The Tantra Show Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 5

Purification of the Elements

35 min - Talk


If we are trying to create a transformation, we need to be able to change the way we interact with our elements—earth, water, fire, air and space—discovering how to be in relationship with them internally. Dr. Svoboda unpacks each of the elements, explains what purification means, and looks at three different paths.
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Aug 21, 2017
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One of the ways in which my mentor, the Agori Vimalananda, used to like to describe Tantra is that it's a process of bhuta-shuddhi. Shuddhi means purification, and bhuta, bhuta is the past participle of the verb to become. So bhuta means everything that has already become, everything that has transpired. So sometimes the word bhuta means the spirit of a dead person, somebody who has gone into the past tense but is confused and whose personality remains in the limbo in between the past and the future without being able to experience anything other than the past, in the present, and therefore being unable to move towards the future. But in this context, when he was talking about bhuta-shuddhi, he was mainly talking about the maha-bhutas, the great things that have already taken shape, that have already precipitated, that have already become what they are.

And the five maha-bhutas are the five so-called great elements, or the five things from which our world is created, from which the entire universe, manifested universe is created. And those five things are the earth element, water element, fire element, the air element, and the element of space. The earth element represents everything that is solid under ordinary conditions, the water element, everything that's liquid, the air element, everything that is gaseous. The fire element is the power that can convert solid to liquid to gas, and vice versa. And the space element, it provides us the space in which all kinds of transformations can occur and in which the other four elements can perform the play that they are going to play in the context of the various karmas, the various actions that need to be worked out in the context of the hurly-burly of diurnal day-to-day life.

The concept of the five elements comes from the philosophical system that is the underpinning of Ayurveda, Yoga, Jyotisha, Vastu, and Tantra, and that is the Sankhya philosophy, the Sankhya Darshana. The word for philosophy in Sanskrit is Darshana, which means both sight and philosophy. So how you see the world is determined by your philosophy, and what you see in the world will determine what your philosophy has the potential to be. So there are six main, innumerable philosophies. Six of them are regarded as being main. Sankhya is one of them.

And the Sankhya, as with the modern physics, begins with the concept of a singularity, which in an infinitesimal moment of great intensity and violence expands trillions of times and continues expanding just as our universe is continuing to expand so far as we can calculate up to this point approximately 13.5 billion years since that event happened in this manifested universe. The difference between modern physics and classical Indian physics is that there is a belief in modern physics that this was strictly a function, the singularity was strictly a function of matter and energy, and that matter and energy are everything that make up the universe, and that consciousness has arisen by some peculiar mechanism via the deus ex machina, somehow they cannot explain, but somehow consciousness arose. The Indian approach is precisely the opposite, that the singularity, in fact, is consciousness that is completely rarefied and very subtle and not limited by any kind of descriptor, no name, no form, no quality, and it's that consciousness that spreads itself and in the process of spreading itself starts to interfere with itself and as it interferes cast shadows, and as those shadows are cast, progressive densification occurs until we get down to where we are today. So the Sankhya philosophy begins with that singularity of consciousness and then creates Prakriti, which is the original, the Adi Shakti, the original energy of the universe, and then their interaction creates the principle of discernment or buddhi, which comes from the same root as the word buddha, like Gautama buddha, someone who is aware, and from there it evolves into personality, into ahankara, into that very thing that allows for individuation. And ahankara evolves into the three great gunas, which are often spoken of in classical Indian sciences.

Those are sattva, the principle, cosmic principle of equilibrium, rajas, the cosmic principle of activity, and tamas, the cosmic principle of inertia. Further evolution occurs, and from sattva, from this principle of equilibrium and awareness, the word sattva, satt means true or real, tva is a suffix that is like the nes in English. So we have trueness or realness. So it's that quality of being able to perceive things accurately and to accurately conceive of a response to whatever needs to be responded to and to accurately and clearly execute that response. So sattva represents intelligence, awareness, equilibrium, rajas represents activity, and from sattva emerge these ten sense organs that are what we use to take information from the outside and to act in the arena of the outside.

We take things in, we put things out. So we use the sense organs for both of these purposes, both to take things in and to put them out again. So the sense organs are derived from sattva because they are dependent on awareness to be able to do their jobs. They represent the subjective aspect of awareness. The objects of the senses are derived, evolved from tamas, from inertia.

