With the characteristic trait of a scathing scientist and researcher of truth, Sri Adi Sankaracharya explained the nature of the qualities of the individual—you and me—also called the jiva. Next he slices and dissects this visible universe for us. Keeping in tune with the Vedic description of creation, he says that this whole creation exists in brahman. There is a power called maya which exists in the brahman.
This maya has three qualities. It can project thoughts. It can conceal the truth. It can distinguish between what is truth and what is untruth. In Sanskrit they are called the Vikshepa Shakti (projection), Avarana Shakti (hiding), and Viveka Shakti (discriminative power).
From these three powers—Avarana (tamas or inertia), Vikshepa (rajas or dynamism), and Viveka (sattva or intelligent thinking), this whole universe has sprung up. In the Tatwa Bodha, the explanations open up like a flower.
At first, the atma or the self is explained. Next the constituents of the individual—the jiva—is explained through different bodies: gross, subtle and causal, waking, dream and deep sleep, the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and bliss sheaths.
Now the whole universe comprising objects, people and situations, is explained. From this maya or total mind which is completely dependent for its existence on the brahman or the supreme truth, space has emerged. Space is the first thought projection we make. Space can be created or removed depending on our thoughts. That is the reason why sometimes even in a house where just a couple can live, there are 25 people who are accommodated for a night’s stay. Space is created according to the dictates of the mind which is nothing but a sense of love. In love, there is accommodation for all the objects of love!
Air begins to flow from this space. From air is generated fire or heat. From heat is generated water and from water comes earth. This is the order of creation. Even for the individual human beings, animals and plants, the different sense organs are created out of the existential, dynamic and inert qualities of the five elements. From the existential or sattvic nature of space, air, fire, water and earth are created the sense organs of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling respectively.
If we are able to experience sounds, feel objects, people and situations, it is because of the existence of these five elements. How much of our gratitude then should go to these five elements for the simple reason that their mere presence is singularly responsible for the mere experiences?