27 – Tattva Bodha: Vedic Model of Creation: Maya's 3 Gunas, 5 Elements, Ego vs. Consciousness


Discourse 27 discusses: Expressions of Maya's 3 gunas. 4 types of people. 5 Elements. Creation of 5 organs of perception. Creation of Mind, Intellect, Memory and I-Sense. What are deities (devas & devatas) in Vedas?

Source: Tattva Bodha


From Bhagavad Gita, CH7.8, Krishna, whose is speaking as Ishvara, shares His glories with Arjuna. He says…


2H and 1O combines and creates water, which is something totally different from H & O. And our life isn't possible without water. Water is needed to create a person who can inquire into nature of water/universe. 

Furthermore, nature has to create a system to convert salty water into non-salty water. This system involves sun/evaporation/clouds/rain… river… which is drinkable. Furthermore, gravity force pulls water from mountain back to ocean. Thus endless cycle of recycling, and ocean never gets depleted.

Krishna says, this whole arrangement of water/system/etc is Me. Water also has taste (neutral), thus giving chance for other tastes. Five tastes are possible in reference to neutral taste. The 5 tastes are: Sweet (Madhura), Sour (Āmla), Salty (Lavaṇa), Bitter (Tikta), Pungent (Kaṭu).


What is so worshipful of Sun? It maintains it's position/temperature in a changing universe, to sustain life on earth.  And the distance hasn't changed between sun/earth for billions of years.  It brings us day/night, but also food… and each gives nutritional value. And all these things are created for human being's survival.  All this is possible from participation of Sun/Water/Air/Trees.

I AM THE LIGHT OF MOON: Responsible for tides.


Without Vedas, all our inference/perception is about 5 elements, but never the intelligence putting those 5 elements together, nor Consciousness. Vedas are pramana (means of knowledge) which reveal nature of Ishvara. So Krishna says, I am Omkara to be sought in the Vedas.

What is OM Referring To?

DEFINTION 1: OM is name/word (abhidhāna) for Ishvara (abhidheya; meaning). EG: “Andre” is abhidhāna.  And abhidheya (who are you referring to when call out “Andre”?) — is the person you know to be Andre. So you're invoking all-pervading Ishvara when chant OM. That's why every Vedic prayer, starts with OM.  

DEFINTION 2:  OM word itself is divided into 3 letters: AUM. They refer to both the microcosmic and macrocosmic 3 bodies, which are: Gross Body, Subtle Body, Causal Body.

DEFINTION 3: OM also can refer to 3 states: A: Waking. U: Dream: the subtle-world is available without physical. M: Sleep: No connection to physical/subtle; however the jiva temporarily remains in seed form.

DEFINTION 4: It's said, OM is the sound of creation. What is subtlest element in creation? Space. And what is characteristics of space? Sound. Thus OM is the sound (space) of creation.

DEFINITION 5: OM also includes past, present and future.


Space has no attributes/location. However it's not Brahman, as characteristic of space is Sound. Meaning, space enables sound to travel; which makes you hear. EG: We love people who we think understand us, which is enabled by sound.  Krishna says, “I am the space through which sound travels, which enables communication and learning to take place”.


We are given 3 powers: Power to desire [kriya-shakti], know [jnana-shakti], act [kriya-shakti]. 

If use capacity to DESIRE wisely, you can become mumuksu (come to know final truth). All this is possible by Isvara's presence. Krishna says “I am all powers that lie in you as potential”. How you collapse that potential is up to you. Can waste it away, or use DESIRE to get to moksha. Or you can use power-to-KNOW (jnana-shakti) to know about people by gossiping, or know the final truth. Or can collapse capacity to ACT to murder, or become gentle human being.  Depending HOW you collapse the possibilities, I give corresponding results.

Isvhara is intelligence that places every entity, including you, in a unique place within the order, connected to other entities.


Verse: Brahman along with māyā is the cause of universe…

brahmāśrayā sattvarajastamo-guṇātmikā māyā asti
Māyā is, with its being in Brahman, endowed with three guṇās (aspects/constituents) sattva, rajas and tamas.

