Panca Mahabhutas: An Ecological Reading in The Vedas and Vedanta

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Item Code: NAH297
Author: Imti Samuel Longkumer
Language: Sanskrit Text with English Translation
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788186791813
Pages: 390
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 600 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This doctoral research examines the Five Great Elements-Pancamaha-bhutas as a spiritual resource for an ecological balance. It addresses the whole question of ecological crisis and shows how religious resources such as Vedas and Vedanta can curtail the existing ecological problems. It provides in-depth textual study on Pancabhutas which serves as a connecting link between the Divine, Human and Nature. The work traces how Pancabhutas-five elements namely earth, water, fire, air and ether were created by Brahman in their subtle forms and entered into them, and by their combination all other things have been formed (Chandogyopanisad VI. 2.3.4). And how all these elements are inseparable related to humans and the world. The material world as well as the material body is constituted by the same five elements. Each element possesses both material (gross) and spiritual (subtle) qualities, and each sense organ (indriya) is composed of the same element, the quality of which is sensed by it. Thus, human person is integrally related to nature on the one hand and God on the other. Human person is, but a harmonious combination of all the elements. In his/her embodied existence, s /he is composed of matter, life, senses and mind and consciousness and self. And in the centre of human person resides God as his/her inner Controller (antaryamin) and innermost Self. And it is through human and nature that the Creator is being manifested and on Him/Her they are ultimately dependent for their existence. It is this integral relationship which forms a living world where all the parts are dependent upon each other. This clearly indicates an unbroken continuum between living beings and the external World that promotes an ecological balance.

About the Author

Dr. Samuel Longkumer is an Associate Professor of Religions at Bishop’s College, Kolkata and Registrar of the North India Institute of Post Graduate Theological Studies - NIIPGTS (A joint programme of Bishop’s College and Serampore College). Between 1997 and 2002 he served the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalore, as Lecturer in the Indian School of Ecumenical Theology (ISET), a programme unit of ECC.


I have great joy in writing these lines for the doctoral thesis of Dr. Samuel Longkumer which is being published in book form. The fruit of his labour of many years he is now able to share with the larger academic world. I am sure all are going to be benefited by reading this work.

In this thesis the author shows that the elements earth. Water, fire, air and ether are today in a crisis. This elemental crisis is a serious ecological issue. This crisis has largely been contributed due to human greed and introduction of scientific technology to developmental process. Today all the elements have been colonized, eroded and polluted. The bond and belongingness of human being to the nature has been lost in the wake of industrialization, mechanization and urbanization. It has also given rise to terrible poison in the shape of environmental pollution and long-term damage, resulting in the disequilibrium of the five elements.

An in-depth understanding of Vedic and Vedantic concept of nature is of respect and reverence for the pancabhutas. Such ecological insights of the Indian tradition have their own specific contributions toward a spirituality of ecological harmony. A bhutanic spirituality would certainly make humanity kinder and more cooperative not only with one another but with the whole of nature. The words prthivi, ap, agni, vayu and akasa (dyaus) have been defied in the Samhitas However, these divinities may also be regarded as prototypal gross elements (bhutas). The deified elements as Vedic deities become insignificant in the Upanisads and Advaita vedanta as they are replaced by the understanding of elements as proper elements and not the deities corresponding to those elements. Also these elements now have meaning only in relation to the Ultimate Reality. Brahman/Atman who is the total creator. Sankara explains the process of the evolution of the world in terms of the Triplication or the Quintuplication of the elements. Since the material world and the material body are affected through the combination of the same five elements nature and humans are integrally related and are interdependent. The material world as well as the material body is constituted by the same five elements and each indria (sense-organ) is composed of the same element whose quality is sensed by it, thus forming a living world where all the parts are dependent upon each other. This clearly indicates a bhutanic spirituality of an unbroken continuum between living beings and the external world. Of course it is from Brahman/ Atman that the five elements (pancabhutas) are produced. Brahman/ Atman is the inner guide and overseer, who brings about the birth and motion of the elements. Insights such as these and many more are going to enrich the readers of this work.

