You may have noticed if you have to take the time to study various pagan beliefs especially Wicca that the pentacle (five-pointed star) is an important symbol. You may have noticed that written on the star are the cardinal directions and the basic elements such as Air, Water, Earth, Fire and the top point has Spirit. Within this paper, I will be talking about Elements since they play an important part within all of creation (which includes humans) and is a fundamental knowledge in many forms of paganism.
Within the Surangama Sutra Siddhartha (the Buddha) is trying to get Ananda to understand the Universe in a much different way then Ananda understood it before. Ananda was having a difficult time understanding where the elements came from as well as how it related to his existence. Siddhartha then gave a very long discourse which I will not repeat but I will go over the elements and how they do fit together. As well as which symbol you may choose to represent them. Before I can further remember that Zen Paganism is a much more naturalistic path so the element of Spirit that most people are used to seeing or hearing about will be omitted. Two main reasons, the first reason is the way spirit and even soul are used today were not necessarily the original meaning of the words. Secondly, spirit and soul are words to indicate something that persists in contradiction to the natural world. If one studies nature we notice that nothing is the same, everything changes, gets recycled and becomes something new. The idea of the spirit/soul is an idea that something does not go through such a process, everything around it changed but it (soul/spirit) essentially stays the same. Since this concept is not found in nature it is not of any use to a Zen Pagan or a Naturalistic Pagan to use. Observation is part of this particular pagan path, deep keen observation. Unlike many other pagan paths, we do not overlay a supernatural reality over nature. Nature is seen exactly as it is because nature itself is the Highest Reality. Mundane life is beautiful and magical enough without the need to overlay a mysterious spiritual world over it. Meditation, Observation, Scientific Method, combined with the Buddhist scriptures (not to be taking blindly always scrutinize religious texts) are key elements of this particular path.
The first set of elements that are spoken of in the Sutra are the Four Great Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. These elements are the basic blocks of the entire universe. They are found within all aspects of the universe even in space itself you have micro dust particles, water particles, heat particles, and even air are all found in various forms throughout the entirety of the universe. Scientists have observed this and those who enter deep meditation have also observed this. If you meditate on these elements and ponder upon the various forms these elements take such as ice, gases, dust, differing levels of heat, you will find that these are the basic aspects of the universe. You will also find that these are the basic elements within your own body. Humans have bones, skin, which could be seen as earth, blood could be seen as water, we breath could be seen as air, and our body temperature could be seen as fire. We can also notice that animals have these same elements within them, as well as plants (instead of blood they have chlorophyll). Our planet is also made up of these elements as well as the planets in our solar system and comets, moons, as well as distant solar systems as well. Meditating on these elements ad seeing how everything in nature is made up of the same sense should give you a greater sense of connection to that which all things have sprung from…..nature.
The second set that is spoken of is the Five Great Elements can be represented by either the Pentagram or Pentacle. In the last paragraphed we spoke of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, and how they are the basic elements of the entire universe. These four elements are repeated but this time Space is added. If you using the pentacle or pentagram I would think of space as the top point were spirit normally is. Most people would not consider space an element and in someways, that may be correct. Yet, when observing the natural world we notice that space is a key component for these elements to thrive. Take a pause to think that we are on a rock floating around a fireball, we are suspended in space. The earth does not roll on something solid, also the distance from the sun and earth, as well as other planets, allows life to flourish on earth. Without space life on earth would not be possible. On earth itself, we have separation of ground and sky, desert and mountains, Ocean and land. These separations allow a variety of life to thrive on this planet from microscopic organisms to more complex life forms. If you look within your own body you will find that all your organs have their particular area and are spaced apart for them to function in a way that sustains life. If you were to look at your skin under a microscope you would find that space exists in your skin allowing your skin to stretch (grow). Everything with nature has space within it and is also surrounded by space. Let this sink into your understanding of your own personal being but also the universe itself. Research all the ways that empty space plays a vital role in our existence.
If you would like to use the Pentacle that is a circle around the five-pointed star (pentagram) this too can be done. The circle represents the unity of these elements that sustain all existence. Remember, that even if every star burned out, every planet was destroyed, these five elements would still exist, the Unity would not be broken. Thus new life will eventually emerge. This also plays into the concept that everything happens in cycles. In Buddhism as well as many forms of Paganism time is not linear but rather cyclic. If we observe nature and science we know that there was a big bang that cause everything as we know it to exist. The Universe will expand going through a variety of changes until it expands until all life is extinguished. It is suggested that the universe will at some point it will contract until everything smashes together to cause another big bang thus the process starts again. This is just a brief explanation but one that captures the essence of Buddhist and Pagan thought. Everything goes through cycles, of birth, a growing, and a death. Each cycle is not exactly the same, the elements may be arranged differently but they will go through a cycle until that cycle has run its course.
The universe is constantly being born and dying just as we humans are being born and dying every second of our lives. Our cells divide which causes us to age and every seven years we have a new set of sells we are reborn. Ultimately we will die and the elements that made us will make something else. The cycle continues on and on and on.
