The six element practice: meditating on non-self and interconnectedness

The Six Element practice is a profound contemplation on interconnectedness, impermanence, and insubstantiality, or non-self. 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.

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Introduction

In this meditation 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.

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.

See also:

Guided Meditation

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

The Earth Element

First we call to mind the Earth element within ourselves. The Earth element is everything solid and resistant, everything that gives us form. When I’m teaching this practice I encourage students to notice first of all those aspects of the body that they can directly experience: the physical presence and weight of the body, the feeling of the sitting bones pressing into the cushion or bench, the hands resting on the lap, the knees on the floor, the teeth. We simply notice these experiences of solidness.

But as well as noticing those sensations we enter into an imaginative exploration of the rest of the body. Even though we can’t experience them directly, the sutta encourages us to call to mind the flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, and every other conceivable solid matter in the body, right down to the feces in our intestines. We don’t think about these things but simply call them to mind, knowing they are there and experiencing them in the mind’s eye.

Having reflected on the Earth element within, we now call to mind the Earth element externally — everything that is solid and resistant outside of ourselves — starting with the floor upon which we sit, then expanding outward to recall buildings, vehicles, roads, mountains, rocks, pebbles, soil, the bodies of other beings, trees, wild plants and crops growing in fields. Again we don’t aim to start trains of thought, but simply aim to evoke memories in the form of sensory impressions, letting images, sounds, and tactile sensations come to mind.

Then we reflect that everything solid within the body and everything solid externally is the same Earth element. There’s really no “me” Earth element or “other” Earth element — it’s all the same stuff. We normally think of our form, our body, as being us, as being ourselves, but here we recollect how everything of the Earth element that is within us comes from outside and returns to the outside.

Being of a scientific bent — and I think the Buddha was too — I often call to mind the process of conception. My body started with the creation of one cell from the fusion of a sperm and an egg from my parents, who are not me. The fertilized ovum divided and grew into an embryo as it absorbed nutrients from the world outside — from my mother’s bloodstream, but ultimately from the plants and animals she ate. And from that point on in my life, every molecule that has contributed to the earth element in this body similarly has come from outside. We can visualize the flow of the Earth element from fields and soil into the body. There’s not a single molecule of solid matter within this body that is self-originated. It’s all borrowed.

And we have to give it back. In fact we constantly are giving it back, every moment of our lives. The Earth element within us is constantly returning to the outside world. We shed hairs and skin cells, and we go to the bathroom and defecate. Solid matter is combusting within the body and being exhaled. Even our bones, which we may think of as the most solid and enduring part of the body, are involved in never-ending process of being dissolved and rebuilt. There are cells in your body that have no other function than to dissolve the surrounding bone, while other cells are involved in building it back up again. Even your bones are processes rather than things.

So the Earth element within is borrowed, and it’s always returning to the outside world, flowing through us like a river. And as we recollect the Earth element flowing in this way, we can reflect: “This is not me, not mine, I am not this.” There’s not really even any question of “letting go.” The earth element never was “us.” It never was “ours.” We never were holding on to it because how can we cling to something that’s flowing?

The Earth element provides the paradigm for the remaining physical elements, which are all treated in the same way — recollecting the element within us, recollecting the element outside of us, reflecting that everything that is “us” is really just borrowed from the outside world and constantly returning to it, and finally noting, as we contemplate the element flowing through us that this is not me, not mine, that I am not this.

The Water Element

We started with the grossest element, and in the remainder of the practice we progress to those that are increasingly subtle. So now we call to mind the Water element within the body — that which is liquid.

Starting with those manifestations that we can directly experience, we feel saliva in the mouth, mucus, the pulse of the blood, sweat, the feeling of moisture in the outbreath, the pressure of urine in the bladder.

Then we move on to those things we can only experience more imaginatively: lymph, fat, synovial fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, and all the liquid that permeates and surrounds every cell in the body.

