For some, unfolding knowledge of the world follows the path of the mechanics of perception. For others like myself, it follows the path of the dynamics of consciousness. The 2 approaches unfold different understanding of the world. There are also variations within each.

On the first path, we discover a version of what Samkhya describes. From the mind arises the 5 senses out of the observer side of consciousness. From the observed arises the corresponding 5 tanmatra or essences. The first comes out of sattva guna, the second from tamas.

As the tamas (inertia) increases, those essences become the 5 Mahabhutas or elements, each progressively more dense and each including the prior ones. (space, air, fire, water, earth) Traditions from around the world mention some variation of this. Some people describe them arising in a series of spirals, with each loop of density expressing the next element.

We can relate this increasing density with the koshas or sheaths, our “energy bodies.”
In summary:

kosha about element nature sense
Anandamaya bliss, celestial space vibration hearing
Vijnanamaya intellect air structure touch
Manonmaya mental, sensory fire field sight
Pranamaya energy, emotions water field taste
Annamaya physical earth form smell

While the subtle essence of space arises in self-aware consciousness, it first becomes manifest as a nested “space” on the Anandamaya kosha. The Sanskrit name for space is akasha which means shining. This is the self-luminous field of becoming. It is also the arena of vibration and the sound of creation becoming. Beings that exist in this range are simply luminous intelligence.

The next layer of becoming is air, the range of subtle or sacred or “all-space filling” geometry that gives structure to the fine vibrations in space. Beings on this level work primarily in harmony and a relationship of distinctions. They seek to keep the rising creation in balance so it will continue to express.

The next is the mental body, driven by the transformation of fire and sight. Fire is the great purifier, but also destroyer. So this also must arise in balance. It is a force of transformation, shifting air and space into water and earth and vice versa. Beings on this level are like idea fields, clouds with personality. However, we often personalize the experience, giving them more defined forms like angels with wings.

Next, the energy or emotional body has a fluid nature. Water and emotions need to flow smoothly. If we resist or repress, we get in the way of smooth circulation. Earth can build up where it doesn’t belong or be depleted. This is the nature of the astral and beings who live there. They can have full imaginal forms, made of the stuff of dreams.

Keep in mind that while all beings here will be mostly water element, they will have different blends of the other elements and will be more tamasic (darker), rajasic (active), or sattvic (lighter).

And finally, we have the “food” body where earth predominates in all physical life forms. Earth gives us stability and solidity. But also the greatest inertia and resistance to transformation.

To be clear, we’re not talking state when we say “air” or “water”. Our physical atmosphere is made of gaseous elements that have a lot of air but are physical so they’re mostly earth. This is similar with fluid objects like water or mercury. The physical elements of the Periodic Table are grouped by elemental mix. All are earth-based with stronger mixes of water or air or fire, as with radioactive substances.

Our senses are sattvic but objects we perceive are tamasic, earth. If we identify with the objects of senses (my car, my kitchen, etc), we take on some of the tamas in experiencing them. By the end of the day, we get fatigued and need sleep so the tamas can be “digested” and cleared.

Some experiences make strong impressions and thus require a deeper digestion or healing to clear. Without that, the smooth flow of energy meets resistance and is impeded.

Part of the process of spiritual growth is the purification of these bodies so we can effectively embody higher values. Smooth flow also allows easy balance so emotions can flow but not overwhelm, fire can purify but not destroy, and so forth.

The ease of transformation is progressively slower with each step down. Earth is the slowest so spiritual changes will manifest in the physical body last.

In Tantra, when we gain mastery over the elements, we can fly through air and turn other metals into gold. Yoga describes similar. But it’s hazardous to gain such skills prematurely as they can become profound distractions from spiritual progress.

More important is that deeper connection to source. But as the purification unfolds, we may begin to experience these layers. Then it becomes handy to have a little understanding. Not to take it too seriously and identify with any of this as “truth” but rather to be able to allow whatever arises to be comfortable and recognized as a small aspect of our growth.

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  1. michael

    What a wonderful article!!
    Source was in a good mood when that info came through 😉

    Yes, mastery over the elements….neidan or dzogchen also desribe these “supernatural” abilities.
    they should never be sought prematurely! (in my opinion) ….but should unfold naturally.
    However, in my experience we can support the “spiritulization of the body” as we can support the clearing and transformation of the other bodies….but there is also a flow to that support and we should go with that intelligent flow.
    but one needs an openness for all of this to unfold (same like the “desiring unity” for it to happen) or one can get stuck.


    1. Thanks. It’s a blend of several things that have come up recently.

      I relate more to koshas than elements but the principles are quite similar.

      There are a few teachings that practice the Yoga siddhis but not to get the abilities. The approach is to help clear the energy channels so presence can be more fully embodied.

      It’s also an interesting dance as each of us are a slightly different blend. That means the flow will be distinct for us and may take forms we are less comfortable with. Part of the process can be shedding expectations and concepts of who we’re “supposed” to be.

