The Grand Spirits of India

If you care to look beyond the million gods you encounter in India, you would find a sturdy belief system that would be worthy of some fundamentalism. A ministry awaits a messiah who has the energy to found a new fanatical religious order based on it; and I would happily join it. For about a quarter century since I became aware of the concept of Pancha Maha Bhuta, [Bhuta is pronounced ‘bhootha’] I have wondered why we as a civilisation have not yanked it from behind and worshipped it instead of the gods in front.

I translate the Sanskrit phrase “Pancha Maha Bhuta” [PMB] as “Five Grand Spirits”. They are Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. “What of them?”, do you ask? Well, wait until you discover how ‘Indian Tradition’ [IT: a nomenclature I like, ahead of the narrow sounding ‘Hinduism’] sees these five spirits permeate every material reality that surrounds us. For several millennia people of this land have instinctively subscribed to the primacy of PMB. They explored the integrated system that the five Spirits amount to, examined it with rigour, discovered order in them, documented the knowledge, and then -and only then- perhaps to spread the idea in the streets, suffered to bring in the arts, temples, and gods. The short point is the Bhuta are the fundamental reality; the gods come later.

Let me begin to share my enthusiasm starting with this wondrous passage I found here. It is one of the verses by Vedaranya, a scholar and administrator of the Vijayanagar Empire

“Only one quality can be seen in space: it can reverberate sound, but we cannot touch it, taste it, smell it… Space can only cause an atmosphere for creating a vibration of sound; so, as nothing else is possible there, Sound alone is the quality of space.
But of air, there are two qualities: air can make sound, and also it can be felt. It can be touched. Sound is the quality of space; sound and touch are the qualities of air.
But fire has sound, touch and has form, as we can also see it.

And water: we can hear its sound, we can touch it, we can see it, we can taste it. But we cannot taste fire, taste air, taste space,
Earth has five qualities: it can create sound, it can be touched, it can be seen, it can be tasted, and it can be smelled. Smelling is the quality of only earth,
…so Earth has five qualities, Water has four, fire has three, air has two, and space has only one quality.”

Let me make a list out of the above:

  • 1- Space: Heard, [as a hum, or Om, if you prefer]
  • 2- Air: Heard and felt
  • 3- Fire: Heard, felt and seen
  • 4- Water: Heard, felt, seen and tasted
  • 5- Earth: Heard, felt, seen, tasted and smelt

Our ancient folks were active list makers. They went on to map our five senses to the PMB:

  • 1- Space: Heard: Ear
  • 2- Air: Heard and felt: Skin
  • 3- Fire: Heard, felt and seen: Eye
  • 4- Water: Heard, felt, seen and tasted: Tongue
  • 5- Earth: Heard, felt, seen, tasted and smelt: Nose

From a Tibetan source, I discover more equivalences:

  • 1- Space: Vibration
  • 2- Air: Motion
  • 3- Fire: Heat
  • 4- Water:Cohesion
  • 5- Earth: Solidity

So it goes. How does it all come together? I decided to make a set of tables out of what I was digging out of the Internet. I neither know Sanskrit, nor am a scholar or a philosopher; just an enthusiast for earth’s environment. My hope is to discover an argument that might give environment a primacy in our search for material prosperity.

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