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Bhuta Shuddhi

Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati


In the Vedas of yore there is clearly defined an
ancient tantric practice, known as bhuta shuddhi.
Bhuta shuddhi literally means 'cleansing or refining
the physical elements', however, apart from this, its
actual meaning should be considered as 'refining the
underlying consciousness related to the elements'.
We all know that matter is composed of five
elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. The
different proportions, quintuplication, permutation
and combinations of these are responsible for the
formation of matter in its gross form. In the same
way, the human body is also composed of these five
elements.
If you can develop a process to purify and separate
these elements, you can return to the source of matter
and discover the potential energy or subtle form
behind the gross form. Just as a scientist breaks down
matter into elements and finally arrives at the subtlest
form, which is energy, similarly, the tantric or yogi
purifies his gross body elements and finally realises
the ultimate source of matter which is pure
consciousness.
Technique
First think of kundalini rising from mooladhara
chakra (sacral plexus) up to sahasrara chakra, along
the sushumna canal. The practitioner is to meditate
on the mantra Hamsa and consider himself united
with Brahman (supreme consciousness). Then bring
your awareness from the legs to the knees in the form
of a square yantra. Consider this square to be
composed of the earth tattwa (element) which is a
golden colour and is represented by the bija mantra
Lam.
Next bring your awareness to the portion below the
navel. Imagine there the form of a semi-moon with
two lotuses at each end. This is surrounded by a
circle of water, white in colour and represented by
the bija mantra Vam.
Then bring your awareness from the navel to the
heart and imagine there a yantra of triangular shape,
with swastika marks on each of its three sides. This is
the fire tattwa; it is red in colour and is represented
by the bija mantra Ram.
Next bring your awareness from the heart to the
centre of the eyebrows, and imagine there the form of
six dots in a circular shape. These are symbolic of the
air tattwa, which is of smoky hue and is represented
by the bija mantra Yam.
Then bring your awareness from the region of the
eyebrows to the crown of the head and imagine there
the akasha mandalam or the region of ether, beautiful
and clear, with Ham as its bija mantra. Thus ponder
on the earth principle dissolving into water, its cause.
Then water dissolving into fire, its cause. Then fire
dissolving into air, its cause, and air dissolving into
ether, its cause.
Now imagine akasha dissolving into ahamkara (ego),
its cause. Then ahamkara dissolving into maha tattwa
(the great principle). And maha tattwa dissolving into
prakriti, prakriti into the supreme Self. Then consider
yourself as the highest knowledge, pure and absolute.
Imagine now that the 'papa purusha' or sinful man;
who is about the size of your thumb, is situated at the
left of your abdomen. His form is grotesque, black as
coal, with fiery eyes, big teeth and a large belly. In
his hands he holds axes and shields. Inhale air
through the left nostril, mentally repeating the bija
mantra Vam for water. Perform kumbhaka and
imagine that you are purifying the sinful man. While
doing kumbhaka, repeat Ram, the bija of fire, and
think of the sinful man being burnt to ashes. Then
exhale the ashes of the sinful man through the right
nostril. Next meditate on the water tattwa again,
repeating the bija mantra Vam, and imagine the ashes
of the sinful man being rolled into a ball with nectar
from the moon.
Think steadily of this ball being turned into a golden
egg, while meditating on the earth tattwa, represented
by the bija mantra Lam.
Repeat the bija mantra Ham, ether tattwa, and
imagine yourself as an ideal being pure and clear.
Create the elements afresh in the reverse order from
Brahman the absolute, then ether, air, fire, water and
earth and locate them in their respective positions, in
the forms described earlier, represented by their bija
mantras. Then repeating the mantra Soham, separate
the jivatma or individual soul from paramatma or the
cosmic soul and locate the jivatma in the heart
region. Think also that the kundalini has returned to
mooladhara via sushumna, piercing the chakras. Next
meditate on Prana Shakti, the vital force, seated on a
red lotus in a vast red ocean. She has six hands which
are holding the trident, bow of sugarcane, noose,
goad, five arrows and a skull filled with blood. She
has three eyes, highly decorated breasts and her body
is the colour of the rising sun. Thus meditating, one
should apply ashes on the body.
A daily discipline
Ideally bhuta shuddhi should be practised three times
a day; morning, midday and at dusk. However, the
number of times can be reduced according to one's
lifestyle. Practice of bhuta shuddhi is not restricted to
a particular sect or cult; anyone can practise it.
These days there is a tendency for many to plunge
into vama marga, because they think it is a
philosophy synonymous with free lifestyle and living.
However, I would like to point out that this practice
and other forms of purification, such as manas
shuddhi, prana shuddhi, deva shuddhi, mantra
shuddhi, should become a daily discipline before
taking to the practices of vama marga or any other
marga, Tantra is very clear on this. Vama marga is
only for those who have control over their minds.