  • Sattva-rajas-tamo-guṇātmikā:
    • Maya has potential to create different expressions with people and objects. The expressions can be more or less categorized into: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. From these three, comes the infinite. Analogous to how from R.G.B, millions of colors are created. 
    • Reference to sentient beings: (One guna is predominant over others at any one time)
      • Sattva Guna: Nobility, good values, intelligence, brilliance, kindness, happiness.
      • Raja Guna: Drive to act, strength to get things done, pain.
      • Tama Guna: Laziness, lack of effort, not striving, taking to adharma.
    • 4 Combinations of Personality Types Possible Per 3 Guna Model:
      1. Sattva > Raja > Tama: Scholars, educators, law makers, researcher. Can’t have tamas as 2nd.
      2. Raja > Sattva > Tama: Ambition of leadership. EG: Nelson Mandela, Ghandi. Their activity is backed by Discernment (sattva).
      3. Raja > Tamas > Sattva: Ambition guided by self-centeredness, without accounting wellbeing of whole. Driven by narrow self-interest.
      4. Tamas > Rajas > Sattva: Doesn’t want to stretch one’s brain, nor think much. Fulfills basic necessities of life. Can’t have sattva as 2nd.
    • Reference to objects:
      • Sattva Guna: All-knowledge. Meaning sattva guna is the knowledge aspect of maya that supplies the blueprint on how objects are to work, such as, what should the speed of sound be, what should happen to physiology when there is attraction to opposite sex, how is a star to be formed, knowledge on how bird will make it's nest, that I should fee guilt when I lie, etc…
      • Raja-guna: Projecting power (vikshepa-shakti). The power that projects objects in light of knowledge.
      • Tamo-guna: Veiling power (avarana-shakti), Material. The power that covers certain information, so that differences can come. For example, green-eye is not a blue-eye, because the “blue-eye gene” is blocked in the genome. 
  • If Ishvara is all-knowledge — then why we have wars/violence? All-knowledge could’ve done things differently. You can’t attribute 3 gunas to maya. Because Maya is all-knowledge, all-power; it has no intrinsic qualities. But when universe comes, you see these 3 guna qualities, because they’re collapsed out of potential, according to free-will, and how it’s used in within dharma (what’s right/wrong). If use free-will to hurt, then can’t get away with enjoyment (sattva); have to feel suffering (tama). So sattva/rajas/tamas combination in a person is result of what potentials they are collapsing on a consistent bases. All-knowledge/power simply allows possibilities, provides a field of dharma (what’s right-wrong), and gives free-will. It also connects causes and effects. Intelligence has no intention of making you do anything. It’s impartial/unbiased. It doesn't interfere with anything.
    • SUMMARY: When it comes to people, the 3 gunas are result of what we are collapsing on a consistent based based on our given free will. They can't said to be inherent attributes of maya.
  • NEXT VERSE: From maya, manifestation comes…

Verse: Evolution of 5 elements…

tata ākāśaḥ saṃbhūtaḥ, ākāśād vāyuḥ, vayostejaḥ, tejasaḥ āpaḥ, adbhyaḥ pṛthivī
From that (Brahman with māyā) — space is born. From space, air (is born). From air, fire (is born). From fire, water (is born). From water, the earth (is born).

  • From māyā come space (most subtle element of the 5 elements). Space is like consciousness, that's why it's often used to help aspirant understand what is consciousness. Space/consciousness is attribute free, both accommodate everything, neither are divided by anything, neither are contaminated by anything. For example, smell only contaminates the air, not the space.
  • Then from element of space, comes air. From air, comes fire. From fire, comes water. From water, comes earth. You'll notice each one gets grosser or denser. Additionally, Air can be heard and felt. Fire can be heard, felt and seen. Water can be heard, felt, seen and tasted. Earth can be heard, smelt, seen, tasted and smelt. So as the elements get grosser, the easier they are to relate with, as they involve more of your senses. For example, earth is a lot more relatable to most people then air, since air is invisible, can't be smelt nor tasted. And space is least talked about, because it can neither be heard, nor felt, nor seen, nor tasted, nor smelt. That's why common man offloads “space” to Einsteins, because “space” is over their heads. One's mind isn't subtle enough to cognitively appreciate space, let alone something even subtler; consciousness!
  • ORDER SO FAR: Brahman (which is I) > intervening factor maya > 5 elements (which comprises time, space, sentient and insentient beings).  So the whole universe comes out of you, projected by your incidental power of maya.
  • Verse also wishes to point out that there’s increasing complexity as 5 elements come together. Same in science model. For example, particles don’t have characteristics of neurons. But when they combine qualities, they gain new useful characteristics. This again brings out the presence of intelligence at every level of creation. There's no question of things being randomly put together and accidentally creating this complex world.
  • NEXT VERSE: What do the 5 elements do in reference to creation of universe.

