Elements Bhutas Tattvas in Yoga Meditation


There are five elements
earth = Prithivi, qualities of solidity, firmness, stability, hard or dense
water = Apas, qualities of fluidity, moving or flowing
fire = Agni/Tejas, qualities of energy, warmth or power
air = Vayu, qualities of lightness or airiness
space/ether = Akasha, qualities of existence, beingness
Bhutas = gross elements
Tattvas = subtle elements


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All that we can perceive is made out of the 5 elements, both in the dream state as in the waking state. Therefore in our practice it is useful to become aware of these building blocks. Manifestation appears to consist of many forms, objects, and materials, which can be observed one item at a time, but if you narrow it down to only five building blocks it will be easier to transcend the totally of manifestation, as none of these are who you really are, they are all a part of maya. Then you can contemplate that everything that is made of earth is not who I am, everything that is made of water is not who I am, everything that is made of fire is not who I am, everything that is made of air is not who I am, and even everything that is has space is not who I am. To be able to do this you will first have to witness the elements in many different ways to gain insights about them.
Therefore pick an element for a day or a week and during your day, right in the middle of your daily activities you are mindful of that element. For example you have picked the element earth and when you walk towards your work you look around and you see the grass, which is made of earth, but also the buildings are made of earth, and the cars too are the elements earth as they all have the qualities of firmness, solidity, and denseness; which are all qualities of the element earth. Therefore you may get the insight that it doesn’t have to be only made of dirt, sand, or clay to be the element earth, but anything that is solid, hard, and firm is earth and therefore as if you are suddenly wearing special x-ray glasses you look into the world and see all the solid materials as one and all details and differences disappear. You may realize that some thoughts are so colored with attraction or aversion that they have a earth-like quality to them, because they seems to be made of stone and constantly make you feel heavy. All these kinds of moments will give you many insights of how we perceive the manifestation in and around us, and how the elements play their role in it.

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Daily observations and Self-assessment

Eventually the elements will swim around in your awareness all the time, as they become a part of constant self-awareness. Also, becoming aware of these five elements will have the effect that you will increase your use of these words in your daily vocabulary to express yourself and you will discover how these elements relate to other concepts, processes, or insights. For example, you may come to see that when you feel lethargic, which you label as tamas, you may also think of the element of earth. Or when you are aware that at a moment there is great ekagra, it also feels as being grounded, which can also be linked to the element of earth. Eventually you will discover how all these concepts dance together and coming to know this dance will guide you towards that which is beyond all the concepts. This is because as you increase your self-awareness, you will discover that everything you can observe is not who you truly are, you are not the elements, you are the One that is able to witness all these concepts. Therefore the elements itself have to be transcended, who you really are is beyond the elements. This will increase the non-attachment towards the elements itself, while you can be in awe of the beauty of the Divine dance of Consciousness that appears to play as the 5 elements. Therefore practicing self-awareness is actually practicing not-self-awareness by which the True Self will eventually reveal itself.
Look at the self-assessment PDF (assessment-yymmdd.pdf) and a PDF that includes daily internal dialogue and daily observation (sumseven-yymmdd.pdf) on the website of www.abhyasaashram.org (when you are on this page scroll all the way down to find the downloadable PDFs) These PDFs can be used as tools to explore and expand your understanding on the 5 elements.