The third set of elements are those which are previously mentioned but now another is added. These are called the Six Great Elements. These elements can be demonstrated by the Hexagram. These six are space, air, water, earth, fire, and perception. Now you might be thinking perception? How does that work? Well, Ananda thought the same thing but take a moment and think about it were does your perception come from? Does it come from your eyes, ears, skin, mouth, or someplace else? If you lose your hearing or your taste buds, you will still be able to perceive things with the other parts of the body. If you lose your sight you will still be able to perceptive the darkness so what is it that is perceiving? Have you ever really sat and thought about it? Even psychologists give very vague answers to what perception and perceiving could be. They know that it happens but they can’t give us a source of were perception is from. Could it be that these elements combined bring about perception? Humans and other animals being a combination of the Five Elements are able to perceive because of such things inherent in these combinations. That the universe itself has within it the capabilities to bring such a process about? No one can tell us how perception happens but yet it does. According to this Sutra, perception is spread across the entire universe meaning there are other beings or things with the same combination that is able to perceive as well. Each combination of elements brings about another element meaning elements are the building blocks, as they stack up another element is revealed. These revelations should give us greater insight into nature and our place within nature. Mediate on the Five Great Elements of how they bring about the Six Great Elements.
I must also mention something that may help to clarify things. Everything is a cause and effect. Something happens and that causes a chain of events. Everything mentioned above and in the portion after this is within nature itself. This does not mean that the universe itself perceives or has perceptions but rather it has within it the ability to create such a combination that perception is a cause of that combination. The combination of Space, Air, Water, Earth, and Fire has the capability to bring about perception. Perception is a key element in sentient beings. Remember that Zen Paganism is a form of naturalistic paganism or naturalistic thought. Therefore one cannot rest on a notion that some outside force or being that never changes and is outside the natural world causes perception or sentience. By natural we are talking about the philosophy that holds that everything comes by natural laws, not supernatural laws.
Now we can get to the last set of elements and these are called the Seven Great Elements which can be represented as a Pentagram. Let us take a moment to recap, for our elements thus far we have space, air, water, earth, fire, perception, and now we have consciousness. Now let us take a moment and think about what was said above about perception, were does perception come from? It comes from the combination of the Five Elements which allows the Sixth Element to operate. So too it must be with consciousness, consciousness is brought about by the combination of the Six Great Elements. We cannot say where consciousness comes from but we know we have it. Some may argue that it comes from the mind but how did the mind get it? We know that the mind has thoughts but no one can tell you were these thoughts actually come from. If you observe your mind in meditation after the mind is quieted and all thoughts cease consciousness still continues. So, if consciousness comes from the mind shouldn’t it stop when the mind is stilled? Why then does consciousness continue? It is interesting to note that many ancient Greek Philosophers, Renaissance Philosophers, Taoists and Buddhists hold a panpsychism notion of consciousness. Which is to say that consciousness is apart of reality. On some level, all things have a consciousness. I do not disagree that consciousness is part of reality, nor do I disagree that it comes from nature. But, in order for consciousness to be activated, the combination of the previous elements must be present. Therefore consciousness is part of the universe, the universe does bring about consciousness as long as all the elements in combination are in the right order and the right amount. This again goes to the understanding of cause and effect that is so prevalent in Buddhist thought and can be an aid in pagan thought. Because the Sis Great Elements are in unity with sentient beings they thus bring out the element of consciousness. This consciousness is within the universe but is dormant until they are combined. So it is true that consciousness is within the natural universe but like everything else within the cosmos certain combinations bring about certain results. Without these combinations, you can not have consciousness as an end result. So panpsychism is correct to a certain point, yes the capabilities are within the material universe but the elements themselves have to be combined in order to make this capability exist. If consciousness was never capable then it would not be an element, Though it is an end result it is still a universal element because we know that it happens and the seeds of it happening lay within the original elements that we discussed, earth, water, fire, and air.
Now some may say wait a minute, doesn’t consciousness exist after we die? Yes, and No, consciousness continues in two ways. One as mentioned as a possibility by the combination of the Six Great Elements that produce the Seven Great Elements. The second way it continues is that other conscious beings whether they be human, humanoid, alien, or animal, continue to live. Thus they share in the consciousness that came before them by learning and building upon it. Thus consciousness is a stream always growing and expanding. But, individual consciousness ceases due to the death of the body and the breakdown of the elements. Ounce the breakdown of the elements they’re no longer are capable of supporting consciousness in an individual being. When a sentient being dies so too does its consciousness. If the individual consciousness continued then that consciousness would be able to contact loved ones or even speak to strangers. Not to mention all the people that have died before us would be able to contact us as well. Since these things do not happen then we must come to conclude that when death occurs, the body breaks down then individual consciousness ceases to exits.
Remember I am not proclaiming dogma just my understanding as I trod this path. Feel free to agree, disagree, make comments, or simply enjoy. If nothing else I hope to give you something to think about