Verse: From sāttvika aspect of 5 subtle elements, comes 5 organs of perception…

eteṣāṃ pañca-tattvānāṃ madhye ākāśasya sāttvikāṃśāt, śrotrendriyaṃ saṃbhūtam
Among these five elements, from the sāttvika aspect of space is born the organ of hearing (the ear).
vāyoḥ sāttvikāṃśāt tvagindriyaṃ saṃbhūtam
From the sāttvika aspect of air is born the organ of touch (skin).
agneḥ sāttvikāṃśāt caksurindriyaṃ saṃbhūtam
From the sāttvika aspect of fire is born the organ of sight (the eye).
jalasya sāttvikāṃśāt rasanendriyaṃ saṃbhūtam
From the sāttvika aspect of water is born the organ of taste (the tongue).
pṛthivyāḥ sāttvikāṃśat ghrāṇendriyaṃ saṃbhūtam
From the sāttvika aspect of earth is born the organ of smell (the nose).

  • Since maya is 3 gunas, and 5 elements come out of maya, that means each element will have 3 gunas in it. This verse focuses specifically on the Sattvic portion of each of 5 elements.
  • From Sattvic aspect of:
    • Space (facilitates perception of sound) — organ of hearing is made.
    • Air (facilitates perception of touch) — organ of touch is made.
    • Fire (facilitates perception of form/color) — organ of sight is made.
    • Water (facilitates perception of taste) — organ of tasting is made.
    • Earth (facilitates perception of smell) — organ of nose is made.
  • So from sattvik aspect of each of 5 elements — the 5 organs of perception are made which will be used to bring in sensory data of the world.
  • NEXT VERSE: But where will the 5 types of perceived data go? It has to get centralized in one place, the mind.

Verse: Creation of Inner Instrument (antaḥkaraṇa)…

eteṣāṃ pañcatattvānāṃ samaṣṭi-sāttvikāṃśāt, manobudhyahaṇkāra–cittāntaḥkaraṇāni saṃbhūtāni
From the total sāttvika aspect of these five elements are born the mind, intellect, ego, memory, (called) the inner instruments.
saṅkalpa–vikalpātmakaṃ manaḥ, niścayātmikā buddhiḥ, ahaṅkartā ahaṅkāraḥ, cintanakartṛ cittam
The mind is of the nature of indecision. The intellect is of the nature of decision. The ego has the notion of doership. Memory is the thinking process in keeping with what has gone before (memory-recollection).

