Swami Nityamuktananda, (Order of Saraswati) has dedicated her life to the realization of the divine Truth and the dissemination of it in whatever form, creed or context.
German by birth, and naturalized British, she now lives, after many years of study and world-wide travel, in the far west of Cornwall. Although she originally studied Theology, her studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Art and Design (Ceramics) and Philosophy, and various branches of complimentary Medicine. Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the centre of her studies (as well as teaching) was always the subject of ‘Self-awareness’. Extensive travel and life in Asia (China, Japan and India) awakened her interest in Eastern Philosophy and led via the Zen arts of Raku and Shiatsu –to deep involvement in Sattipathana (mindfulness), Yoga, Vedanta, and of course meditation. Over the last 15 years, she has worked with several great spiritual Beings:
(S. Moriceau (Zen), T.Y.S. Lama Gangchen, Tulku (Tibetan Buddhism), Swami Chidvilasananda (Siddha Yoga), Swami Maheshananda (Samkhya / Yoga); Swami Anubhavananda, (Vedanta); the latter two both of Kaivalyadham, Lonavalla India; furthermore M.M. Swami Veda Bharati from the Himalayan Tradition.
In 1997 she completed her doctorate in Eco-philosophy and has since contributed world-wide in conferences and workshops on ‘The Five Elements’ and Yoga Philosophy. The same year she was awarded a “World Peace Prize” for contributions to World Peace (LGWPF), NGO of UN).
Feels odd to write about something so natural and part of our life that we are almost unaware of it. The world is unthinkable without the Five Elements, namely Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. Yet talking about these makes us aware that behind the apparent, there are universal concepts, reaching back to antiquity. In recent years they have become widely known due to several revivals:
Yoga and its philosophy (Vedanta/Samkhya) have spread through the West like wild fire! Patanjali, the ‘Father of Yoga’, describes in his Yoga Sutras the importance of focused contemplation on the Five Elements and its consequence.
Holistic approach to life (from Feng Shui, American Indian wisdom and simple eco-philosophy) further point to the necessity of studying these energies in depth.
Complementary medicine in all its different forms, however, plays probably the most prominent role in the ‘rediscovery’ of the Five Elements Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Ayurveda etc. etc).
Contemporary science of energy fields and their vibrations might be another surprising contender for the wisdom of the Five Elements.
Throughout time, man perceived himself and his surroundings through these elements and as his perception and ability to cogitate and relate information grew, so his knowledge of the Elements grew. Ample global evidence, from the earliest civilizations to the modern day, show that the Elements have been observed and seen as a link between the gross manifest world and its subtler dimensions, in the end opening to the highest powers. What form this path of manifestation took and to what extend it was used, depends of course on the climatic and cultural context.
One cradle of civilization is the region of Asia that descends into the Indian subcontinent. Scholars maintain that the worship of earth, fire, wind, water and the heavens existed there from the earliest times…’Philological investigation reveals distinct traces of such worship…they were worshipped or their mysterious power, the divine, manifested in them. The formation of gods is a later development…’
It is easy to picture.
Ancient people might have sat at the foothills of the Himalayas, in the Mediterranean sunshine, or the plateau of South America –and become aware of the conditions of their environment. They absorbed the warmth of the sun, walked by any river and watched its flow adapt to the riverbed. They felt pushed from behind by a strong wind, experiencing its power of movement The ancient ones felt the support of the earth under their feet and got lost in space by staring into the beauty of a night sky.
In comparison to these forces, man felt and feels insignificant, powerless and delivered to their action and it is only ‘human’ to ask: “what are these energies that I experience?” Furthermore, when suffering from their impact as devastating fires, floods, storms, earthquakes –even meteorites –or when plagued by fevers, depression, lung-diseases, decay or disorientation, man wanted to appease these powers. He tried to understand and manipulate them; knowledge was gathered and used in everyday life and in worship.
Observing the characteristics of these Elements led into more and more subtle realms, leading the ‘investigators’ into transcending the Elements and finding their common source. This process of discovery and learning was obviously influenced by cultural traditions. In China, strong emphasis on concrete help for physical disease led to the blossoming of medical knowledge; in South America, the knowledge of interaction between the Elements found its peak and for the wise men of India, the concepts were part of their vast spiritual tradition.
In this book we will explore four levels of this vast knowledge: the university of the concept (philosophical), how it helps us know our body, in ease and disease (physical/medical), and how, via a typology, it can help us understand ourselves and our relationships (psychological). Lastly we will explore some aspects of how knowledge about the Elements can help in our spiritual evolution (Yoga).
There is at times confusion: do we recognize four or five Elements? What are they called? In time these issues will be explored further. It suffices here, to say that most such issues revolve around the fifth Element; this, the most subtle, is rejected by the Greek tradition with great consequences for the Western culture.