Tantric practices start with bhuta shuddhi, which
begins from the moment one wakes up. You are
taught the daily disciplines of bathing, brushing of
teeth, etc., from a very early age so, you do them
without a second thought. But if, for some reason,
you are unable to complete them on any day, you feel
uncomfortable and ill at ease. In the same way, this
practice too should become a part of your daily
routine. Perhaps it should have greater importance,
because it is not only conducive to physical hygiene
but also to mental hygiene. That is precisely the
reason the shastras and scriptures stress the fact that
only after the discipline of bhuta shuddhi is perfected,
is atma shuddhi or purification of consciousness
possible.
The Practice of Bhuta Shuddhi
(According to the ancient tantric and vedic
tradition)
Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati
Bhuta shuddhi is the very dynamic and systematic
practice of tantra which transforms the elements,
constituting body and mind, for the transmission of
the atma shakti. Bhuta means 'basic element'. It is
also known as tattwa. Shuddhi means 'purification'.
According to tantra, body ,and mind are comprised of
five primal elements known as earth (prithvi), water
(apas), fire (agni), air (vayu) and ether (akasha).
These tattwas are the manifestation of the primordial
'Shakti', and it is due to them that this entire universe
exists. Of course, we can understand each tattwa in
its gross state as earth, water, fire, etc., but here the
word tattwa or element applies to something much
more subtle than that.
These five tattwas comprise particular pranic
vibrations of the one Shakti, just as white light is
broken up into the different colours of the spectrum.
In the body, earth tattwa represents solidity from the
cellular structure; water tattwa, fluidity- blood, lymph
fluid, etc.; fire tattwa, heat - appetite, digestion, thirst;
air tattwa, motion - expansion and contraction; ether
tattwa, subtle vibration and emotion. The tattwas, as
part of the mind and psyche, arouse the sense of
smell, taste, sight, touch and sound. From this level
they connect to the corresponding organs, nerve plexi
and energy centres or chakras.

In tantra, the practice of bhuta shuddhi is used for


transforming the pranic flow of the tattwas back to
their original unmanifest form as primordial 'Shakti'.
As long as the prana flows outward through the sense
organs, awareness will be engrossed in the external
world. However, if we can realise these tattwas or
pranic flows operating in their subtle form,
independent of external stimulus, then the
experience, knowledge and illumination can arise
from the inner dimensions. The purpose of this
practice, as in all tantric practices, is to free the
consciousness from its attachment to external objects
in order to realise the true inner nature.
Purification of the tattwas
The first step towards this is purification of the basic
physical, mental, psychic and pranic structure. In
yoga there are various forms of purification which
are meant to achieve this: prana shuddhi, nadi
shuddhi, vak shuddhi, manas shuddhi, etc., but the
practice of bhuta shuddhi, as described in the ancient
tantras, covers the entire range of man's existence.
In the 'Srimad Devi Bhagavatam' (Ch. 8), it says that
bhuta shuddhi purifies the body elements by
'respiratory attraction and replacement'. By
concentrating on the yantra and bija mantra of each
tattwa at its specific location in the body, the internal
vital capacity and awareness becomes dynamic and
active. At that time, sensorial awareness drops as you
merge into the realm of vibration and form within.
You are lead from the gross sensory experience to the
root cause of attachment in this world- the ego, which
is represented in the form or mandala of 'Papa
Purusha', the sinful man, represented as a hideous
dwarf living in the abdomen. By the use of the tattwa
bija mantras and breath, you mentally purify, dissolve
and reconstruct his being inside you into a golden
egg, like hiranyagarbha. This actually helps
transform your own individual ego. Then, by
considering yourself to be the supreme knowledge or
consciousness (Shiva), you finally attain that state.
When you bring yourself back slowly in the reverse
process, to the manifestation of Shakti in the
elements and finally envisage Shakti in the mandala
of Devi, both consciousness and prana become
absorbed in the diverse manifestations of the one
energy.
The bath of fire
On completion of the meditation, it is essential to
wipe bhasma or ashes on the body for purification of
the tattwas. In the ancient vedic and tantric tradition,
bhasma is vital for arousing the higher consciousness
and purifying the body. Bhuta shuddhi, done with the
use of ashes and fasting during a particular time
according to the solar/lunar phase, helps control the
animal instincts and awaken the consciousness.
Therefore, it is also known as Pashupati vrata and
Shiva vrata. Applying ashes is called the 'bath of fire',
which burns attachment to sensorial experience and
the lower nature.
In the 'Devi Bhagavatam' (Ch. 9) it says that,
"Through this Sivovrata, Brahma and the other devas
were able to attain their Brahmahood and devahood.
