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The Pentadic Universe in the áaiv¡gamas

H.N. Charavarty


In the integral vision of the Ëgamas the world is seen to be composed of consciousness (cinmaya), flooded with light, made of light and permeated with light (prak¡¿a), but though being consciousness in essence a abstance is seen and experienced as insentient. The question baffles us why being consciousness in essence it is perceived as insentient. To this question the answer given by the Ëgamas is that the substance is apparently seen to be insentient in so far as it does not have self-reflection of its own. Only because of the absence of self-reflection   some substances are considered insentient and are therefore relegated to the level of matter but some others on account of self-reflection, are raised to the highest excellence of spirit, the sentient beings. In Ëgama, specially in the non-dualistic Ëgama, no such dichotomy of spirit and matter exists, rather it sees it as an    integrated whole. The Ëgamas also do not like to classify the whole into asti, bh¡ti, priya, n¡ma and r£pa, like the Ved¡ntins stigmatizing the world of name and form to be negated, conceiving it to be illusory while accepting only that aspect of Brahman which is being, consciousness and bliss. But the ideal vision of the Ëgamas is to see everything as the One, not many. It explains sarvam of the UpaniÀad as the entirety, not multiplicity (n¡n¡ ] because in this integral vision there is no such diversity that is not in essence light (prak¡¿apsrsm¡rtha).

With the distinction of perspective the same thing appears to be different according to the view of the onlooker. The one..., while remaining..., shows innumerable aspects. Even then it does not lose its real nature of fullness, for the very nature of the Full is such that it can assume any form whatever it wills. There is therefore no question of any clash against, the phenomenal view of the ordinary people who are accustomed to see only the gross, for it is stated with firm conviction:           

calitv¡ y¡syate kutra sarvaÆ ¿ivamayaÆ yataÅ

SvT, IV.313.

When everything is composed of Siva, then where should you go!

This may seem to be outstepping toward that which is quite unknown to the people of ordinary vision. Viewing everything as Siva is easy to speak but perceiving it and then realizing it requires s¡dhan¡.

sivabh¡vanayausadhy¡ baddhe mansai saÆs¤te I

k¡ÀÅaku·y¡diÀu kÀipte rasavacchivahemat¡ II

                                                         TËl, I under 85.

By means of contemplation thought of Siva as the medicine rightly applied in the mind, while it moves on, transmutes it into gold, like mercury, applied on a log of wood or the walls, transmutes them.

Before going to explain the matter fully we would like to quote an authority here. Sri Abhinavagupta, thought it proper to say that bh£tas, the elements are existent because they are seen directly through sense-organs, bh£t¡nyadhyakÀa sidd¡ni (TËI, 1.190), adding further he says that bhutas (the elements) are known by all:

sarvaprat¢tisndbh¡vagocaraÆ bh£tameva hi II

vidu¿catuÀ¶ye c¡tra s¡vak¡¿e tad¡sthitim II

TËl, 1.191.

That which are conceived by all as existing are indeed known as elements (The element is indeed conceived by all as an existing being), for the group of four (that is the earth, water, fire and air) is allowed by the void to occupy a space in their specific temporal existence.

There is no denial of the fact that all the perceptible objects are made of elements, the number of which is five. It may categorically be stated that the entirety of the universe though commonly known in Sanskrit vi¿va only appears to the seers as prapaµca (manifestation to be known, jµeya) extended in five-fold forms. The S¡Ækhya categories are twenty-five in number which is nothing but the number five multiplied by five. In the Ëgamas the accepted number of principles are thirty-six but even there the scheme of grouping them into five divisions can be possible. So the Agamic thinkers not only see the presence of five categories in the gross level of their manifestation but also on the subtle level. Therefore, they boldly utter:

prthivy¡pastath¡tejo v¡yurk¡¿arneva ca II

paµcait¡ni tu tattv¡ni yairvy¡ptamakhilaÆ jagat II

K¡lottara (quoted in TËl, X1.19)

The earth, the water, the fire, the air and the void- these indeed,

are the five principles by which the entire universe is pervaded.

