Treading the Path of the Elements
There are many ways to categorize, or summarize, the beginning steps one should take on a spiritual path. Every religion, lodge, and magical order presents some expression of this. The well-known Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are one such system.
In the lodges of the western mysteries, a scheme involving the four elements is frequently encountered. I believe this breakdown is useful and worthy of our consideration.
In fact, the four elements correspond rather nicely to four yogas:
Earth: Hatha Yoga, the body
Water: Bhakti Yoga, the emotions
Fire: Karma Yoga, actions
Air: Jnana Yoga, the mind
The first work is the work of Earth.
This could mean many things, but for this discussion I want to focus on the physical body. A healthy body is a great benefit to the spiritual path, and in order to progress on the path, each of us should try to get as healthy as possible. In a sense this is a counsel of perfection, since eventually most of us will have some infirmity. Nevertheless, many of our health problems can be improved, and the better we do so, the easier our spiritual path will be.
As to why this should be, we need only appeal to the hermetic axiom, “As above, so below.” The universe, and each one of us, exist on several levels of vibration, or planes, including the physical plane, astral plane, energetic plane, mental plane, and spiritual plane. What happens on one plane influences what happens on the others by a process somewhat akin to induction.
Induction is when bringing a magnet or an electrical coil close to another metallic object induces a magnetic field in the other object. And as explicitly stated in the hermetic axiom, it is not just “as above, so below,” but also “as below, so above.”
That the physical influences the subtle is the basis for a number of disciplines, including Hatha Yoga and various forms of massage therapy. Any massage therapist will tell you that many times working on a certain physical problem area will result in emotional release in the subject.
So for the work of Earth, we should focus on diet, exercise, sunlight, and breathing. It is best to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoid or limit meat. The sattvic diet described in Ayurveda is a good place to start. In general fresh, raw, organic, and local foods are best. Foods contain energy, prana if you will, and the longer the time between harvest and consumption, the more prana is lost. Check out what is grown in your area, and try to obtain that. If you can grow your own, so much the better.
Fresh foods are generally better than things grown halfway around the world and kept in an artificial environment for weeks. It is possible to learn to see the pranic aura of fruits and vegetables. If you cannot do this, then at the market, be intuitive. Just ask yourself which bell pepper has the most energy, then trust your intuition, and choose that one. Try to avoid toxins, preservatives, and chemically and genetically modified foods.
Water is best distilled and free of the various chemicals added by urban treatment plants. If desired, distilled water can be re-mineralized by adding a pinch of sea salt.
Sunlight is often overlooked as a health factor, but some exposure is essential. The modern warnings about skin cancer have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Of course, the principle of moderation would apply here.
Some form of exercise is essential. Yoga is a good option, although it is not the only one. From the mundane standpoint, cardio is always important, but from the esoteric standpoint, spine and hip flexibility and core strengthening are crucial.
Learning how to breathe is also very important. The details of this are beyond the scope of this little essay, but form an important part of the Drukama curriculum.
The second work is the work of Water.
The emphasis here is on the heart, the emotional nature. Water softens and purifies, and so the work here is the cleansing and softening of the heart. If we cannot feel emotional about the sufferings of our fellow human beings, then we have “hardness of heart.” It is simply not possible to move forward on the spiritual path without compassion and loving kindness. Some type of meditative practice, ritual, or prayer life is crucial for our emotional nature. Altar work is sometimes called Merit Practice, and doing it seems to bring progress to our spiritual development.
Devotional practice is an aspect of all religions. Even Buddhists, who do not believe in God, at least in the same way members of the “faith traditions” do, have a lot of altar work and worship. This might seem odd, but the lamas and gurus know that without time spent at the altar, or in prayer, nothing much is going to happen spiritually. It may seem unnecessary, or pointless, but it really works.
Even if you don’t believe in God, or a higher power, you should still do this. Hardness of heart is largely related to the barriers created by the ego mind. Turning to a higher power, or a source outside of yourself, helps remove that layer of the lower self. You won’t understand until you try it. It has frequently been stated that prayer does not change God, but it changes the person doing the praying.
Realization does not require us to add anything to who we are, but rather to remove those aspects which stand in our way. The lower ego is all about control. Externalizing control, that is, praying to something or someone outside of ourselves, erodes the sense that we are in charge. This strips away the ego.
The third work is the work of Fire.
Karma is habit energy, and Karma means action, and the correspondence here is how we live our lives. All religions have a lot to say about ethics and behavior, and there is a high degree of convergence among them as to what sorts of things we should do, or not do. The general ideas here are love, compassion, charity, tolerance, and forgiveness.
Of course, there is some divergence among various traditions as to what is appropriate behavior. When in doubt, focus on the five things I have just listed, and the rest will tend to take care of themselves. If it seems there is a solipsistic aspect to rules of behavior, it is because there is.
One might ask why behavior is important. It is important because our present life is a result of our karma. The main purpose of the life we are living is to teach us what we need to know to remove that karma. In order to begin moving on the spiritual path, we need some “wiggle room.” Karma tends to lock us into patterns of behavior which are not beneficial.
In order to change, we need some forward momentum. That momentum comes from doing good. The Buddhists call this accumulating merit. As with altar practice, this is an important way to gain merit.
I like the analogy of riding a bicycle. It is difficult to stay upright unless you are moving. If you are moving, the laws of physics help the bicycle to balance. It is also hard to steer a bicycle that isn’t moving. Spiritually speaking, doing good gets you moving.
Karma yoga is also a work of fire because one way to remove karma is through awakening the latent life force energy, through the practice of “tummo” or “kundalini yoga.” This also forms part of the instruction in Drukama.
The fourth work is the work of Air.
The emphasis with Air is the mind. Unfortunately, what this means is misunderstood by most spiritual practitioners. Most people understand this to mean accumulating knowledge. Lodges, temples, and churches are filled with practitioners who are bloated with facts and information. But this is not at all what this is about.
What the work of Air really means is to strengthen the focus of the mind, what is sometimes called concentration. This is the ability to still the mind and hold it in single pointed focus on an object.
This does not mean that knowledge training is without value. In fact, I strongly believe that knowing things about one’s spiritual tradition is helpful. Nevertheless, the ability to concentrate is far more important.
Holding the mind in focus is crucial to understanding the true nature of the mind, and this understanding is what realization is all about.
In the Egyptian tradition there are two god forms for Thoth, god of the mind. One is the baboon, and the other is the ibis. The baboon represents the “monkey mind,” that is constantly jumping and moving. The ibis represents the focus of a trained mind. The sharp beak of the ibis darts into the water and grabs its prey. This is an apt picture of a trained meditator.
It is a good idea to practice all four of these at the same time, and in fact, one can start immediately. However, the astute observer will note there is an implied sequence here. The progression of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air follows the Vedic hierarchy of the elements from the least subtle to the most subtle.
In any case, these four things are basic. These must be present before the higher teachings may be given, and they must be present before the higher teachings can be received.
~ Niysah Iyahu
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