Meditation on elements

Hello, I would like to ask about meditation with elements as meditation subject. I noticed that there may be mentioned only four elements (both in suttas and meditation) which are:
The earth element [pathavī]
The water element [āpo]
The fire element [tejo]
The air element [vāyo]
But elswhere you can read or hear about other elements. Like space element or consciousness element.
Is there any reason for that? For example that first four great elements are something like… main ones and those other elements are reccomended (like for contemplation) after suitable development of wisdom?
There is even more elements like:
Eye element, eye consciousness element, tongue consciousness element etc.

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I wrote a paper on the elements that might answer some of your questions.


MN140 sutta has a detailed exposition on this topic.


Thank you for the question. The four elements as basic constituents of the body are a meditation subject in the first foundation of mindfulness, and knowledge of what the elements are contributes to that. Beyond the noble eightfold path a practice based on the elements is one of the possible ways to proceed, and SN 46.53 divides the seven factors of awakening into two groups represented by fire (active) and water (passive) with mindfulness as the governing factor. In the sutta it is also said that this understanding of dynamics is what distinguishes the Buddhist path from others. So it’s necessary to understand that the seven factors of awakening explain the noble eightfold path in terms of energies or the interaction of elements and the balance between them. In this sense nibbana is referred to as the opposite unconditioned element, and this introduces the necessary skill of contrast as described in SN 14.11.

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Hi Kraty,

The teachings on the Four Elements are not meant to be a teaching of material science or worldly physics, rather they are a teaching on the Three Characteristics, primarily the tertiary characteristic of anattā (nonself). See MN 140 as mentioned above :slight_smile:

As such, these teachings are interconnected with the other two Marks of Existence, those of anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and therefore are pretty easy to use as meditation objects—analytical or otherwise.

The teaching of nonself is clear from these verses (copied from MN 140): that these elements “should be seen as they actually are with proper wisdom thus: ‘These are not mine, these I am not, these are not myself.’ When one sees them thus as they actually are with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with these elements and makes the mind dispassionate towards these elements.”

Through the understanding and contemplation of both the internal and external elements as not mine, not me, not myself, we can begin the process of developing wisdom through clear knowing into the selfless nature of the elements. So when one sees a water element (e.g., blood, semen, urine) as it actually is, with proper wisdom, then one become disenchanted with said water element — breaking up the illusion that connects or self-identifies with that water element ('that I am,’ ‘that is mine,’ ‘that is myself’), and in doing so, the mind becomes disconnected from that water element, and begins to recognise all elements as obviously notself.

Drinking a cup of tea, we can contemplate that in this teacup is an external water element. When it is drunk, it becomes an internal water element. When it is urinated, it becomes an external water element. We can consider the impermanent and dependently originating nature of all ingested elements, be they the food that we consume, the air that we breathe, the beverages that we drink, all the way down to the cells and bacteria that arise, exist, and decay within these containers (i.e., bodies) as a result of our consumption behaviours.

By contemplating the internal elements — those that are solid, watery, airy, consumed, and vacant — as Nonself, we can begin the process of uprooting our misplaced need to self-identify with these elements until we no longer identify, associate, or view these elements as a Self at all; and in doing so, become entirely detached from them and free from them entirely — and ultimately becoming free of the dukkha that is created by craving, clinging, and grasping at an impermanent and false sense of Self (e.g., our health, beauty, age, reputation, status, wealth, et cetera; see: the Eight Worldly Concerns, the creators of stress in our everyday life for more on that).

Linking our understanding of these nonself elements to our understanding of their impermanence and dukkha is where the power of this teaching lies. Cultivating realisations into the relevance of this lesson through considered analysis and single-pointed contemplation can transform our worldview and directly lead us closer to true insights into the nature of how things actually are; that is to say: uprooting the fetter of our ignorance and cultivating wisdom… pañña.

At a high-level we can see that the Five Elements relate to the Buddhist notions of the conditioned nature of everything that we experience and so in addition to being anattā, they are also impermanent and dukkha. How? The Five Elements are the primary component of Form (rūpa), one of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, and “form” is first category of the Five Aggregates (khandhas), and the Five Aggregates are the ultimate foundation of directly experiencing impermanence and suffering (dukkha) as taught within the Buddhist Four Noble Truths. And anything that is “clung-to,” e.g., the Elements repeatedly referenced in the excerpts above, is the very root of dukkha as laid out in the Second Noble Truth.

You’re welcome to check out a longer essay that I wrote on this topic if you are so inclined. Nevertheless, I hope this helps steer your practice in the direction you had hoped.

With mettā,


you can Google pa auk 4 elements meditation for more information in fact that’s the only non jhana path you can employ in pa auk meditation retreat to attain the unbinding from suffering

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Four Elements meditation:

In this meditation tranquillity serves only as a resting place from insight meditation, and this is in fact described in the Buddha- to-be’s pre-awakening description in MN 19.

Life presents a dilemma, we strive for perfection but situations cannot be perfect as they are dukkha. Although it in itself results in release and the fruit of insight is sweet, untangling life situations through insight is demanding.

“That access concentration is the resting place for bareinsight meditators who have no previous Samatha jhàna, as they
start their practice directly with the four-elements meditation. If
tiredness occurs during Vipassanà, they can rest in this access
concentration, just as the Samatha meditator rests in jhàna. Then
they emerge clear and refreshed again for Vipassanà.
The use of jhàna as a resting place is explained by a simile in
the commentary to the Dvedhàvitakka Sutta of Majjhima Nikàya.
Sometimes during a battle, the warriors would feel tired. Also,
the enemy might be strong. At that time many arrows would
be flying. The warriors, feeling some weakness, would retreat
to their fort. Behind its walls they were safe from the enemy’s
arrows. They would rest and their tiredness would gradually
disappear. Then, feeling strong and powerful again, they would
leave their fort and return to the battle field. Similarly, jhàna
is just like the fort, a resting place for Vipassanà meditation.
There is much to discern in Vipassanà meditation; so, meditators greatly benefit from having a resting place.”—p 28