The above five constitute the physical objects, known to all but it is not known to all that they are the manifestation of consciousness. The Supreme consciousness manifests itself or rather extends in five different ways. These ways are five out-lets through which áiva, the supreme consciousness expresses Himself though basically remaining as being consciousness, bliss, knowledge and activity. These are known to the áaivas as the five faces of áiva, the Lord.

The process how consciousness expresses itself and becomes gross, is very subtle and needs a detailed study itself, therefore, we can only give a short hint here in order to clarify the background.

ári Abhinavagupta presents a clear picture of the concept in his Par¡tr¢¿ik¡-Laghuv¤tti. We have summarized the whole in the lines below.

The universe as it shines before us consists of two aspects - the one is signifier called vacaka and the other is par¡mar¿a, the process of cognition manifesting itself in the v¡cya, the signified consciousness. The par¡mar¿a is known to assume the form of the phonemes a, a, I, u and so on to represent anuttara, ¡nanda, icch¡ and UnmeÀa. The phonemes a and a representing anuttara and ¡nanda are considered to be his antara´ga (internal) and the phonemes i and u representing iccha and unmesa are considered to be the Lord's bahira´ga (external) ¿aktis. As the present paper is mainly concerned with the seed syllables ya, ra, va, la which are related to the elements air and so on it seems relevant to explain how they can be the signifying agent to give rise to the signified objects of earth and so on.

bahirapi ca somas£ryau r¡tridivasa saÆkocavik¡sar£pe¸a

    tithipaµcada¿akasya antaÅ carataÅ  I

ya¿ca asau icch¡y¡m¢¿ne ca vedyol¡saÅ eva p¤thagbhaiian

     sth£latay¡ bh£tapaµcak¡tma s£kÀmatay¡ catarnm¡tra paµcak¡meti I

da¿a tattv¡ni, p¤thiv¢ jalaÆ tejov¡yur¡k¡¿aÅ gandho raso r£paÆ spa¿aÅ ¿abda iti I

                       PTri, Laghwv¤tti, p.6

The phonemes i and a give rise to ya, while u and a joined together give rise to va. Similarly the phonemes ¤ and ½ give rise to r and l. These four, that is ya, va, ra, la, have the characteristics of vibration, illumination, nourishing and supporting (spanda, prak¡¿na, ¡py¡yana, dh¡ra¸a) respectively.

Even in the external world, the sun and moon, which rule the day and night by their expansion and contraction, move within these fifteen stations.

There now occurs the appearance of knowable objects, which takes place in will (i) and domination (¢), As knowable objects begin to appear themselves, begin to separate themselves, there occur, on the gross level, the five gross  elements, and on the subtle level, the five subtle elements. This result in ten principles, namely, earth, water, fire, air, space, smell, taste, form, touch and sound. This is the manifestation of the knowable objects.

These phonemes are cogitation (par¡mar¿ana) by nature characterized by vibration which is nothing but dynamism abiding in the core of all syllables, particularly in the vowels, but externally when this power of par¡mar¿a becomes involved in time, it assumes the form of the moon and the sun causing the night and the day manifested by contraction and expansion and thereby shine in the inner core of fifteen lunar days (tithis).

We have mentioned earlier that in the sphere of icch¡ and ¢¿¡na the knowables remain present in a very subtle way inseparable from the power of cognition par¡mar¿a¿akti. The emergence of the knowables occurs grossly as if separating itself from it. It appears in the pentadic form of gross bh£tas, the earth and so on, and subtle tanm¡tras. The manifestation of gross and subtle bh£tas in the form of knowables becomes possible through the instrumentality of both internal and external sense-organs. The complete picture of the knowable appears with the interaction and the relative evolution of mind, intellect, egoism, primordial prak¤ti and puruÀa. The self-knowingness (vedana) born of the void, being manifest, the above group of five comes to the view of puruÀa, the self. Therefore, being knowable itself, it remains above them as the knowing subject. In the absence of the self, known as puruÀa, all the knowables do not carry any meaning. The knowing subject called puruÀa, though limited, serves a great deal for the understanding of knowables. The soul remains bound with the bond of worldliness, attached to the object of its desire, remains plunged in the depth of ignorance, wanders about to perform deeds according to its limited power and becomes the knower of a very little. These powers which are the binding forces are known as four ¿aktis, the ¿aktis of earth, water, fire and air. On account of its close relation with these ¿aktis, which keep the soul supported in the middle like the legendary figure tri¿a´ku, it remains between pure consciousness and insentient matter. As it remains bound by the above. ¿aktis it is unable to move upward in order to shine in its pristine glory of pure consciousness, nor fall downward as an insentient log of wood. The power of the void serves the soul in two ways. It makes the soul to shine in its pure form consciousness free from, the touch of all knowables on one hand, and on the other allows room for all knowables to shine with their individual distinctions. This void is known as vimar¿a, reflective consciousness internally inseparable from its very nature. The state of knowableness gradually dwindles. The power known as ¡k¡¿a¿akti helps the limited self to become relieved of the binding forces, with the result, the consciousness shines forth with predominating brilliance. Even then the power of the subtle elements continues to help the limited soul to realize manifestation of consciousness followed by steadiness (dh¤ti), nourishment (¡py¡yanam), union with its light (tatprak¡¿ayogaÅ), attainment of vibration characterized by supreme freedom and pervasiveness with that.

