These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book “mindfulness.”
The second half of Chapter 9, Mindfulness of activities.
monks, one reviews this same body, however it is placed, however disposed, as consisting
of elements thus: ‘in this body there are the earth element, the water element,
the fire element, and the air element.’”
The four basic qualities of matter
– earth, water, fire and air
In modern science we might use the
more familiar terms of:
In our ordinary way of perceiving
things, the four material states are a useful way of describing our subjective
felt sense of the body and the physical world.
It is also possible through the
attainment of a jhana, a high degree of
concentrated absorption, to experience the body on extremely subtle levels far
beyond our usual level of perceptions. The four elements can be used in this subtle
It would be interesting if a modern
scientist were able to compare our contemporary way of describing the smallest
particles of matter with these meditative perceptions.
Stiffness, hardness or softness
The qualities of cohesion and
Like water turns flour into dough
It is what holds all the other
Its not seen separately
Temperature – hot and cold
Or lightness in the body
Fire functions in different ways
It is how something is warmed.
It is how things age
In excessive heat, it burns things up
Digestive heat, the heat of the “stomach fire”
In Asian medicine there are three fires in the
fire, reproduction and heredity
fire – heating and using food
fire – the warmth of our emotions
Causes movement in the body
The feeling of extension,
Also the feeling of pressure
For example, in meditation,
regarding the rise and fall of the abdomen is contemplating the movement of the
Contemplation of the
There are many exercises in different
traditions to contemplate the elements.
Joseph Goldstein suggests to be
mindful of them generally
We can undertake the contemplation
of the elements in different ways,
Each one leading us to direct
insight into the three characteristics
Impermanence, constant change
No centralized self, no-self
Understanding the three
characteristics in turn leads to freeing the mind from clinging.
In meditation, we move from the
concept of body as a solid thing to the awareness of the body as a changing
energy field. We are moving
through the elements. On this level, the sense of the body as being something
solid and substantial disappears.
When we lift the foot, the
lightness that we feel in the foot and leg is the fire element.
When we’re pushing the foot
forward and feeling movement and pressure, we are feeling the air element.
When placing the foot on the
ground and feel the hardness or softness, we are feeling the earth element.
In our everyday notion of the
body, we might say, “I feel my leg”.
But there is no sensation called “leg”. Rather what we feel are certain sensations, like pressure,
heaviness, and lightness, and then we create an image or concept: “leg”.
In mindful precision, we illuminate
the body as the interplay of these four elements.
As we free ourselves from the
concept of “body” and increasingly experience the direct felt sense of it, the
mind becomes less prone to attachment and to the desire, aversion, and conceit
that come from it.
Labels: Buddhist elements, Joseph Goldstein"s Mindfulness, mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of the elements, Satipatthana Sutra