James LeFevour – USA
Rudolph Steiner is known in Theosophical circles as a student of Madame Blavatsky's work who broke off to form Anthroposophy, a German-based school for esoteric knowledge. What we can learn from his organization is that there are many writers who use the concept of the elements as a tool to describe the nature of the mind.
In Anthroposophy, there are some writers who explore the idea of chitta, or the yogic concept of mind stuff, which is a personal form of how Blavatsky describes ether. Both Blavatsky’s and Steiner’s followers compare the natures of mental ether, or chitta, to what they would call elements. Just as in the traditional Aristotlean elements, there are earth, water, fire, and air.
In The Secret Doctrine, (Vol. 1, p.330) Blavatsky writes:
“What, then, is the "primordial Substance," that mysterious object of which Alchemy was ever talking, and which became the subject of philosophical speculation in every age? What can it be finally, even in its phenomenal pre-differentiation? Even that is ALL in manifested Nature and -- nothing to our senses. It is mentioned under various names in every Cosmogony, referred to in every philosophy, and shown to be, to this day, the ever grasp-eluding PROTEUS in Nature. We touch and do not feel it; we look at it without seeing it; we breathe it and do not perceive it; we hear and smell it without the smallest cognition that it is there; for it is in every molecule of that which in our illusion and ignorance we regard as Matter in any of its states, or conceive as a feeling, a thought, an emotion. . . .
“In short, it is the "upadhi," or vehicle, of every possible phenomenon, whether physical, mental, or psychic. In the opening sentences of Genesis, as in the Chaldean Cosmogony; in the Puranas of India, and in the Book of the Dead of Egypt, it opens everywhere the cycle of manifestation. It is termed "Chaos," and the face of the waters, incubated by the Spirit proceeding from the Unknown, under whatever name. (See "Chaos, Theos, Kosmos.")
“The authors of the sacred Scriptures in India go deeper into the origin of things evolved than Thales or Job, for they say: --
"From INTELLIGENCE (called MAHAT in the Puranas) associated with IGNORANCE (Iswar, as a personal deity) attended by its projective power, in which the quality of dullness (tamas, insensibility) predominates, proceeds Ether -- from ether, air; from air, heat; from heat, water; and from water, earth "with everything on it." "From THIS, from this same SELF, was the Ether produced," says the Veda.
(Taittiriya Upanishad II. 1).”
What we can learn from this is several things, most immediately is that our mind affects other minds differently regardless of personality or spiritual progress. That is to say, you may enjoy another person’s company simply based on the “texture” or element of the ether of their mind. This article examines the four natures that Blavatsky lists through examination of some Anthroposophical presenters. If Theosophists come to understand their mental element intentionally, instead of just passively, it can also lead to a deeper appreciation for stillness and bliss which comes from meditation when one knows their own mind. This article is suggesting that Theosophists learn from what their sister school has written in order to help deepen an understanding of Blavatsky’s teachings.
Chitta or Personal Ether
Chitta is a constantly moving thing. If you are thinking, your chitta is moving. The question is “what does that do?” and “how can we better understand what that does to the individual?” And if you go into it further, you can better grasp what we do to each other just by being around one another and doing what we do best, which is thinking.
The most straightforward definition of chitta is “mind stuff.” In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it is explained that “Yoga is the control of the thought patterns of the chitta (1.2).” And that “Although the same objects may be perceived by different minds, they are perceived in different ways, because those minds manifested differently (4.15).” It is presumed by this article that a part of that difference is the elemental nature of each individual mind.
“In relationships, the chitta becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference of neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked of evil (1.33).” Let this writing aid in that purification through understanding of the different types of minds, and to the understanding and appreciation of others through their uniqueness.
In the book, Toward a Phenomenology of the Etheric World, Jochen Bockemuhl explains a concept in his German tongue called “betrachtungsweisen,” which is another word for “observational mode” and in it he classifies our different modes by the four Aristotlean elements which is earth, water, fire, and air. In the book this is done primarily through a discussion of plants:
“To begin with, we can notice that the laws which we experience as finished and external, are actually found within us as concepts… Only when we bring this relationship to consciousness do we become aware that our thinking is an inner activity which can connect us with the world in a different manner from our sense percepts. The sense world then appears as the expression of a world which we have access to only through our thinking, a thought world which permeates the sense world. Now we can observe the kind of activity within which a law or concept lives, and make use of this to consider the world more consciously…
“Rudolph Steiner points to the significance of Aristotle’s categories in connection with a renewed ‘reading in the book of nature.’ In relation to the present discussion, these categories, such as quality, quantity, etc., may be understood as concepts which, taken as observational modes [Betrachtungsweisen], can open up the different realms of reality for us. Applied to the same natural phenomena, they open our eyes to the diverse self-contained areas of reality, whose relations with each other are revealed in pure thinking.
“With the concept of the elements and ethers as modes of observation, we should now like to approach some specific workings of the world.”
He goes on to observe the four elements as they interact with various varieties of plants, and then he infers from that the idea of each element applying to one of the four ethers. These ethers are modes which he describes as our interaction with the world through our senses. What can be taken even further is that it is not just four ethers or senses, senses such as warmth, light, sound, and life, but four forms of chitta that we are sensing.
He applies this to plants as plants exude all these forms of ether or chitta, and if plants contain all four natures then so too do humans and all forms of life, but each being will also have a dominant nature and by that we can know their minds through various methods. Not the least of these methods by which we may know their mental ether is through communication style.
