The Six Element practice

six elementsThe Six Element practice is a profound contemplation on interconnectedness, impermanence, and insubstantiality. It’s one of the most significant insight practices to be found in the Pali canon, and it’s described in great detail in the 140th sutta of the Middle Length Sayings as well as being given a more cursory treatment elsewhere.

In this practice we reflect in turn on the elements Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space, and Consciousness, noting how each is an ever-changing process rather than a static thing to which we can cling. The essence of the practice is letting go, and traditionally the Six Element reflection is said to lead to the development of equanimity and to the cultivation of the formless jhanas.

Reading through this article — which is more or less how I lead the practice, give or take the odd bit of commentary — will give you no more than a faint flavor of the practice. If you want to experience it more strongly, read through these notes again, pausing frequently and giving yourself time to turn the words into felt experiences.

Before you begin

Usually I begin by spending a few minutes cultivating lovingkindness before launching into the practice. I’ll contact my heart, see how I’m feeling, and cultivate a sense of acceptance for whatever emotions happens to be present at that time.

Then I’ll wish myself well by repeating phrases such as “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at peace,” before taking that well-wishing into the world, sensing that my metta is radiating outwards.

Although the Six Element practice is often affirming, it can be challenging and it’s best to be in at least a minimally positive state of mind before we start reflecting in depth on our own impermanence.

So now it’s time to start reflecting on the elements, starting with Earth.

13 Comments. Leave new

i read the six elements practice in Tricycle and wonder if it possible to buy it on CD?

Reply

Hi Juliette,

We have a Brahmaviharas CD (double CD, actually) coming out in the next few months and then our next project will be a Six Element CD.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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I would also be interested in the CD and will be looking forward to seeing offered in the bookshop online.

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Infinity in the palm of your hand | Wildmind Buddhist Meditation
January 4, 2009 11:01 am

[…] reality and often find myself looking at the world (in my imagination, of course) in this way. The Six Element Practice, for example, is an insight meditation practice in which we reflect on impermanence and […]

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Reconnecting with the Elements « Uncertain Clarity
April 13, 2009 10:26 am

[…] perhaps not!), the first time I stayed here I brought with me a guided meditation MP3 titled the Six Elements. Over a 45 minute sitting, it takes you through an exploration of your connection to the […]

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Hi Bodhipaksa,

I stumbled apon your web site (love the ‘Wildmind’ title) and am so glad I did. Not only is it eye pleasing and
easy to navigate but the content is concise, well written and very helpful and I look forward to exploring it entirely.
I have always innately felt connected to the earth and find the Six Element practice
especially powerful for helping me remember what I am not. As a wise man once said “no self, no problem”.

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Hi, Eric, and thanks for the kind comments.

You might be interested to know that I have a book on the Six Elements coming out on October 1, 2010, published by Sounds True. I’ve started a website for the book, which is called Living as a River, and if you head over there you can sign up for our newsletter to so that you can know when it’s available to order.

The newsletters will be mostly monthly, with two or three extra editions in the week of the launch, because I plan to have some special events and a few “rewards” (like exclusive guided meditationdownloads) for subscribers.

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barbara moller
April 11, 2010 1:04 pm

HI, I have been Meditating for 10 years with your CD’s. It has become such apart of my life. A friend has been asking me about meditation for years and I told her about the website….she then came to me and asked if I would loan her one of my Cd’s…so, I did… Weeks later she came back to me and said she did not like the voice, she did not like being told what to do!!! I was dumb founded. I did not know how to respond! It is not as if I was pushing this on her. I was saddened that she did not understand. Maybe she wanted instant gratification. You are always in my thoughts, thank you.

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Hi Barbara,

Thanks for writing, and it’s lovely to hear that you’ve been enjoying my CDs. I’m sorry your friend didn’t find them an enjoyable experience. Sometimes people are afraid of change, and find it easier to blame the tools of change than themselves. I’ve certainly been there! On the other hand, maybe her tastes are just different from yours!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Big sense of relief « Living as a River
June 20, 2010 2:58 pm

[…] wrote Living as a River because I’m fascinated by the Buddhist Six Element Practice, and I wanted to communicate my explorations. But my book isn’t really about the Six Element […]

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Bodhipaksa: Living As A River « Non-Duality America
September 1, 2010 1:12 am

[…] wrote Living as a River because I’m fascinated by the Buddhist Six Element Practice and I wanted to communicate my explorations. But my book isn’t really about the Six Element […]

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10 books to make you think | Sues Bent
March 2, 2012 8:24 pm

[…] the physical world. Of course Bodspaksa explains this far better than I. He invites us to try the Six Elements Practice which is a meditation that assists our thoughts towards a feeling of being alive as part of the […]

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Reflecting on impermanence | Wildmind Buddhist Meditation
December 23, 2012 12:01 pm

[…] body is constantly changing. In the Six Element practice I realize that what I take to be a separate and permanent object is in fact a constant flow of […]

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