Panchamahabuta – Basic concept of Ayurveda
“Pancha” means Five; “Maha” means “Great.” The word Bhuta does not have a direct transliteration in English. Bhuta is derived from the root word “bhu” which means to exist Many English books refer to PMB as “Elements” but it should not be confused with the elements of the Chemistry Table. When I use the word Element here, bear in mind that I am referring to the PMB )
These 5 forces pervade the Universe in an “unseen” energetic level and “seen” at the matter level (E=mc2 ). Although the understanding of the 5 Forces and their role in human, plants, environment and health requires a deeper study, a simplified analysis is provided below.
The 5 Forces or States or Elements are 1. Space (Akash), 2. Air (Vayu) 3. Fire (Agni) 4. Water (Jala) and 5.Earth (Prithvi). These 5 PMB are ultimate forces that make up the Universe. Everything needs space to exist and in that sense Space (Akash) is the first Force in being. This is followed by Air (Vayu) which constitutes Movement. The next State is Heat (Agni/Tejas) which represents Transformation. Everything is transformed using either or both exothermic and endothermic energy. The forth Element is Water (Jala). We are not referring to the actual water per se but the quality or attributes of liquidity. Finally there is the final state which is the actual gross material called Earth (Prithvi). Again this is not earth as in the physical Earth but the final gross material and attributes that make these up. So when Ayurveda states that everything has its origin from subtle before appearing as gross it means from Ether (Akash) to finally Earth (Prithvi) which is the same as saying E=mc2.
When we use the example of a seed or ice or foetus we will be able to appreciate the dynamic interplay of the PMB. A foetus is only formed when the ovum and sperm unite. Prior to that it was in form of “nothingness” (Akash). From this nothingness, through a process of movement (Vayu) and by exothermic and endothermic energy and transformation process (Agni) it become a liquidity foetus (Jala) and finally a baby (Prithvi). Starting from the process of space (Akash) there is an entire interplay of PMB to form the final baby (Prithvi) with the aid of Agni (transformation) along every step of the way.
Similarly an ice is a substance that transforms from solid (Prithvi) to liquid (Jala) to vapour (Vay) back to space or “nothingness” (Akash) then becomes vapour then liquid to solid. Agni is inherently present in all the transformation process.
The entire transformation process of the whole universe at both micro and macro level, from the energetic and gross level has the intrinsic and dynamic interplay of the PMB. Using ingredients to make food, or cooking an egg, or observing a rusting iron, or listening to the sound formation in dessert dunes – every single process in the whole cosmos has the interaction, teamwork, cooperation of PMB. It was for this reason that the Ancient science of Ayurveda cherished the Pancha Mahabuthas, and understandably so.
The PMB permeates and penetrates the whole Universe and in order live in harmony with the Universe and with oneself, one has to understand the attributes of the PMB. Ayurveda recognises that every matter, including the body is made up of energy and if we can understand the energetic forces of the PMB, how it manifests from energy to matter we will be able to understand the body and maintain its healthy state. Ayurveda is both a philosophy and a science. It is just like understanding electricity. We know there is electric current running through the wires but we cannot see the electricity. However if we can harness the electricity and use it properly, we can benefit from it. If utilised improperly, it can lead to danger. Likewise, the 5 main energies within our body can cause health or disease depending on how we manage it.
These five magnificent all embracing energies form the 3 doshas known as Vata Pitta and Kapha which become the diagnostic tool for healthy living through diet (ahara) and lifestyle (vihara). I will briefly discuss the doshas below and expound on them in greater detail in the following series.