Then we contemplate the element outside of ourselves: calling to mind the oceans and rivers and streams, the water that permeates the soil, the rain and clouds, the water inside plants and animals. We see, hear, and feel these things as we recall our experience of them.

Then we recognize that all of the Water within the body, which we think of as “us,” and “ours,” as “ourselves,” is in reality simply borrowed for a while from the outside world, that it’s quite literally flowing through us, and that we don’t own it. There is only one Water element — there’s no “me” Water and there’s no “other” Water. And so we reflect: “This is not me. This is not mine. I am not this.”

The Fire Element

The Buddha defined the Fire element as “that by which one is warmed, ages, and is consumed, and that by which what is eaten … gets completely digested.” In other words the Fire element within is metabolism. It’s our energy.

So sitting in meditation we can experience the heat of the body, feel the cooler air we breath in contrast with the warmth of the air as it leaves the body, feel the heart pumping, and call to mind the myriad chemical combustions taking place at the cellular level, sparks of electricity in the muscles, nerves, and brain. All of this energy is borrowed from the Fire element outside of us.

The Fire element outside is the raw physical energy in the universe, from the nuclear fusion in the heart of the sun to warmth of a cup of coffee, from the molten core of our planet to the chemical energy stored in our food as fat, sugars, and proteins.

We feed the body by taking in the sun’s energy embodied in plants or (for those of us who aren’t vegetarians) flesh. We warm ourselves in the rays of the sun, either directly or through burning fossil fuels that grew in the sunlight of ages past.

And we have to keep replenishing the body’s fuel because the element Fire is forever leaving: radiating from our skin, wafting away on our exhaled air, lost in the warmth of our feces and urine. And so the Fire element, like Earth and Water, simply flows through us, unstoppable.

And as we observe the energy within the body, we can be aware that it’s actually another river — a river of energy — passing through this form, that it is really not ours at all. “This is not me. This is not mine. I am not this.”

The Air Element

As soon as we call to mind the air element within the body — the air in our lungs and other body cavities, even the gases dissolved in our blood — we’re immediately aware of the breathing, aware that air is flowing rhythmically in and out of the body.

So almost simultaneously we recall the Air element outside of us — the air surrounding us and touching the skin in this very moment, the winds and clouds and breezes that we see and hear moving branches and grasses.

We’re taking in and giving out this element right now. Right now the Air element is entering and leaving the body as we breathe in and out. Right now, air is entering, oxygen is dissolving in the bloodstream, being taken to cells to provide energy, and carbon dioxide is being exhaled.

There’s no boundary between inner Air and outer Air. There is only one Air element, and what’s within us is simply borrowed for a few moments. We can’t hold onto the Air element any more than we can hold onto any of the others. In fact we can only live by letting go, never by holding on. To hold on is to die. And so we reflect that the Air element, like the other physical elements, is not me, not mine, that I am not this.

By this point in the practice I’m usually beginning to sense in a very immediate way the impermanent, transient nature of the body. I have a heightened appreciation that what I normally assume to be a relatively fixed and solid physical form is actually a dynamic process. I often find myself thinking that to watch the elements flow through this body is rather akin to sitting by a river. I can watch the water pass “my” stretch of the riverbank, and I say “that’s me, that’s me,” but in every moment of claiming, of grasping, what I’m trying to cling to flows inexorably past. Clinging is futile, and painful. Letting go is to recognize how things are.

There’s a sense of curiosity, wonder, and openness. The world is more alive. I’m less attached to my physical form, and my sense of identification has expanded outwards; everything that has ever passed through my body — the solid matter, air, water, and energy — is now “out there” in the form of fields, clouds, forests, and soil. In a way those things are me. And because this very body is made of these same things, I am them. Having this direct sense of interconnectedness is enlivening and empowering. I’m no longer separate and small, but an intimate part of the vast cycle of the elements.

The Space Element

Space: it’s a strange and different element. It’s just there. We can’t see it, we can’t touch it, we can’t say how far it extends. We can’t even say what, if anything, it’s made of.

