Mystic Lotus

Cha Dhātuyo

Six Elements

Cha Dhātuyo

Six Elements

Mahābhūta is Sanskrit and Pāli for "great element" SN 14:11.

In canonical texts, the Great Elements refer to elements that are both "external" (that is, outside the body, such as a river) and "internal" (that is, of the body, such as blood). These elements are described as follows:

  1. Pruṭhavī-Dhātu
    Earth Element

    Earth element represents the quality of solidity or attractive forces. Any matter where attractive forces are in prominence (solid bodies) are called earth elements. Internal earth elements include head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bone, organs, intestinal material, etc.

  2. Āpa-Dhātu
    Water Element

    Water element represents the quality of liquidity or relative motion. Any matter where relative motion of particles is in prominence are called water elements. Internal water elements include bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, nasal mucus, urine, semen, etc.

  3. Teja-Dhātu
    Fire Element

    Fire element represents the quality of heat or energy. Any matter where energy is in prominence are called fire elements. Internal fire elements include those bodily mechanisms that produce physical warmth, ageing, digestion, etc.

  4. Vāyu-Dhātu
    Air Element

    Air element represents the quality of expansion or repulsive forces. Any matter where repulsive forces are in prominence are called air elements. Internal air elements includes air associated with the pulmonary system (for example, for breathing), the intestinal system ("winds in the belly and bowels"), etc.

  5. Ākāsa-Dhātu
    Space Element

    Internal space elements includes bodily orifices such as the ears, nostrils, mouth, anus, etc.

  6. Viññāṇa-Dhātu
    Consciousness Element

    Described as "pure and bright" (parisuddhaṃ pariyodātaṃ), used to cognise the three feelings (vedana) of pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain, and the arising and passing of the sense contact (phassa) upon which these feelings are dependent.

Any entity that carry one or more of these qualities (attractive forces, repulsive forces, energy and relative motion) are called matter (rupa). The material world is considered to be nothing but a combination of these qualities arranged in space (akasa). The result of these qualities are the inputs to our five senses, color (varna) to the eyes, smell (gandha) to the nose, taste (rasa) to the tongue, sound ('shabda') to the ears, and touch, to the body. The matter that we perceive in our mind are just a mental interpretation of these qualities.

According to the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the "space element" is identified as "secondary" or "derived" (upādā).

Rūpa (matter) means both materiality and sensibility—it signifies, for example, a tactile object both insofar as that object is tactile and that it can be sensed. Rūpa is never a materiality which can be separated or isolated from cognizance. Rūpa is not a substratum or substance which has sensibility as a property. Matter, or rūpa, is defined in its function; what it does, not what it is. As such, the four great elements are conceptual abstractions drawn from the sensorium. They are sensorial typologies, and are not metaphysically materialistic. They are not meant to give an account of matter as constitutive of external, mind-independent reality.

The Four Elements DN 11 DN 22 MN 10 MN 112 MN 115 MN 119 MN 140 MN 143 SN 14:4 SN 16:13 SN 18:9 SN 22:54 SN 25:9 SN 26:9 SN 27:9 SN 35:197 SN 35:204 SN 35:238 SN 35:245 SN 55:17 AN 3.61 AN 3.75 AN 4.177 pertinence to the Buddhist notion of suffering comes about due to:

  1. The Four Elements are the primary component of "form" (rūpa).

  2. "Form" is first category of the "Five Aggregates" (khandhas).

  3. The Five Aggregates are the ultimate basis for suffering (dukkha) in the "Four Noble Truths".

Schematically, this can be represented in reverse order as:

Four Noble Truths → Suffering → Aggregates → Form → Four Elements

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5 Elements


Chapter:Different Types of Consciousness Mental States Miscellaneous Section Analysis of Thought-Processes Process Freed Section Analysis of Matter Abhidhamma Categories The Compendium Of Relations Mental Culture