An introduction to the 36 tattvas and how they relate to each soul
The following is a lucid translation from the Sarvajnottara Agama, Vidya Pada, chapter 5. This chapter begins a two-part series on our interaction with the tattvas and why each person should learn about them.
The self that functions in a complete identity with the 36 tattvas is considered to be the tattvatma. All the planes of existence meant for a soul’s experience are within the fold of these 36 tattvas, which aid in binding and concealing the soul’s knowledge.
The 36 categories, or tattvas, are very subtle. They pervade the entire range of the worlds and they are endless. These layers of existence are simultaneously created along with each birth. They are known in two different modes, namely prakriti, the source which gives rise to evolution, and prakriya, the categories which evolve from the source.
There is no knowledge superior to the knowledge related to prakriya; no pervasiveness greater than the pervasiveness of Lord Siva; no accomplishment superior to the accomplishment gained through Sivayoga; no happiness superior to the one born of total cessation of likes and dislikes.
O Shanmuga, at the rising of a particular tattva within one’s own body, the soul acquires and sustains changes in its attitudes and actions according to the nature of that tattva.
When the soul gets closely linked to a particular tattva and proceeds to do the decided work, that particular tattva arises and expands, surpassing the functions of all others. Being fully absorbed in that tattva, the embodied soul involves itself in its various actions.
In this way the soul continues to exist, being united with all the tattvas one by one in due order. Such a relationship is taking place continuously and endlessly. Since the souls are basically pervasive by nature, they are always roaming and persevering, being inseparably united with the tattvas. Because of such intimate linkage with the tattvas, the embodied soul often observes different states of mind as molded by a particular tattva.
O Shanmuga, consequently the being acquires the notion of being the lord and controller of the tattvas. The soul is residing in total oneness with whatever substance it comes into contact and hence it is held that the soul is of the nature of all sorts of desire and thought as assumed by the mind.
The spirit which was holding the notion of being the lord of the tattvas now becomes subservient to that particular tattva with which it remains closely linked and experiences pleasure and comforts. It is to be known that the presence of the soul is in that particular tattva until the concerned action gets completed. Therefore, the initiated seeker should understand the link between the soul and the tattvas as explained here.
He should realize the importance of getting dissociated from the hold of tattvas and aim at experiencing bliss by installing himself in the transcendental Siva tattva which is untouched by the limiting principles, which is free from mutations and which is self-existent, being not propped up by any external support.