TATHAGATA’S MEDIATION – MAHA SATIPATTHANA – THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE FOUR ELEMENTS
THE MAHA SATIPATTHANA MEDITATION METHOD
THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE FOUR ELEMENTS
I heard like this:
At one time, Buddha was in Kuru in which there was a town named Kamma-sadamma. At this place, Buddha taught Bhiksus like this:
Then, the Bhiksus replied:
And, Buddha said:
“This is the only way to purify the minds of satvas, bring worry, sorrow, resentment and tears to the end, destroy anguish of body and mind, reach the Holy Way and Nirvana Enlightment. That is Smṛtyupasthāna (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness)” … “Also, Bhiksus! You all should contemplate your own body in terms of the Four Elements: this body has Earth Element, Water Element, Fire Element and Wind Element. This is similar to a skillful butcher or his student kills a cow and splits it up into small pieces, then sits at the corner of the intersection.
Similarly, Bhiksus, you all should contemplate your own body in terms of the Four Elements: in this body there are: Earth Element, Water Element, Fire Element and Wind Element. Therefore, Bhiksus contemplate body upon internal body or Bhiksus contemplate body upon external body, or Bhiksus contemplate both: body upon internal body and upon external bodies. Do not cling to anything in this life that is created by the five Skandhas”
If practicing the meditation and contemplation of The Four Elements.Think positively, focus the mind to contemplate the Four Elements: immerse yourself in the empty space and eliminate all the thoughts of a satva.
Therefore, there is no holding onto the false thoughts about wild beasts, ghosts, demons and ogres; due to eliminating all thoughts of a satva. So you can control fear and worry, and conquer desire and resentment, not excited or discouraged by pleasant or unpleasant things. And being a person with profound understanding, you will come to the immortal place or a safe, happy place. Vipassana does not lead to the the same realization as the quiet meditation levels do. It only leads to Near Samadhi, Enlightenment and Nirvana that Stop the cycle of rebirth. Buddha taught the Practice Dharmas to Bhiksus in Kuru, at a town named Kamma-sadamma. The king of this town – Kamma-sapada (spotted legs who used to eat human flesh was converted to become a good king; and Kuru community has the tradition of practicing doctrines well.
There, Buddha taught the bhiksus like this:
And the bhiksus replied:
“Yes, the Lokajyestha”
Buddha often calls the Monks Bhiksus. Bhiksus are the persons who are high-minded, have a moral life and practice the doctrines.
However, when Buddha says Bhiksu, it doesn’t mean that the Lokajyestha does not mention the good men and believing women. Anyone who accepts and practices the teachings of Buddha is called Bhiksu.
Thus, when Buddha said: “Bhiksu”, it should be understood that the term includes all upāsaka and upāsikā and the buddhist monks and nuns in the sangha who are practicing the supreme truth.
And the Lokajyestha said like this:
“This is the only way to purify the minds of satvas, bring worry, sorrow, resentment and tears to the end, destroy anguish of body and mind, reach the Holy Way and Nirvana Enlightment. That is Smṛtyupasthāna (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness)”… “Also, Bhiksus! You all should contemplate your own body in terms of the Four Elements: this body has Earth Element, Water Element, Fire Element and Wind Element. This is similar to a skillful butcher or his student kills a cow and splits it up into small pieces, then sits at the corner of the intersection. Similarly, Bhiksus, you all should contemplate your own body in terms of the Four Elements: in this body there are: Earth Element, Water Element, Fire Element and Wind Element. Therefore, Bhiksus contemplate body upon internal body or Bhiksus contemplate body upon external body, or Bhiksus contemplate both: body upon internal body and upon external bodies. Do not cling to anything in this life that is created by the five Skandhas”
This part of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutras mentions the Four Elements and the Way to practice meditation while moving, stading, lying and sitting.
The zen student has to observe own body in terms of the Four Elements.
Traditionally, there are Four Elements: Earth Element, Water Element, Fire Element and Wind Element. Meditation by observing these Four Elements is only mentioned briefly in this Maha Satipatthana Sutra and is presented briefly because this is only for the zen students who have quick understanding and have a acute intellectual faculties.
