PanchaTattva Dharana : contemplation on the five elements

This post supplements a previous post  Videha Dharana : fixing the mind outside the body, which discussed a method called Videha Dharana as per  Sri Anirvan.   The method is drawn from the Upanishads and can also be called PanchaTattva Dharana or contemplation on the five (pancha) elements (tattva) – namely earth, water, air, fire, ether.   There is a similar technique in the Tantra texts called Bhuta-Shuddhi which is also outlined  here.

(Note: For those who practice Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, I must add that this method in not found anywhere in their works.  The method is being outlined here purely for the sake of knowledge.)

The basic idea behind this method is to simulate the cleansing of the five elements that occurs when the Kundalini rises through various Chakras in the body.  To each of the five elements (earth, water, air, fire, ether), one can associate

  • a Tanmatra (subtle essence of that element) and the corresponding sense (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound).
  • a region of the body and/or a Chakra
  • a colour
  • a geometric figure and
  • a cosmic or elemental  power.

During meditation, these associations are employed as visual aids to gently guide the mind into deeper stages of contemplation.   For each of the five elements, these associations are listed below.

Pancha-Tattva Dharana in Upanishads

We find this method discussed in the Darsana Upanishad, which is one of the Yoga Upanishads.  In each case, it stresses that one must concentrate on the element which is OUTSIDE the body, not inside.

Now I will tell you about the five types of Dharana (holding steady – a stage in meditation – here we try to hold on what we are mediating upon without wavering). In the sky which is in the middle of the body, Dharana of the sky outside should be made. Similarly in the breath, Dharana of air outside should be made. In the fire in the stomach, Dharana of the fire outside should be made. In the fluid aspects of the body, Dharana of the water outside should be made. In the earthy aspects of the body, Dharana of the earth outside should be made. Sage, also it is necessary to chant the pancha bhootha mantras viz., Ham, Yam, Ram, Vam and Lam. It is said that this very great Dharana destroys all sins. [1]

This method has also been discussed in the book Dharana Darshan by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Bihar school of Yoga.  I shall only provide a brief outline here because I don’t want to violate the copyright.  Refer to the book for the copious details that I have omitted.  According to the book, the method can be practiced in three ascending levels : Conscious, Subconscious, Unconscious.  One begins contemplation with the Earth element and ends at the Ether element.

1. Pritvi/Earth

Correspondence for this element: it’s figure is the square, it’s space is between the knees and the toes, the sense is smell and the colour is yellow.

Conscious:  Experience the space which pervades the entire body from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. Experience the sthulakasha. the space throughout the body. Develop total awareness of the space which pervades your whole body. Within this space become aware of prithvi tattwa, the earth element, which is related with the sense of smell. Bring your awareness to the sense of smell.  Observe all the smells that are in the environment right now.

Subconscious: Feel the body becoming heavy like the earth.  Create the feeling of your body sitting inside the earth.  Become one with the earth.

Unconscious : Visualize the corresponding diety.  See the book for details!

2. Apas/Water

Correspondence for this element: the figure is the Moon, the space is between the navel and the knees, the sense is taste, the colour is silver.

Conscious: Feel the space pervading the entire body. Now focus your attention on apas tattwa, the water element. Taste is the tanmatra which is related with the water element. Bring your attention to the taste which is in your mouth right now. Be aware of this taste.   Dwell on various tastes.

Subconscious : Imagine yourself sitting in a mountain stream underneath a waterfall. Above you is water, below you is water.  Visualize the water and become fluid like the water.

Unconscious: Visualize the corresponding diety.  See the book for details!

3. Agni/Fire

Correspondence for this element: the figure is triangle, the space is between the navel and the heart, the sense is sight, the colour is red.

Conscious : Form/Sight is the sense associated with this element.  In this state, conduct extensive visualizations of various landscapes.  See each form or scene as clearly as you can, bringing as much detail into it as possible.

Subconscious : Imagine sitting inside a fire.  Feel the intense heat.  Become the heat.

Unconscious : Visualize the corresponding diety.  See the book for details!

4. Vayu/Air

Correspondence for this element: the figure is hexagon, the space is the heart Chakra, the sense is touch, the colour is grey-blue.

Conscious: Touch is the sense associated with the air element. Become aware of touch. Feel the touch of your clothes against your skin, your hands resting on your knees. Imagine you are stroking a cat. Feel the soft, smooth, silky fur of the cat as you stroke it. Then change to stroking a dog. Feel the different texture, the rough. wiry hair of the dog.

