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Understanding Life Through the Five Elements (The Panchamahabootas in Ayurveda)

The Five Elements of Existence: Understand them, you understand life itself. They rule nature, earth, the cosmos, and our bodies: space, air, fire, water, earth. In Sanskrit: Akasha, Vayu, Tejas, Aap, Prithvi. ALL life exists as macrocosm to microcosm. As above, so below. It really is that simple, and I will share with you exactly why that is.



The Panchamahabootas, or 5 major elements in Sanskrit, are the essential building blocks of life in the physical plane. They are expounded upon within the Vedas, but specifically Sankya philosophy (all about the creation of the universe and how it came to be) and Ayurveda, the science of life. All of these texts date back to the most ancient human civilisation, known as the Vedic civilization. This enlightened civilisation was rooted in India, but existed globally as long as 60,000 years ago. During this time, many enlightened beings walked the earth. Sages, yogis, and great masters sat in meditation and received higher knowledge from the Cosmos itself. This knowledge was passed down from guru to disciple for thousands of years, and was eventually written down on palm leaves some 6,000+ years ago. The scriptures number in the hundreds of thousands, and contain immense and specific detail about every dimension of life and the universe. An essential part of this knowledge is understanding the building blocks of what make up our universe, know as tattvas (units, or qualities).


Before humans existed, or animals and plants, and even before the earth itself existed, the cosmos contained these elements. First there was only akasha, space, pure nothingness. The most subtle element, beyond form and quality. As the material world began to come to life, the next element birthed was vayu, air, wind. Vayu is still extremely subtle and minute in quality, beyond form but containing feeling and movement. The next element that came to be was tejas, agni, fire; it is powerful, heating, visible, but cannot be contained. The more gross and cooling element of aap, jala, water came next. Water takes many forms, has feeling, gives life, cools, flows. And finally, the most solid element came to life: prithvi, earth. Earth is one taking on form, dense, heavy, stable in nature. Together, over billions of years, these five elements came together to form our Planet Earth.


The most incredible thing is, if you follow modern science/study biology/cosmology, you will see that we are just now re-discovering these very truths. Scientists are learning how the elements came together to form life as we know it. The dust of stars (earth) literally came together (through space) with burning hot energy at its core (fire), until it was large enough to form an atmosphere (made of air). And miraculously, enough water floating in space found its way in the direct path of earth…and bravo, life was able to now grow. Of course, earth happened to be in the perfect position from the sun (fire) for water to be able to exist in all 3 forms: solid, liquid, and gas. This was the kickstarter for life as we know it. From amoeba to fish, fish to amphibian, amphibian to mammal, mammal to monkey, and monkey to man…human beings came to be. We are the product of millions of years of evolution, but ultimately, made of the very same stuff that all other life forms are made of.


image via myamritha.com

The systems and cycles that Earth herself goes through, our bodies also follow. The human body is ruled by the elemental energies. The more we observe the cycles of nature, we can understand our own inner workings. There is power and purpose behind each element and what it does inside of us. The ultimate health, swasthya, comes when we balance all 5 elements within us. Tejas functions as our digestive fire, the power behind our body’s ability to break down food. Forest fires burn and break down life, in order for new life to be created. Aap comprises over 70% of our body and lubricates our body functions. Water is the life energy of all animals and plants on earth and covers 70% of the earth’s surface. Akasha is the space between all our cells, the space that allows us to take on a certain form in matter. Planet earth is just one matter, one blip in the space of the cosmos; but, we were able to have individual life because of the spaces between all things. And these are just a few examples of how our body mirrors earth.


What we put into our body matters. What elements is it carrying? How may it be balancing us or imbalancing us? What are the qualities of the foods and drinks we consume? What about the words we consume? The thoughts we think? They are all made up of the same elements. The more we break things down to their elements, the simpler our lives become. Health actually isn’t so complicated to achieve. By knowing the five elements, we know ourselves. Human beings are just one speck in the universe, but we also contain universes inside of us. The more that we look at the human body, the more we notice the cosmos reflected in us!


The human eye has striking similarities to nebulas.

If you are interested in diving deeper, I would definitely recommend to research further into these philosophies. Some recommended resources include:

- Ayurveda and the Mind by Dr. David Frawley

- Living Enlightenment by Paramahamsa Nithyananda

- Books by Dr. Vasant Lad

- Directly reading translations of the Vedas and Agamas via himalayanacademy.com

- “One Strange Rock” docuseries on Netflix

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