The 5 elements that make up our body and the cosmos
Earth, water, fire, air and space
The entire cosmic creation begins from what is known as the Pancha Mahabhutas or the five great elements. Whether it is the individual human body or the larger cosmic body, essentially, they are made up of these five elements or the Pancha Mahabhutas – earth, water, fire, air and space (prithvi, apas, agni, vayu and akasha).
Shiva is known as Bhutanatha or Lord of the Elements and the Chola kings of Tamil Nadu in South Bharat built five Shiva mandirs known as the Pancha Bhuta Sthalas in which Shiva is glorified as the manifestation of one of these elements. Tamil Nadu is famous for the five mandirs of Lord Shiva pertaining to the five elements. Prithvi or earth is in Ekambareshwara in Kanchipuram, apas or water is in Thiruvannaikkaval, agni or fire is found in Thiruvannamalai, vayu or air is seen at the mandir of Sri Kalahasti and akasha or space in Chidambaram.
In a single living cell, the structure of the cell is the earth element, the liquid or cytoplasm within the cell membrane is the water element, the metabolic processes regulating the cell is the fire element, the gases regulating the functioning of the cell is the air element and the space occupied by the cell denotes the space element.
How do we experience the world outside? If we were totally different from the world there would be no way that we could experience it. Therefore, the creator has put five agents into our body corresponding to the five elements by which we can experience the glory of this creation. These agents are our five sense organs – eyes, nose, skin, ear and tongue. Only a person who has all these five will be able to cognise the world correctly. If even one of these organs are missing, our experience of the earth will be that much less!
So let us see which organ refers to which element. Akasha or ether is the subtlest of all the elements. It is that in which everything takes place. In Hinduism the subtle always precedes the gross and not the other way round as we would suppose. The “tanmatra” or subtle quality of this element is “shabda” because it is capable of transporting sound. Sound waves can only be transmitted through space (akasha). In order to hear sounds, the body has been given the organ of the ear!
The next in order of subtlety is vayu or air. The special property of vayu is “sparsha” or touch. Even though it cannot be seen, it can be felt! The skin is the agent in our body that can feel touch. It also represents the gaseous state of matter and is responsible for the respiratory system.
The third element is agni or fire. It represents form without substance and it is something that we can see. The tanmatra is “rupa” or form. Of course the organ of perception in our body is the eye! The element of fire is also responsible for digestion.
The fourth element is apas or water and is represented by the sense organ of the tongue which is used for the dual function of both taste and speech. The tanmatra is “rasa” or taste. It represents the liquid state of matter and is responsible for fluid metabolism in the body. Blood, lymph and other fluids are considered as water elements.
The fifth element is prithvi or earth and its tanmatra is “gandha” or smell. Of course the nose is the organ representing smell. Prithvi represents the solid state of matter and is responsible for the physical constitution of the body. Bones, tissues and teeth are all considered as earth elements. The earth element is not only the basis of the physical body but it also promotes strength of mind, steadfastness, determination and uninterrupted advancement towards any goal. All individuals have to have all these five sense organs in order to perfectly experience the world we live in.
Akasha is the subtlest and prithvi, the grossest. Each element is used to create the next element, each less subtle than the next. The grossest element of prithvi (earth) can be perceived by all the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The next subtler element apas or water has no smell but can be heard, felt, seen and tasted. Next comes agni or fire which can be heard, felt and seen. After that comes vayu or air which can be heard and felt. Last comes akasha in which only sounds can be heard.
We are guilty of despoiling all these great elements and that is why we have to suffer from so many physical and mental disorders. Today we will only take the way in which we try to destroy the “earth” element.
We treat her like dirt and hence she is sending us worms and viruses! From the time humankind has lived on the earth we have started despoiling her. We have stolen all her precious articles – gold, silver, diamonds, coal, petroleum etc. by digging deep into her bowels. We have turned a deaf ear to her cries. We are also fast denuding her of her beautiful garments like trees, grasses and flowers. We tunnel into her bowels to make our metros and tubes, we cut through her mountains to make our paths easier, and crush stones and rocks to make our houses. Beautiful rounded pebbles from the rivers that have taken millions of years to shape are broken down in minutes to make our roads. We are the greatest predators. There is no animal as cruel as the human being. We prey upon the glorious creatures of the earth. By cutting forests we deny them their habitat and then kill them when they come into our fields because they have nothing to eat. We treat domestic animals as if they live only to give pleasure to our palates, uncaring of the inhuman way we treat them.
So, today’s plea to all of you is to treat the earth as your mother, care for her and look after her and all the creatures that live on her. By doing this, you will find a dramatic change both mentally and physically.
Hari Aum Tat Sat!
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