Sometimes spelled tattwas it is most commonly translated ‘reality.’ It is from the Sanskrit, Tat tvam asi, literally “that thou art.” It is a sacred formula of the Vedas denoting the identity of the individual self and the Supreme Self. Of this Eknath Easwaran wrote in Essays on the Gita:
"Tat Tvam Asi, That Thou Art, quoted from a verse in the Chandogya Upanishad: “That subtle essence which is the Self of this entire world, That is the Real, That is the Self, That Thou Art.”
Tat is 'That' Brahman, the impersonal Godhead. The Tattvas assume five main shapes within the range of human perception. Each of these has four sub-permutations resulting in twenty-five substances out of which the universe is formed, and the powers by which the universe is sustained. These compose the physical body of God. They are all modes or qualities of Solar Prana coalesced into Akasha, coming to us in waves of sound, then light, in varying degrees. They form the complicated myriad sounds and images that are the phenomena of our physical world. The five Tattvas are named:
AKASHA - Its symbol takes the shape of a black or indigo egg, oval or vesical. Its characteristic quality is pure space and is the principle of sound vibration, therefore of hearing. In western traditions it corresponds to Ether, and to the Quintessence of the alchemists. It is written that the universe is created through sound. The Hebrew Bible acknowledges this truth in Genesis with the phrase: “and God said...” In Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda wrote that Akasa (sic) is the all-penetrating existence. Everything is evolved out of Akasa, and into Akasa everything returns. Akasha is considered the mixing cauldron of the elements. The next four evolve out from Akasha.
VAYU - The Upanishads teach that the second Tattva to evolve is Vayu, symbolized by a sky-blue disk. Its quality most characteristic is a pure, whirling or rotary motion, and is the subtle principle of touch. Vayu is equivalent to Alchemical Air.
TEJAS - The third emanation from Akasha is Tejas, symbolized by a red, up-right, equilateral triangle. Its quality is that of expansion, evolving the subtle principle of sight. It is equivalent to Alchemical Fire.
APAS - Fourth in the evolution of the senses is Apas. It takes the shape of a white or sliver crescent with its horns pointed upward. It has the quality of contraction, and is the subtle principle of taste. Its characteristic wave action equates it with Alchemical Water of the western tradition.
PRITHIVI - The fifth and most dense emanation that we perceive is the symbolic Prithivi Tattva formed of a yellow square or rectangle. It possesses the quality of cohesion and is the meta-principle behind the sense of smell. It corresponds to the western Alchemical Earth.
All the Tattvas take three dimensional shapes as spheres, pyramids, cubes, etc. In combinations with each other, cones, right-angled triangles, parabolas and trapezoidal shapes may be produced. All possess fourth dimensional shapes. In the Yaqui Indian Magic teachings from Northern Mexico, these fourth dimensional units of consciousness are called 'inorganic beings.' I would refer readers to Chapter 6 in The Fire from Within, and to Chapter 5 in The Art Of Dreaming, both by Carlos Castaneda, for a superb elucidation concerning these elemental entities.
Bear in mind that elementals have a real existence. Tattva means 'reality.' In combinations with each other, inorganic elementals compose the 'substance-stuff' of Akasha, the basic, mental, building matter in the mind of THE ALL. Every shape that any of our inner and outer senses can perceive, even with the aid of man-made tools for microscopy and such, is constructed in harmonious combinations of two or more of the Tattvas. When we attain fourth dimensional awareness, through the Grace of God, all the new forms we then perceive are nothing more than meta-physical combinations of the same units of vibration.
An investigation of the Tattvas, their nature and use in meditation, is a very arduous, protracted and advanced study; not for a beginner on the Return Road. Even to approach genuine understanding of their import is to know through our cellular structure that the whole Body of God is but One, Living, Light-Substance, AIN SUPh AUR, or Mulaprakriti of eastern philosophy. An adequate, introductory explanation for those of us feeling ready may be found in Dr. Israel Regardie’s The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, published by Falcon Press, 1984. In Volume Two, page 35, there begins a fifteen page treatise on the Tattva symbols; Swara breath control in meditation, Tattva courses, the mastery of meditation over the Tattvas, and their uses in healing techniques and other practical applications. The original paper was offered by one early member of the old order, G.H. Frater Sub Spe (J.W. Brodie-Innes), for the Grade of Philosophus, circa 1890. An exercise for determining the Tattva currently 'in course' was suggested by carrying colored bullets or marbles in the trousers's pocket. According to its author at any given time, with practice, one was alleged able to pull the appropriate colored bullet of the Tattva 'in course' at the moment. The 'courses' of the Tattvas listed in this paper are: Akasha – Vayu – Tejas – Apas – Prithivi; beginning again with Akasha – Vayu, etc. Each Tattva was explained to be in course about two hours with the sub-permutations at twenty minutes apiece.
