– The Blocks of Life…
“Because all material elements are present everywhere, it is reasonable that different learned brahmanas have analyzed them in different ways. All such philosophers spoke under the shelter of this mystic potency, and thus they could say anything without contradicting the truth. When philosophers argue, “I don’t choose to analyze this particular case in the same way that you have,” it is simply My own insurmountable energies that are motivating their analytic disagreements. By interaction of My energies different opinions arise. But for those who have fixed their intelligence on the supreme consciousness or the creative energy and controlled their senses, differences of perception disappear, and consequently the very cause for argument is removed. Because subtle and gross elements mutually enter into one another, philosophers may calculate the number of basic material elements in different ways, according to their personal desire.
All subtle material elements are actually present within their gross effects; similarly, all gross elements are present within their subtle causes, since material creation takes place by progressive manifestation of elements from subtle to gross. Thus we can find all material elements within any single element. Therefore, no matter which of these thinkers is speaking, and regardless of whether in their calculations they include material elements within their previous subtle causes or else within their subsequent manifest products, We may accept their conclusions as authoritative, because a logical explanation can always be given for each of the different theories.
According to some philosophers there are seven elements, namely earth, water, fire, air and ether, along with the conscious spirit soul and the Supreme Soul, who is the basis of both the material elements and the ordinary spirit soul. According to this theory, the body, senses, life air and all material phenomena are produced from these seven elements. Other philosophers state that there are six elements—the five physical elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) and the sixth element, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That Supreme Lord, endowed with the elements that He has brought forth from Himself, creates this universe and then personally enters within it. Some philosophers propose the existence of four basic elements, of which three—fire, water and earth—emanate from the fourth, the Self. Once existing, these elements produce the cosmic manifestation, in which all material creation takes place.
Some calculate the existence of seventeen basic elements, namely the five gross elements, the five objects of perception, the five sensory organs, the mind, and the soul as the seventeenth element. According to the calculation of sixteen elements, the only difference from the previous theory is that the soul is identified with the mind. If we think in terms of five physical elements, five senses, the mind, the individual soul and the Supreme Lord, there are thirteen elements. Counting eleven, there are the soul, the gross elements and the senses. Eight gross and subtle elements plus the Supreme Lord would make nine. Thus great philosophers have analyzed the material elements in many different ways. All of their proposals are reasonable, since they are all presented with ample logic. Indeed, such philosophical brilliance is expected of the truly learned.”
(Srimad Bhagavatham, Canto 11, Chapter22
– Enumeration of the Elements of Material Creation)