Subconscious: See yourself within this space and become aware of a gentle breeze blowing. Feel the wind touching your skin. The wind is growing stronger. Feel the wind blowing all around you, filling up the whole space. Feel the wind on your back, against the front of your body. Feel the wind above you and underneath you. There is nothing butwind all around you, making you lighter and lighter. The wind is emptying your body of weight. You are becoming weightless.

Unconscious: Visualize the corresponding diety.  See the book for details!

5. Akasha/Ether

Correspondence for this element: the figure is circle, the space is between the eyebrows and the crown Chakra, the sense is hearing or sound, the colour is colorless or black.

Conscious: Sound is the sense associated with this element. For the next few minutes become aware of the different sounds all around you. Centre your whole awareness on sound.

Subconscious: Feel as if you are floating through space. Your body is light, weightless and floating through the vast, inky black space. As you float through the dark space become aware of asteroids passing by. Become aware of the stars scattered through the darkness, bright, twinkling points of light. As you continue to float through space see the moon and the sun. Feel yourself merging into the space in which you are floating, becoming one with the space. Experience akasha tattwa, you are akasha tattwa.

Unconscious: Visualize the corresponding diety.  See the book for details!

Bhuta-Shuddhi in Tantra

A similar method has been described in the Tantra texts and here are a couple of references on it.  The first is from a book by Georg Feuerstein.

…This esoteric process is the basis for the bhuta-shuddhi ritual in which the elements are visualized as being purified through their progressive absorption into the divine Shakti. This practice is done prior to visualizing oneself as one’s chosen deity (ishta-devata – personal God) and doing ritual worship. The earth element governs the area between the feet and the thighs; the water element has authority over the area between the thighs and the navel; the fire element rules the zone between the navel and the heart; the air element is reigns over the section between the heart and the forehead; the ether element governs the area above the forehead. The practitioner visualizes earth dissolving into water, water into fire, fire into air, air into ether, and then ether into the higher principles (tattva) until everything is dissolved into the Goddess power itself.

Thus the yogin starts out as an impure being (papa-purusha) and through the power of visualization recreates himself as a pure being, a worthy vessel for the divine Power. Through the kundalini process, this visualized pure body-mind then becomes actuality, for the ascent of the serpent power through the axial pathway of the body recapitulates the mental process of bhuta-shuddhi, literally changing the body’s chemistry. Through repeated practice of kundalini-yoga, the Tantric adepts succeed in speeding up the vibration of their body permanently, leading to the creation of the much-desired “divine body” (divya-deha).[2]

The British orientalist, Arthur Avalon, discussed the same technique in his book Shakti and Shakta. This is an excerpt.

Bhutasuddhi, an important Tantrik rite, means purification of the five “elements” of which the body is composed, and not “removal of evil demons,” as Professor Monier-William’s Dictionary has it. Though one of the meanings of Bhuta is Ghost or Spirit, it is never safe to give such literal translations without knowledge, or absurd mistakes are likely to be made. The Mantramahodadhi (Taranga I) speaks of it as a rite which is preliminary to the worship of a Deva.

Devarca yog yata-praptyai bhuta-shuddhim samacaret.

(For the attainment of competency to worship, the elements of which the body is composed, should be purified). The material human body is a compound of the five Bhutas of “earth,” “water,” “fire,” “air”, and “ether”. These terms have not their usual English meaning but denote the five forms in which Prakriti the Divine Power as materia prima manifests Herself. These have each a center of operation in the five Cakras or Padmas (Centers or Lotuses) which exist in the spinal column of the human body (see A. Avalon’s Serpent Power where this matter is fully described). In the lowest of these centers (Muladhara), the Great Devi kundalini, a form of the Saguna Brahman, resides. She is ordinarily sleeping there. In kundalini-yoga, She is aroused and brought up through the five centers, absorbing, as She passes through each, the Bhuta of that center, the subtle Tanmatra from which it derives and the connected organ of sense (Indriya). Having absorbed all these, She is led to the sixth or mind center (Ajña) between the eyebrows where the last Bhuta or ether is absorbed in mind, and the latter in the Subtle Prakriti. The last in the form of Kundali Shakti then unites with Shiva in the upper brain called the thousand-petalled lotus (Sahasrara).

