Can the dhatu elements (earth, water, wind and fire) be considered as permanent?

2 Answers 2


No I don't think they ought to be considered as permanent.

Modern physics and chemistry use the word 'element' to refer to the various types of 'atom'.

The word 'dhatu' is translated as 'element' in a different way:

Whatever is characterized:

  • by hardness (thaddha-lakkkhana) is the earth or solid-element;
  • by cohesion (ābandhana) or fluidity, the water-element;
  • by heating (paripācana), the fire or heat-element;
  • by strengthening or supporting (vitthambhana), the wind or motion-element.

All four are present in every material object, though in varying degrees of strength. If, for instance, the earth element predominates, the material object is called 'solid', etc. - For the analysis of the 4 elements, s. dhātu-vavatthāna.

Any compound object (for example, a tree) might have some of these characteristics: but the object (e.g. the tree) is impermanent, and (therefore) the characteristics of the object are impermanent.

  • I believe that both answers are correct. In the book 'Buddhism. One Teacher; Many Traditions' (The Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron - 2014), p. 144: Six Elements Are Not The Self: '(...) The Pali commentary on the Majjhima Nikaya (MN 140:8) explains: "Here the Buddha expounds the reducibly existent by way of the irreducibly existent. The elements are irreducibly existent, but the person is not irreducibly existent. This is meant: "That which you conceive as a person consists of six elements [the 4 elements + space + consciousness]. Ultimately there is no person here. "Person" is a mere concept.' Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 10:40
  • I don't read MN 140 as saying that something is "permanent", and I don't read "irreducible" as meaning "permanent". I think it's talking about "properties of experience" (different views, like different filters, different ways to analyze experience). I think it's like saying that, "A (composite) painting of landscape is (is composed of, or, can be reduced to) a bunch of colors." But the painting isn't permanent: and neither are the colors IMO (because the colors, IMO, depend on the painting and on being perceived).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 11:23
  • See also The All.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 11:23
  • Indeed, Chris, this short Sabba Sutta explains all. Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 13:19

As far as I can see any thing is impermanent. What is impermanent defies description or conceptualization.

Here is more info on the subject. http://www.buddhanet.net/cbp2_f4.htm

All things arise due to causes and conditions. As causes and conditions are impermanent and will cease one day, all things will also cease correspondingly. When there is rising, there will be falling; when there is existence, there will be extinction. The rising and existence of things has its natural tendency towards cessation and extinction. It is like a wave; it comes and goes. Thus, when one sees the truth of "what this is, that is; this arising, that arises", one should also see the truth of "when this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases". The Law of Dependent Origination pointed out the possibility of ending worldly suffering. It shows the way of liberation that corresponds to the Law of Cause and Effect.

"When one is born, one will die. One who admires high status will fall one day."

This is the natural Law of Cause and Effect. It is also an inner implication of the Law of Dependent Origination. It can be called the Cessation Process of the Law of Dependent Origination.

As soon as one starts discussing permanence, it is already in the field of impermanence. Intellectual understanding may suggest a path. The practice of the path can lead to the unknowable. No one who has been here has ever said anything that could describe it.


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