Elements and Attributes—Their Significance


What are elements and attributes and what do they have to do with the doshas?

The ancient seers asserted that only substance / matter can produce an effect. If you can experience something then this experience occurs because you have come in contact with substance or matter. These seers conceived of substance or matter as having 5 forms that today we say describe the continuum between energy and mass. Ultimately everything is a form of energy; conversely, all states of mass have some form of energy. This is some of what is meant by E = mC2 ; mass and energy are interchangeable.


The seers felt that there are 5 states which we can describe by the terms: space/ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These represent the 5 possible states of matter. We understand them as unique by the way we experience them. The way we experience them is described in terms of “attribute” or “quality.” We know that fire is hot and that water and earth are cold. These attributes (hot /cold, etc.) describe the way we experience each of the pure types of “elements.” There is a set of attributes for each element. This is shown in the accompanying table.


The seers also declared that certain combinations of elements have unique physiological properties and functions in nature. Substances that are predominantly composed of ether/space and air have very dynamic properties and effects. These have come to become called “vata substances.” Some substances perform digesting, metabolizing, and transforming functions and are called “pitta substances.” Similarly, kapha substances are primarily composed of water and earth elements that have the functions to support, lubricate, secrete, etc. Knowing what elements a substance is made of is important to know what kinds of effects it produces. These effects are sometimes described in terms of the attributes. Thus we have clearer understanding of the realm of cause and effect, anatomy and physiology, structure and function.


The Elements and Their Attributes


Element                                                           Attributes


subtle, clear, light, cold, empty, soft, expansive w/o resistance, centrifugal


mobile, dry, light, clear, subtle, rough, cold


hot, sharp, light, spreading, subtle, luminous, radiant


liquid, cold, heavy, spreading, dull/slow, oily, dense, soft, smooth, sticky, rough effect


heavy, gross, stable, static, hard, dense/solid, cold




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