The ancient sages, including Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra
and other devas, all performed this Sivovrata. All
those who performed it duly became sinless, though
they were very sinful in every way."
In this practice, it is important to use cow dung ashes,
especially from the fire ceremony, and wipe them
over "the body, particularly the forehead, while
repeating mantra. Then say: 'Earth is ashes, water is
ashes, fire is ashes, air is ashes, ether is ashes,
everything whatsoever is ashes'. In this way the
vibrations of the mantra are transmitted throughout
every cell in the body.
Siddhis associated with the tattwas
In the process of awakening the vital capacity of the
tattwas, particular characteristic signs of perfection
arise. In tantra these are known as siddhis. In
occidental countries they have been called
supernatural, occult or magic powers, but it must be
understood that these powers arise from within you
as a result of your own effort to intensify and
concentrate your mental and pranic energy. In
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (3: 45) it says that, "By
sanyama or concentration on the gross, basic, subtle
and interpenetrating states, and the purpose of the
bhutas, mastery over them is attained."
Awakening of the tattwas develops sensitivity to
subtle vibration and to the higher faculties of
clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy and intuition.
In the Gherand Samhita (3: 59-63) it says that,
"Concentration of the prana for two hours in the earth
tattwa brings steadiness; in water tattwa, destroys
unbearable sufferings and sins; in fire tattwa,
eliminates the fear of death; in air tattwa, gives the
experience of flying in the air; in akasha tattwa,
opens the doors to liberation."
The tantric texts also enumerate other attributes
associated with the awakening of the tattwas. Earth
tattwa is responsible for levitation, freedom from
disease, and creation of astral smells. Water tattwa
removes fear of water. It equalises the prana vayu
and gives knowledge of unknown sciences, the power
of astral travelling, and the ability to create various
taste sensations. Fire tattwa gives material wealth,
detachment, the ability of transforming base metals
into gold, discovering of medicines, entering
another's body. Air tattwa gives knowledge of the
past, present and future, fulfilment of desire, contact
with astral entities, ability of psychic healing, inner
peace and harmony, compassion. Ether tattwa gives
knowledge of the Vedas, longevity, endurance
without food or water, psychic projection faster than
the speed of light.
These are the powers which are associated with the
tattwas but they should not be delved in as it is very
easy to be misguided by the phenomena of the subtle
realm. It is necessary to put them aside and conserve
your energy to arouse an even subtler awareness -
that of the atman.
Time of practice
This practice should be done in the early hours of the
morning after bathing, to purify yourself before the
oncoming day. Traditionally it was undertaken as a
sankalpa made before the guru to be done three times
daily: morning, noon and sunset on a long or short
term basis, e.g. twelve years, six years, three years,
six months, three months, one month, six days, three
days, or even one day. It is said to -be most effective
when performed in the months of Shravan (July-
August), during the time of intense Shiva puja,
according to the Hindu philosophy, or in Ashwin
(October-November), during Navaratri, the nine
nights of puja or worship to Devi. The most
important requirement, however, is that it is done
under the instructions of the guru, with full faith and
without expectation of fulfilling any desires through
the practice. Only then is this sadhana truly sattvic
and a pure state of 'being' attained.
Bhuta Shuddhi
Part II: The Effects of the Practice
Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati
The Srimad Devi Bhagawatam Purana enumerates
particular benefits derived from the performance of
bhuta shuddhi and although we have, as yet, no
scientific evidence to prove its validity, we can draw
conclusions from our own personal experience of the
practice. Of course, the first and most obvious effect
is purification indicated by the word 'shuddhi'. This
takes place on both physical and subtle levels of the
body-mind complex. Purification occurs through
pranic and psychic heat created during the
meditation, with the application of bhasma (ashes)
and fasting. When practised in combination with a
fruitarian diet, physical purification is increased,
otherwise the effects are more noticeable on a subtle
level.
All tantric practices are essentially designed to
expand the consciousness and release potential
energy, but the effects and demands of most of them
are too powerful for the average practitioner to
handle. Bhuta shuddhi, however, is within the
capacity of all.
Yogic practices create mild awakening in the pranic
and psychic structure over an extended period,
whereas bhuta shuddhi concentrates and awakens the
prana and psyche, altering basic awareness within a
shorter period, because it is based on the tantric
meditation of Devi or Shakti. In the Srimad Devi
Bhagawatam Devi says, "Meditation with karma
(action) will lead to me." In bhuta shuddhi,
meditation is on the tattwa yantras of Shakti and then
upon the form of Shakti herself, while karma is the
application of ashes and fasting. Devi further states
that gyana (wisdom) and bhakti (devotion and faith)
also lead to her. Anyone who has had some personal
spiritual experience will have realised that it is
impossible to expand the awareness without faith in
and knowledge of a higher reality and force. This
higher state exists within our own selves.
