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Can someone provide a comprehensive explanation, on what the four great elements are and how they work and exist?

I also have a special interest about the "mobility-element", in the four great elements.

I am interested in Theravada teachings.

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The 4 elements are:

  • pruṭhavī-dhātu - solidity or attraction. This holds something together. You feel this as tightness, pressure in the body.
  • āpa-dhātu - liquidity or relative motion. See below.
  • teja-dhātu - heat or energy. Body temperature, vibrations in the body you feel in meditation. Difference of temperature in and out meditation.
  • vāyu-dhātu - expansion or repulsive forces. You feel this as pulsation or expansion and contraction in the body or flow of respiration, rumbling gasses in the belly and passing of wind.

Mobility element is liquidity like liquidly nature in the nose, saliva, urine, sweat. You can look at the flowing nature of these elements in mediation. Though solidity, heat, air element can be experienced through the body liquidity can be experienced or constructed through the mind only.

More particularly, the experience of the 3 elements (earth, heat, air) are happen through Body - Conciousness accompanied by either Pain, Pleasure, or Neutral Sensation and liquidity (motion) through the mind.

Some translators translate Air Element (vāyu-dhātu) as motion element.

Also see: Matter and Moments, Matter & moments and feeling 1, Rupa (Form), Lectures on Rupa 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d by Piya Tan for more academic analysis of the Elements. Wikipedia entry on Mahābhūta.

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Here is a section that occurs both in MN 62 and 140:

“What, bhikkhu, is the earth element? The earth element may be either internal or external. What is the internal earth element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to, that is, head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, contents of the stomach, feces, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to: this is called the internal earth element. Now both the internal earth element and the external earth element are simply earth element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the earth element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the earth element.

“What, bhikkhu, is the water element? The water element may be either internal or external. What is the internal water element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is water, watery, and clung-to, that is, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil-of-the-joints, urine, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is water, watery, and clung-to: this is called the internal water element. Now both the internal water element and the external water element are simply water element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the water element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the water element.

“What, bhikkhu, is the fire element? The fire element may be either internal or external. What is the internal fire element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is fire, fiery, and clung-to, that is, that by which one is warmed, ages, and is consumed, and that by which what is eaten, drunk, consumed, and tasted gets completely digested, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is fire, fiery, and clung-to: this is called the internal fire element. Now both the internal fire element and the external fire element are simply fire element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the fire element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the fire element.

“What, bhikkhu, is the air element? The air element may be either internal or external. What is the internal air element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to, that is, up-going winds, down-going winds, winds in the belly, winds in the bowels, winds that course through the limbs, in-breath and out-breath, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to: this is called the internal air element. Now both the internal air element and the external air element are simply air element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the air element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the air element.

Source: majjhima nikāya 140 -- The Exposition of the Elements

Furthermore, if you read the Satipatthana sutra (MN 10), in the contemplation of body section, he has a very concise version of this elements section:

Moreover, monks, a monk, in regard to this very body, however placed, however disposed, reflects by way of the elements:

“There are in this body, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the wind element.”

Just as though, monks, a clever butcher, or a butcher’s apprentice, after slaughtering a cow, were sitting down at a crossroads after dividing it into portions; even so, monks, a monk in regard to this very body, however placed, however disposed, reflects by way of the elements:

“There are in this body, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the wind element.”

And immediately preceding it is the contemplation of the parts of the body:

Moreover, monks, a monk in regard to this very body—from the sole of the feet upwards, from the hair of the head down, bounded by the skin, ; and full of manifold impurities—reflects (thus):

“There are in this body: hairs of the head, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spit, mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”

Just as though, monks, there were a bag open at both ends, full of various kinds of grain, such as: hill rice, white rice, mung beans, kidney beans, sesame seeds, chickpeas; and a man with good vision having opened it were to reflect (thus): “This is hill rice, this is white rice, these are mung beans, these are sesame seeds, these are chickpeas”; even so, monks, a monk in regard to this very body—from the sole of the feet upwards, from the hair of the head down, bounded by the skin, ; and full of manifold impurities—reflects (thus):

“There are in this body, hairs of the head, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spit, mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”

Source: DN 22

You can also hear Bhikkhu Bhodi give an explanation on the elements at about the 30 minute mark in this lecture he gave.

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Wikipedia's article is called Mahābhūta, which also says how they're used, and which references a dozen suttas in which they're "described in detail".

In the first three of these suttas on Access to Insight, the (translated/English) term used in the sutta is "elements", "properties", and/or "primaries".

There are four "primary" elements in the suttas. The Abhidhamma (which is later Theravada) further analyses rūpa into secondary or derived (upādā) matter.

I think you're supposed to understand these elements (this analysis) as something you perceive -- for example you may perceive the "hardness" of an object -- it's in that sense that you might say that for example an object "is hard" or perhaps "is composed of hardness".

It's often used in a context where the "object" being considered is your own body. I was wondering why they don't seem to relate to eye-consciousness but perhaps the explanation for that is that you don't typically see your own guts, for example, but you feel them.

(Here Wikipedia says, "In general, rūpa is the Buddhist concept of material form, including both the body and external matter" -- however here it says, ""Form" (material) are the constituents of the body (made of solids, liquids, gasses...)"

I think that purpose of the analysis is that suffering results from craving which results from perception which results from form ... so by understanding (and thus, I suppose, becoming disenchanted with) form we can hope to stop pursuing that chain whose result is suffering.

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