And these are the subtle elements and the dense elements. The dense elements are the ones we're going to focus on right now. And again, they are earth, water, air, fire, and space. Of these, earth is the most dense. It is the least likely to change.

That's why we have mountains that have been around for millions of years. And we have some rocks on earth that have been around for billions of years because they are very stable. Water is not very stable. Fire is very unstable. Air is completely mobile.

And space is something totally different from even the four easily perceivable manifested elements. So the five elements structure everything that is alive. They structure everything on our earth, but particularly everything that is living, that has protoplasmic life, like you and me. And so when we talk about purifying the five elements, what we're really talking about is not purifying the elements as much. We are talking about purifying them in the context of our existence.

We're mainly talking about purifying and evolving our relationship with those five elements. The reason why the five elements are useful to us is because we, as individuals, find it valuable to have a place where our awareness can continuously be returned to. We may take our awareness, especially nowadays, where it's so easy to virtually go to different parts of the world and do different things. But if we want to be healthy, we have to be able to take our awareness from wherever it has gone externally and bring it back to our own selves, where we have our home base. So while you're alive, this is your home base.

And it is, in my opinion, a very unhappy situation and a very unhappy augury for the future that we find so many people nowadays who are actively trying to exit from their physical bodies without understanding that our physical bodies are quite essential for our sanity, the very fact that we're continuously taking in information through our sense organs, information about what we're touching, what we're smelling, what we're hearing, what we're seeing, and what we're tasting. And all of this is continuously providing us a conversation that is reminding us where we are, locating us in a particular location, and therefore preserving our ability to function in a sane and rational way in this not particularly sane and very irrational world that we live in. So life has been structured by these Mahabhutas. And if we're trying to create a transformation in our lives, then what we need to do is to be able to change the way that we and the Mahabhutas interact with one another. The job of the earth element is to provide stability.

And this is why I'm sitting on something made of the earth element. This is very solid. It's much easier to feel secure on the earth element than it is on the water element, which is very uneven. This is why, in my opinion, water beds never became popular, because it's nice when you're asleep to be in one position and not feel like there is movement underneath you and you are not stable. Nobody has invented a fire bed yet for good reason.

And I don't think anybody, I mean, there's stuff involving the air element, but an air bed also, one that is keeping you upright on jets of air, I don't think that's going to happen either. I think the ground is going to continue to be the place where people go to look for stability, and that will only be disturbed when, in fact, there are things like earthquakes, which, yes, create a very, even if you're not damaged in an earthquake, if it's serious enough, there will be a very deep kind of existential angst that is generated in your body because your organism feels like the earth element should always be stable and it shouldn't be suddenly moving around like the water, the fire, the air does. So it is good for us to be able to rely on the earth element for stability. But if we do nothing but rely on it for stability, then we're going to be dependent on it for stability. And if we're looking to become sua tantra, self dependent or independent of other things that we're relying on, we have to find a way to create a relationship with the earth element that does not involve us being dependent on it, but where we can continue to interact with it in a positive way and generate stability in ourselves, create a source of stability within ourselves that will permit us not to be dependent on the earth element.

It's the same for the other four elements as well. We're dependent on the water element because we all have to live on water and the water element, of course, also includes food and the water element includes emotion and the water element includes tastes of all kinds, both literal taste in the mouth, aesthetic taste, all sorts of different watery realities, liquid realities. And as long as we're dependent on these, then our awareness is always going to try to look for that kind of juiciness from the outside. Whereas if we provide the organism healthy juiciness and we understand that because we're mortal, we cannot rely on being able to always take in juiciness from the outside that we have to learn how to generate juiciness on the inside, then that is a purification of the water element. We're not turning away from the water element.

We're turning our attention inside so that the water element and we can have more of an internal reality and an internal relationship instead of having one that's dependent, that we are depending on the outside sources of the water element for. The same applies to the fire element. And the fire element, of course, includes not just literal fire, but also everything that has to do with vision. And vision, of course, is the chief sense of the human being. Compared to a dog, for example, our noses are no good, our ears are useless.

But dogs, who've been apparently around humans for the last 12,000-ish years or so, dogs deliberately increased the attention that they put on the sense of vision because they had to find a way to communicate with these stupid humans who were unable to communicate with more intelligent methods. So, particularly nowadays, vision is the fundamental human sense and has been, at least since the one or one and a half million years ago that we started first to harness and employ fire. Because fire, it moves, it's colorful, it's always changeable. That's something that immediately grabs hold of the sense of sight and enthralls it very effectively. So, if we want to purify the fire element, we have to progressively transform what is the fire in the body.