      So yes, an openness. It’s not unusual to go through a transitional phase where the old drivers fall away but the often much more subtle flow hasn’t become clear yet.

      But even seeming stuck can be part of the process, giving us time to clean up some karma or integrate more.

  2. michael

    I did not mean the stuckness to resolve, learn or integrate something.
    I meant the stuckness as a result of closeness (as opposed to openness): “I am done, only the awakening like i experience is the real one all the others are still caught in the illusion” etc. 🙂

    Today we have a strange materialistic and atheistic form of awakening (not everyone of course but in some circles) and that the physical body itself can awaken or is perfected is beyond those circles even though almost every ancient lineage had this theme.

    I would like to ask a follow up question: What did you mean with this statement? : That means the flow will be distinct for us and may take forms we are less comfortable with?

    I would say sooner or later shedding the expectations who we are suppossed to be is part of every unblocked unfolding.


    1. Right. Just having an off-line discussion with a group of people about bliss in this regard. Some teachers consider it delusional, perhaps due to it not being experienced or the teaching they’re in considering it a hazard due to possible attachment.

      Ironically, the idea of a hazard can create subtle resistance/ “closeness” to such an experience.

      Agreed, although there is a lot more talk about post-awakening embodiment these days. Rick just posted a panel discussion from last fall on “Emptiness into form.” I was pleased Rick brought up fullness. It doesn’t always come as empty.

    2. On your question, many people have subtle “shoulds” and “musts”, preconceptions about themselves and their role. When deeper flow starts moving through our lives, it can take unexpected forms.

      Writing would be a good example here. I had old impressions of being a lousy writer but it showed up anyway. Or when I got called to do the BAT interview. Talking about the unfolding here had been a bad idea in the past.

      So yes, shedding expectations is certainly part of the process. It can be surprising what unconscious ideas we’ve picked up along the way. 🙂

  3. In discussing ideas like this article, it’s useful to keep in mind how united everything really is.

    While the chart shows how the mental body corresponds with fire and sight, notice how I also said that all the senses arise from the mind and with them come the subtle essences which later become the elements.

    The second would place all the elements in the energy body and the molecular elements in the physical.

    At the same time, the bliss body and even the “body of consciousness” (atman) can be directly seen, even though they are vastly subtler than the mind and senses.

    There isn’t one way of seeing this.

  4. michael

    Thanks for the detailed answer!

    Of course, there is never only one way of seeing it. In fact often quite the opposite…..because the “field” is unlimited there are unlimited ways of seeing it.

    It is very good that embodiment is more talked about. I recently read a quote from Adya with regards to this: ” when one gets below the neck it gets down and dirty”. 🙂

    With bliss….to warn about it because it could create attachment…..then one should have not come into human form, as we can attache to anything 🙂
    In my experience this bliss is important to heal things within our psyche and in the overall process….i would say we need that bliss after lifetimes of suffering….but of course be aware of possible attachment.
    On the other side just recently realized that bliss itself is my true nature (i experience it as a more suble form of consciousness)….

    Jed Mckenna said “if there is bliss it is not enlightenment.” 😉


    1. (laughs) I suppose I would have said below the heart but I guess it depends what work there is to do.

      Good point about bliss. And yes, it can deeply soothe and help shift the attention within so we no longer look outside of ourselves for peace and happiness.

      Yes, bliss can be described as the lively edge of consciousness. The surface of the ocean of being.

      Don’t agree on Jed but bliss itself doesn’t mean enlightenment. But bliss also isn’t a one-shot thing that turns on. As I’ve written elsewhere, it steps up in stages. In the mentioned discussion, one mentioned a teaching that talked of types of bliss. (silent, lively, flowing)

    1. michael

      Hi Scott!

      Yes, was an interesting read. And shows how much purification there can happen if one is open to it.
      Thanks for sharing!!

      However the author has no full knowlegde of neidan (the taoist cultivation system) as there way of progression is different than those of other spiritual lineages. On the other hand neidan is still very much kept secret, more secret than the other traditions.


    2. Thanks, Scott. Interesting article but it has a lot of flaws.

      It’s essentially taking a bunch of elsewhere described experiences and organizing them into a conceptual framework without understanding the underlying process. There’s a lot of that in spiritual circles.

      There are quite a few examples of taking one persons description of their experience and saying this is how it goes for everyone, like the 3×3 layers to clear.

      All of this is ironic considering Buddha cast out most of the concepts, dogma, and ritual.

      I consider the 5 Skanda model to be incomplete, as is the 5 kosha model. Vedanta actually has 7 koshas. The bliss body is not the consciousness body – that’s deeper. I’ve written on both elsewhere.

      The article does touch on going beyond consciousness but doesn’t understand that well. It claims Buddhism is superior here when this is actually the topic of Vedanta.

      And while it is useful to have a general understanding of the unpacking that takes place, it is unwise to pay much attention to “dirty chi” as that can get in the way of it clearing.

      It also has a poor understanding of the other traditions it mentions, although some of that is common in those traditions today.

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