  • From sattvic portion of all 5 elements, the antahkarana (inner instrument) is created. It's made up of 4 components: manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), cittam (memory), ahamkara (I-sense, or ego).
    1. Mind (manas): saṅkalpa-vikalpātmakaṃ manaḥ
      • Receiving data and creating doubt. Is it this or that. Thinking of different possibilities. Mind is active when there's experience emotions, desires, fancies, in a state of uncertainty, skepticism, suspicion.
      • It’s like pendulum. Vacillating from sankalpa (firming up) to vikalpa (doubting up). Pros/cons.
      • If dominated by Mind, can’t make quick decisions, and swayed by moods to easily.
    2. Intellect (buddhi): niścayātmikā buddhiḥ
      • Determination. Inquiry. Understanding. Knowledge. Definitive decision is formed after looking at pro’s/con’s. Decision is made by intuition, out of inner-pressures (likes or dislikes), psychological biases, and by whatever information the intellect has at that time. So in any experience, first the mind is activated, then the intellect.
      • If over identified with the Intellect, one is called a rationalist (stuck in the head). Danger is loosing empathy. Excess pride.
    3. I-sense (ahamkara): ahaṅkartā ahaṅkāraḥ
      • Sense of I. If use the word “ego”, understand it can be used in 2 ways: (a) conceit/pride: for example, “He has a big ego!”, or (b) mechanism that produces sense of individuality. Vedanta always refers to definition #b.
      • What is the relationship between I-sense and Consciousness? I-sense can be equated to a pot. What shapes the size of that pot constantly is emotions/decisions/memories and the perceived environment. So pot (I-sense) is changing since it's being fed new data all the timebut content of the pot, no matter what shape or size, is always clay. Similarly, opinions and feelings about I, are changing from waking up to sleep. But amidst that change, there is consistent and self-evident, I am, I am, I am. 
      • I-sense creates sense of continuity of emotions/decisions/memories belonging to one entity. But it’s not entirely continuous, for example in thoughtlessness, of being in the zone, or dreaming, sleep.
      • Mamatvam: I-sense is like a stamp. It stamps everything that happens as “mine“. That constant series of “mine” is what produces experience of individuality. For example, the ears are listening, but ego stamps with “I am listening”.
      • Kartrtva/Karta: I-sense also produces a sense of doer. In other words “I am doing“. But what's really doing the action (such as talking, thinking, walking, eating, arguing, inquiring into nature of Self) — is the coming together of the physical body, the mind, intellect and memory. Due to inability to discriminate the I-sense from consciousness, the I-sense (doer) is assumed to be the real “I”.
      • Bhoktrtva/bhokta: I-sense also produces sense of enjoyership when identifies with anandamaya-kosha. Every single case of “I attained enlightenment because I was blissed out, happy, felt oneness, etc” — was case of I-sense identifying with anandamaya-kosha for extended period of time. 
    4. Memory (cittam): cintanakartṛ cittam
      • Another reason for sense of continuity, is due to memory. Makes thinking possible. Because thinking always involves bringing in a thought from the past. Lens through which I-sense recognizes a familiar world. Watch this fascinating documentary, what's it like to live without memory.
      • Function that recollects past impressions. It surfaces them to the Mind (as seen above), thus triggers thinking in a certain direction. Suffering is partly when memory recollects a painful thought. 
    1. From individual sattva aspect of each element, comes individual organ of Perception. As discussed in previous verse.
    2. Your inner instrument for cognizing the perceived world is made up of sattva guna of all 5 elements. Which is why the inner instrument is able to capture data from all 5 organs of perception. While ear can only capture sounds, but not form. And eye can only capture form and not taste. Etc.
    • Even though all-knowledge organizes everything, all-knowledge itself is looked at from different standpoints, for which names are given. All-knowledge in reference to cells/mind, is biology/psychology. All-knowledge looked at from standpoint of what blesses me wealth and of what type and how much, according to my past-actions, is called Lakshmi. Standpoint of what intelligence you have and how much, is Sarasvati. Standpoint of the punya that removes hardships from my life, is Ganesha.
    • So what are “presiding deities” (devas/devatas)? Order that governs who has what, how much of it, and for how long. Not because circumstances, wealth, pleasures and pains are randomly assigned to people — but because of your own collapsing of possibilities using the 3 powers (know, do, act) given to you.
    • Presiding Deity of:
      1. Mind: Moon (candrama). EG: Word “lunatic” comes from “lunar”. Moon affects mental states. Vedic astrology can point type of mind, based on where moon was at birth.
      2. Intellect: Brahma (that which creates new possibilities). At any point, your intellect can re-understand things and change your course of action.
      3. I-sense: Rudra (what paves way for change or removes what is no longer relevant). I-sense is changing, but also want to understand I-sense isn’t absolute reality, but empirical reality. This is done by Rudra.
      4. Memory: Vasudeva (Vishnu). Despite things are constantly changing, we’re given a limited vision, in which there’s a seeming stability. And memory is exactly what produces seeming stability.
  • NEXT VERSE: What does Rajas aspect of 5-elements create?


  1. What is the relationship between I-sense and Consciousness (the real I)?
  2. Your inner-instrument (antahkarana) has 4 functions? Describe briefly what each does? (Point of doing this is to help you understand they are mere functionaries given to you. It builds objectivity between you and what's given to you by Ishvara).
  3. Which definition of “OM” mentioned above, most resonates with you?
  4. If Ishvara is all-knowledge (meaning it doesn't make mistakes), then why do we have wars and violence?
  5. What have you understood by “presiding deities” — which is integral part in Vedic culture?

Extra Resources:

Keywords:  kartṛtva, kartṛtvam, bhoktṛtva, bhoktṛtvam

Credit for help in Tattva Bodha to [1] Chinmaya Mission's Swami Advayananda, [2] Arsha Vidya's Swami Dayananda, [3] Neema Majmudar.

Recorded 3 Dec, 2023

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