According to Einstein it expands and contracts depending on what velocity we’re moving at, and it gets bent out of shape by the presence of solid matter. That’s all very hard for me to get my brain — conditioned as it is to think in a paltry three dimensions — around. But there is one thing that my deluded mind “knows” about Space, which is that there’s Space that’s “me” and there’s Space that’s “not me.”

Cue Einstein, in one of his less mathematical and more religious moments:

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe” —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

This very basic distinction — or delusion — of there being an inner world and an outer world is so fundamental that we rarely question it. This stage of the Six Element practice gives us an opportunity to question that assumption.

So first of all, as we’re sitting with our eyes closed in meditation, can we feel any sharp division between “me space” and “not-me space”? I’ve noticed that without the “optical delusion” of there being a delineation between inner and outer the body loses its sense of having fixed boundaries. The hands no longer have five fingers, and have become just a mass of interwoven sensations — tingling, warmth, pressure. The whole body becomes a fuzzy ball of energy. That passing car I hear: is the sound inside me or outside? The sound waves are happening in the air outside, but all hearing takes place in the brain, which is inside. The assumptions begin to show cracks.

Anyway, even if the boundaries of my space are fuzzy, I at least still have some space I can claim as my own, right? Well, maybe not. Even when I’m sitting absolutely still I’m moving. The planet is spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun, the whole solar system is swinging around the galactic core, and the galaxy itself is rushing away from every other galaxy at an incomprehensible velocity. So although I think there’s a “me space,” I’m never actually in the same space for two consecutive moments.

Space isn’t really divided into “me space” and “not-me space.” It’s all one space, and it flows through us. Space is just borrowed. We can’t own it. (Note to so-called “self”: try to remember this next time someone steals “your” parking space.)

The Consciousness Element

It isn’t obvious that consciousness is an element in the same way as the physical elements or even space. Somehow in the evolution of the material universe life has arisen, and in the evolution of life consciousness has come into being. Perhaps we could say that consciousness is the other elements knowing themselves.

The Buddha introduces the element in this way: “Then there remains only consciousness, bright and purified.” It’s just possible that he was referring here to mind’s intrinsic nature, or he may simply have meant that the mind has been brightened and purified by letting go of grasping after the other five elements. In any event, we’ve realized that there’s nothing we can grasp onto and our mind now turns its attention to itself — the grasper.

In this stage of the practice we notice – and reflect upon – the way in which sensations, thoughts, images, and emotions come into being, persist for a while, and then vanish into emptiness. None of these experiences is permanent, and all are simply passing through us in the same way that the Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space elements are flowing through our physical form. So these “elements of consciousness” are not intrinsic to us, are not a fixed part of us, and are not us. Just as there is nothing we can grasp onto there is no one, ultimately, to do any grasping.

For more teachings on non-self, see:

When feelings of fear or discomfort arise in the practice, as they sometimes do, we treat them in just this way, experiencing the feelings in a nonattached way, surrounding them with mindfulness and lovingkindness, and realizing that they are not ultimately a part of us.

Having explained that the contents of consciousness — pleasant, unpleasant, or neitral — arise and pass and cannot be clung to, “There remains,” in the words of the sutta, “only equanimity, purified and bright, malleable, wieldy, and radiant.”
This is the equanimity that comes from letting go, from ceasing to identify with our experience. It’s the equanimity that comes from not getting caught up in our inner dramas, from not reacting to unpleasant feelings with aversion and by not responding to pleasant feelings with grasping. It’s the equanimity of acceptance.

We come to the insight that we’re not the physical elements, nor the space that contains them, nor again the consciousness that knows those things. So we may well ask, what exactly are we? This is a question that, in this meditation, we can consider experientially rather than through discursive thought. Rather than try to work out an answer in logical terms we simply ask the question, and sit, and listen patiently for the heart’s intuitive response.

When I reflect in this way the answer that sometimes arises is a sense that we are the universe become aware of itself; that we are nothing more than conscious energy; that the mind is inherently pure, luminous, wise and loving; and that we are beginning to know our true nature. But whatever arises from our reflections, we simply continue to sit and to experience the fruits of the practice, until we feel ready to move on.

