The 36 Tattvas - Ṣat Kañcukas

Ṣat Kañcukas

Kañcukas means armour. Here it is used in the sense of limiting filter, a restrictive force creating a "prison" for the consciousness inside the dual creation.

Powers that maintain the individual soul resting in the middle like Trishanku, which otherwise would fall into the condition of complete inertia like a rock, etc, or would ascend into the sky of Consciousness like the Supreme Lord. Abhinavagupta

The theory of the 5 sheaths existed long before. Shankara writes in his 'Atma Bodha' about the five sheaths the Immaculate Atman appears to have borrowed.

Trishanku is a mythical character who wanted to ascend to heaven in his physical body. While the sage Viswamitra was helping him ascend, the Gods were in opposition, thus he became suspended half way through.

Abhinavagupta describes the kañcukas as five forces that create a middle ground between the realm of the pure tattvas and objectivity; the purpose of this middle ground is to reunite both the spiritual and the material, the subjective and the objective - a playground of spiritual evolution that is needed if such entities as jiva (the limited being) are to exist.

Thus kañcukas have a triple role: they act as an entry barrier towards the realm of the pure tattvas for the limited beings (jiva), they also act as a gateway for the illuminated, who can pass without impediment between the pure and impure realities, and finally, they create a middle ground of subjective-cum-objective activity, where spiritual evolution can take place.

The five kañcukas present both a limited aspect and a universal aspect. They are like intervals, with one end in the infinite and the other end in the finite. They are:

omnipotence - sarvakartṛtva limited power - kalā
omniscience - sarvajñatva limited knowledge - vidyā
fullness, perfection - pūrṇatva limitation of desire - rāga
eternity - nityatva limitation of time or life - kāla
omnipresence - vyāpakatva limitation of space - niyati

The combined effect of the five limitations (kañcukas), is described as follows, by Abhinavagupta, in just one phrase:

Thus, the subject, being limited or intertwined with kāla, vidyā, kalā, rāga and niyati and being deprived of divine glory by māyā, shines as limited, feeling 'that which knows something now, does this and is attached to this, am I' - Īśvarapratyabhijñā Vimarśinī of Abhinavagupta.

Read more about this topic:  The 36 Tattvas

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