Chapter 3 – Yogic / Vedic Principles Formalized
The Self has entered this body, this dense jumble. If a man finds him, recognizes him, He’s the maker of everything-the author of all! The world is his-he’s the world itself.
– Brhadaranyaka Upanishad
The 5 Elements – Building Blocks of the Vedic Sciences
When spirit (Purusha) takes form it is called prakriti. Every object exists as prakriti. The building blocks of the vedic Sciences are the 5 elements. Their energies and properties provide the archetypes that underpin all aspects of Vedic thinking.
Starting with the grossest and moving toward the finest, the 5 elements are: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether (space). Also, each element corresponds to an organ of knowledge (Jnana Indriya) and organ of action (Karma Indriya).
Let us look deeper:
Earth – The Earth element corresponds to our physical body. As the densest element it is also the heaviest and “weightiest” psychological influence. Our physical body demands the most attention when its needs arise. For example no matter how enjoyable it may be talking to your best friend on the phone, you will only suppress the urge to go to the bathroom for so long before you relent. Earth connects us to the sense of smell. Anything we can smell contains Earth, which directly connects to the sex organ. Psychologically speaking, the Earth element is our practical nature, where we are literally “down to Earth.” Too much earth can lead to clinging to ideas and forms
Water – The water element corresponds mainly to the senses. More specifically to the flow of the senses from the physical body to the outer world and the connections and impressions made through the senses. It is on this vital level that our energy must connect to the environment in order to satisfy our bodily needs. (Earth) We see a chocolate éclair in the window of a Bakery and our mouth starts to water.
Water connects us to the sense of taste. This compels us to consume, which connects us to the organs of elimination. Psychologically, the Water element has to do with our deep emotional bonds, memories and sensory impressions. Too much water can lead to excessive emotion / emotional dependence.
Fire – The Fire element corresponds to digestion of all sorts, food and impressions. It is also our emotional mind and ego. The emotional mind mainly refers to our passionate nature and the instinctual and conditioned / reactive mind. It is the element of fire that digests sensory impressions, (water) turning them into thoughts that we can use. Otherwise our minds would just be a jumble of data.
Knowledge of fire is related to sight, which compels us to act through the feet, once we can see where we are going. Psychologically Fire represents our desire nature. We literally “burn” to satisfy our desires. It is fire that makes us “want” something and move toward it. Too much fire can lead to excessive anger and individualism.
Air – The Air element corresponds to movement of all sorts, the body, breath, thoughts, etc. Air is our higher intellectual and social mind. It is the mind of our philosophies and opinions – our politics and rationalizations as well as how we relate to others and society as a whole. It is through the air element that we interact socially with the world, and others and forms conclusions about them and ourselves.
Air connects us to the sense of touch, which activates the hands. Anything we can feel is touched by Air. Psychologically Air represents our higher mental capabilities, as well as our conscience and ethical principles. Too much air and one becomes ungrounded, aloof, dry or sterile.
Ether –The ether element corresponds to pure consciousness itself. Our awareness. It is the layer of being beyond the 4 gross physical elements. It refers to the witnessing consciousness, that which is able to perceive the thought process and remain unidentified with it. It is our connection to freedom and the closest to our true Self and our intuitive nature.
Ether connects us to the sense of sound, which also activates the function of speech. It is through sound that we perceive space. Psychologically Ether represents an initial freedom from the mind/ body complex. It is through the element of ether that we perceive the distance between the thinking / feeling mind substance and the oneness of creation and our connectedness to it. Ether as it does not represent our physical karma.
Karma and the 5 Elements
According to Vedic thought everything is an expression of pure God energy, pure God consciousness. All physical bodies arise out of this balanced God state. But as a result of past karma and the samskaras (mental impressions) that accompany them, the 5 elements arrange themselves to create the body that reflects the appropriate person, animal, or whatever. This karmic energy points to the lessons that need to be learned in that lifetime.
For example, a person who needs to work through anger problems in this lifetime will inherit a body, mind and upbringing that will challenge them to confront their anger and hopefully transcend it. In the case of anger, the element of fire will likely predominate.
If a person needs to learn to be flexible they will likely have a predominance of the air element. If a person needs to learn to work hard they will likely have earth qualities. An astrology chart shows this portrait of the soul’s karmas and samskaras.
The true Self is in the unmanifest state of pure energy and peace, in balance, without qualities (gunas), karmas and samskaras. At the heart of all beings and all matter is this pure energy. The qualities of this energy are Sat – chit – Ananda, Existence, Knowledge and Bliss.
Each being is unique based on it past, the lessons it has learned and the one’s it must still learn, yet all beings are united in Satchitananda. The force of life as Satchitananda is not so different than what Western science confirms everyday. The more Scientists examine the building blocks of life, the more they realize that atoms and subatomic particles move and behave in ways they simply do not understand. Just like the macrocosm of the universe, the microcosm of matter itself consists mainly Space. Even solid objects are mainly, on an atomic level, space.
The 3 Gunas
The 3 gunas are the 3 qualities of nature. The term Guna means “that which binds,” as each guna is like a separate strand, which when placed together form the rope of Maya. They are what bind us to the illusion that we are merely a physical / mental creature. All matter and energy consists of the 3 gunas in different quantities. Theirs are the component qualities of the physical, mental and spiritual worlds.
The 3 Gunas are:
Tamas: Body / Form. It includes inertia, ignorance and attachment. Tamas binds through inertia and our tendency to cling to situation and form. It’s power is best expressed through the physical forms, including our body and puts emphasis on ourself.
Rajas: Mind / Activity. It includes passion and desire. Rajas binds through motivation and our desire to experience pleasure. It is best expressed as the mind and emotions and puts emphasis on other people.
Sattwa: Spirit / Harmony. It includes love , knowledge and peace. Sattwa binds us to happiness and wisdom, which is also a barrier to final liberation. It is best known and the Soul and connects us to God.