I’d encourage you once again to engage with this practice as an experiential exercise in letting go. To live is to let go, and in order to live fully we must learn to let go fully and to embrace the flow that is the universe.

17 Comments. Leave new

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

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  • 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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  • monty duvall
    July 24, 2008 4:43 am

    The earth element seems to be the most impotant thing to keep in mind.It gives me the pleasure of knowing I am not a thing but part of the whole.

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  • It’s absolutely true, Monty, that reflecting on the earth element reminds us that we are not static and separate things, but ever-changing parts of a greater whole. That’s true of course not just of the earth element but of the other elements as well.

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  • Really useful information. I study astrology and through understanding the elements I have come to realise the underpinning importance importance of the earth element. It turns the airy and watery aspects of thought and emotion into solid material form.

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  • […] 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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  • […] 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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  • Very interesting read. This will be my first time practicing the Six Elements and the simplicity of how you have related this information has served to further intrigue me. Everything is related and “separate parts of a greater whole” is a wonderful way to put it. The more I read, the more I experience, the more I flow – the more I realize how everything comes together to form this ever-changing universal dance.

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  • Hi, I did this. Practice. And the elements dissolved me, sort of, and it makes me free because it does so and therefor makes you a whole.

    I meditate regularly and practice most of buddhism in day life. And lately something is perhaps happening to me, and I get more and more used to this ” new me.” At first I thought I was loosing my mind, but now Im not afraid and have realized that this was me all along, and now I feel inzane if I get back into the old ways of thinking, seperating, worrying, judging.

    This is a message, to not fall into the patterns of illusion. I live in NOrway, and this is not real. NOthing in this world is. And that makes me feel safe. :-)

    C

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  • […] It is very loose and involves the interconnectedness of all things. It actually is identical to this meditation here, and I have not ever looked up meditations on the internet before today, preffering to let myself do […]

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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

      Reply
  • caroline i like the idia of life is a lie to thanks for writing that possitive embrace for a begiunner it also comforts me :) big time thanks to whoever wrote this to highly apriechiated

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  • […] 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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  • Really useful information .The world surrounding with superb energy which care us with lovely elements friends. we need appreciate and thanks for the form we are now .:)

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  • […] 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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  • I am a wind element what kind of meditation should i do?

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  • Hi Simon,

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying you’re a wind element — whether that’s from astrology or some other such thing — but I’m not aware of any correspondences like that. There are traditional alignments between meditations and personality types, but the those are framed in terms of whether mental qualities of greed, hatred, or delusion predominate in the mind, and the exercises that need to be done to overcome those tendencies.

    Generally most people need to do some kind of mindfulness practice, and some kind of lovingkindness practice. Eventually there needs to be an element of insight reflections brought in as well, which is where the six element practice comes in (although there are other kinds of insight practice, of course).

    I hope this is helpful.

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  • wow i love thinking about these kinds of things, and the part about sound, it made me think alot about the question ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?’ Before my answer was yes of course it does, but now my answer is no. Golly, i wonder what kinds of other assumptions are wrong like that, or was i right when i answered yes to the question ^ ? lol i love thinking about this kind of stuff :D

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    • Reflection is mind-expanding, isn’t it? If we think it through, what kind of universe would exist if there were no sentient life to perceive it?

      Reply
  • Rosalind Morris
    June 11, 2011 9:12 pm

    I would very much like to know where I could buy/download (whatever) a cd of the 6 element meditation practice. It is not so easy to practice on my own from just reading it. Hoping you can give me some ideas, direction on where to get a hold of such a cd.

