Five Elements (Panchabhoota) Part -1

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Published on: July 16, 2013

Five Elements (Pancha Bhootas) – Introduction

Indian philosophy describes that all living beings are made of five elements. 1. Space (Akasha), 2. Air (Vayu), 3. Fire (Agni), 4. Water (Jala), 5. Earth (Bhoomi). Present day science also agrees with this. So the question is, how did the five elements come into existence? I believe there are different views  around the world. But Vedic Astrology is formulated on this theory. Let us discuss it in detail.

Before formation or creation of this universe, there was no matter (Nirakara) and everything was formless. Only divine power existed, which we call Nirguna (which is above satva, rajo, tamo guna) and the Supreme power that shone is what we call Parabrahma. Creation of this world became essential for the souls which were waiting for rebirth to suffer their Karma. So Parabrahma first created his own form or energy or soulless vim. We call it maya or illusion. So whatever exists in this world except Parabrahma is only Maya. Although it appears to be radiant, it really is not. It is formless, immortal, it appears to be absolute, but it is not. From the union of Parabrahma and Maya, Prakruthi was created which contains within satva, rajo, tamo gunas. Prakruthi is latent and immortal, it appears to be absolute, but it is not (i.e. one which cannot be felt, or be heard).

When Prakruthi joins Purusha (Parabrahma), Mahat tatva is created. This Mahat tatva is like Prakruthi only. That is though it is latent as Parabrahma, it contains three Gunas, a majority of it being Satva Guna.  Hindu mythology has created and believe in 3 million Gods which are based on Mahat tatva. Mahat tatva is also known as Vijnanatma (that is one which has special knowledge) – it is superior than soul, but not as superior as Parabrahma. It is just one level below the God supreme. It is also known as Chitta (Indian phylosophy says if you merge yourself with satvaguna and chitta, you get eternal bliss. It is also known as Samadhi Sthithi). So in philosophy non latent form of Chitta is Mahat tatva.

When regency surfaces (becomes conspicuous) in Mahat tatva, Ahankara (thinking of self or egotism) is created. This Ahankara’s three ostensible forms are 1. Vaikarika (thought) 2. Tejasa (form of light) 3. Tamasa (lethargy). One form of Vaikarika Ahankara is the mind. It rules over all our sense organs. It has no obstacles, so it is also called Aniruddha (one which has no obstacles). It has satva, Rajo, Tamo guna’s. From this we get the quality of Kama (desire), Samshaya (doubt), Sankalpa(Aim), Dhairya (Courage) etc.

From Tejasa Ahankara Intellect is formed. From it we get Jnanendriya’s (Senory organs) and Karmendriya’s (Organs with which we work). From Tamasa Ahankara, Sound is produced and with it Akasha Tatva came into existence (space). From it we get sensory organ of hearing. When regency surfaces in Akasha Tatva, Sparsha Tanmatre (sense of touch) and with it Vayu (air) came into existence.  When regency surfaces in Vayu Tatva, Roopa Tanmatre (feature) and with it Agni (fire – also light or prakasha) tatva came into existence. From this we get the organ eye. When regency surfaces in Agni Tatva, Rasa (gusto) Tanmatre (sense of taste) and with it Jala (Water) tatva came into existence.  With it we get the organ tongue. When regency surfaces in Jala Tatva, Gandha (smell) Tanmatre (sense of smell) and with it Pruthvi (Earth) tatva  came into existence.

Here we must remember whenever the derivative form of tatva came into existence, it inherited all the original Tatvas and Tanmatras in it. Living beings in each Tatva contain tanmatras (sensual ability) and Karmendias (organs related to it). That means living beings in Pruthvi tatva naturally contain all five Tanmatras and Organs related to it.   That is why Saint Shankaracharya says “panchaprana manobuddhi dashendriya samanvitam| apanchikrutha bhutottham sukshmangam bhogasadhanam||”  That means Five forms of Prana (Air), Five form of senses, Five sensual organs, Intellect, Mind combined with five elements without Panchikarana (mixing with one another) is called Sookshma Sharira (Formless body) which is an instrument for enjoyment and suffering. Here Panchikarana means five elements without merging with one another in any proportion.

Shankaracharya asserts that the transformation happens in 1/8 proportions. That is when Akasha transforms into Vayu, 1/8 of it converts into Vayu. Similarly Vayu transforms into Agni by 1/8 portion. But in Purusha Sukta treatise, Saint Vidyaranya asserts that it is 1/10 proportion and not 1/8 proportion.

While there is a small difference in interpretation, the gist is that the original tatva is 10 times larger in volume compared to the derived tatva. For example, Jala tatva (water) is 10 times larger than Pruthvi tatva (Earth). So if we start from Pruthvi tatva each of the tatvas it is derived from is 10 times larger than its derivative. This can also be proven scientifically.  Science says human body contains 10 times more water than solid. But science is yet to recognize other tatvas in human beings (and all living beings). Indian philosophy says Agni is 10 times Jala and there are 49 forms of Agni. That means we are covered with huge amount of Akasha tatva (by proportion). So any change in akasha tatva in the Universe will effect every human being. This has been explained in Philosophy by “Ghatakasha logic”.  So when we say Sookshma sharira (formless body) is an instrument for enjoyment or suffering, what do we refer to as enjoyment or suffering? That is the one we earned as our Karma phala. This karma phala is controlled by Stars and Planets. That means the light of Stars and Planets effect the Ahankara, Mind, that affects the body. That is why our elders said that “purvajanma krutham paapam vyadhirupena pidyathe” That means the bad deeds of past life makes you suffer in the form of disease. Let us discuss more about this in the next writing.

Read more in : Five Elements Part-2


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