Therefore, the first important purification is that of
the intellect or buddhi. It is important to ignore any
intellectualising because this creates a barrier to
spiritual growth. I found that when I practised bhuta
shuddhi, I began asking myself, 'What am I doing?
What is this practice all about?' But if we can set
aside the analytical aspect of our nature, the inherent
positive side of our inner personality is revealed.
Buddhi is said to be that part of the mind closest to
Atman (the Self) and this buddhi reflects that which
lies within us. If we are full of worldly ideas and
concepts, that is what we will see, but if we can
empty ourselves of these, we can attain the higher
experiences.
Physical effects
Bhuta shuddhi can be practised any time of the year,
but for more effective purification it should be done
during Shravan (July-August). During this period, it
is advisable to take a fruitarian diet and curd with no
condiments, salt or stimulants such as tea or coffee. It
is also recommended to prepare a few days
beforehand by taking one meal per day and perhaps
some fruit in the evening. Otherwise, as I
experienced during my practice, there can be a
decrease in physical energy for the first few days.
During this month of fasting, we should not expect to
become lean and thin. When a change takes place
within the consciousness, then the pranic level is
heightened, and when we 'let go' of certain
preconceived thought structures, the metabolism,
catabolism, and anabolism undergo a transformation.
I also found that, irrespective of diet, weight can
actually be gained if the attitude is correct.
Apart from this, the effects on the physical body may
not seem so apparent. There is a tendency towards
suppleness and a feeling of lightness ensues. With the
application of bhasma, the skin becomes soft and
smooth and bodily wounds heal quickly. It is no
wonder that the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam says that
through this vrata (a vow of austerity and spiritual
sadhana over an auspicious period) one will not
suffer from leprosy, fistulae or phlegmatic diseases.
The Srimad Devi Bhagavatam specifies that the head
should be shaved prior to commencement of the
practice. This may not be possible for many
householders, but those who can should do so. The
reason for this is that the heat produced during
meditation rises, and if there is a mass of hair on the
head the heat will be retained instead of being
released through the proper channel. It must find
some other outlet and generally some part of the body
system will overheat. In my experience, as long as
hair growth is minima], there is no problem with
excessive heat.
Subtle effects
The immediate influence of this practice is felt on the
mental and emotional levels and in the inner
awareness. Meditation on the tattwas demands
abstract creativity which allows for spontaneous
concentration irrespective of the possibility of
external or even internal disturbance. It is not a
passive meditation in which you have to concentrate
for one or two hours on the one symbol. You keep
the awareness moving from symbol to symbol,
mantra to mantra, in your own time.
The Srimad Devi Bhagawatam states that this
practice saves the practitioner from demons and
ghosts. What are these demonical entities but the
negative forces within ourselves? During meditation,
when the subconscious mind comes to the surface,
suppressed samskaras disturb the concentration. I
have found, however, that the practice of bhuta
shuddhi makes the mind completely tranquil and free
from these forces. Even afterwards the inner
personality is not affected by the oncoming daily
problems.
During the practice period you must be on guard
against the mind and emotions. It is of utmost
importance to control these powerful forces. By
averting the mind, you can develop spontaneous,
intense and sustained concentration on Devi and
Guru. The last Monday in the month is a special day
for Shiva worship. Without knowing this, I suddenly
had an urge to wear rudraksha and chant the name of
Shiva. Such things occur when the mind becomes
open to subtle vibrations.
In fact, subtle awareness becomes so strong that even
sattvic living seems gross. I found that by the third
week my sleep needs decreased to between two and
four hours nightly. Plain vegetarian food seemed as
gross as meat, and desire to eat that kind of food went
completely. My 'appetite remained the same, but by
the fourth week the mental appetite decreased. Eating
normal food after the end of the practice pulled my
awareness back down to earth. The Srimad Devi
Bhagawatam claims that through this vrata 'brutal
desires' cease and the animal nature is destroyed.
Rather, I experienced a refinement in the awareness
of mundane reality and an increased awareness of the
subtle existence within this physical reality.
Our normal range of experience is limited to
sensorial perception but it is not the full extent of our
experiential capacity. This physical body is the
instrument through which we can develop higher
understanding, but as long as we are attuned to the
lower frequencies, our experiences also will be of a
low quality. In order to attain elevated awareness,
every level of our awareness has to undergo a
transformation. Therefore bhuta shuddhi is most
important because transformation has to begin from
the basic elemental structure. We have to become
completely empty internally, like an empty vessel in
water, then, what is outside is also within. Similarly,
by removing the individual elements inside ourselves,
our experience will be of the higher cosmic forces of
energy and consciousness, prana and chitta, Shiva
and Shakti.

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