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The five Elements, Gross and Subtle

A devotee who is anxious to know the divine principle and merge with it should have an understanding of these three universes. The first of these, the gross physical universe, is made up of the five great elements, that is, ether, air, fire, water and earth. Ether, which is also called space, is the first of the five elements it is all-pervasive and very subtle. It does not have any specific attributes except sound. After that comes air. Air can be felt but it cannot be seen. It has only two attributes, sound and touch. Next is fire. Fire can be seen. It is denser than air. It has three attributes, namely, sound, touch and form. Following fire there is water. Water is still more dense, and like fire it can be seen by the naked eye. It can also be tasted. Water has 4 attributes, namely, sound, touch, form and taste. Earth, the last and densest of all the elements, has five attributes, namely, sound, touch, form, taste and smell. You can see that the last three elements, fire, water and earth, have form. The first two, ether and air have other qualities but no form.

All things found in the physical world, are impermanent and subject to continuous change. In time, all objects undergo complete modification from one name and form to another, and then to still another, and so on. In the physical universe, everything is in constant motion. Let us inquire deeper into the nature of physical objects made up of these five elements. Consider the various atoms which exist in a given place and a given time. They will comprise the various objects which appear there at that moment. As the atoms move and change their position, the forms they make up also change. The atoms in all the objects undergo such rapid change in position, that it is hard to say when a particular change has taken place in an object. There is an ongoing process of change. All the objects made up of these changing atoms will be changing their forms continuously with time.

The atoms which make up the human body, like the atoms in any other form, change every moment, causing the body to undergo modification. All these different changes are very much like waves, such as the waves you find in the ocean. For the waves in the ocean there is no beginning or end. The drops of water in one wave get merged into the next wave. The waves in which those drops have been merged again get merged into other waves, and so on. This process of forms changing and merging goes on continuously. This is the very nature of the physical universe.