May God help the author to bring out many more works as these in the coming days!


Today humanity is confronted with a serious ecological crisis whose intensity and complexity is of paramount significance. Ecological degradation caused by massive pollution of earth, water, air, space etc., is severely threatening and is affecting the very web of life. The secret of nature’s permanency lies in the cycle of life by which the various factors function in close cooperation to maintain the continuity of life. Ironically, the main cause of disruption of nature’s cycle of life is nothing but by human intervention. Science and technology have given tremendous gifts to humankind. It gave humans mastery over nature and opened up the possibilities of making life richer, comfortable, wholesome etc. It has also made several breakthroughs in the fields of agriculture, industrial production, medicine, communications, space exploration etc. Nonetheless, it is turning out to be against and at the cost of the Nature, as is crystal clear from the acute environmental crisis that we face today.

There are prolific publications on the ecological issues reminding human person of stark ways in which humans are polluting the entire environment, to the extent that many forms of life have become extinct and many more are threatened with extinction. It is an alarming fact that we are entering into an age of mass ecological suicide. Humanity is well aware that we are losing the battle; we are beginning to lose our precarious grip upon planet earth. And in such a given context, the more one considers the whole question of ecological crisis, the more deeply is one led to the view that one need to look into the depths of ancient traditions in order to recapture the essence of and reverence for nature that they have expressed.

The ecological crisis that we face today is not only because of socio-political and economic factors, but also because of our moral, ethical and spiritual crisis. Therefore, one needs to dive deep down into the religious resources and see whether it will help the modern humanity to co-exist harmoniously. Hence our research problem is to identify the evolution of meanings regarding Pancabhutas in select texts of the Vedas and vedanta in order to see whether they function as a spiritual resource to work for an ecological balance today.



  Abbreviation ix
  Acknowledgements xi
  Foreword xiii
  Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Contemporary Ecological Scenario  
  Introduction 23
1 Concept of Ecology 25
2 Challenges to Ecology 27
3 Ecological Crisis and its Effects on the Five Natural Elements 48
  Conclusion 62
Chapter 2 Panca Mahabhutas in Religious Traditions: A Survey  
  Introduction 75
1 Bhutas as found in Other Religious Traditions 75
2 A General understanding of the Bhutas in Hinduism 84
3 Development of the Understanding of Bhutas from the Rig Veda to the Upanisads 91
4 Interpretation of the Bhutas in the Vedanta School of Indian Philosophy 99
  Conclusion 102
Chapter 3 Pancabhutani in the Samhitas and Brahmanas : An Eco- Textual Study 112
  Introduction 112
l. The Samhitas 112
2 The Brahmanas 159
  Conclusion 177
Chapter 4 The Pancamahabhutas in the Upanisads and Advaita Vedanta: An Eco-Textual Study  
  Introduction 189
1 Upanisadic understanding of Cosomogony and Cosmology 190
2 Elements in the Upanisads 199
3 Elements as understood in the Advaita Vedanta 214
  Conclusion 227
Chapter 5 Pancahabhutas : A Link between the Divine, Human and Nature  
  Introduction 237
1 Brahman the Creator 237
2 Atman and the theory of creation 244
3 The Individual Self 248
4 The Subtle Body 252
5 Elements in Relation to the Individual Body 253
6 God, Human and Nature Conclusion 262
Chapter 6 Pancamahabhutas as a Spiritual Resource and its Ecological Significance 273
  Introduction 283
1 Bhutas in the Contemporary Context 283
2 Nature and Spirituality 291
3 Humans and Eco-spirituality 294
4 Pancabhutas as a Spiritual Resource 298
5 Bhutanic Spirituality’s Role in Overcoming the present Ecological Problems 304
  Conclusion 314
  Conclusion 324
  Bibliography 340
  Glossary 364
  Index 368


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