Four Elements Meditation?

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Brian K, modified 9 Years ago at 9/28/12 4:35 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/28/12 4:35 PM

Four Elements Meditation?

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
So, I don't see alot about meditation hear on the 4 elements, i.e. water earth fire and wind on this forum. I often see these being referenced in books from the theravada tradition. As well as the four elements, investigation of imagining the unsatisfactoriness of bodily features as well as meditation upon corpses/one's own dead body. Once again, I often see this in books or reference in Suttas or whatever. So my questions would be...

Are these meditations very advantageous to developing insight?
Are they necessary?
What have been some members' experiences with them?
How do they fit into the big picture of awakening?

Namely, the 4 elements meditation, the unsatisfactoriness of the body meditation, and the meditation on death/corpses/your own corpse.

Thank you
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Steph , modified 9 Years ago at 9/28/12 5:40 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/28/12 5:40 PM

RE: Four Elements Meditation?

Posts: 669 Join Date: 3/24/10 Recent Posts
Practice on the elements is all kinds of useful... and it can work towards the other ends you mention. In my experience, especially so with breaking apart the body and releasing related attachments, insights into anatta.

I actually put up a cool video in Nick Myer's 1st jhana thread the other day about the 5 elements (the 5th element added is space). Here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVthNdcDChI

I haven't really looked into any specific sets of instructions in any texts about meditating on corpses. I've definitely had meditations where my corpse came up as part of the imagery in a sit, though, and ran with that. The key to meditations on death, to make it as comprehensive as possible is you have to really get into the nitty gritty of how death plays out in all formations, creations of the mind, the cycle of birth, death, and re-birth. Take care not to focus on the content of meditation about your own physical death - as doing so will only solidify a sense of "self". Even getting morbidly curious & fascinated with it, if you have a dark sense of humor like me, can get really content heavy if you're not discerning... so careful there too (although this might reveal some things that might have gone unnoticed, as the hallmark of death for many people is generally that it's considered totally repelling. See how fear and other things might relate in the morbidly curious side of it too - interesting sides of coins can show up). What is it that you want to get from this type of practice? What do you think the purpose of death meditations are?
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Eric B, modified 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 10:34 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 9:46 AM

RE: Four Elements Meditation?

Posts: 187 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
I know a little about the 4 elements meditation. It is a samatha practice that can take you into access concentration.

Mindfulness of Breathing and the Four Elements Meditation by the Ven. Pa-Auk Sayadaw can be downloaded for free. In this practice path, the 4 elements practice is the bridge between the samatha and vipassana practices, and is taught after mastery of all 40 objects of meditation in the Visuddhimagga. Through this preactice, one sees that the body is merely composed of the 4 elements, i.e., the primary perceivable charachteristics of form, and one sees the "body" portion of the first of the 16 stages on insight, Knowledge of Mind and Body, with subsequent practices getting one to the "mind" portion and beyond.

An audio teaching by the Ven. Sayalay Susila is available for d/l at her website. I heard her give this teaching in person just last weekend. She said this practice could be used as an alternative to noting the first foundation of mindfulness (body). She also said this practice is not often taught in the west because most teachers in teh west don't know it. There is also a teaching on the 32 body parts there which I haven't listened to.

Additional information is in Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen's Practicing the Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation as Presented by the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw and Catherine Shaila's Wisdom Wide and Deep.

Everything I've said here is Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw centric. Perhaps other can add a different perspective.

I hope this helps,

Eric

edit: minor elaboration.
A Dietrich Ringle, modified 9 Years ago at 10/3/12 11:00 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/3/12 11:00 AM

RE: Four Elements Meditation?

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
Aye, I like the four elements as a meditation subject. From a Mahayana/Zen perspective Master Linji called them the four signless circumstances, and they can be experienced in the body.

Moment of Doubt Arising = Obstruction in the Earth Element (stiffness in the body)
Moment of Craving Arising = Obstruction in Water Element (getting carried away somewhere far away)
Moment of Anger Arising = Obstruction in Fire Element (self-explanatory)
Moment of Excitement Arising = Obstruction in Air Element (not with breath, getting whipped around)


I have had lots of fun with these. I got really carried away and made up all kinds of nature metaphors describing different combinations and how they "felt" in the body. You can then expand out and start including the outside world and how it affects you

For example:

Fall - More Doubt (earth)
Winter - More Craving (water)
Spring - More excitement (air)
Summer - More Anger (fire)

You get the idea...
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Eric B, modified 8 Years ago at 9/9/13 5:05 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/9/13 5:05 PM

RE: Four Elements Meditation?

Posts: 187 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Eric B:
I know a little about the 4 elements meditation. It is a samatha practice that can take you into access concentration.

Mindfulness of Breathing and the Four Elements Meditation by the Ven. Pa-Auk Sayadaw can be downloaded for free. In this practice path, the 4 elements practice is the bridge between the samatha and vipassana practices, and is taught after mastery of all 40 objects of meditation in the Visuddhimagga. Through this preactice, one sees that the body is merely composed of the 4 elements, i.e., the primary perceivable charachteristics of form, and one sees the "body" portion of the first of the 16 stages on insight, Knowledge of Mind and Body, with subsequent practices getting one to the "mind" portion and beyond.

An audio teaching by the Ven. Sayalay Susila is available for d/l at her website. I heard her give this teaching in person just last weekend. She said this practice could be used as an alternative to noting the first foundation of mindfulness (body). She also said this practice is not often taught in the west because most teachers in teh west don't know it. There is also a teaching on the 32 body parts there which I haven't listened to.

Additional information is in Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen's Practicing the Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation as Presented by the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw and Catherine Shaila's Wisdom Wide and Deep.

Everything I've said here is Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw centric. Perhaps other can add a different perspective.

I hope this helps,

Eric

edit: minor elaboration.


There is also this one page PDF summary of the practice at Sayalay Susila's web site.