Tattva is a Sanskrit word meaning 'thatness', 'principle', 'reality' or 'truth'. According to various Indian schools of philosophy, a tattva (or tattwa) is an element or aspect of reality conceived as an aspect of deity. Although the number of tattvas varies depending on the philosophical school, together they are thought to form the basis of all our experience. The Samkhya philosophy uses a system of 25 tattvas, while Shaivism recognises 36 tattvas.
Tattvas in Samkhya
The Samkhya philosophy regards the Universe as consisting of two eternal realities: Purusha and Prakrti. It is therefore a strongly dualist philosophy. The Purusha is the centre of consciousness, whereas the Prakriti is the source of all material existence. The twenty-five tattva system of Samkhya concerns itself only with the tangible aspect of creation, theorizing that Prakriti is the source of the world of becoming. It is the first tattva and is seen as pure potentiality that evolves itself successively into twenty-four additional tattvas or principles.
Tattvas in Shaivism
In Shaivite philosophy, the tattvas are inclusive of consciousness as well as material existence. The 36 tattvas of Shaivism are divided into three groups:
The first five tattvas are known as the shuddha or 'pure' tattvas. They are also known as the tattvas of universal experience.
The next seven tattvas (6–12) are known as the shuddha-ashuddha or 'pure-impure' tattvas. They are the tattvas of limited individual experience.
The last twenty-four tattvas (13–36) are known as the ashuddha or 'impure' tattvas. The first of these is prakriti and they include the tattvas of mental operation, sensible experience, and materiality.
Tattvas in Gaudiya Vaishnavism
Within Puranic literatures and general Vaishnava philosophy tattva is often used to denote certain categories or types of being or energies such as :
The Supreme personality of Godhead. The causative factor of everything including other Tattva(s).
Any incarnation or expansion of Krishna.
The multifarious energies of the Lord Krishna. It includes his internal potency Yoga Maya and material prakrti
The living souls (jivas).
Lord Siva (excluding the Rudra(s)) is not considered to be a jiva.
The total material energy (prakrti).
In Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy that there are a total of five primary tattvas described in terms of living beings, which are collectively known as the Pancha Tattva and described as follows:
"Spiritually there are no differences between these five tattvas, for on the transcendental platform everything is absolute. Yet there are also varieties in the spiritual world, and in order to taste these spiritual varieties one should distinguish between them".
Tattva in Jainism
Jain philosophy can be described in various ways, but the most acceptable tradition is to describe it in terms of the Tattvas or fundamentals. Without knowing them one cannot progress towards liberation.
Jiva - Souls and living things
Ajiva - Non-living things
Punya - Results of Good Deeds (Good Karma)
Pap - Results of Bad Deeds (Bad Karma)
Asrava - Influx of karma
Bandha - The bondage of karma
Samvara - The stoppage of influx of karma
Nirjara - Shedding of karma
Moksha - Liberation or Salvation
Each one of these fundamental principles are discussed and explained by Jain Scholars in depth. There are two examples that can be used to explain the above principle intuitively.
A man rides a wooden boat to reach the other side of the river. Now the man is Jiva, the boat is ajiva. Now the boat has a leak and water flows in. That incoming of water is Asrava and accumulating there is Bandh, Now the man tries to save the boat by blocking the hole. That blockage is Samvara and throwing the water outside is Nirjara. Now the man crosses the river and reaches his destination, Moksha.
Consider a family living in a house. One day, they were enjoying a fresh cool breeze coming through their open doors and windows of the house. However, the weather suddenly changed to a terrible dust storm. The family, realizing the storm, closed the doors and windows. But, by the time they could close all the doors and windows some of the dust had been blown into the house. After closing the doors and the windows, they started clearing the dust that had come in to make the house clean again.
This simple scenario can be interpreted as follows:
Jivas are represented by the living people.
Ajiva is represented by the house.
Punya is represented by enjoyment resulting from the nice cool breeze.
Pap is represented by discomfort resulting from the storm.
Asrava is represented by the influx of dust.
Bandh is represented by the accumulation of dust in the house.
Samvar is represented by the closing of the doors and windows to stop the accumulation of dust.
Nirjara is represented by the cleaning up of already collected dust from the house.
Moksha is represented by the cleaned house, which is similar to the shedding off all karmic particles from the soul.
Tattva in Hindu esotericism
In Hindu esotericism and tantrism there are five tattvas creating global energy cycles of tattvic tides beginning at dawn with Akasha and ending with Prithvi:
Akasha (Spirit tattva) – symbolized by a black oval
Vayu (Air tattva) – symbolized by a blue circle
Tejas (Fire tattva) – symbolized by a red triangle
Apas (Water tattva) – symbolized by a white moon
Prithvi (Earth tattva) – symbolized by a yellow square
Every complete cycle is lasting two hours. This system of five tattvas which each can be combined with another, was also adapted by the Golden Dawn .