In addition to sources already cited, there’s this post in a discussion forum which I found very lucid. Let me present the emerging pattern in a series of tables. Table – 1 below summarises the essence of the Pancha Maha Bhuta concept.
By making man aware of the cosmos through his five senses, Indian Tradition nudged him to see the context of his existence. This is crucial: if man -and other life forms- are to be well they must care for the Grand Spirits. Indian Tradition believes that all manifested reality is caused by Akaash [vibrations], the subtlest of the Bhuta, and all living things -of which man is but one of billions- are due to interactions between the Bhuta and Prana, the primal life force.
Man and his well being would after all, be central to man. Search for what stabilises man, led to the concept of Chakras. Of the seven Chakras,[nodes of energy], the two highest, Sahasrara [thought, mind] and Ajna [third eye, intuition] are too subtle but the other five are material and are associated with the five Bhuta. From the vastness of the universe to the centre of every individual, the connection is now complete. Man has been ‘created’.
Now a quick boast about the Indian Tradition before we move on. The Five Spirits are what make the concept universal. While four elements exist only on earth and maybe a few other planets, it is space that drapes the universe . It is curious that in ancient Greece’s “classical thought, the four elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire frequently occur; sometimes including a fifth element or quintessence (after “quint” meaning “fifth”) called Aether”. Sometimes, but not always. It was Aristotle in 4th century BC, who found the concept of 4 elements was incomplete: “Aristotle added aether as the quintessence, reasoning that whereas fire, earth, air, and water were earthly and corruptible, since no changes had been perceived in the heavenly regions, the stars cannot be made out of any of the four elements but must be made of a different, unchangeable, heavenly substance” [Both quotes in this para from…]
Significantly, it is only in the Indian Tradition, they are known as Spirits – and not Elements. There is a huge difference in these designations. ‘Elements’ are suggestive of building blocks, utilities as they were, for us to construct what we choose. Sciences and industries continue to view nature as being there to be exploited. There is an assignment of subservience when they are referred to as elements. When one refers to them as Spirits however, there is a paradigm change of relationship. They become infused with a life and a supermind. You cannot be above them; they will in the end get you if you stray too far.
The first consequence of accepting the Pancha Maha Bhuta as fundamental reality is a conflict with Creationism: If the Grand Spirits come first, then god did not create the Spirits, even though man’s generosity -or, nervousness- often attributes the credit. Who created the Grand Spirits? Does not matter, or it is impossible to discover, for the act of creation requires a moment in time when it began. If the Spirits always were and will always be, where can that moment be found? Besides, if Akaash is the only one that is to be found throughout the universe, why did the good god bestow the other four only on this planet? And if he were partial to us, then is he not Planet Earth’s local lord only?
Can’t there be a wholesome theology without a creative, creating god? With regard to the Grand Spirits, what if we were trained to be in awe -if not fear- of their power, to venerate – if not worship – their beauty, to respect -instead of abuse- their nature, to strive for their protection-instead of exploiting them. Barring the Indian Tradition, no other religion gives centrality to nature; and India is rapidly abandoning its heritage under the leadership of its new captains.
The second consequence of venerating the Grand Spirits is to make you a fervent environmentalist. And that can be the basis of a whole and happy life in a way few religions can be. Becoming aware of the brooding Spirits that surround us, is to become sensitive in our approach to technology, economics, politics, religions and all the arts. As fundamentalisms go, this is one I frequently contemplate as worth killing for.
The Arts are unique and essential to man yes, but they are not something indispensable for the sustenance of this planet. The humble and tireless earthworm probably sustains more life forms than man’s creativity does. In fact man’s creative arts, of which many destructive inventions are a part, has worked against this planet. Nevertheless, arts can be the basis of much beauty and do have a place in our lives. At a minimum, they, like technology, cannot be wished away.
Look at the following list of associations, very plausibly imagined by Indian Tradition. We are veering off here to a realm not shared by other living things, but I glad nevertheless.
There is a likely inclination to agree with the suggested associations but not with the same robust enthusiasm that you might have felt as with the first two tables. That could be because we are moving away from the essential to the exciting. Shape, colour and sound are the stuff of all arts: music, dance, architecture, painting, poetry and all design.