dhaatu »
  • dhātu

'elements', are the ultimate constituents of a whole.

(1) The 4 physical elements (dhātu or mahā-bhūta), popularly called:

  • earth, (pathavī-dhātu)
  • water, (āpo-dhātu)
  • fire, (tejo-dhātu)
  • wind, (vāyo-dhātu)

are to be understood as the primary qualities of matter.

In Vis.M. XI, 2 the four elements are defined thus:

"Whatever is characterized:

  • by hardness (thaddha-lakkkhana) is the earth or solid-element;
  • by cohesion (ābandhana) or fluidity, the water-element;
  • by heating (paripācana), the fire or heat-element;
  • by strengthening or supporting (vitthambhana), the wind or motion-element.

All four are present in every material object, though in varying degrees of strength. If, for instance, the earth element predominates, the material object is called 'solid', etc. - For the analysis of the 4 elements, s. dhātu-vavatthāna.

(II) The 18 physical and mental elements that constitute the conditions or foundations of the process of perception, are:

  • 1. visual organ (eye)
  • 2. auditory organ (ear)
  • 3. olfactory organ (nose)
  • 4. gustatory organ (tongue)
  • 5. tactile organ (body)
  • 6. visible object
  • 7. sound or audible object
  • 8. odour or olfactive object
  • 9. gustative object
  • 10. body-contact
  • 11. eye-consciousness
  • 12. ear-consciousness
  • 13. nose-consciousness
  • 14. tongue-consciousness
  • 15. body-consciousness
  • 16. mind-element
  • 17. mind-object (mano-dhātu) (dhamma-dhātu)
  • 18. mind-consciousness-element (mano-viññāna-dhātu)

1-10 are physical; 11-16 and 18 are mental; 17 may be either physical or mental.

16 performs the function of advertence (āvajjana) towards the object at the inception of a process of sensuous consciousness; it further performs the function of receiving (sampaticchana) the sensuous object.

18 performs, e.g., the function of investigation (santīrana), determining (votthapana) and registering (tadārammana) - (for its other functions, s. Table I).

For the 14 functions of consciousness, s. viññāna-kicca.

Cf. M. 115; S. XIV and especially Vibh. II (Guide p. 28f), Vis.M. XV, 17ff.

Of the many further groupings of elements (enumerated in M.115), the best known is that of the 3 world-elements:

  • the sensuous world (kāma-dhātu),
  • the fine-material world (rūpa-dhātu),
  • the immaterial world (arūpa-dhātu);

further the six-fold group:

  • solid, (pathavī)
  • liquid, (āpo)
  • heat, (tejo)
  • motion, (vāyo)
  • space, (ākāsa)
  • consciousness (viññāna; s. above I), described in M.140; see also M.112.


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