The sutras such as Mahahatthipadopama Sutra, Rahulovada Sutra and Dhatuvibhanga Sutra present how to conduct the meditation contemplating the Four Elements in great details. These sutras are for people whose intelligence is less acute. Whenever Buddha expounds, He always observes the listeners’ feeling to know whether they like it or not, and checks if their mind has gained good understading or not. After such judgement, Buddha preached the dharma that matches the listeners’ level. Therefore, there are many sutras in which he mentioned a lot of details and explained deeplywhile there are sutras in which he just preached briefly.
In this Maha Satipatthana Sutra, He just briefly presented the the contemplation of the Four Elements. The purpose of the meditation and contemplation of the Four Elements is to eliminate the conception of a satva, the belief that we are human, satva.
The Four Elements are found in all living things, trees and insentient beings. To eliminate the conception of a satva, the zen student needs to carry out the meditation and contemplation of the Four Elements by splitting this body into four parts and separately observing each of the parts. Each part is called One Element.
- Earth Element:
The Earth Element here is not the Earth as we know it. It is what exists in Earth as well as in Other Things.
“Toughness and Softness” are the characteristics of the Earth. Touching the water, you can feel the softness. This softness is the Earth Element. You can find the Earth Element everywhere. The function and power of the Earth is being the base so that other things can be put on it.
For the zen students who practice Vipassana in terms of the Earth Element, its expression is to receive or accept.
Therefore, you must understand the Earth Element based on its characteristic, function and power, and expression.
In conclusion, the characteristic of the Earth Element is Toughness and Softness.
The function and power of the Earth Element is Being the Base. And the expression of the Earth Element is to Receive or Accept something.
- Water Element:
The Water Element here is not the Water as we know it. The Water Element has the characteristic of “ dripping”, “ being
sticky and sucking”, “combination” or “ liquid”.The Water Element exists in everything that has combination, or in the earth, in wood, in brick and stone, … the Combination or the being Sticky and Sucking which makes things get together is the characteristic of Water Element.
The function and power of the Water Element is to “ strengthen”.
The Water Element makes the things touching it get stronger.
The expression of Water Element in nature is to “get matter together”. For instance, when pouring water into the flour, we will see the flour get plastic. Water made the flour stick together. Sticking together is the expression of the Water Element.
When doing meditation, this will sometimes happen to you. You will see or understand the Water Element sometimes through its characteristc, sometimes through its function and power, and sometimes through its expression.
In conclusion, the characteristic of the Water Element is “Being Sticky and Sucking” or “the Combination”. The function and power of the Water Element is “to Strengthen”. Its expression is “to combine Matter”.
- Fire Element:
This is not the Fire as we know it normally, it is the state of Fire, the characteristic of Fire, for example heat.
Heat or Fire makes things become “ripe, mature, or old”. When we talk about the heat, it also includes the cold. “The Heat”, “the Cold” or “the Temperature” is the characteristic of the Fire. When you feel hot or cold, it’s the time you can feel the Fire. And when the body grows up or gets old, it’s the effect of the Fire Element. The power and function of the Fire is to make things get “mature”, “hot” or “cold”.
The expression of the Fire is to “continue to supply the softness and flexibility”. For instance, when you cook something, it will become soft. Similarly, the heat in your body makes your body flexible, so your body get older gradually.
In conclusion, the characteristic of Fire is “the Heat, the Cold or Temperature”. The power and function of Fire is “to Make things Hot or Cold. The expression of Fire is “to Make softness continue”.
There are four types of Fire:
- The body temperature makes your body hot, or when you get sick your body temperature gets higher.
- Fire makes your body grow up and get old.
- Fire makes humans or things get hot, that is the excessive heat. When you have a cold, your body is very hot. That is the excessive heat.
- Fire digests food, thanks to this Fire, these following four kinds of food: by eating, drinking, chewing and sucking are digested. When you have good digestive Fire or good stomach fire, your body can digest all the food you eat. When you don’t have good digestive Fire, your stomach will get problem.
- The Wind Element:
The characteristic of the Wind Element is “spreading, expansion, or swelling”. When we blow up a balloon, it gets bigger. The Wind Element also makes you stand or sit upright without being curved.
