THE FIVE GREAT ELEMENTS: A MIRROR TO OUR BEING
Ayurveda is the product of a civilization, which is deeply rooted in Mother Nature. The seers knew that all of Nature is part of the individual, since we are all created from, exist in, and return to nature.
A fundamental tenet of the Ayurvedic system of medicine is the principle of similarity between macrocosm and microcosm. We human beings are made of the same “stuff” the rest of the universe is made up of. Ayurveda believes that everything in the universe is made up of Five Great Elements called Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth, orAkasha,Vayu, Teja, Aap, andPrithvi in Sanskrit, respectively. These Five Great Elements can be considered as subtle matter states or energy; as matter and energy are interconnected states on the continuum of existence.
The Five Great Elements
The most important, or foundational, organizing principle of Ayurveda is the Five Great Elements, known as thePancha Mahabhutas. The Five Elements represent multidimensional macro and micro existence, expression and ideas, where Space, for example, represents the expansive and open qualities of the universe/sky, the infinite potential of the mind, and also, the actual hollowed spaces inside the body, for example, inside tubes and channels, arteries, etc.
Earth represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence, and rigidity. The body parts that are particularly thick, stable, massive, heavy, coarse, and hard; nails, bones, teeth, flesh, skin, feces, hair, beard and mustaches, skin hair, tendons, etc., along with smell and olfactory sense (nose) are Earth in nature. In the mind, Earth endows resolve, power to withstand and endure.
Water characterizes eternal flow and is always unstable by nature, It is a liquid state and is a majority composer of various fluid substances inside our body – blood, lymph, urine, intracellular fluid, and even emotions that often possess a liquid and sticky, clingy, cohesive quality. Water flows through our being, distributing nutrition, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature by imparting a cooling effect, strengthening and moistening our being by distributing the immune essence, orOja, throughout the body; and making our cells hydrated and youthful with fluid. The sense of taste and tongue are Water dominant in nature. Thus, the liquid, mobile, dull, unctuous, soft, and slimy aspects of our being are dominated by Water. In the mind, Water creates feelings and emotions.
Fire is the power to transform, burn, and illumine. In the body, all food and substances, be they solid, liquid, or gaseous in nature, thanks to Fire, get transformed or converted into tissue and energy. In the mind, fiery intelligence and fiery emotions, along with passion, contribute to a fiery experience of the being. Heat, luster, along with vision and visual sense, are Fire dominant in nature. In the mind, Fire assists passion, as well as anger.
Air is the Element that is mobile and eternally dynamic, with no arrest, whatsoever. Its constant motion and speed is its unique characteristic. Respiration, twinkling of eyes (all subtle movements, including that of nerves), contraction and relaxation, movement, propulsion and retention, along with touch and tactile senses, are Air dominant in nature. In the mind, the thoughts and their constant motion is well represented by Air. So typically, fearful anxiety will manifest if air element were to unnaturally increase.
Ether is the space in which everything happens. The vacant spaces inside the body, big and small channels, along with sound and auditory sense are predominant in Space by nature. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Ether is only the distances that separate grosser states of matter (the other four elements). The chief characteristic of ether is sound. Here, sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration. In the mind, it creates an expansive potential to meditate and be quiet.
This article by Acharya Shunya Pratichi Mathur was originally posted on www.ayurvedalifestylemedicine.org