, undifferentiated matter containing an infinite amount of potential energy. Therefore, akasha is the subtle state when both energy and matter exist in their dormant potential state in the bosom of consciousness.
As the energy inherent in the particles of akasha begins to vibrate, a movement is created and Vayu-tattva emerges in the form of air. The particles of Vayu have the supreme freedom of movement and, therefore, Vayu-tattva is seen as an all-pervading motion. Due to the too much movement of energy in Vayu, heat is generated, which acts as the source for the appearance of the next tattva, Agni.

In Agni tattva, the movement of energy is not more than that of Vayu-tattva. This less motion enables Agni tattva to dismiss its radioactive heat and thus cool into the apas or water tattva.
With the birth of apas tattva, the complete freedom of movement of Vayu tattva and the partial freedom of movement of Agni tattva are lost, and the particles of these elements are confined within a definite space, moving only within a small radius.It is common knowledge that water takes the shape of its container and is confined within it only. The last tattva, Prithvi, evolves out of a further decrease in energy vibration, which causes apas to solidify into Prithvi.
Here even the limited freedom of movement within apas is lost. Each particle of Prithvi has its own place, and any vibration is confined to the space it occupies.

Creation of matter through permutation and combination of all the tattvas.

In order to create matter, these five elements undergo a process of permutation and combination, which is a complex process of nature. Each element is divided into two equal parts. The second part of each element is further divided into four equal parts (i.e. one eight of the whole). Then the first part (one-half of the element) combines with one-eighth of each of the other four elements to constitute matter, i.e. half of ether combines with one-eighth of each of the other four elements and likewise the same process takes place with each of the elements.

This is known as the process of quintuplication, and after this, permutation and combination takes place. This process of converting subtle elements into the gross matter is termed as panchikara and is responsible for the physical body and the entire universe. It is stated that in the physical body these elements are present in the ratio 5:4:3:2:1 , Prithvi occupying a greater portion of the body, followed by water, fire, air and ether respectively, in lesser proportions. These proportions determine our individual physical, mental and spiritual capacity.
For the purpose of explanation, let us say that if you subtract or add some of the essential ingredients that combine to form a man, and slightly alter their permutation and combination, the result could well be an ape, an elephant or a goat who knows? The exact combinations and proportions of existent matter are known only to Nature and this has remained one of her secrets. If we are able to disclose this secret, it would not be long before the matter would be composed and destroyed in a laboratory by a scientist destroying the beauty of nature.

This is not hard to believe. The process of telephoto or satellite transmission is based on the same principle. In order to broadcast events from one country to another, they are transmitted, not ,as photographs, but as sound and light waves. Later these waves are reassembled to reproduce the exact picture which was transmitted. Very soon it may be possible to do the same with animate and inanimate objects.
For example, if you had to travel from earth to Jupiter (which is many light years away), you would first be transformed into light and sound waves, and after you reach your destination you will be reassembled into your own form. It sounds peculiar, but if you can clutch the concept, then it will be easy to understand exactly what your body is composed of and how it has condensed into the form that you recognize today.

In the plot of evolution, this five tattvas originated out of the tamas predominating tanmatras. A tanmatra is an abstract quality from which the tattva is originated.

Akasha is perceived through shabda tanmatra (sound)
Vayu is perceived through sparsha tanmatra (touch or feel)
Agni is perceived through roopa tanmatra (form or vision)
Apas is perceived through rasa tanmatra (taste)
Prithvi is perceived through gandha tanmatra (smell)

These tanmatras or root principles of sense perception are intricately correlated with the senses or indriyas with which they coordinate and act.
The indriyas are of two kinds:

Jnanendriyas (organs of cognition)
Karmendriyas (organs of action)

However, the indriyas are not adequate in themselves but are dependent on sankalpa/vikalpa, (selection and rejection), qualities of the mind. Moreover, the sensations produced through the indriyas are also subject to ahamkara, which identifies them as personal experience, and buddhi, which stores all experiences.
Thus all the tattvas should be regarded as an extension of pure consciousness and not as individual entities existing separately. It should be remembered that in the course of evolution, subtle states give rise to grosser states, and each grosser state has the preceding element as its cause. Thus, cause is an essential part of the effect.

Akasha tattva, which evolves from the akasha tanmatra, does not contain the qualities of the other four tattvas, as they are grosser than it.
Out of akasha evolves Vayu, which is made up of both akasha tanmatra and Vayu tanmatra.
From Vayu arises the tattva of Agni, which contains the akasha, Vayu and Agni tanmatras.
Agni later develops into apas, which contains akasha, Vayu, Agni and apas tanmatras.
In the last tattva, Prithvi, the qualities of all five tattvas are combined.

Thus it can be found that the qualities attributed to the tattvas are intermingled, and although each tattva has a predominant characteristic, it also imbibes a portion of the qualities of tattva from which it has evolved.

Ether has the quality of sound
Air has the quality of both sound and touch, although touch is dominant
Agni has form as its dominating quality, with traces of sound and touch.
Apas is taste dominated, but also has the qualities of sound, touch and form.
In Prithvi, though smell is the dominating quality, sound, touch, form and taste are also present.

Therefore, it is easy to ascertain that Prithvi, due to its wide range of sense perception, is the grossest tattva to perceive, and ether, which has only sound as its medium, is the subtlest.

These five tattvas, which makes up the total matter in your body, were reduced to their grossest form in your mother’s womb. Their grossness has to be refined, just as petroleum has to be refined into petrol. The aim of tattva shuddhi is to enable this refinement, so that the grossness of the tattvas is transformed into the experiences related to the subtler tattvas.
Just as a scientist is able to observe the minutest form of life under a microscope, similarly, in tattva shuddhi an aspirant is led to a world where matter is perceived, not in its dense form, but as consciousness.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is stated that every tattva has five characteristics, and in order to attain mastery over these tattvas, the aspirant has to practice samyama (a spontaneous combination of concentration, meditation and samadhi) on these characteristics.

Patanjali has termed this process as bhuta jaya or mastery over the elements.

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