The Chinese in accordance with a structured temperament all it Wood, (and the fourth ‘Metal’ or even ‘Iron and Nature’) even though their associations and characteristics tally with their equivalent in the rest of the world’s traditions.>p> Although the fifth Element is known around the globe by many names, in essence it remains the same. It mirrors the global awareness that matter alone does not explain the world we live in. there must be an intangible element that holds all together and goes beyond matter. The word ‘Space’ best expresses that realm where transcendence and immanence touch; others speak of ‘Either’, ‘Faith’ or in the Tradition and language of the Europe of the Middle Ages, the fifth Element is expressed as the ‘Cosmic Christ’.
It is obvious that the ‘fifth Element’, connecting heaven and earth/ matter and spirit, leads ultimately to contemplation of the unlimited, the Absolute. Some call this Ultimate force ‘God’ and name it according to their tradition, yet essentially “That/He’ is indescribable. Only once ‘IT’’ expresses in energy we can perceive, furthermore energy is never static, it interacts on all levels; it is this interaction we call the ‘Movement of Life’. This is ‘the Stuff that constitutes our world.
Chinese sages, Indian saints, European mystics, quantum physicists and modern biologists agree that everything is made of the same ‘stuff’. But due to the fact that we can only experience things via our five senses, our nervous system and the accumulated conditioning of our mind (i.e. traditions and culture), we perceive things only via our ‘points of view.’ We see the objects out there in the world –we see the tree, the car, the cat, the other person, quite distinctly as solid, individual shapes. But what we see, is not what is. If we would look at the same objects through the reference point of an electron or any other subatomic unit, all these are nothing but dancing, scintillating energy.
We see the piece of wood, can imagine its cells are made of carbon –but for most of us that is as far as our mind can go. Any deeper –most of us are lost. An image from ancient Indian scriptures can help us understand: When we look at the sea, we notice the many waves, each with its different shape and notion of rising and falling. We overlook the fact that the wave is no different from the ocean –and that both are nothing but water.
Looking at the differences, or looking at the sameness- produces two different views of the universe.
Modern science and ancient wise ones tried to perceive both; thus coming closer to Truth, or Reality. So Einstein said: “Life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny, only Being”. David Bohm described the world as a web where ‘consciousness and matte is married in one intricate order with n-th dimensions. ‘H. Skolimowski talks of a subjective, participatory universe. Quantum physicists and even biologists such as Rupert Sheldrake talk of the ‘unified field’ which is held in the general background field –there is no separation between one object and another. These interacting fields of energy have inherent intelligence, which come together as a ‘unified field’, as a field of supreme consciousness. Are the five energy fields, that the ancients globally recognized as the Five Elements, these very fields? Sheldrake’s ‘morphogenetic fields’ are an open and closed system. Open to constant change and interaction, closed within a certain character/frame (wave constantly interacts with ocean). It ‘transacts.’
The ancient ‘seers’ or rishis of India also testify to this unified field in which all existed para (beyond) our normal perception. They called this unified field Prakriti (or Shakti). The wise of many cultures investigated the nature of this shared ground which expresses in five categories, or base types of energies. They contemplated the nature of these Five Elements in great detail. We can step into their ‘shoes’ and, looking beyond the superficial perception of our senses, contemplate the wisdom behind these five types of energies.
You might say, “I know what the Elements are – what is all the fuss about, after all, water is what comes out of the tap and is used to wash, drink and brush my teeth.” Yes, but have you ever really mulled over what water is? The deeper we contemplate each Element, the deeper our understanding of how one Element relates to another, the more we understand about ourselves, our relationships and our place in this universe. From the moment we are born, we relate to others. However much we are made to believe that each one of us is a separate individual that can be put into a box, named, classified and codified for a computer –we are in essence one universal energy.
And yes, this energy has different characteristics – due to its expressions in five different types. We can know them, can even ask: what makes the fire burn, what makes the water flow, what makes the air move, and what is it that gives the earth its solidity? Even, what is behind the breath of life? and like the sages all over the globe, we will return to the only answer there is: some great creative force, that like a womb gives birth to everything; it is the place in which all is contained and from where all comes forth. This creative energy is linked (in most parts of the world) and frequently worshipped as the ‘Great Mother’ –who herself rests in the One Unknowable (Shiva/God father/the Luminous Ground etc), who is more elusive even than Space, with no form, no end and no beginning.
The Honourable Lama T.Y.S. Gangchen Tulku Rinpoche, a worldrenowned Tibetan teacher, encourages us to use the Five Elemental Energies to re-educate ourselves. Using his ancient tradition, he teaches that these Five are likened to Five Supreme Mothers. The Great Goddess, who is creative energy per se, appears as Five Supreme Mothers which we experience at the gross level ‘in the elements around us in the form of mountains, sea, air, space, fire…’and we can call on them on the subtle level to give us their blessing:
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