The quest for understanding ourselves and the world around us is an ancient one. Among the most striking systems available to us is the TATTVAS, a graphic expression of the four obvious elements; earth, water, fire and air, as well as the hidden element; spirit, ether or life-force.
These symbols have their origin in the Tantric Yoga tradition. For ages they have been contemplated as a means of exploring and enhancing inner life, and as a model for understanding the physics of the Cosmos.
There are numerous commentaries on the play of the five elements among the world’s sacred writings and there is a core of agreement about their meaning and influence, although different traditions may vary in some respects.
The Yellow Square is Earth; the densest of the elements.
It is the plane of animal consciousness and is characterised as inertia and indifference. In yoga terminology it is known as Tamas Guna. It is the realm of the body where the five senses are the driving forces behind our actions. As humans we unconsciously seek moments of bliss through pleasures, even violence, when in the grip of the earth element.
The Blue Circle is Water; less dense than earth and has the mobility of a liquid. It represents the beginning of self-awareness through knowledge. Known as Rajas Guna it is associated with world of action driven by thought and imagination. The action is the activity of the mind, which we later discover never ceases thinking, and never gives us rest.
The Red Triangle is Fire; fire gives light and heat. It is the realm of the heart and has the effect of transformation and awakening. We see things in a ‘new light’ under its influence. We experience a quickening when fire transmutes the mind and brings on a breakthrough to a static situation.
The White Crescent is the gaseous element Air; air implies space. Lightest of the four elements it symbolises the higher functions of mind and is known as Sattva Guna. In this there is an expansion and lightness as the lower states lose their influence over the imagination and the quest for knowledge and wisdom become the dominant themes. With this experience of space, we often see the ‘big picture’ and gain an overview of our personal journey.
The Blue-Violet Drop or egg, seed, pearl, dot (bindi), flame, represents the subtle element Ether. Also known as consciousness, prana, chi, spirit, life-force, god. This is the subtlest element of all and according to Kashmir Shaivism pervades everything as intelligent consciousness. The quantum physicists of the West are slowly coming to much the same conclusion.
Tantra Yoga says that each state of becoming toward full awareness has absorbed and transformed all the previous states. That does not mean there’s no going back, we have to work at making each higher step permanent.
The Tattvas Set is like a road map of where we have been, and where we are going.