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Abhidhamma Series, no 13. the Four Great Elements.

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  • Nina van Gorkom
    Dear friends, The four Great Elements. Ruupas, material phenomena, are not mere textbook terms, they are realities that can be directly experienced. Ruupas do
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2010
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      Dear friends,

      The four Great Elements.

      Ruupas, material phenomena, are not mere textbook terms, they are
      realities that can be directly experienced. Ruupas do not know or
      experience anything; they can be known by naama. Ruupa arises and
      falls away, but it does not fall away as quickly as naama. When a
      characteristic of ruupa such as hardness impinges on the bodysense it
      can be experienced through the bodysense by several cittas arising in
      succession within a process. But even though ruupa lasts longer than
      citta, it falls away again, it is impermanent.
      Ruupas do not arise singly, they arise in units or groups. What we
      take for our body is composed of many groups or units, consisting
      each of different kinds of ruupa, and the ruupas in such a group
      arise together and fall away together.
      There are four kinds of ruupa, the four �Great Elements� (Mahaa-
      bhuuta ruupas), which have to arise together with each and every
      group of ruupas, no matter whether these are ruupas of the body or
      ruupas outside the body. The types of ruupa other than the four Great
      Elements depend on these four ruupas and cannot arise without them.
      They are the following ruupas:

      the Element of Earth (pa.thaviidhaatu) or solidity
      the Element of Water (aapodhaatu) or cohesion
      the Element of Fire (tejodhaatu) or heat
      the Element of Wind (vaayodhaatu) or motion

      Earth, Water, Fire and Wind do not in this context have the same
      meaning as in conventional language, neither do they represent
      conceptual ideas as we find them in different philosophical systems.
      In the Abhidhamma they represent ultimate realities, specific ruupas
      each with their own characteristic. The element of earth, pa.thavii
      dhaatu, translated into English as �solidity� or �extension�, has the
      characteristic of hardness or softness. It can be directly
      experienced when we touch something hard or soft. We do not have to
      name this ruupa �element of earth� in order to experience it. It is
      an element that arises and falls away; it has no abiding substance,
      it is devoid of a �self�. We take softness and hardness of the body
      for self, but these are only elements arising because of conditions.
      It may seem that hardness can last for some time, but in reality it
      falls away immediately.The hardness that is experienced now is
      already different from the hardness that arose a moment ago.
      The element of earth appears as hardness or softness; the element of
      fire as heat or cold; the element of wind as motion or pressure.
      These three elements can be experienced by touch. The element of
      water cannot be experienced through touch, but only through the mind-
      door. When we touch what we call water, cold which is the element of
      fire, or hardness, which is the element of earth, can be directly
      Every day we experience a great variety of sense objects, but they
      are, in
      fact, only different compositions of ruupa elements. When we touch a
      cushion or chair, tangible object may appear, such as hardness or
      softness. We used to think that a cushion or chair could be
      experienced through touch. When we are more precise, it is hardness
      or softness that can be experienced through touch. Because of
      remembrance of former experiences we can think of a cushion or chair
      and we know that they are named �cushion� or �chair�. This example
      can remind us that there is a difference between ultimate realities
      and concepts we can think of but which are not real in the ultimate
      Viewing the body and the things around us as different combinations
      of ruupas may be new to us. Gradually we shall realize that ruupas
      are not abstract categories, but that they are realities appearing in
      daily life.


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