Everything in this universe is made up of the 5 Great Elements. This is known as the Panchamahabuta Theory. Once you come to understand the foundational Ayurvedic principle of the Panchamahabutas (The 5 Great Elements), you then come to understand the science/truth of life. The 5 Great Elements consist of space (Ether), air (Vayu), fire (Teja), water (Jala) and earth (Prithvi). These elements are present within and around us in an energetic way. If you have a very practical mind, you could approach this principle as the 5 energies. This is where Ayurveda begins to unravel itself as one largely beautiful metaphor, so that every being can understand the principles, working and concepts of nature in a practical manner.
The Panchamahabutas are responsible for creating, moving, transforming, connecting, and stabilising all things. The elements are obvious for us to identify in nature. Space is all around us, air is the mover of space felt in the wind, fire is the hot flames and blistering sun, water flows through rivers and occupies the oceans and earth is the soil we stand on, and the tress and plants that feed us oxygen and nourishment. We have grown to believe that we are so separate from the nature around us, when in fact we too a comprised of all 5 elements or “energies”. It is the combination of a spirit (soul), mind (consciousness) and the 5 Great Elements (Panchamahabutas) that form Purusha, also known as The Human Being.
The foundational concept of the Panchamahabutas can be understood by the qualities each element possess and the type of energy it gives.
Qualities: Clear, light, subtle, soft, immeasurable.
Type of energy: Nuclear energy (I like to understand this as pure consciousness).
Qualities: Mobile, dry, light, cold rough, subtle.
Type of energy: Electrical energy (a current of energy).
Qualities: Hot, sharp, light, dry, subtle.
Type of Energy: Radiant energy (the spark - penetrative, transformative).
Qualities: Cool, liquid, dull, soft, oily, dull, slimy.
Type of Energy: Chemical energy (liquified energy).
Qualities: Heavy, dull, static, dense, hard, gross.
Type of energy: Mechanical energy (matter in motion).
By understanding the qualities of the 5 elements, we can then begin to see how these 5 energies are represented within us and how together along with spirit and mind, form the Purusha, Human Being.
Let us break down how the Panchamahabutas are manifested within the human body. Here we view examples of the 5 elements within a single cell and within the multicellular make up that is our physical body.
Single Cell: The space occupied by the cell to hold all constituents of the cell.
Multicellular: Spaces within the body, for example: Mouth, nostrils, abdomen, intestines.
Single Cell: The gases within the cell.
Multicellular: The respiratory system and governs all movement due to it’s mobile quality.
Single Cell: Metabolic processes regulating the cell.
Multicellular: The functioning of enzymes like intelligence, digestive system and all metabolic process including the digestion of thoughts and information received through our senses.
Single Cell: Cytoplasm or the liquid within the cell membrane.
Multicellular: All body fluids like plasma, saliva, tears, and digestive juices.
Single Cell: Structure of the cell.
Multicellular: Solid structure of the body, for example: Flesh, bones, teeth, hair (every body part that we can see, feel, and touch with solid form).
This is how I see Ayurveda as I have mentioned, as a language or metaphor of translation for the science of life. In the West, we live in a reality that is quite literal. We believe that only what we can physical see, touch and measure to be true. I believe this is why there is a lack of recognition given to holistic medicine. We don’t literally have a blazing flame of fire, or dirt and soil in our bones or the wind blowing us around (maybe only sometimes!). That is not what Ayurveda is trying to say. Ayurveda is simplifying the science of life so every being can understand the concept that all can be explained through the elements that we are familiar with due to their energy and qualities.
There is no doubt we are a part of nature. We are made up of the same elements being energies and qualities as the environment and life cycles around us. When we become imbalanced and find ourselves in discomfort or unwell, certain elemental qualities within us are either deficient or aggravated. Whatever we are deficient in, nature provides for us. Whatever the aggravation is, nature provides the pacifying quality. These qualities are known as the gunas. The gunas will be deeper discussed and explored in future blogs.
For example, if we are suffering from indigestion. We are experiencing a high quantity of the qualities of earth and water within us. We then need the qualities of fire to break down the earth and water. Heat must be given to the body to aid digestion. This can be done through supplementation of hot herbal teas such as ginger, pepper or lemon. We could also aid this by adding more space within the body by fasting and avoiding a greater build up of earth and water from a continuous consumption of food.
All matter, including food and the human being contain all of the 5 elements. However, these elements show up in different ratios in every individual being and food item. Take a carrot for example:
A carrot is high in the element of earth as it is solid and a root vegetable. It is also high in water as it can be juiced. It contains fire as seen in the vibrant warming colour and ability to be eaten, therefore “transformed”, raw. Carrots contain a little air as they can be cut or even snapped.
So, let’s say you arrive home from a stressful day after being out, working, socialising and surrounded by lots of stimulation, movement and let’s also say in a cold environment being a winter’s day. The air and space within you would be feeling aggravated (due to the qualities you experienced throughout your day; The concept of like increase like). Therefore, a warm carrot soup would beautifully ground and pacify the qualities of air and space within you due to its higher ratio of earth and water and the warmth of the soup.
This is where food becomes medicine and how we can understand the first goal of Ayurveda - to prevent illness and maintain the health in the healthy. If the above individual continued to live with no awareness of how their busy lifestyle, high stress levels and environment was affecting them without counterbalancing the elemental qualities or energies of their life. Eventually the air and space within them will become so aggravated diseases high in the qualities of air and space may occur such as constipation, IBS, anxiety, and arthritis.
What we lack, nature provides. What we have in excess, nature can pacify. With awareness we can constantly dance with nature to maintain a rhythm in tune with our most aligned state. We cannot separate ourselves from nature. When completely broken down, no matter how solid our physical body or the earth beneath us feels, we are all a scientifically proven result of buzzing atoms of energy. The SAME energy. Therefore, we massively impact one another.
We cannot separate ourselves from nature. We ARE nature. It’s mind blowing to think that somewhere along our evolution we have come to live as though we have been placed on the planet and into an environment that we are not a part of? That we are separate from the animals, other human beings and that the natural cycles and rhythms of nature does not affect our state of health and wellbeing… This is where climate change is horrifying.
If the one who nourishes us and guides our natural state - Mother Nature - becomes imbalanced (that she is becoming greatly day by day) we are simply… all screwed… Ayurveda makes this very clear but also shines hope and shows the way to reversing all imbalances before a chronic point is reached.
Ayurveda is here to show you how interconnected and subtle our existence truly is and through this knowing it re-ignites within us the power to heal and live well and in harmony with nature, one another and so very humbly with ourselves.