That is “the support of wind from all directions”. The power and function of wind is “to create movement”. When you move, your movement is created by the Wind Element. The expression of the Wind Element is “the movement”.
In conclusion, the characteristic of the Wind Element is “Spreading, Expansion, or Swelling and Support”. The power and function of the Wind Element is “to Create Movement”. The expression of the Wind Element is “Movement”.
There are 6 types of wind:
- The upward wind that makes you hiccup or vomit.
- The downward wind that gets rid of solid waste or urine out of your body
- The wind inside stomatch and outside the bowel
- The wind inside the bowel
- The wind throughout your legs and arms
- The Wind in the breath when you exhale
When you walk, bend or stretch, the Wind Element works. The Wind Element is made from your Mind or your Wish.
Now, let’s find out the ways to observe the Four Elements while walking.
When walking, you lift your leg first. When you lift your leg, you feel the lightness. This lightness is made from the Fire element.
When you lift your leg, there is movement. This movement is made from the Wind Element.
When you step your leg forward, this movement is also made from the Wind element.
When you put your leg down, you feel your leg heavy. This heaviness is made from the Water element.
When your feet touch the ground or the floor, you feel the solidity or softness both the floor and your feet. These solidity and softness are the characteristic of the Earth element.
You can distinguish these Four elements only in one step.
When you lift your leg, the Fire and Wind elements are outstanding. When you put your leg forward, you realize the Wind element. When you put your leg down, you feel the Water element. When your feet are on the ground, you feel the Earth element.
So the zen student can observe all the four elements only in one step, although at first the zen student cannot recognize the presence of all the Four elements.
When the zen student can see the Four elements clearly, the concept of a satva disappears. At that time, the zen student see that there are only the Four elements. The Four elements are walking, The Four elements are standing, etc., When you can see that only the Four Elements are walking, standing, lying, or sitting, you will not see a human being making these movements. Therefore, the concept of a satva disappears.
The observation of the Four Elements is explained in this sutra by an example and explanation like this:
When a butcher raises a cow, brings it to the killing place, ties it with a rope and then kills it, the butcher still has the concept of a cow, a satva. If there is somesone asking what he is doing, he’ll answer: “I am feeding the cow” or “I am killing the cow”. Even right after killing the cow, before cutting the meat into pieces, he still maintains the concept that it is a cow. But after cutting the meat into small pieces and putting them on the table to sell them at the crossroad, this butcher completely loses the concept of a cow.
If there is someone asking what he’s selling, he cannot answer: “I am selling a cow”, instead he’ll answer:” I’m selling beef”. Therefore, after cutting up the cow, the butcher totally loses the concept of a cow.
Similarly, when the zen student cut themselves up into four elements – all the things on the zen student’s body are also only Four elements – so, the zen student will lose the concept of a zen student, a human being.
Buddha teaches the meditation method in order to get rid of the concept of “the existence of a satva”.
The above example can’t lead to the conclusion that the zen student has to conceptualize the Four Elements.
The Four Elements which Buddha teaches are not an invented, concept but they are a part of the absolute truth or the “Ultimate Truth” including Citta, Mind, Form-Dharma and Nirvina. This is “the Ultimate Truth”, different from “the Common Truth”. The zen student has to “See” the Four Elements by his own meditation. The zen student will get a lot of benefits through this meditation method.
When you observe the Four Elements on your own body, you observe the body upon the internal body.
When you suddenly think of the Four Elements on others’ bodies, you observe the body on external body.
When you observe the Four Elements on your own body and then observe them on others’ bodies, you observe both: body upon internal body and body upon external body.
When you see that there are only the Four Elements without any human being or satva, you are not related to or desire anything in the world.
Therefore, you do not settle down in the mind anything in the world made from the five skandhas.
When you do not desire or are not related to anything, you will not create karma. If there are no karmas, you will not cling to life and receive the subsequent body, and there will be no rebirth. At that time, you will reach the place of stopping your cycle of births and deaths.
Quoted from: Maha Satipatthana Sutra
Zen Master U SILANANDA
Translator: Bhiksu Khanh Hy
(Aggasami Tran Minh Tai)
Vajrapani group- Sun generation
Esoteric Dharma VajraPani Lineage
Dieu Huong translate