Conversation as Elemental Nature
An ideal form of understanding the elements of the mind is through modes of conversation, especially when each mind is speaking with its similar type. In an environment of similar nature the social qualities of the element become apparent.
A professor by the name of Dennis Klocek explores this idea with his students at John F. Kennedy University. What he explains is that “In a group setting, the goal is to provide a shared language of process which opens avenues for heightened awareness of the movement of meaning within the group.” He describes Earth as informational, Water as discussional, Fire as dialogue, and Air as conversational.
When two people of Earth sign communicate it is described as informational. The manner of speaking is often to present statements of fact in order to create a shared foundation upon which further stages of communication may develop. Of all the styles it can be the most efficient and direct and is intended to be the least emotionally charged way of communicating.
Earth communication works best when it follows agreed upon terms and patterns of interaction. This allows for a minimal of embellishment or hurt feelings from lack of sensitivity. The strength of this form of communication is in its ability to avoid misinterpretation or over exaggeration. The downside may be misinterpreted as a lack of compassion.
The ideal form of Earth communication is exemplified in mathematics, physics, or logic. In order to convey such sciences the speaker strives for impartiality and precision. The listener and interpreter of Earth communication can keep in mind to listen to the facts without judgement, and to request and further explanation or information as needed.
Water communication is also called discussion by Professor Klocek. This is a mode of speaking that relies heavily on continual repetition of the facts, and an expression of the emotions. One could even say that this is an ideal style to present the speakers assumptions about ideas or people, and express them in such a way as to invite validation. When two speakers of Water communication come together, there is a back-and-forth flow of personal opinions and individual speech patterns that complement one another, and encourage individual expression.
It could be said that much of daily conversation mostly encourages Earth and Water communication, or facts and discussion. If we look at it that way, then those who are primarily Water communication would be considered the most intensely emotional in our daily talking engagements. For those who favor Water communication as their primary communication style what is understood to be of utmost importance is the mood of the situation.
Fire communication is known as dialogue. The meaning in the back-and-forth presentation of ideas through dialogue is not up to the speaker, but rather is arises in a communal sort of way from all parties involved. Concepts and information is presented on all fronts, but the end conclusion is left open until it is spontaneously generated out of the combined will of the group or pair.
To have healthy fire communication, the speaker is responsible for contributing what they know and the listener remains open for any intuition or change of understanding that may arise from the experience. Other element styles may find this sort of process meditative, others may find it highly compelling and persuasive, but when two or more fire communication styles get together they feel as though they are a significant and important contributor to the social interaction.
Air communication is conversation. The purpose of conversation is to convey and to impart a sense of inspiration. They often tell stories or give understanding about how the true pleasure in life is simply to be free from one’s burdens for a while. In listening to air communication, it is often important to also pay attention to what is not expressed as well as to what is directly stated.
Air communication works great with the expression of a sense of humor. It also lends itself well to the telling of stories that make the listener feel like they forget themselves. In a conversation between air communicators each party takes turns not only speaking and listening, but also in some form of expressing their reactions to what was said. For those who are not air communicators, listening to one may give you them impression that it is implied they should agree with them, even if they don’t. If one is not inclined to make their own impression on the situation, talking with an air communicator can be described as refreshing.
While all four elements of communication may be utilized by any person in the appropriate scene or situation, if one were to observe each individual it would be revealed that each us prefers one specific mode in our vernacular. This mode of communication will surely match the temperament or mind type that is our primary element.
Mind Stuff as a “Texture”
From the understanding of conversation styles, it is proposed that the chitta or mind stuff itself has its own nature of movement that craves the emotional input and output put forth by its unique manner of conversation. Literally, there are four preferences of mind movement, and each individual has one of the four. When we get together in variety, we learn and grow how to move with other types and styles, eventually forming preferred distinctions in our family and friends.
In the spiritual path almost every teacher points back to meditation as a practice and mode of self discovery. This elemental nature is just one of the aspects we can learn about ourselves. The best application is to understand how we communicate with ourselves in the space we make for ourselves.
On a more introspective note, understanding our chitta can lead to deeper meditation. If we know how our mind works, we can learn how to speak to ourselves, and find that place of silence that is the goal of meditation. In layman's terms you want to speak to yourself as if someone like you, or something like that, were speaking to you and that will lead to greater compassion and self-discovery.
As Madame Blavatsky said in The Voice of the Silence”:
“Behold how like the moon, reflected in the tranquil waves, Alaya is reflected by the small and by the great, is mirrored in the tiniest atoms, yet fails to reach the heart of all. Alas, that so few men should profit by the gift, the priceless boon of learning truth, the right perception of existing things, the Knowledge of the non-existent!”
It is to be believed that she was talking about personal ether or mental chitta when describing those “gentle waves.” The tiniest atoms around us affect our own atmosphere with reverberation etheric motion. If we learn our own mind, our own inner self, as Theosophy teaches us to do, it can lead to what she tells us is Knowledge of the non-existent.
Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine. Wheaton, Quest Books, 1993.
Bochemuhl, Jochen. Toward a Phenomenology of the Etheric World. Great Barrington, Steiner Books, 2018.
Miller, Seth. The Elements as an Archetype of Transformation: An Exploration of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Master’s thesis, John F. Kennedy University, 2008.