Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of South Asia, has a philosophy of matter (Sankhya) that is based on the five elements of space, air, fire, water, and earth. There are notable parallels between this well-established system and the more recent Western philosophy of matter as displayed in the Periodic Table.(1)
Space is the primary element in Ayurveda, from which all others are derived. Similarly, the space element of pure hydrogen is the first element of the Periodic Table.
Why do I call hydrogen THE space element? Here are supporting quotes:
“Hydrogen is estimated to make up more than 90% of all the atoms — three quarters of the mass of the universe!“(2)
“Hydrogen gas is so light that, uncombined, hydrogen will gain enough velocity from collisions with other gases that they will quickly be ejected from the atmosphere “(2)
All very exciting stuff.
Some might say that they were taught that the space element is well, just space, without atoms. We would not be the first to debate this. Kanaada in Vaishesika theory stipulated long ago that space is atomic. Indeed even the tanmaatraa of sound in space is understood by current Western physics to require atoms (called “manu” by Kanaada) to move around to make that sound.
We might also want to look closer at the word paramanu for Space. By some translations, param means “before”:
A paramanu is much more minute than even an atom, from the fascinating http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajiva.
Therefore, our understanding of Space = paramanu = H+ = not yet matter is still an option from Vaisheshika.
Also, space is well described in Ayurveda as being nuclear energy. Energy is matter. Hydrogen is used to make nuclear energy. So, I feel confident that in the analogy of the five Ayurvedic elements to the Periodic Table, space IS matter, space is hydrogen protons, called “paramanu” by Kanaada.
What is interesting too is that, just as in Vedic theory, hydrogen (space) goes on to make air:
“Stellar hydrogen fusion processes release massive amounts of energy by combining hydrogens to form helium.”(2)
[Ed: called “dvyanuka” or double atom by Kanaada]
We can extend the “air element” to include other very significant gases such as nitrogen and oxygen and their p3 and p4 equivalents. Electrical energy enters into the picture here due to the free electrons in these subsequent air elements all of which seem seem to be led by helium
“the second most abundant element in the known Universe”
in part because
“… all natural gas contains at least trace elements of helium.”(3)
Electrical energy is huge here even with the complete “noble gas” helium, because
Almost all helium in the Universe “is found in a plasma state, with properties quite different from those of atomic helium. In a plasma, helium’s electrons are not bound to its nucleus, resulting in very high electrical conductivity, even when the gas is only partially ionized.” <ref>
The ancients knew this 5000+ years ago.
Moving on, fire (radiant energy) can be represented by such active alkali metals as sodium and potassium which are simple proton (hydrogen/space) additions to the gases representing the air element.
“Alkali metals are famous for their vigorous reactions with water, and these reactions become increasingly violent as one moves down the group.”(4)
I can’t think of a better description of pitta, which is after all fire and water together. Moreover,
Alkali metal + water → Alkali metal hydroxide + hydrogen gas
With Sodium as the primary example:
2Na (s) + 2H2O (l) → 2NaOH (caustic lye, an ancient substance) + H2 (g)
Note, the triplet NaOH. Same things happens for other alkali metals (fire). Thus tryanuka (the next stage, three atoms) holds.
When these air, fire and space elements combine we get water compounds (chemical energy) such as H2O, NaCl and all other natural non-earth compounds that we see on our planet.
What finally then is earth element (physical energy) in the Periodic Table? Seemingly it is one or more of the alkaline metals such as calcium and magnesium, the p1 and p2 equivalents (including carbon and silicon, essential to life) , and their compounds.
Caturanuka (4 atoms, the final stage of molecular theory by Kanaada) holds with the four bonds of Carbon.
“The alkaline earth metals are named after their oxides, the alkaline earths, whose old-fashioned names were beryllia, magnesia, lime, strontia and baryta. These oxides are basic (alkaline) when combined with water. “Earth” is an old term applied by early chemists to nonmetallic substances that are insoluble in water and resistant to heating–properties shared by these oxides. “ (5)
Space => H+ => paramanu (beyond, before atom)
Space and Air => He and above => dvyanuka (2 atoms)
Air, Space, Fire and Water => Na and above => tvyanuka (3 atoms)
Air, Space, Fire, Water, and Earth => C and above => caturanuka (4 atoms)
Finally consider 3 subatomic particles ( neutrons, protons, and electrons) x 3 types of neutrinos x 4 types of atoms (from Kaanaada of Sankhya theory) x 3 mahagunas of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas (also of Sankhya) = 108, a holy Vedic number.
Please note that this whole post was meant to be spoken from the Vaisheshika point of view, not what I would consider a Universal or contemporary Vedantic one.
Moreover, Vedic culture achieved the Bronze Age in 4000-3500 B.C.E. (6) Thereby, a sophisticated complete understanding of the five elements up to earth was firmly established in everyday life. They were even able to create steel:
“Ancient Indians employed a process called ‘Andamusha” to convert iron into steel. Carbonic acid plays a major role in achieving hardness in Iron. Our ancient blacksmiths knew this method. They used to place Iron balls in an earthen furnace (Bakayantram) and fill it with carbonic acid and heat it. They were manufacturing steel by this method.” (7)
Steel pillars still stand in India from thousands of years ago.
I am NOT saying that Kanaada knew of electron orbitals or that he didn’t. Rather, like Ayurveda not needing MRI’s to get the job done, Vaisheshika theory is equal, perhaps better, than modern notions of atoms because it gets different as well as similar things accomplished.
There is much else to say, with many supporting references, that may have to wait for another venue. Briefly, the theory of electricity, atomic and molecular structure, and theories of motion were all also developed by Vedic culture using this same five element theory as a base some 1000-3000 or more years before the Western system’s similar achievements (which are mostly of the last 300 years).
Thus, the glories of understanding the five Ayurvedic elements are at least equal to that of the the Periodic Table.
Renay Oshop - teacher, searcher, researcher, immerser, rejoicer, enjoying the interstices between Twitter, Facebook, and journals.