Vedic Sciences convey complex ideas through metaphors. Universe is called Pra-Pancha
(made of up of five Maha-bhutas)
. European scholars translated the word Bhuta into “element” because of their familiarity with a Greek concept. There is no direct equivalent to the word Bhuta
as it conveys a concept much deeper than the word elements does. The word “element” today is identified with the periodic table of elements. Therefore the continued use of this word devalues the usefulness of the Vedic model of the universe. How about the phrase “the great metaphor”
to grasp the concepts which the word Maha-bhuta
intends to convey?
Space is the first of the five great metaphors. Space itself remains quiescent unless some movement shows up in it. According to the modern theories on cosmology, big bang was the first movement in space. A common analogy for the calm space is the deep sky. Sky appears still as long as there are no movements in atmospheric air. Air is the second great metaphor, identifying the principle of movement. A universe filled just with movements would be boring if the moving objects undergo no transformation. Transformation adds charm to the universe. Burning is the most dramatic of transformations in nature. Fire is the third great metaphor. If filled only with constant movements and rapid transformations the universe would likely be an unintelligible place. The universe is comprehensible because of its stability aspect. Earth evokes the idea of stability and is the fourth great metaphor.
Diffusion allows the four metaphorically distinct aspects to intermingle to create interesting entities in the universe. Water is a wide spread medium that supports opposing forces of attraction and repulsion. Water
is the fifth great metaphor
. The five great metaphors
create a framework to conceptualize existence from the macro to the micro level. For example, in the human body, stomach region being responsible for “transformation” can be identified as the domain of fire metaphor
, and abdominal region may be identified with water metaphor
because of the bladder and kidneys. The abdominal region is also identified with the Earth metaphor;
Cell forming molecules get absorbed by the intestinal walls located in this region.
The idea of the metaphors is applied by Ayurveda practitioners even today.