Whether it is the individual human body or the larger cosmic body, essentially, they are made of five elements or the pancha bhutas – earth, water, fire, air and akasha.
Today, there is substantial scientific evidence to show that water has tremendous memory. If you just generate a thought looking at the water, the molecular structure of the water will change. If you touch it, it will change. So how you approach water is very important.
The Earth element is the basis that all the other elements build on, and of our physicality. Though the element of Earth is part of physical matter around us too, it is best we start to perceive and understand it from the basis of our lives, because most people only really experience their own body and mind. Knowing and experiencing the element of Earth from within is part of the Yogic process.
In the Yogic tradition, we refer to air as “vayu,” which means not just air as a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases, but as a dimension of movement. Among the five elements, air is the most accessible and relatively the easiest element to gain reasonable mastery over. Hence, a large number of Yogic practices are structured around vayu or air.
In Indian culture, the element of fire is personified as Agni Deva, a god with two faces who rides on a fiery ram. The two faces are symbolic representations of fire as a life-giver and a life-taker. Without the fire burning within us, there is no life. But if you do not take care, fire can quickly go out of control and consume everything.
Do not mistake akasha for empty space. It is ether. The word “ether” is not quite accurate but it is the closest translation. Ether is not space; it is a subtle dimension of existence. Space is kala or nonexistence. It is Shi-va – “that which is not.” Akasha is “that which is.”
Why Does One Need the Cooperation of the Five Elements or Pancha Bhutas?
If these five elements do not cooperate, you can struggle as much as you want, nothing happens. Only with their cooperation, from the basic aspects to the highest aspect, your life becomes a possibility. The fundamental sadhana in Yoga to gain mastery over these five elements or to purify the elements in the system in such a way that they cooperate, is referred to as Bhuta shuddhi.
This human system is like a doorway. A door has two aspects to it – if you are always facing closed doors, for you doors mean that which stops you. If doors are opening up for you, then for you a door means a possibility of entering into something. In either case, it is the same door; which side of the door you are on decides everything about your life, even in terms of time and space. Whether you experience this body as a great possibility or a great barrier simply depends on the extent to which these five elements are cooperating.
In Isha Yoga, every sadhana has something to do with organizing these five elements in such a way that you can reap the best out of the individual being and the cosmic nature because both are just a play of these five elements. Whether this individual physical body becomes a stepping stone for your ultimate possibility or a hurdle towards that essentially depends on how you are able to deal with these five elements. What you are right now is just a little bit of earth, water, air and temperature. All the ingredients are out there in the garden; it just takes a little divine touch to make these four things into a throbbing human being.
Sitting here, if you are aware of how the water, air, earth and fire in your body are functioning, suddenly you live your life with so much ease that people start thinking you are superhuman. But this is not about being superhuman, this is about realizing that being human is super. Being human is super if only you learn to use your humanity and this human mechanism as a possibility, not as a barrier.
What Is the Composition of the Five Elements Within the Human Body?
In these five elements, unless you want to explore mystical dimensions you do not have to bother about the akasha. Among the other four, seventy two percent of your body is just water. Another twelve percent is earth. Another six percent is air, which is the easiest thing to manage and take charge of because there is breath and you can take charge of it in a certain way. Another four percent is fire. Taking mastery over fire could do many things to you but because you are householders living in family situations, you do not have to take charge of fire. The remaining is akasha. You do not have to bother about that unless you want to explore mystical dimensions of the existence. To live well, four elements are enough. The fifth one is not relevant for people who just want to live well.
Pancha Bhuta Temples
India is a land where for the five elements in nature, there are five temples, which are all geographically located within the Deccan Plateau – four in Tamil Nadu, and one in Andhra Pradesh. These temples were created not for worship, but for sadhana. People moved from one temple to the other to do sadhana on each of the five elements.
At one temple, they did sadhana on earth, then, they went to the next temple to do sadhana on water, and so on. Unfortunately, this connection is not there anymore because the sadhana atmosphere has been taken away. This understanding and mastery is generally missing, but the temples still exist. Some of them have maintained that vibrance and quality, while some of them have become weak.
