In ancient times it was believed that there were 5 basic elements of life: fire, earth, water, air, and ether (space).
I was having a friendly discussion with my dad, about the ancient classification of elements. As a scientist he explained the classification system in terms of evolution of knowledge and learning. He also mused over the fact that scientists are continuing to understand the ‘God Particle’ in astrophysics (an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray (UHECR) or extreme-energy cosmic ray (EECR) is a cosmic ray particle with an extreme kinetic energy) considered to be the basis of all existence.
As I was pondering over the concepts it appeared as though the 5 elements were a very rudimentary simple system of classification initially, however as I wondered and delved deeper I conceptualized the elements from 4 other different perspectives:
Reflecting on them based on availability:
Earth has 70% water. Is it a coincidence that the body is also made of 70% water roughly? Life on earth is primarily possible because of the sun which is akin to fire, heat, energy. Is it a coincidence that all living things survive as a result of chemical reactions in the body which produces heat and energy? The earth is basically a conglomerate of various types of solids which has a definite shape and mass with very specific contours. Is it a coincidence that living things also possess the same quality? If you think more deeply every shape you see outside in the environment can be found within each living item (example the trees, limbs, and branches can be compared to our circulatory system, or our nervous system, the entire universe is made of millions of stars with celestial bodies and planets orbiting around them just like each individual atom with electrons orbiting around the protons and neutrons). Air is all around us, and within each living entity, it is impossible to live without air. Space or ether is the total emptiness encompassing this earth and universe. All living and non-living things are made of millions of atoms. Each atom has electron, protons, and neutrons. The space between them is can only be a vacuum or total emptiness. Is that a coincidence?
Reflecting on them from the individual qualities of each element:
As of today we know of about 115 different elements on earth. We classify them qualitatively as either gas, liquid, solids which can be compared to air, water, and earth. We can also classify them as inert and not inert materials. Inert materials do not change easily with changes in the environment unlike the non-inert substances. The only known inert element in the universe is space or vacuum. Space or ether by itself is inert and unchanging. The non-inert elements that change easily in contact with the environments are very reactive that produce heat, or light or energy akin to fire.
Reflecting on them from a sensory perspective:
As mentioned in the Bhagvad Gita, these 5 basic elements correlates with our 5 sensory perceptions. Air/ wind blows and we feel. Fire produces brightness which helps us see. Earth has millions of flavors and scents which we smell. Anything that we taste has to be mixed with water, i.e., our saliva. Space, or vacuum produces a constant din which activates our sense of hearing. The belief is that the sound OM, which is a combination of /o/ /u/ and /m/, originates from this emptiness. They are thought to be the primary vibrations, endowed with maximum energy, and basis for all other sounds.
Reflecting on them from a spiritual perspective:
Basic needs for living are air, water, food and shelter i.e. the earth. When we eat to keep our bodies alive and functioning we trigger countless chemical changes in our bodies which produces energy i.e. fire. All these are required for our physical well-being. For healthy living we also need mental well-being which can be promoted and facilitated by developing a sense of internal mental inertness i.e. like the inert ether or space. (The poem about Humility by Cannon TT Carter, posted in my pages section, captures this concept perfectly).
It may not be a conicidence that the metal gold is considered sacred in many cultures. It is one of the most inert elements found on earth. Cosmic energy, considered to be the essential substratum of our universe, is viewed as a force that is unchanging with no beginning or end – inert and infinite-just like ether.