Five Tattvas times twenty minutes does not quite total two hours. The remaining twenty minutes that constitute the full Ghari of two hours was explained as the period required changing the course of breaths from Ida to Pingala, or the reverse. If one discovers the black bullet or marble for Akasha being drawn an inordinate number of times, it is due to Akasha 'in course' again between each of the other four. Additional information has come forth since the 1890s' writings of Frater Sub Spe.
The actual Tattva courses are: Akasha – Vayu – Akasha – Tejas – Akasha – Apas – Akasha – Prithivi; then Akasha – Vayu – Akasha – Tejas, etc., once again. Each Tattva is in course for 15 minutes rather than the 20 minutes suggested previously. The newer cycle then fills neatly the two-hour Ghari. The discipline described in these same papers is quite strict, following eastern methods to the letter. Unless we are independently wealthy or financially prepared for the duration, many of us cannot take the months off from employment or other duties that otherwise interfere with the time period necessary for this study. Rising in the mornings at 2:00 AM may create some hardship in our working life. The western method, using sound and color exercises with the Tattvas, will be found quite sufficient.
A word of caution might be necessary regarding these Tattva investigations. These are real forces with definite effects. Prolonged meditations over a course of months will heighten the sense perceptions considerably. If we live in a large city with significant noise pollution, for example, we may suffer hearing discomfort working with the Akasha Tattva and its sub-tattvas. We may even discover that other peoples' normal conversational tones seem louder. Should a sudden noise occur during a meditation, we may feel its shock wave and see, in the darkness of the meditation, its color wave pass through our aura. One will know beyond doubt the physical power of these Tattvas. It takes time to acclimate the physical organism to their effects. It might be best to approach this difficult study-practice by taking the period off, or moving to a small country town for the duration – six months to a year. One could not possibly spend the time better, but only if one feels inclined to do so.
If successful, one will have called up the forces from within the subconscious, symbolically expressed by Tattva images, to sustain harmonious synchronicity with the elemental waves from the One-Life. All we do, say and feel with regard to our path will be obviously clear from the reflections of our 'personal' world. It is exactly what Don Juan Matus referred to when he spoke of the universe 'agreeing or disagreeing' with respect to Carlos' actions. Qabalists and alchemists call this ability to read life forces, ARS NOTARIA (see same). These are read from Book 'M,' the Book of the World, Liber Mundi. Book 'M' is MEM, the Hebrew letter assigned the Water element. The total water element is Akashic Substance with its twenty-five Tattva permutations. Keeping 'reality' in mind as the root meaning of Tattva, we may understand a basic tenet in Sufism. Consider this quote from The Essence of Sufism by R. A. Nicholson:
"The unique Substance, viewed as absolute and void of all phenomena, all limitations and all multiplicity, is the Real. On the other hand, viewed in His aspect of plurality and multiplicity, under which He displays Himself when clothed with phenomena, He is the whole created universe. Therefore the universe is the outward visible expression of the Real, and the Real is the inner unseen reality of the universe. The universe before it was evolved to outward view was identical with the Real; and the Real after this evolution is identical with the universe."1
The Real, before actual outward expression, is AIN SUPh AUR, the ocean of inner awareness. With outward expression, the unique Substance is Akasha, the universal subconscious 'mind-matter' and Water, which makes phenomena as all we sense in forms symbolized and shaped from the twenty-five permutations of Tattvas. The phenomenal universe in itself is nothing but units of consciousness, described as 'inorganic beings.' Please refer to AKASHA, VAYU, TEJAS, APAS and PRITHIVI; also IDA and PINGALA are related to studies in Pranayama.
1 Nicholson, R.A., The Essence Of Sufism. Edmonds, WA: Near Eastern Press, 1985, pg. 10.