    Thank you

    Rosalind

    Reply
  • Frank Sibolski
    July 28, 2011 8:20 pm

    I like your website. I just got out of jail in Berkshire County. I spent my last 5 mos in Howard Street. I am now at Soldiers On in Northampton. It is a home for homeless Vets.I am on probation for 16 more months. When I went to jail I started meditating. I did it everyday. Sometime for a few hours a day sometimes less.I meditate in the sitting position because of knee problems but aquired some deep meditations. I am still doing it. It helped me alot. I am now interested in finding some type of Buddist Commune where I can volunteer, live,study and meditate. I thought you might be able to steert me in the right direction.

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    • Hi, Frank. I’m glad to hear you’re out, and I hope you’re doing well.

      I don’t know of any Buddhist community like you’re thinking of joining. There are places like the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., who take on volunteer residents, but I don’t know what the process is, and it’s definitely not specifically for former inmates (and I don’t know what their policy on that is). You can Google them and make contact.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • Robert Van Mell
    August 27, 2011 2:50 pm

    Hi!

    First of all, thanks for producing this excellent wisdom meditation.

    Re:

    “So these “elements of consciousness” are not intrinsic to us, are not a fixed part of us, and are not us.”

    1.

    If all phenomena are compounded aggregates of other things (as we are), then are “elements of consciousness” also aggregates? If so, of what?

    2.

    I had thought that Buddhism acknowledged that our conditioning created subconscious formations (yogacara: store-house consciousness) that made us experience the world in a deluded way.
    If so, then isn’t there a kind of permanence to the self because we harbor these formations? – Hence my confusion.

    Thanks.

    Robert Van Mell

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  • Hi, Robert.

    Thanks for your questions.

    Consciousness is indeed a compounded/conditioned phenomenon. Buddhism doesn’t say what consciousness is “made up of” but points to how it arises in dependence upon sense contact, habitual tendencies, etc. Additionally, consciousness seems to be seen not as a “thing” but as a series of events. And consciousness cannot be seen as separate, because there is no consciousness without some thing to be conscious of.

    We do indeed have subconscious formations (sankharas in Pali, samskaras in Sanskrit) but these too are conditioned. They arise and pass away, and are not permanent. They also don’t exist in separation from anything else, but are part of a process. So there’s nothing there can can support the notion of a separate or permanent self.

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  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I have just read your book “Living as a River” and found it interesting and illuminating. I heartedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Six Element Practice. Although I have a long way to go before I can deconstruct my sense of a rigid self I can at least understand on an intellectual level that there is potential for change.
    Perhaps you could help me with a related topic. I have several Christian friends. I am sure that if I engaged them in conversation regarding self, ego, essence then they would say that the true “self” resides in an unchangeable soul, that the soul equates to our essence. I cannot say whether I have a soul or not because it seems that one cannot intellectually argue for or against its existence (or am I wrong?). I have a hunch that it does not exist. Has Buddhism a perspective on this?
    Thank you for this invaluable website and for making yourself available to deal with peoples’ questions.

    Reply
    • Hi. Thanks for your kind comments.

      Buddhism has had much to say about this over the centuries. I’ll track down some specific sources when I have time, but one of the main points Buddhism has made is to question how something that is eternal and unchanging could have any relationship with something (like our physical and mental functioning) that is impermanent and ever-changing. If there was such a thing as a permanent and unchanging soul, it could never be known, and so would be of complete irrelevance to our actual lived sense of ourselves (our personality, or self-view). The next couple of days are rather busy, but I’ll reply more fully as soon as I can.

      Reply
  • Gosh! I just seem to have so little time at the moment. The best I can do is to say that you’re entirely right: a non-physical, permanent, and unchanging soul can never be known. It’s thus no more than a hypothetical construct intended to provide a sense of reassurance that there is something stable in us, despite the evidence that in fact everything that constitutes us, and every experience we have, is constantly changing.

    The Buddha’s teaching, as you’ll know. was that we let go of identifying anything as the self. Many people questioned him about this, and a couple of sources come to mind. There’s the dialog with Potthapada in the Long Discourses, where the Buddha picks apart Potthapada’s notions of what would constitute a soul. There’s also the Samanupassana Sutta which does something similar.