And instead of making our physical appetites and our physical ability to digest stronger and stronger so we can eat more and more and consume more and more, we have to progressively reduce what we consume from the outside in all different ways and increase what we are able to obtain on the inside. Open the inner eye and use the inner eye to understand what's going on in the microcosm, in the inner reality. The air element associated with the sense of touch, we're all dependent on touch, and on continuously using touch to remind us of our position in the world. But as we are able to purify our relationship with the air element, then we are less either disturbed by touch, because, for example, in the case of wind, wind can be a very disturbing thing, especially a hot positive ion-laden wind, like the Santa Ana wind, for example. And so we want to be able to interact with the external world and the air element in the external world, but we don't want that air element to be able to disturb our internal equilibrium.

So as we're able to purify our relationship with the air element, we're able to make it so that we can exist in an environment in which the air element might be not necessarily well balanced, but still not go so much out of balance ourselves. And another thing, of course, that's important to remember about the air element is that it relates to all kinds of motion. And today, a big part of the motion that we experience is in the air, in an airplane. So moving 30 or 35,000 feet above the Earth in a thin aluminum tube at speeds of 500 miles, 800 kilometers per hour, this is sufficient to aggravate the air element in many, many people. And if we want to be able to do that, then we have to pay attention to how we can make our organisms align properly with the air element so that we are not immediately disturbed by it.

And of course, this also applies to the extreme movement that we're exposed to in society as a whole, particularly in the context of the Internet, where things are zipping around at almost instantaneous speeds. In the past, I'm a person who is already well on the wrong side of 50. When I was young, if you wanted to find something out, you hoped you had an encyclopedia in your house and you hoped that there was something in it. And if it wasn't there, you hoped that they would be in one of the other encyclopedias at the library, and if it wasn't there, then you'd ask for something on the interlibrary loan, and maybe after six weeks you'd get it, and maybe it'd be the wrong thing. So a year later, maybe you would find out what you wanted to know.

Now you just immediately go to guru Google, and everything comes to you. To some degree, this is good. To another degree, the very fact that it's speedy tends to encourage your attention to go more in that direction and take more knowledge, whether you can digest it or not, and spend more of your time and allow more of your focus to be dragged into that, more of your attention, more of your prana. So purifying the air element in that context is also very important. Making sure that you're able to circulate your prana in a healthy way so that the air element in the body is chiefly prana and only minimally vata, which is the not very intelligent and easy to throw off center form of prana.

And when it comes to akasha, or the space element, akasha means that which shines. So akasha is not just some sort of empty space, like we think of out beyond Earth's atmosphere. Akasha is more accurately described as the fabric of space-time. And it has been said, in fact, that it's not that gravity affects or deforms space-time. Gravity is space-time.

It has been said that it is because of gravity that we have both space and time. Gravity is a very, very subtle kind of thing. Gravitational waves were only very, very recently detected, even though they had been predicted more than a century before. So the akasha, the space element, is very, very subtle, but it is still material. It is not something that is so rarefied that it has lost all of its materiality.

It's just matter that is extremely rarefied. It is difficult for us to experience as matter because we're associated with matter that is very dense and gross. Our sense organs find it difficult to experience matter of that subtlety that we can get a hint when we employ the sense of hearing, which is the sense associated with the element of space. These are the five elements. What we want to do when we say we want to purify them is that we want to find a way to create a healthier relationship with them so we're not dependent on them as much from the outside.

We can find a way to be comfortable with them to get as many of our needs vis-a-vis them as possible met on the inside, and then that will facilitate our transformation because life started from that singularity, the universe was created, so there was cosmic evolution that we went from one to infinity, and that happened in the macrocosm, and some authorities suggest that eventually what will happen is everything will come back to the singularity and then the whole process will start again. Other people say that's not going to happen, nobody knows, but what we do know is that if we do want to bring the infinity back to the singularity, at this stage in the manifested universe, the only way to do that is in the microcosm. It's not going to happen externally, but it can very much happen internally because everything that's on the inside is on the outside also. So if we can take everything that is manifested on the inside and we can progressively be less dependent on the outside, be more reliant on what's going on on the inside, then it's quite possible that by our personal evolution we can resolve ourselves back into that condition of being that singularity of sat-chit-ananda. So tantra is one technique, one process by which this transformation can occur.