Consecration can be done for the five elements. For example, let us say we want to create a deity for air. We will create an energy form, which a human being can relate to. Being in the yogic system, we generally do not go for a human form. We go for an ellipsoid because we know it is one form which will last longest with least maintenance.
Adiyogi Unravels the Mystery of the Five Elements or Pancha Bhutas
Over 15,000 years ago, Adiyogi spoke about the five elements or the pancha bhutas. He pointed out for his first seven disciples that the whole universe is just a play of five elements; and in what proportion it plays within our body and how, if one can gain mastery over these, in a way you have mastery over the creation. By having even an element of mastery over the creation, you have a very direct access to that which is the source of creation. When this science was expounded in great detail and in all its manifestations, the Saptarishis who were sitting there as disciples, and Parvati, his wife, who was also witness to this, were amazed. They were incredulous. They could not believe that the whole existence is just five things – and one is nothing, so only four things.
Adiyogi Reveals the Two Ways to Access the Source of Creation
Adiyogi went about describing the intelligence behind it: with just four ingredients, you can cook up such a soup that we call the cosmos today. Everything that is physical is largely four elements. You do not experience the fifth one most of the time. If I just give you four things, can you even make sambar out of it? Even to make sambar you need twenty-five ingredients!
If someone can cook up a whole cosmos with four things, that is astounding brilliance. Adiyogi went about describing the science and technology of gaining mastery over these elements. These seven plus one who were listening to this and were watching the little demonstrations that he setup were absolutely taken by this. Then he said, “Either you can master all these things or you can just surrender to this intelligence and it will be yours.” The seven men were excited about mastering it. Parvati, the woman, decided to surrender to it and make it a part of herself.
So the seven were sent away to do work. Parvati was kept there because she gave in to the intelligence and it became a part of her. These seven were labeled as sages. She became a Goddess. I am talking about how to promote yourself! If you get into the intricacy of how everything has manifested, even if you live here for a million years and study, study, study, it will be an endless process. It is exciting but it is an endless process.
Or, you simply put this endless process aside and touch the dimension that is the source of all these. If you want to play the game, you involve yourself with the elements of creation. If you do not want to play the game, if you are a match-fixer and just want to win – you are not interested in the game, you just want to pass and go on – then you touch only that which is the source of Creation. You do not have to get lost in the elements.
You play the game or the game plays you. But if you do not play the game, the game may play you. Keeping the whole game of life aside and just being focused on being one with the source of Creation seems to be the simplest thing. If you have no sense of “you”, if you have that level of dispassion about your own body, mind, thoughts, emotions and everything, it comes naturally.
Otherwise, this is the most diﬃcult thing. Is it possible to keep “you” aside when you are the hero of your life? When you are the main role, keeping “you” aside does not happen so easily. But that is the simplest and greatest way. Otherwise there is a big game to play – quite an endless game. But if you want to play the game, you better play it skillfully. A lousy player is hated by everyone.
Why is it Important to Gain Mastery over the Five Elements or Pancha Bhutas?
Once you choose to play the game, having some mastery over the elements is important. Otherwise you will be a lousy player with life. If people have succeeded in any sphere of life, that means knowingly or unknowingly, in some way there is some mastery. Otherwise there is no success in anything. Maybe they worked for it elsewhere or they are working for it here, but without a certain element of mastery over something, there is not going to be any success in life.
If we have chosen to do activity, success is the sweetest thing in human life. There are some people going about spreading this kind of rubbish – they are referred to as philosophies – “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s all right.” There is no such rubbish in life. When you play a game you want to win. After the game is over, in case you lost, yes it is all right that you lost but before you play if you think it is all right to lose, you do not know what a game is.
Once you have chosen to play the game – whether the marketplace, marriage, life or spiritual process – you must win. Many times it may be a team sport. You may forget that you winning means people with you also need to win. If you are married and you think only you should win, he or she will make it miserable for you!