It is clear that the above ¿aktis which function in the lower sphere as the gross bh£tas remain present in this rarefied subtle region and function there as áaktis. They are not only pervasive but are the cause to replenish the very nature of the self (svar£pasya  p£rakam). With this idea in view the Ëgamas conceive the five Brahmans that is Suddhavidy¡ Ìsvara, Sad¡¿¢va, áakti and áiva to he the subtle forms of earth, water, fire, air and the void, representing Sadyoj¡ta, V¡madeva, Aghora, TatpuruÀa and Ì¿¡na, the Supreme Lord.

The form of áiva consists of five specific divisions which are his head (m£rdh¡), face (vaktra), heart (h¤daya), the secret part (guhya) and murti, the form itself. They are connected with the syllables kÀa, ya, ra, va, la representing five elements respectively. The faces of áiva that are indicated by them are Ì¿¡na, TatpuruÀa, Aghora, V¡madeva and Sadyoj¡ta.

Svacchanda Tantra further adds that ¡brahmaranshraÆ bhr£madhy¡t santi paµcashar¡dayaÅ: Five Brahmans abide in the form of the earth and so on in locations from the joint of the eyebrows to brahmarandhra.

For the aspirant the form of Siva should first be conceived as a perpendicular shaft (da¸·abha´g¢) consisting of five portions made of subtle elements without having any characteristic distinctions. Then this form is to be conceived as a panel of the door (kav¡¶abhang¢] having distinct portions that is consisting of different directions of the east and so on. Therefore, the face of áiva occupying the east is TatpuruÀa, south is Aghora, west is V¡madeva, north is Sadyoj¡ta and the top is occupied by Ì¿¡na.

 In the above context the five faces are conceived as integrated into one but should not be conceived as separate from each other. The method by which this integration is possible is shown below. The aspirant makes use of the seed syllables of the elements thus: OÆ laÆ "I make unification of Sadyoj¡ta face with that of V¡madeva face uttering vaÆ." In this manner all the faces are unified with the face of Ì¿¡na, the Supreme. Thus we see that the elements have their function there.

Purification of the body is performed by bathing in the water. This is known to us but the eightfold bath with eight different materials is recommended by the Ëgamas. This corresponds to the eightfold form of áiva. Bath with five gross elements is considered essential for the worshipper to gain competency for the worship of the deity. He makes use of clay, water, sacred ashes, dust emerged from the feet of cows and the water fallen from sky, but though they are considered to be essential for making the body pure, yet they are not so efficacious if not charged with mantra. Whatever may be the truth, the Ëgama presents the view that the eight formed body of áiva (aÀ¶amyrti) who is known to have the five elements as his body along with the sun, the moon and the self, plunging into the vast lake (mah¡hrada) of consciousness one should conceive that verily the self is the Supreme Lord where the entire universe is to be plunged and the aspirant should think himself steadily established there. Thus the one that purifies and the object that is purified become one. This is the highest mode of purification.

In Tantric literature bh£ta¿uddhi (purification of elements) is considered to be a common practice generally performed before creation of the pure ¿¡kta body of the worshipper by means of various ny¡sn (placement of syllables) in different limbs of the body of the worshipper.

