Recently I'm discussing five elements of nature with an atheist he cleared our body is composition of 11 elements Composition of the human body.

enter image description here

These elements are enough different from those 5 elements.

My reply to him :

"How we can say different, when those 11 elements are form of 5 elements and vice versa."

His clarification is as follows:

Form ? These are 5 elements in which Buddha believed -

  1. Earth- Earth is just a planet that’s diameter is 8000 miles while our body’s diameter is barely 600 mm. We live on earth. How our body could be composed of a whole planet ?
  2. Air- Air is a mixture of dust particles and gases such as- nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is dangerous to humans. Argon is also dangerous in close areas. The only real elements are nitrogen and oxygen. If we breathe dust particles, they will make negative impact on our cardiovascular health.
  3. Aether- Aehter is what you look up AKA space. How our body could be composed of sky ? Our body has opposite energy of sky.
  4. Fire- fire is just a result of atomic transitions of elements rather than an element itself.
  5. Water- Water is constituted from Hydrogen and Oxygen so it is not an element either.

For qualifying the definition of an element, it must be the smallest substance which cannot be broken into more forms. The Buddha was contemporary of Aristotle so this speculation was very famous at that time. Both philosophers believed in same speculation. I am quoting the critics of Aristotelian physics- Modern scholars differ in their opinions of whether Aristotle's physics were sufficiently based on empirical observations to qualify as science, or else whether they were derived primarily from philosophical speculation and thus fail to satisfy the scientific method-Aristotelian physics

So how our body/soul is composition of five elements of nature?
Is there have any sutta that explained? I'm assuming may there would have philosophical explanation.


2 Answers 2


I think the confusion is the meaning of the word "element".

Modern school children are taught that the word "element" has a physical/chemical meaning -- see (periodic table).

The English word "element" can be used in other ways though -- I could say, "the head, tail, and claws are 'elements' of a cat". Elements means that they are part of, which combine to create the cat, that the cat is composed of these elements.

"Element" can be used for non-concrete (i.e. abstract) words as well -- "the element of surprise" is a common phrase.

Or I could say, "Nouns and verbs are merely elements of grammar".

Westerners might be especially suspicious of the word "element" because it (or a word like it) was used by pre-modern scientists too -- see Classical element.

I think that in Buddhism the word refers to elements of experience -- and that the words represent subjective or perceived qualities of a thing. For example, I don't know, ice might be hard and wet and not-hot so it seems to be composed or (or is perceived as having) those two elements.

Is there have any sutta that explained? I'm assuming may there would have philosophical explanation.

Here for example is an academic analysis:

Rūpa (Form)
A study of the 1st aggregate as the 4 elements
by Piya Tan ©2005

Suttas include MN 140 (as another answer already posted).

How our body/soul is composition of five elements?

There you are, most likely, talking about the five skandhas.

  • 1
    The word "subjective" in the above answer might misleadingly imply that the subjective/objective dichotomy is true -- perhaps subjective/objective are two extremes whereas Buddhism teaches a "middle way" of neither extreme.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 9:59
  • Thanks for the source. I tried to explain that 5 elements are base form of 11 elements. So I also think it's confusion.
    – Swapnil
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 10:06
  • 1
    My experience is that you (by which I mean 'I', like the atheist) have to be interested in Buddhist doctrine for its own sake. "What is Dhamma trying to explain? Why is it saying this or that, what is the purpose?" It's saying something different than what "modern science" -- modern Physics, especially -- is saying. The fact that they're different doesn't mean one is wrong. And they both -- Buddhism and Physics -- have technical/specialist vocabulary translated into or expressed using common/lay English words ... don't say, "A is right therefore B must be wrong", is my advice to the atheist.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 10:16
  • He is the atheist so he couldn't understand Buddhism philosophy.
    – Swapnil
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 10:31
  • He says Rūpa (Form) A study of the 1st aggregate as the 4 elements by Piya Tan ©2005 is not an authentic source (like wikipedia) and Russell never speak about Five Elements of Buddhism. So as he had mentioned me that Tripirika is defined five elements, I would give sutta is an authentic source Sutta Piṭaka- Wikipedia
    – Swapnil
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 6:30

According to Theravada Buddhism a person (satva) is explained in terms of six major elements. Patavi,Apo,Tejo,vayo,Akasa (space) and vinnana (consciousness) The way I understand these elements are smaller than atoms. They are even not physical. The Buddhist term for them is Dathu.


  • Thank you but need more explanation and meaning of these elements and source.
    – Swapnil
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 7:22
  • MN 140 is very clear. It refers to the five physical elements and how they form various body parts. Then MN 140 refers to how consciousness is the basis of mental experience. Regards Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 5:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .