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Simplicity - Nature the Elements and True Nature

by Kamalashila

... beach.
But when we walk out from there, that gold sandy beach gets gradually wetter, and then we are finally paddling,
and we’ve arrived at the edge of a vast ocean. We’ve arrived at the element water. I don't’ know about you, but
for me there is an enormous shift there. Water is not just a different element… next on the list, element number
two… No, it is another world. Water, water, see the water flow, sparkling, dancing, see the water flow. There’s
a magical touch here. The quality of liquid is utterly different to that of earth. The dry solid forms of earth are
hard-edged and rigid. Liquid things are not shapeless, but their shapes always come from what contains them.
Water runs down this channel and that channel, forms into pools and puddles and flows on and on, down, down,
and down, until finally it reaches the ocean, and even in the ocean the flow never stops. The ocean flows within
So the practice is to appreciate this, to get involved in the sensation, the world of water. Not just H2O, you
understand, but the whole liquid dimension of things. Rain. Oil. Tea. Soup. Mud. Porridge. Everything that
flows. But we ourselves carry, wherever we go, a range of liquid substances. We always take along some urine.
We always have lots of blood with us, and plenty of saliva and digestive juices as well. These we absolutely take
for granted. We hardly ever even think of them as they carry on, tirelessly pumping around, doing their work,
keeping us alive. We don't generally feel much in the way of gratitude. In fact, we tend to think of our bodily
fluids as a little unclean or indelicate somehow. There’s a taboo against mentioning them to others.
I think that feeling reveals some of the conditioning we have inherited, the conditioning that draws us into an
artificial way of life. But in this meditation practice we start undoing all those anxious, fearful complexes. And
we start simply accepting the elements as they are. We enlarge our awareness to include them. We remember
that the elements are simply what’s there all the time – and how truly odd it is that we don’t accept them. Yet
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Simplicity - Nature, the Elements and True Nature
11/22/2006 02:24 PM
our oddness is real – we really don’t like to think, do we, of all that blood pumping around. Yet it never stops
pumping. And so it seems that we need to find a way to befriend the elements. I think the elements are very
ready to reciprocate our friendship.
Because the elements are not things, they are qualities. Qualities that never exist alone. The elements coexist;
they are all together, all of a piece. Earth and water, for example, are always relatively warm or cold. The earth
of my bones and the water of my blood are always relatively warm, warmed by the Fire element. Their
temperature is governed by the presence of the Sun, the ultimate source of all heat. When the sun isn't around,
it gets cold; if there were no sun at all, there could be no life. I wonder if there is a limit to how hot or how
cold things can get; I suspect that the potential, either way, is infinite, which is quite a thought.
Physical heat is important emotionally. If it’s too hot, I feel oppressed, I feel dull, I can’t do anything. I’m
definitely a cold-climate sort of person, I love snow and mountain air. So that’s the way I notice this element.
Fire is another world, with its own particular associations, myths and images. Can we get into that world, can we
learn to experience the fire element all around, understand how basic it is? That’s the practice: experiencing it,
relating to it, understanding it, learning from it.
Personally, I find it’s harder to engage with the fire element. In the days when we used to worship the sun, I
think we were more in touch with the elemental aspect of fire. We used to rejoice in the fact that it just keeps
coming up over the horizon, unfailingly, every morning. There’s that Rolf Harris aborigine song isn’t there, with
the didgeridoo - ‘Sun Arise… every every morning…’ But actually, when the sun comes up we don’t feel anything,
we don't feel grateful, or secure, do we? And very few people I know actually light a real fire to warm
themselves. People just switch something on; it then gets warm. And ‘it’ stays warm until they switch ‘it’ off.
That’s our ‘simplicity’. But behind that simple switch lies much complexity, and it comes, I think, at a price.
Now the fourth element of wind or air. Nowadays I call this the wind element for a couple of reasons. First ‘wind’
is what the word vāio actually means. It comes from vāta which is connected with the Latin ventus, and from
there with words like ventilation and vent. Vāio doesn’t mean air in the usual sense of our atmosphere. It’s air
in the sense of wind – it’s moving air. In fact it’s not the air, but the movement itself. Vaio is the element of
In Indo-Tibetan meditation, yoga and medicine systems there is a great deal that is based on the notion of winds
or the experience of moving energy inside the body. Obviously there is the circulation of the blood, the digestion
of food, etc. This movement is all vāyo, along with all the literal winds in the body – the burps, the farts and the
rumbling intestines. But there are subtler energies moving around too. For example there are the nervous
energies that move in correspondence with our emotions. When we are aroused by hatred or craving - even very
slightly - something subtly physical happens in the body. And we can notice these physical changes.
In recent years I’ve learned that when my body heat starts rising in a certain kind of way, it’s because I am
starting to feel oppressed somehow. Next thing, I start feeling irritated or upset. But if I can notice that subtle
sign first, then I can say to myself – Whoa, Kamalashila! Be careful! Protect yourself! Watch out you don’t do
something silly! And on my good days, when I can actually listen to my own advice, I can save myself some
trouble. Usually at that stage it’s not too hard to make an adjustment. For example, maybe I’m cooking or doing
some kind of task, but I’m feeling a bit impatient for some reason and my mind is only half on it. If I see the
signs, it’s quite obvious that if I just get more impatient I’m just going to suffer. Seeing it at that stage, I can
quite easily relax. It’s when it goes past that stage, and I’ve already got into an impatient, irritated mood, that it
is much more difficult to relax.
For me, the transformation of emotion is not just a case of avoiding causing trouble; it’s also about staying with
the dharma, with reality. If I get too upset, it’s much harder to recall it, and I just get stuck in that upset state.
I know that in theory I should be able to look straight into any mental state, even the most extreme negative
state, and just see that it is something conditioned, something empty, something which I simply don’t need to get
involved with. Something which, actually, no one is involved with. Which actually was never like that in the first
place. And on a good day, that can be done. But it is still very difficult, because I am often so attached to my
emotions and I forget the spaciousness of everything.
The practice which helps me create spaciousness is to recollect the elements, including this vaiodhatu, the
element of continual movement. It helps me to stay in touch with my real nature. In my meditation book I wrote
about the absent-minded professor type of person, who is always thinking and forgets the physical world around
him. If I’m not careful, I get rather like that! I need to stay aware of the wind element, which is so vast, so
extensive, so multidimensional. And I've not told you the half of it, because as well as subtle physical energies,
there is the movement of the mind as it darts here and there. There’s the movement of the mind within itself,
in the form of thoughts and perceptions. All that is also the vaiodhatu. But let’s come back to that later,
because we mustn't neglect the two remaining elements.
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So the next, the fifth, is the element of space. Space is the great container of all things. Everything’s in space –
all this incredible diversity, all these amazing formations of earth, water, fire and wind. Every single thing, even
movement, takes up its place in space. Each of us is occupying space. This room, these seats and these walls, all
fit perfectly into their own specially shaped spaces. Each one of our in-breaths and out-breaths is making a
unique shape in space. When we consider the whole of London, the whole of Britain, the whole planet, the sun
and the moon, and the whole galaxy of forms - the stars, the whole universe – we see for a moment just how
incredibly accommodating the space is in which everything is moving.
And it is more than just vast. Space is boundless. It is beyond all measure. There is no end to it. That’s such an
extraordinary thought. It’d be an even more extraordinary reality to comprehend… if we could really comprehend
it. But we can’t actually comprehend ...

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