    When I first wrote, I had in mind some later writings, from Nagarjuna. Here’s a link to a book on Google where he presents arguments against the notion of a soul (including “soul-theory” that had been smuggled into Buddhism).

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    • Just wanted to add this fascinating article, which I happen to be reading at the moment.

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    • “no more than a hypothetical construct intended to provide a sense of reassurance that there is something stable in us, despite the evidence that in fact everything that constitutes us, and every experience we have, is constantly changing.”

      the ideas of the six elements, as well as impermanence and change, are also hypothetical constructs. buddhism relies on logic to a great degree, however the believe that logic can accurately represent reality is also hypothetical and therefore faith-based. i appreciate the practices of buddhism, as they do loosen the grip on fundamentalist ideas about self and identity and everything else in the world. but the philosophy that often accompanies them does not represent absolute truths any more than the idea of a soul, etc. *all* ideas are hypothetical, including buddhist ones. and i believe there is a vast freedom in that realization. even freedom from buddhist ideas. in this sense, saying that the idea of a soul is “no more than” a hypothesis, while offering equally hypothetical ideas in its place, seems like a power play by a belief system seeking to prove its superiority (nothing personal, it’s what belief systems seem to tend to do). ultimately, ideas like permanence/impermanence are all hypothetical, and also importantly, rely on each other for meaning. so i caution buddhists to be aware when using phrases like “mere thoughts” or “mere hypothesis,” unless there is a hearty willingness to apply it to their own theories as well. the goal is not to be buddhist, perhaps, but to be free.

      Reply
      • Buddhism has pointed out since the earliest days that logic cannot describe reality, and that’s been a constant of Buddhist teachings since then. When Buddhism talks about impermanence, it’s not as a logical construct to be believed in, but simply a way of encouraging us to look at our actual experience.

        Reply
  • Robert Van Mell
    October 11, 2011 6:27 am

    Are consciousness and awareness the same thing?

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  • It all entirely depends on how you define those terms. And I’m not even sure how I’d define those terms.

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  • Have a question observation about earth element. If earth is ever flowing why can it not protect itself from the destruction caused by the human. Does not the element contain a self defense gene or mechanism. Is it so much like the creator that it will not protect itself and prefer to be destroyed than defend itself. The earth is being destroyed day by day as humans deforest, pollute, and destroy. It’s time the earth woke up and defend itself.

    Reply
    • Just because solid matter changes doesn’t mean that the earth element is a conscious entity that has any ability to “wake up” or “defend itself.” The closest we can get to that is having human beings, who are the earth element become aware of itself, develop more awareness of the consequences of their actions.

      Reply
  • really enjoying the elements description & will try this meditation sometime

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  • […] 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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  • thank you! I have been stumped with the idea that the self I am constantly defending does not really exist at all. I think I have had my first inkling of what this really means and how much sense it makes.

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  • […] is also action and movement – he is something of an air element. As Leonora is communication, Lili is fire, Malcolm is water and Melissa is the earth, Doug is the […]

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  • […] – he is something of an air element. As Leonora is communication, Lili is fire, Malcolm is water and Melissa is the earth, Doug is the […]

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  • […] 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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  • Randy Burkhart
    January 8, 2013 5:01 am

    Bodhipaksa- I have been studying and practicing for several years now and have never run across this one before. After using it in my sitting practice a couple of times I can see how beneficial it is and will be adding it to my daily practice. Thanks for making it available and in such a clear, comprehensible way.

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  • I love this. It reminded me of an experience I had when I was about 15. I was at the lake in August. It was a very warm muggy night and the lake was warm like bathwater. It was very late and I was alone and I took off my clothes to swim. In the water floating on my back… the lake was very calm and still. The sky was very black and the stars were bright and sparkling and were reflected in the still lake. With no clothes on and the warm water and warm air… dark sparkling above and around… and ears underwater-I couldnt feel anything at all. It was like floating in outer space and sort of like I had no body but a the same time everything was my body. This was one of the most memorable moments of my life and really changed how I looked at the world and myself. I have always wished for more moments like that.

