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Shaivism - Concepts and symbols - Elements - earth, water, fire, and air [from Onbadukadir] and Aggregates



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The Manimekhalai – Book 27

The Onbadukadir, the ancient Tamil work which summarizes the teachings of Gosala, deals with five subjects, which are life and the four elements, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, which are made up of indivisible atoms. When they gather, these are perceptible; when they separate, they are invisible. It is agglomerates of these atoms that form a mountain, a tree, a living body. When they disaggregate, the atoms that make them up disperse. That which perceives these phenomena is called life . . atoms are permanent, have no beginning, and are indestructible. They take on various appearances, depending on the circumstances, no new type of atom appears or is transformed into something else. Atoms are indivisible and do not evolve. They combine into conglomerations, to separate in the end, each keeping its own identity.

They can assemble in such density that they become hard as diamonds, or take the light form of bamboo. When they spread over the earth, like moonlight, they take the form of different elements according to their relative density. They are therefore called by different names. They form the seed of the shoot which develops. They form the solid earth, the fluid water, the fire that burns, or the moving air. An atom can be seen only by those who possess the higher eye of knowledge. Others cannot see it. When combined to form the elements (bhuta), they can be seen. In the same way, a single hair cannot be distinguished in the shadow of twilight, but a lock of hair is easily seen.

The combinations of atoms can be black, dark blue, green, red, gold, or white [rainbow symbolism]. These are the six forms that the combinations of atoms take, in order of superiority. Only combinations of pure white atoms can break up and attain freedom (vidu = mukti). This represents the path of destiny. Those who wish to achieve the end of suffering must reach this stage . . such is the teaching of Markali (Gosala). (Manimekhalai', book 27).

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