This physical body is made of elements intermixed with one another. Purification of bh£tas is nothing else than to separate one element from the contact of another element. The procedure that is followed by the practitioner is pr¡¸¡y¡ma associated with the seed syllable belonging to the respective element. Svacchanda Tantra prescribes the method of udgh¡ta (forced strike) with the vital air, pressing it to move upward. This udgh¡ta for the purification of the earth is five, four for water, three for fire and so on. Finally the worshipper finds himself well-established in the pure elemental form by which the body of his is thought to be made of and which enables him to worship his desired deity.

But the method that is followed by the T¡ntric school is different from it. The worshipper makes use of contemplation (bh¡vana) first. He conceives a wall of fire created by the seed syllable of fire after encirchng him with water. Then seated in the lotus posture and keeping both of his palms on his lap, the right over the left, he conceives the limited self (j¢v¡tman) like the flaming bud of fire abiding in the heart. He leads it to m£l¡dh¡ra from where rises the coiled energy (k£¸·alin¢) and associating it (j¢v¡tman) with her the worshipper passes through different centres of consciousness through the channel of suÀumn¡ and finally arrives at the thousand petalled lotus which faces downward. He then conceives that all the principles beginning from the earth and ending with prak¤ti have been dissolved there. Then he makes a pr¡¸¡y¡ma with the seed syllable of the air by which he conceives that the physical body of his has totally been dried up. Then with the seed syllable of fire it is burnt off along with the person representing sin (p¡papuruÀa). Then with pr¡¸¡y¡ma associated with the seed syllable of the moon a nectarine flow oozing out from the joint of the eye-brows is to be conceived. The pure body of the worshipper is conceived to be made of all syllables with pr¡¸¡y¡ma by using the seed syllable of water and making it steady by the seed syllable of the earth. From the above description it is evident that all the seed syllables of the elements excluding the void are utilized for the creation of the pure body.

The essence of all the physical objects which are known as the earth and so on, is the subtle elemental form. These subtle elements are called tanm¡tras named gandha, rasa, r£pa, spar¿a and ¿abda which are presided over by the Lord named differently as áarva, Bhava, Pa¿upati, Ì¿¡na and Bh¢ma. They are not the passive superintendents but the impelling agent to agitate the respective subtle elements through which the gross forms of bh£tas come into existence.

The dichotomy between the universe as matter and spirit as the knowing subject is unknown to non-dual Ëgamas. The considered opinion of the Ëgama is that the universe composed of five elements is permeated by the divine essence, not only that the basic mantra of the divine is made of the divine essence of the deity. Therefore, the Yogin¢- H¤daya commentary quotes from an ancient source -

paµcabh£tamayam vi¿vaÆ tanmay¢ s¡ sad¡naghe I

Tanmay¢  m£lavidy¡ ca... II

                                             Mantra section, II.28

The universe is made of five elements. 0 pure lady, you are always

of that nature. The principal mantra is also made of your essence.

Therefore it is thought quite relevant to propitiate the desired deity at least with five kinds of offerings, for these articles of offerings which are made of elements have been made manifest by the will of the divine (bhagavadicch¡vij¤mbhit¡ni). When they are offered properly to the deity assuming five subtle forms, the deity is believed to be propitiated. One should offer gandha, the sandal paste, conceiving it to represent the earth, flowers representing the void, incense representing air, the lamp representing fire, and food representing water.

All these articles are first of all to be, conceived and realized as possessed of sweet fragrance having attractive sound, delicate touch, beauty of form and delightful to the taste. Then in the reverse way (pratya´gamutay¡) they are thought to rest in the subject, pram¡t¡.

The highest form of sacrifice is that where all the articles expected to be offered to the divine are to be collected in the receptacle of the mind through different sense-organs. There they should be conceived, as one's own. It is followed by the conception of oneness of the self with the deity and then each article is offered separately to the deity. This kind of ritualistic offering is really called mah¡makha, highest form of sacrifice.

indriyagr¡masa´gr¡hyair gandh¡dyair¡tmadevat¡m I

sv¡bhedena sam¡r¡dhya jµ¡dhya so'yaÆ mah¡makhah II

                                                              Mukhy¡mn¡ya Rahasya

(quoted in YoH, III under verse 117)

Self, the Divine,is to beworshipped with sandal-paste and so on

after collecting them by the outlets of sence-organs.[it is done] in

accordance with the innate mood (svabh¡va) of one`s own. This is

considered to be supremeform of ritual related to the knowing  self.

