Vedanta, through the grace of Mother Sruti (scripture), enables us to realize our True Self, as the Absolute Truth. By definition, the Absolute is the changeless substratum, non dual and un-negatable (or else, it would be relative to another Truth). However, we experience ourselves as changing, mortal and limited. This is a layman’s perception, which gets corrected through the study of the Sruti, culminating in establishing us in our Absolute nature.
To understand this and to correct our fallacy, it becomes necessary to use the method of discrimination (separating the Real from the unreal), as prescribed in the text, so that we can rediscover ourselves as the Source and not just as a part of creation. Therefore it becomes important to establish what is unreal, in order to reach that which is Real and un-negatable. The process Vedanta uses is called neti – neti, which is to negate all that is in creation- all that is clearly seen to be changing, impermanent and transient and to assert the Truth. It is here that the theory of creation accepted by Vedanta for the sake of discrimination, is to be understood.
Our understanding of creation is ‘what can be seen’. What we see is the gross world. The subtle can only be inferred. What is seen is on account of the combination of the five elements – space, air, fire, water and earth. The question then arises, in what substratum are these five elements rooted? Vedanta offers an analysis based on the principle of cause and effect (karana – karya).
The primary cause of creation we are told is, prakriti or matter. It is the very root of creation and therefore unmanifest. Its effect and first manifestation is mahatattwa (the total mind or intellect). The mahatattwa is the cause of ahankara (ego) and that becomes the cause for the five elements in their purest or subtle form. At this stage everything is subtle and not gross and so not perceptible to our senses. It is these five elements that become the very cause of our senses and everything thereafter.
[Prakriti – Mahatattwa – Ahankara – Five Elements]
In prakriti or the unmanifest, the three gunas or attributes in creation: sattwa (gyan shakti or power of knowledge), rajas (kriya shakti or power of action) and tamas (sthaaitwa shakti or power of grossification) are in an undisturbed state.
The first disturbance or vibration gives birth to mahatattwa, followed by ahankara and then the five elements, not yet in a gross stage but subtle.
Through each effect the gunas get manifested to a greater degree. Creation ends here. After the five elements are manifested there is no more creation. So the five elements remain the final effect and do not in turn become the cause for anything else. What we see as the gross world is then, the permutation and combination of these five elements only. In Vedanta, this is referred to as “vikaar” or modification.
In their pure form, the five elements are referred to as tanmatras. These are experienced as sound, touch, sight, taste and smell. This experience takes place through our gyan indriyas or organs of perception. Each indriya (sense) is made of the sattwaguna of each element, still apanchikrit, ie.uncompounded – in its original element, which is not yet split to combine with other elements. Therefore it helps us to experience the quality of that element. For example, the sense of sight is only experienced through the eyes. The eyes cannot taste, touch, smell or hear.
The gyan indriyas (organs of perception), are called adhyatma, what they experience is called adhibhautik and their presiding deities are the adhidevas. The adhyatma is from sattwaguna, the adhideva is from rajoguna and the adhibhautik from tamoguna. Just as the gyan indriyas are made from the sattwaguna of the tanmatras, the karma indriyas and prana is made from the rajoguna of the tanmatras and the world of names and forms from the tamoguna of the tanmatras.
Even the karma indriyas and prana are classified as adhibhautik, adhyatmik and adhidevika.
See the following tables:
Elements Tanmatra Adhibhoot Adhyatma Adhideva
tamoguna sattwaguna rajoguna
Space Sound Objects of hearing Ears Direction
Air Touch Objects of touching Skin God of Air
Fire Sight Objects of seeing Eyes Sun
Water Taste Objects of tasting Tongue Varuna
Earth Smell Objects of smelling Nose Ashwinikumar
Elements Tanmatra Adhibhoot Adhyatma Adhideva
Space Sound To speak Tongue Fire
Air Touch To touch Hand Indra
Fire Sight To move Legs Upendra
Water Taste To create Reproductive organ Prajapati
Earth Smell To dispel Excretory organ Yama
Elements Tanmatra Adhibhoot Adhyatma Adhideva
Space Sound Circulatory system Vyaan
Air Touch Digestive system Samaan
Fire Sight Belch, sneeze, Udaan Exit of prana
Water Taste To enliven Prana
Earth Smell For excretion Apana
While each of the indriyas are made up of the apanchikrit individual element and hence through a particular indriya we can only experience a particular guna or do a particular act, the mind receives signals from all the indriyas and has all the five elements present but in an apanchikrit state.
While the mind where the signals from each sense organ of perception are received to give us the total experience, is made of the apanchikrit five elements; what it experiences through the sense organs of perception, as well as the object of its experience which is outside the mind, is also made of all the five elements but is panchikrit, i.e. compounded and a combination of the elements and is therefore gross.
The mind or antahkarana, is made from the sattwic guna of the five elements. One aspect of it is called the mind with its various thoughts, is therefore made of air and its presiding deity is the Moon. The other is the intellect and because it decides, it is made up of fire and its presiding deity is Brahma. The next aspect, the memory, which helps in contemplation or reliving experiences mentally, is made of water and its presiding deity is Narayana. Finally, the ego is made of earth and its presiding deity is Rudra. The very activation or sphurna of the mind is therefore from the element of space.
It is important to note here that even though the mind is separate from the sense organs of perception and sense organs of action and has both memory (cit) and creative power (intellect), it cannot function outside of what it gathers from the senses and therefore just as the senses are incapable of cognizing the Truth, the mind too by itself cannot comprehend the Truth.
This explanation tells us that the creation as we understand it, is a play of the five elements in their combined form. The gross world is the combination of the five tanmatras or the five elements in their purest form, and it is evident that the cause is always present within the effect. As we had already stated earlier that the creation is not the Truth, the object is not the subject, the seen is not the seer then, by the same logic, all preceding causes also get negated and cannot be the Truth. In simple language, something inert cannot be the cause or Source of the world.
For the five elements to be arranged in an organized way, the driving force is ahankara or the ego, which then is the cause of the five elements. For the ego to act in a deliberate and organized way, it must be contained in the intellect or the total mind here referred to as mahatattwa. The mahatattwa itself must rest in the unmanifest or prakriti (all manifestations spring from the unmanifest, like a tree from the seed). In this manner, from prakriti down to the five elements everything gets negated and nothing material and inert (jada) can be the source of this existing gross world.
Vedanta reiterates that the source of creation can never be matter. Because all that is in the realm of the known, is within the knower and in fact the division of known knower also gets negated in Pure Knowledge or Consciousness. The substratum therefore is Consciousness – without any division, without any parallel reality, without negation and completely sentient (caitanya).
If that is the Absolute Truth, to what do we attribute creation? The Truth is changeless, so the advaita masters introduced the concept of maya. It is maya that makes the one appear as many. It is because of maya that division is seen. The task for a seeker is to trace back from his or her current standpoint as a human being with a form, to where everything is resolved in Consciousness. It is only when this is clearly understood do we realize that the substratum of both, the manifest and unmanifest; is forever untouched by either and in which nothing was ever created or exists.
The study of the elements (panchmahabhutas) and their manifestation is unavoidable for any student of Vedanta in understanding the play of maya and how one can be free from its shackles. It is only when this is clearly realized, the illusory nature of creation is correctly understood and all that is to be negated is negated, to establish us in the One un- negatable Truth.
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