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  • Frank Sibolski
    February 4, 2013 9:01 pm

    Hi Sabra,
    That sounded like a great expierience you had.I am looking forward to some of the same when the weather warms up.Thank you for sharing it with me.
    Frank

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  • […] the six main characters (everyone but Pamela Hudson) is associated with an element. Melissa is the earth element, even though she’s a pilot. A part of this is her earthiness, another part is her hunting and […]

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  • […] action and movement – he is something of an air element. As Leonora is communication, Lili is fire, Malcolm is water and Melissa is the earth, Doug is the […]

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  • […] digested.” In other words the Fire element within is metabolism. It’s our energy.”, (https://www.wildmind.org/six-elements/the-fire-element, Bodhipaska, THE FIRE […]

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  • Is it necessary to work your way through all 6 elements in one sitting or can you just focus on one? And does it matter in what order? I get the sense that the 6 elements echo the metaphysical representations of the chakras in turn (as you move up the body from the base and in the direction of the crown). So could I be creative and practise earth element meditation with a client prior to energy healing work associated with feelings of being secure and grounded, having basic needs met. Or would this be a unthinkable deviation from the teachings! Tks as ever. Julia

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    • The Meditation Police would come and drag you away, kicking and screaming :)

      No, you can focus on one element, and there are also variations of the practice with just the first four or five elements. The order is traditional and roughly progresses from the slowest and most stable elements (e.g. the solid matter in your body is on average seven years old, 50% of the liquid in your body is replaced every 7 to 14 days, etc.) There’s a certain kind of sense to it, but it wouldn’t be disastrous to do them in a non-traditional order, although it might be odd.

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  • Nina Jordan / Embracing Heart
    November 10, 2013 3:24 pm

    I am reminded of Denise, mother of Rose, who suggested I ask the anesthesiologist to recite something while I was in surgery. He was not happy with that but I decided on the phrase, “I am one with the universe”, to be recited when I fear illness and death. Thank you so much for this meditation!

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  • […] of an air element. As Leonora is communication, Lili is fire, Malcolm is water and Melissa is the earth, Doug is the […]

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  • Meditate on space often enough you will notice that the space within is the same without. The dualistic projecting mind is suffused within that space and projection has no place to go. Basically the inner and outer distinction falls apart and you realize that all the objects that appear in that space or more profoundly from that space is that activity oc consciousness. Hence realising that the whole universe is conscious space…awareness, big mind….whatever name you want to give….amazing..

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  • thank you…this is just what I needed

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  • I’ve heard if we do wrong during practice this wind element meditation, the wind element inside the body will be too much so our elements not balance and body could be trembling too. could you please explain more about this ? what kind of disease could be happened ? like scyzhophrenia or something maybe ? :(
    Thank you

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    • I really don’t know. It’s possible to do meditation in an imbalanced way, and a very small number of people who have meditated have ended up with mental problems, but I’m not aware specifically of what they were doing. In over 30 years of practice and 25 years of teaching I’ve never seen such problems. I think the key thing is to balance lovingkindness meditation with mindfulness or insight practice, since mindfulness or insight without metta can be emotionally cold, distant, and detached in a very unhelpful way.

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  • Practicing the 6 element meditation for a few month now and having just finished your great “Living like a River” book, I somehow got confused about the various aspects of the consciousness element. To me it seems to be composed of three completely separate flows: Mental states (thoughts, emotions, valuations), information (genetic, cultural, scientific), and the process of consciousness itself.

    Another of my confusions relates to the degree of persistence of the third aspect: Bardo teachings talk about “consciousness not connected with a physical body” passing from one life to another. All the other elements are neither created nor destroyed, they just pass through the body. That also holds for the information element (outside me it’s just entropy or unread books) and might work for mental states (neurons fire together or not). However, it’s difficult for me to imagine particles of consciousness out there. I now try to avoid that aspect in my meditation.

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  • This is the first time I have looked into elemental meditation and this is some really eye opening stuff

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