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Elements and chakras
Each element is related to a chakra. The name chakra is given to a place where multiple nadis (energy streams) cross; these intersections are like wheels or powerhouses and are each related to an element, a jnanendriya and a karmendriya.
Sahasrara Chakra has no element or indriya, is pure consciousness
Ajna Chakra has no element or indriya and is related to mind
Visshuda Chakra is related to hearing, speaking, and space
Anahata Chakra is related to feeling, holding, grasping, and air
Manipura Chakra is related to seeing, moving, and fire
Svadhistana Chakra is related to tasting, procreating, and water
Muladhara Chakra (the lowest chakra) is related to smelling, elimination, and the element earth.
When you imagine the apparent evolution of manifestation it first needs a space to manifest in. Therefore space is the first element to appear and is therefore also the last to transcend. Then air fills up the space, and when the air starts to move, it turns into energy-flows; which is the element fire. When energy starts to flow in streams, the element water seems to appear. And the last element that seems to be manifested is earth; it appears when the water seems to solidify. Allow the mind to follow this story of manifestation so that you can contemplate on the apparent order in which the elements are presented and how to find your way back to space and beyond. As the journey to Self-realization is up through the sushumna channel, to pierce all the chakras and the merge back into Pure Consciousness at the Sahasrara chakra, you may come to understand why it is that muladhara is related to earth; as this is the lowest chakra and the last element to have manifested.
Space to understand Brahman
A beautiful contemplation is to expand your thoughts on space as if it is Brahman. Of course, we just have read that eventually space also needs to be transcended as it too is a manifestation of maya. But when it is difficult to hold the formless Absolute Reality in the mind-field, the mind is sort of able to contemplate on space. Therefore to contemplate on space and to relate or connect the insights with the understanding of Brahman will help you in being able to hold the formless in your understanding. Therefore allow questions to arise like; “Does space ever move?” Or; “Is space affected by anything that moves within the space?” “Are there boundaries to space?” “What exists that does not have any space in it?” “Can anything exists without space?” “Does anything that exists only have a part space in it, or is it completely, totally emerged in space?”
I hope you see that spending some time with space is of tremendous value….


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1.16 Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves (gunas), achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness (purusha), is called supreme non-attachment (paravairagya).
tat param purusha khyateh guna vaitrshnyam
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2.18 The objects (or knowables) are by their nature of: 1) illumination or sentience, 2) activity or mutability, or 3) inertia or stasis; they consist of the elements and the powers of the senses, and exist for the purpose of experiencing the world and for liberation or enlightenment.
prakasha kriya sthiti shilam bhuta indriya atmakam bhoga apavarga artham

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3.13 These three transition processes also explain the three transformations of form, time, and characteristics, and how these relate to the material elements and senses.
etena bhuta indriyasau dharma laksana avastha parinamah vyakhyatah
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3.17 The name associated with an object, the object itself implied by that name, and the conceptual existence of the object, all three usually interpenetrate or commingle with one another. By samyama on the distinction between these three, the meaning of the sounds made by all beings becomes available.
shabda artha pratyaya itaretara adhyasat samkara tat pravibhaga samyama sarva bhuta ruta jnana
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3.45 By samyama on the five forms of the elements (bhutas), which are gross form, essence, subtleness, interconnectedness, and its purpose, then mastery over those bhutas is attained.
sthula svarupa suksma anvaya arthavattva samyamad bhuta-jayah
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3.46 Through that mastery over the elements, comes the abilities of making the body atomically small, perfect, and indestructible in its characteristics or components, as well as bringing other such powers.
tatah anima adi pradurbhavah kaya sampad tad dharma anabhighata cha
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4.14 The characteristics of an object appear as a single unit, as they manifested uniformly from the underlying elements.
parinama ekatvat vastu tattvam
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”When you notice that one nostril is more active, during that time, one of the tattvas (subtle elements of physical body) are active and one of them becomes most prominent, which of course creates a disturbance in the mind. This is what causes the alteration in the flow of the breath. The tattvas, or physical elements, are affected by the flow of the breath through the left and right nostril, and vice versa. However, once you gain control over the breath it can also give you control over the changes in the tattvas, according to your discrimination and concentration as a student of meditation.”
~ Meditation and its Practice pg. 89
”In yoga philosophy, the universe is thought to be formed from combinations of five basic elements, or bhutas. Each combination has a different proportion of primordial matter (prakriti) and consciousness (purusha). The bhutas are each associated with a human cognitive sense. We have noted for example, that the sensation of any sort of fragrance, the objects of the sense of smell, is related to the muladhara chakra.”


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Read the whole article “Chakra Meditation – Bhuta Shuddhi – Purifying the 5 Elements” on www.swamij.com
Bhuta Shuddi is an ancient Chakra Meditation of Yoga and Tantra practice through which the five elements (bhutas) are balanced or purified (shuddhi). Bhuta refers to the past, and shuddhi refers to purifying that past, or the samskaras that operate in conjunction with the five elements. This is a very useful practice, whether you think of it as preparation for kundalini awakening, or simply as a practice for feeling balanced, centered, or tranquil, etc.
Read the whole article “Bindu: Pinnacle of the Three Streams of Yoga, Vedanta and Tantra” on www.swamij.com
The good news is that at the Advanced end of the spectrum, we return to simplicity, but of a much higher order. We come to see that all material objects are made only of fundamental elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space (and the more primal elements or gunas of sattvas, rajas, and tamas). We come to see beyond the vast contents of mind, to the fact that the instruments of mind and senses are not really so complex after all.


