December 18, 2006

Balance of four fluids or humours

Re: Instruments of Knowledge and Post-Human Destinies
by RY Deshpande on Mon 18 Dec 2006 03:26 AM PST Profile Permanent Link
Let me take the second part of Debashish’s posting, dated 15 Dec, bringing out the significance of Nataraja and associated with him the five great elements, pancha-maha-bhutas. I think the Indian iconography came at a much later stage in India, perhaps after the invasion by Alexander the Great in 326 BC. Which means, the country was already leaving far behind the Age of Intuition, of the Vedas, and the Age of the Intuitive Thinkers, of the Upanishads. This was also the period when the Puranas started making their impact on the society. No doubt, there were genuine spiritual and yogic experiences and realisations behind them, but that sure intimate and warm contact of oneness was perhaps becoming weaker. The result was, very often, equivalences. Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects were also becoming powerful, each asserting its supremacy. If Sankhya has a truth, then it became necessary for them to associate it with their Gods, Shiva in the case of the Shaivite and Vishnu for the Vaishnavite traditions. Their spiritual realisations coupled with this knowledge gave rise to all this abundance, even a kind of richness in the modes of expression. What you say about Shiva or Nataraj is valid; there is also the counterpart for the other God, Vishnu.

In the following please allow me to quote the relevant parts from my book Narad’s Arrival at Madra:
• The Sankhya and Shakta traditions in India go back to ancient times and describe all the spiritual, occult and physiological aspects. The three forces of Nature or Gunas form an integral part of the Vedantic description, everywhere, in the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in the Gita, in the Epics, in the Puranas. But the description does not stop just with that; it also goes farther to characterise the fourfold order of the society. A vaster connection is seen behind the cosmic organisation and the basic qualities that enter into the play. We might just list here the five elements with their associations. (1) Ether: Akash; Sound; Shabda; (2) Air: Vayu; Contact; Sparsha; (3) Fire: Agni; Form; Roop; (4) Water: Apah; Fluidity; Rasa; (5) Earth: Prithvi; Solid; Gandha. According to the Vishnu iconography the associations go as follows: (1) Ether: Vasudeva; Shankha. (2) Air: Samkarsana; Chakra. (3) Fire: Pradyumna; Gada. (4) Water: Aniruddha; Lotus. (5) Earth: Narayana; between the two feet of Vishnu.
• Plato’s account of creation of the universe, as given in great detail in the Timæus, essentially derives its authority from an ancient and remote tradition handed over from generation to generation. Written towards the end of Plato's life, c. 355 BC, the Timæus “describes a conversation between Socrates, Plato’s teacher, Critias, Plato’s great grandfather, Hermocrates, a Sicilian statesman and soldier, and Timæus, a Pythagorean philosopher, scientist, general, contemporary of Plato, and the inventor of the pulley.”
• There is a geometrical structure also associated with each element. The Platonic Solids, as they are known, connected with the five elements are: (1) fire--tetrahedron; (2) air--octahedron; (3) water--icosahedron; (4) earth--cube; (5) the universal, the quintessence we now call ether--dodecahedron. Aristotle, however, was not in favour of such a characterisation of the elements linked up with geometry. He considered fire as hot and dry, air as hot and wet, water cold and wet and earth as cold and dry. It is the Aristotelian view that dominated thought for several centuries, till the Middle Ages. One really wonders why people just refuse to think independently, even today; inquiry became a victim.
• It is interesting to see that connections were sought between the four elements and the aspects of health even by the early philosophers. By the time of Hipocrates (c. 460 - c. 377 BC) the theory of the four humours was well developed in Greece. Empedocles (c. 493-433 BC) was the first to introduce the idea that health depended on the balance of four fluids or humours in the working of the human body. In this description fire corresponds to blood, air to yellow bile, water to phlegm, and earth to black bile. But the question as to how they arrived at this doctrine, that the diseases have their seat in the humours, remains a mystery to us. Perhaps some ancient mystical or occult knowledge was already present in the race and that knowledge or intuition was seized by the perceptive mind that was quick and supple enough to receive such intimations. RYD

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