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
The 5 Elements at Work
A few things to realize about the 5 elements. Each finer element contains, observes and animates the grosser ones. In this way and for this reason, the primordial sound of Aum is the first act of creation. Its resonance through the element of Ether (Sound resonates through Ether) begins the dance of creation out of the equilibrium that exists before. After ether, the Air element is formed, then Fire, Water, and Earth. This is why mantras are so powerful. They resonate through all 5 of our elemental bodies. (Mantras are sacred sounds repeated over and over again, See the chapter on Mantras and Meditation later in the book)
Life is created from the finer elements to the grosser ones. However, our spiritual path is walked in reverse. First we must master the body, (earth) then the senses, (water) the emotions, (fire) the intellect (air) then finally pure consciousness. (ether)
When we see a chocolate bar, the physical body (earth) is animated by the senses. (water) The desire to eat it arises in the reactive / instinctual mind (fire), but the higher mind (Air) actually decides whether or not to eat the éclair. Our consciousness (ether) makes us aware of this process.
In Hatha Yoga, asanas (postures) are designed to balance the 5 elements in this way.
• Earth: holding the posture stabilizes and relaxes the body.
• Water: A stable, relaxed body stabilizes the emotions and the senses.
• Fire: Stable emotions allow mental peace and removes desire and motivation.
• Air: Once struggling stops, perceptions clear and the mind can enter the present moment.
• Ether: Once perceptions become clear and mind is present, conscious and blissful awareness fills the being. One rests in their true nature.
Hatha yoga prepares the mind and body for meditation. In meditation we connect to our deeper self and balance the 5 elements in this way.
• We connect to universe (ether) through the breath (air).
• Deep breathing slows, deepens and stabilizes the mind’s desires and passions (fire).
• With the passions controlled we can observe the senses and emotions, (water) which become balanced.
• Then the body becomes stable. (earth)
A stable body in meditation is one of awareness. Since we started with breath connecting to ether, higher consciousness will be observing the thoughts and mind / body events.
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.
Yogic practices are to cultivate Sattwa.
But each of these attributes also act as obscuring factor as their expressions show our projected illusory limitations, forming the rope of Maya. When Tamas becomes a mental or emotional state, the intellect becomes stagnant and there is clinging and ignorance. An excessively Rajasic body will bring exhaustion and instability. Neither Rajas nor Tamas will allow higher learning, which requires a Sattwic mind.
If suddenly you become sleepy as you read this you would stop learning, as the heaviness of Tamas would disrupt. If suddenly you became hungry or sexual, also you would stop learning, as Rajas would compel you to act and disturb your mental quiet.
This morning, as your alarm clock went off there was a preponderance of Tamas. Your body and mind were heavy and perhaps you had just mistaken yourself in a dream as being your real self. Sleep, inertia, and delusion are Tamasic.
As you started to become motivated and got up from the bed, Rajas was dominant, as rajas is activity. Also, you need to go to work to earn money so you can have things that give you pleasure and that you enjoy. Worldly pursuits are mainly Rajasic in nature as they are primarily self – centered.
Currently as you read this, in search of knowledge and understanding beyond pleasure seeking and accumulation, Sattwa dominates. (Hopefully at least)
Most of the time, we are Rajasic, striving towards Sattwa, trying not to be pulled down by Tamas. Our experiences take on the quality of the predominant guna. Even though waking from sleep is generally Tamasic, Saints, for example awaken is very sattwic way. Our spiritual practices or lack of them determine whether we are growing toward higher knowledge and harmony (Sattwa), descending into darkness and delusion (Tamas) or simply maintaining our outward desire driven existence (Rajas).
Either way, our true Self is there, unspoiled and causeless, silently and peacefully existing beneath all actions and beyond the qualities of the gunas.