We know the existence of elements in the gross and subtle levels but beyond them they exist as ¿akti or energy and function in the same way as is seen in the gross and subtle levels, but in the level of ¿akti they function differently not to bind the self but helping it to attain liberation.

The elements in their subtle forms are seen to present in m¡y¡ the delusory power to arrest the soul steadily in its limitation. It acts there as the earth, while bindu nourishes the seeker of truth. Thus it is thought to be water. N¡da is thought to be born of air while ¿akti is predominantly of the nature of touch, hence it is born of air. áiva is without any veil so it is nir¡bh¡sa.

We read about the shapes and colours of bh£tas in different texts. They are simply centres of consciousness. These centres of consciousness visualized by the Yogin inside the body, are considered to be made of five elements.

The Yogini-H¤daya gives an account of four p¢¶has designated by K¡mar¡p¡, P£r¸agiri, J¡landhara and O··¢y¡na representing four elements with their respective shapes and colours thus:

caturasraÆ tath¡ binduÀa¶kayuktaÆ ca v¤ttakam I

ardh¡candraÆ triko¸am ca r£p¡¸a tu  krame¸a tu |

p¢to dh£mrastath¡ ¿veto rukto'r£paÆ ca k¢rtitamm II

YoH, 1.42cd-43

Square and circular associated with six dots, the shape of a half-moon, tri-angular- these are the shapes in their respective order, that is, of the earth, water, fire and air. The colours of them are yellow, smoky, white, red and without any colour. The p¢¶has, viz., K¡msp£pa and so on emerge from the principle bh£, earth, Par¸agiri consists of the principle water, J¡landhara of fire, O··¢y¡na of air. These p¢thas are physically located in different parts of India on one hand, while on the other they are meditated upon as located in m£l¡dh¡ra and so on.

The shape of the earth is stated to be square and its colour is yellow. The water has white as its colour and its shape is half-moon attachcd with a white lotus. Fire is red, triangular in shape attached with the mark of a svastika. Air is hexagonal dotted with six bindus black in colour while the void is circular and transparent in colour if it is proper to call it a colour.

In the context of ny¡sa, placement of m¡t¤k¡s or m¡lin¢s the body is conceived as consisting of five elements. This is done when paµcatattva ny¡sa are necessarily performed there. The body according to the M¡lin¢vijaya Tantra (chap. VI) measures eighty-four digits (a´gulas). From the toe of the feet four digits above the earth pervades, water pervades forty- a´gulas above it, twenty-two a´gulas above it is pervaded by fire. The air pervades twelve angulas above. Thus the total comes to eighty-four. The void remains pervading all.

We have discussed in short about bh£ta¿udhi. The truth regarding purification of everything as given by ár¢ Abhinavagupta is quite different from that mentioned above. He says that one should deeply contemplate everything as Siva.

p¤thiv¢ sthira r£p¡sya ¿ivar£pe¸a bh¡vit¡ I

sthir¢karoti t¡rmeva bh¡svan¡miti ¿udhyati 

jalam¡py¡yayatyen¡Æ tejo bh¡isvarat¡Æ nayet I

marud¡nanda saÆspar¿aÆ vyoma vaitatyam¡ivahet II

TËl XVII.103-104

The earth having the steady form contemplated as of the nature of áiva, verily makes that contemplation, steady and thus purifies it, while the comtemplation of water as áiva gives nourishment to it. The contemplation of fire as áiva brightens it. The air  helps the aspirant to have contact with bliss and the void brings in great expansion of pervasiveness.

To conclude we may say that the bh£tas are thought to be the basic elements of the world - the world of pain and pleasure. But to the Ëgamic thinkers they should be utilised in a different way in order to attain the ultimate goal of life. We have discussed earlier that the bh£tas have gross, subtle and the highest forms. To the aspirant the gross form is the base from which he starts his s¡dhana and tries to see the dynamic form of it everywhere in order to achieve his aim of Sivahood.                            


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