How do I investigate the elements in meditation?

Question: How do I investigate the elements (water, fire, wind, earth) in meditation?

Tan Ajahn: Contemplation or investigating the four elements is part of the vipassanā practice. It is usually done after you have your samatha practice because it will not be effective if you don’t have samatha. You can do it, but it doesn’t bring any good result.

You have to do it after you have samatha. But it doesn’t mean that you cannot do it. You can. You can reflect on and investigate the four elements if you find that it suits your character, is good for you, or makes you calm and peaceful. That is OK.

But the point is that the reason why we want to reflect on the four elements is to be able to see that the body is just the four elements—that there is no self, no you, no me, in this body. The body is made up of the four elements. One day, sooner or later, it will return to the four elements. You want to see this so that you can let go of your attachment and your delusion, thinking that the body is you.

The body is just your puppet or a toy, a living doll that can breathe. The difference between the body and the toy that children play with is that the toy cannot breathe, but the body can breathe. The body does things that the mind tells it to do. That’s all.

The body is the same thing as the toy. The toy is made up of materials, and so is the body. The body is made up of the four materials: water, air/wind, earth/ solid material, and heat or temperature/fire. These materials form the body. They will stay together for a certain length of time. After a while, they will start to disintegrate. When that happens, the body stops functioning. The body dies. So, this is what you want to reflect on until you truly see that it is not your self.

You (that which contemplates) are not the body. You are part of the mind, the one who knows. You are the thinker. Thinking makes you think that you are you. You think you are you, so you believe you are you. You think the body is you, so you believe that. And when you believe that, whatever happens to the body, will make you worried and anxious because you don’t want anything to happen to your body. You think that whatever happens to your body is happening to you.

You can see clearly after your contemplation that the body is simply the four elements; then you can stop your anxiety, worry, and fear of losing your body.

“Dhamma for the Asking, Dec 9, 2014”

By Ajahn Suchart Abhijāto