An important part of that process is purification of the elements. It has been said by a tantra, or probably more than one, that there are three main types of aspirants towards tantra. There is the divya aspirant, the vira aspirant, and the pashu aspirant. And they are classified according to whether naturally and inherently it will be more appropriate for them to focus on the five elements on the inside, the five elements on the outside, or the five elements on the inside and the outside simultaneously. And this is not a question of whether one is better or worse.

There is no better and there is no worse. There is only where you happen to be and what it is that is going to be most appropriate for you to make progress in your evolution. The divya person, divya comes from the word div, which means to shine, to be effulgent. The word devata or deva or devi comes from the same root. So these are people who naturally are less interested in the outside world.

So it is easy for them to bring their attention to the inside world and to do their whatever spiritual practices they have been taught to do by their guru, to perform their tantra on the inside, to perform what's called in Sanskrit antaryaga, internal sacrificial rites. Sacrificing the energy in their sense organs, sacrificing the energy of their cravings for the purpose of causing evolution to occur. So the divya person is not going to be benefited so much by doing external things. The divya person is someone who has a greater quantity of natural sattva within them and that person is going to be mainly benefited by doing mental worship. And my mentor always said mental worship is best if you can do it because you never have to worry about locating your objects of worship.

You never have to worry about whether they're still fresh or have been polluted or whatever. It can all happen on the inside. Nobody even needs to know what's going on. The opposite of the divya is the pashu. Now, many people have a negative idea about the word pashu.

They think of it as a pejorative word because the word pashu also means an animal, particularly a beast of burden. There's a version of Shiva called pashupati, which means lord of the beasts. So what's more accurate to think about when we think about the pashu is not that they are beastly, but rather that they are tethered. That's what the root from which pashu comes, pash. Pash means to tether.

So a pashu is a person who is tethered to the body. There's a strong connection to the physical body for whatever reason. But this is what we have to acknowledge. They have a strong connection. Maybe they like to eat or drink.

Maybe they're very fond of sensory enjoyments or whatever. These are the people who need to do external worship with external things so that they can satisfy this outward-pointing energy that has developed in them because of previous katamas. They can work with external things to make their external attraction less. And as that external attraction reduces automatically without having to make a lot of extra effort, they will automatically start moving their attention to the inside and it will move in the right direction. The third category, the vira, is one who can do both, perform external rites and rituals at the same time that he or she is performing something internal as well.

And that word vira means heroic because this is not an easy thing to do. But there is a certain class of people who can do that and it will be, generally speaking, important for them to do that because they require something a little more complex to keep their attention. So we could say, and understanding that this is just sort of a generalization, that the divya person has probably a little more sattva in them and the pashu has a little more tamas and the vira has a little more rajas. But everyone has all three of these gunas and the gunas need to be brought into equilibrium if any kind of transformation is to occur. So an important reason for creating this distinction among these three types of aspirants is so that a person can start down the road of purifying the elements in the right way.

If you have the divya person trying to do complicated things on the outside, it will just disturb a process that's already going on on the inside. If you ask the pashu just to do mental things, it will be more difficult because there is a natural strong tendency for the attention to be externalized. So you take advantage of that tendency. You take advantage of what the body and the mind and the spirit are already doing and once you have aligned with that and you've paced yourself with what's natural to you, then you can start changing the direction of the movement. So bhuta shuddhi, purification of the elements, permits us to not only transform slowly and progressively what's going on in our physical organisms, but it allows us to start to move back from the greatest density of the manifested universe, which is the earth element, and start to move back towards unmanifestation, which is what that singularity of consciousness is.

And we're not trying to let go of the bhutas altogether. If we did, that would be the end of our own personal manifested existence. What we're trying to do is lessen our dependency on it so that we can, by virtue of being more independent, allow our awareness to be less structured by all the limitations that have accumulated around it. And as that awareness becomes less structured, automatically it becomes available to extend itself in the direction in which we want it to go.


1 person likes this.
Thank you so much for this riveting, focused discussion, which I will watch repeatedly so that the content may slowly sink into my consciousness.
Lucille P
1 person likes this.
Grateful, as always for your teachings. I feel blessed to walk this path with you.
Darya  R
1 person likes this.
Thank you so much. I have a question about the pain. Is there correspondence between feeling of pain and chakras?

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