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From the 24 Gurus of Lord Dattatreya
Once King Yadu saw Lord Dattatreya (Avadhoot) in a forest and addressed him “Sir, you are indeed quite capable, energetic and wise. Such as you are, why do you live in the forest, free from all desires? Even though you have neither kith and kin nor even a family, how could you be so blissful and self-contented?”
The Avadhoot (one who has shaken off all worldly desires) replied, “My bliss and contentment are the fruits of self-realization. I have gained the necessary wisdom from the whole creation, through 24 Gurus. I shall elaborate the same for you”.
Shri Dattatreya had twenty-four teachers from nature “many are my preceptors,” he told King Yadu, “selected by my keen sense, from whom acquiring wisdom freely, I wander in the world… The earth, air/breeze, sky (space), fire, the sun, pigeon, python, sea, moth, elephant, ant, fish, Pingala the courtesan, arrow-maker, infant/playful boy, the moon, honeybee, deer, bird of prey, maiden, serpent, spider, caterpillar and water are my twenty four preceptors.
1. Earth: All creatures, in accordance with their previous store of karma (action) assume different physical forms and live on earth. People plough, dig and tread the earth. They light fires on it. Still, the earth does not swerve from its course even by a hair’s breadth. On the other hand, it feeds and houses all creatures. Seeing this, I learned that the wise one should never swerve from his vow of patience, love and righteousness under any circumstances and one should dedicate his life for the welfare of living beings. The earth along with its mountains and rivers is my first guru.
2. Air: I observed that air is pure and odorless in itself. And it blows on both sweet and foul-smelling things without any discrimination or preference. Though it momentarily seems to take on the smell of its surroundings, in a short while, it reveals its pristine quality. From this I learned that a spiritual aspirant should live in the world, unaffected by the dualities of life like joy and sorrow and by the objects of the senses. He should keep his heart’s feeling and his speech unpolluted by vain objects. As I have learned all this by observing it, air is my second guru.
3. Sky (space): The soul is also like the sky, which is omnipresent. I have noticed that sometimes the sky (or space) gets thickly overcast, or filled with dust or smoke. At sunrise and during night, it apparently takes on different colors. But in fact, it ever retains its colorless self, and it is never touched or stained by any thing. From this I learned that a true sage should remain ever pure like the sky or space, untouched or unaffected by anything in the phenomenal universe in time, including his own physical processes. His inner being is totally free from emotional reaction to things and events even like the space. Thus I accepted the sky or space as my third guru.
4. Fire: My fourth teacher is the element of fire. Sometimes, it manifests itself as blazing flames; sometimes as smoldering embers, covered by ash. But it is always present in all objects as latent heat. The god of fire accepts the offering of everyone, irrespective of his moral worth and burns down his sins; and it still remains the ever-pure divinity as the fire-god; he is untainted by the sins of such devotees. So too, a sage of perfect realization should accept food of everyone, burn down his sins and bless the giver. Though fire has no specific form of its own, when it is associated with fuel that burns, it assumes such apparent forms. So too, the true Self, though formless in itself, appears in the forms of deities, human beings, animals and trees when it is associated with the respective physical structures. The source of all forms in the universe, as also their end, remains ever mysterious. All the things are manifest only in between their origin and their end. Their source and end is the true Self, which is eternal, unchanging, unmanifest and omnipresent. The nature of the element of fire is such. The manifest fire transforms the various things it consumes into the same ash. So too, the wisdom of self-realization rejects the manifest forms and properties of things as illusion and realizes their one original essence as itself. Thus the element of fire is my fourth guru.
24. Water: Water is my twenty fourth Guru. It quenches the thirst of every creature, sustains innumerable trees and all creatures. While it thus serves all living beings, it is never proud of itself. On the other hand, it humbly seeks the lowliest of places. The sage too should likewise bestow health, peace and joy to every creature that resorts to him. Yet he should ever live as the humblest of God’s creation.


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