Today I’d like to say something about the earth element. I’d like to make some reflections on this subject. Shakyamuni Buddha often talks about the elements, and he usually starts by talking about the earth element.
Buddhism is quite practical and quite psychological in this kind of respect. It’s very much about perception, what we perceive and how we perceive it; and if we change the way that we see things, then, of course we change our lives. Ultimately, we might completely liberate ourselves.
The earth element, this is a place from which the Buddha often starts with his teachings because much of what we ordinarily perceive falls within this category of earth element. You just look around yourself, I look around my room here – I can see my bookcase, well, it’s a big lump of earth element. It’s solid. This is what is meant. Solid things are the earth element.
Of course, science tells us that these things are not as solid as they look, that there’s more space than matter within any piece of apparently solid object. But to us, in our perception, what we encounter, is a solid object and we do encounter it – you can stub your toe on it and it hurts. It’s there and it’s not you, it’s not me. You know, when I stub my toe on some rock in the garden, the rock is not me.
This was a very early reflection of mine, when I was five years old, I used to sit in the garden and look at a rock. It puzzled me; I used to ask myself: “Why do I stop at my finger tips and why does my being or my consciousness or my feeling not extend into that rock?” The rock must have a life of its own, it must be something endowed with its own being, you might say. That’s big grown-up language, for me as a five-year-old, but that was the essence of my sentiment looking at the rock. I suppose, that’s when I first started meditating, though I didn’t know it was called meditation at that time. But it was a fundamental reflection on “What is the nature of our being?” This is where we start. We start from this existential reality. “I am here, in this world, surrounded by earth element things, that I encounter, that are not me, that I have no control over. I can’t wish the rock to be something that it is not.” And in due course, I might reflect that even in myself there are bones and I cannot, by an act of my mind, make a bone bigger or smaller or softer or harder. It is what it is.
Of course, I am here on earth, the planet, here where we are on this big lump of earth element – well, we say big because we are so small, but in the scale of the cosmos, Planet Earth is almost nothing. From this we can get a sense of proportion, a sense of humility and also a sense of gratitude. Although these are things we bump into, that we come up against, we could not have the being that we have without them. If I did not have the earth, there would be nothing to stand on. I would not be here. So, we are dependent, we are dependent upon the earth element, which is not me, not mine, not myself. It is external, is a power of the universe that is other than myself.
This is the earth element and reflecting upon it, meditating upon it, is a very valuable spiritual exercise.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much