In Yoga this involution actually takes places with the result that ecstasy (Samadhi) is attained. But very few are successful Yogis.  Therefore, Bhutasuddhi in the case of the ordinary worshipper is an imaginary process only. The Sadhaka imagines Kundalini, that She is roused, that one element is absorbed into the other and so on, until all is absorbed in Brahman. The Yoga process will be found described in The Serpent Power, and Ch. V. 93 et seq. of the Mahanirvana gives an account of the ritual process. The Sadhaka having dissolved all in Brahman, a process which instills into his mind the unity of all, then thinks of the “black man of sin” in his body. The body is then purified. By breathing and Mantra it is first dried and then burnt with all its sinful inclinations. It is then mentally bathed with the nectar of the water-mantra from head to feet. The Sadhaka then thinks that in lieu of his old sinful body a new Deva body has come into being. He who with faith and sincerity believes that he is regenerated is in fact so. To each who truly believes that his body is a Deva body it becomes a Deva body. The Deva body thus brought into being is strengthened by the Earth-mantra and divine gaze (Divyadrishti). Saying, with Bijas, the Mantra “He I am” (So’ham) the Sadhaka by Jiva-nyasa infuses his body with the life of the Devi, the Mother of all. [4]

References

  1. Darsana Upanishad http://www.celextel.org/108upanishads/darsana.html (Accessed 21 Mar 2010)
  2. Georg Feuerstein : Kundalini: Awakening the Serpent Powerhttp://www.yoga-age.com/articles/kundalini.html (Accessed 21 Mar 2010)
  3. Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati.  Dharana Darshan. (ISBN-13 978-8186336304 – amazon.com link)
  4. Arthur Avalon.  Shakti and Shakta http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas26.htm (Accessed 21 Mar 2010)
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10 thoughts on “PanchaTattva Dharana : contemplation on the five elements

  1. kalpana

    I was also very interested to read this :
    «”When the Earth is dominant, carry out your usual daily routine. When water dominates, carry out earthly, transient tasks. When fire prevails, work hard. At times when air is the main influence, be destructive and take risks.
    When the Ether is dominant, it is better to do nothing and cultivate yoga as tatva of the ether do not reduce to any results in the other fields.
    The Earth and water bring success (suddhi), fire brings death; the air brings destruction and loss whereas the ether is ineffectual. It is adept’s knowledge.
    The Earth brings relative success, Water provides immediate benefits, Air and Fire bring losses, whereas Akasa neutralizes everything.»”
    «Shiva Svarodaya» (160 — 163)
    http://www.purna-yoga.ru/en/practice-antahkarana.php.

    Although the Mother and Sri Aurobindo did not directly talk or prescribe such dharanas, when one reads closely the actual practices of these Masters, in the records of Their own yoga, one can see something of that nature. [records of Yoga, Agenda etc]

    Reply
      1. kalpana

        Also came across this very interesting pdf by Harish Johari, in which the connection between prana and tattwa is stated:
        ”In a single hour we breathe, on the average, 900 breaths. Each element, according
        to the text the Shiva Swarodaya, predominates periodically in the body for a specific
        period of time, activating the concerns of the corresponding chakra and thus
        influencing the flux of our thoughts and moods.
        1. For 20 minutes (300 breaths) the Earth…

        http://www.doyoga.com/articles_07/web_site_articles/breath/breath_vayus_and_chakras.pdf

  2. Avinash

    I have seen your website and I feel very well. If you are going to held any workshop regarding the Shivswarodaya shastra kindly inform me.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Thanks Avinash but I have no plans for any workshop right now.
      In fact, I don’t know much about the Shiv swarodaya shastra ! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Sandeep Post author

    There is a similar method in Buddhism called Dhatu Kammatthana or Dhatu Manasikara (meditation on four great elements). It seems Gautama Buddha recommended this method to his chief disciple Maudgalyayana or Moggallana
    according to Richard Gard’s book on Buddhism, page 68

    This method is elaborated in the text called Mahasatipatthana Sutta

    The next passage is from http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/mahasati06.htm

    Dhatumanasika Pabba (Section on Contemplation on Elements)

    And again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu examines and reflects closely upon this very body however it be placed or disposed as composed of (only) primary elements thus: “There exists in this body the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.”

    Just as if, bhikkhus, a skillful butcher or his apprentice, having slaughtered a cow and divided it into portions were sitting at the junction of four high roads, just so, a bhikkhu examines and reflects closely upon this body however it be placed or disposed as composed of (only) the primary elements thus: “There exists in this body the earth element, the water element, the fire element and the air element.”

    Thus he dwells perceiving again and again the body as just the body in himself…. Thus bhikkhus, this is also a way in which a bhikkhu dwells perceiving again and again the body as just the body.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Introduction to the Upanishads | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. ihaiva

    Regarding the symbol of ‘square’/’yellow square’ to represent element earth, I was unable to find the term square used in the Darsana Upanishad link given in your post. If you have come across any other references [in other Upanishads or ancient texts] to this tattwa shape – would be most grateful. Thanks.

    Reply

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