The Five Elements

The five elements symbolize either obstacles or help to reach a state of Divine Presence.

In the primal state, the five elements foster one another in harmonious union and are manifested in action as the five virtues of benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom and truthfulness. In the conditioned state, the five elements are imbalanced and damage each other; this manifests in action as the five rebels of joy, anger, sadness, happiness and desire. -- Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master)

The primals state refers to the presence of the Higher Self. The conditioned state refers to the state when the primal spirit is absent and one lives one`s life from one`s lower self.

The five meditation Buddhas, symbolizing five syllables;
tools to awaken the original spirit

The exoteric five elements are as commonly explained. The esoteric five symbolic elements are the five syllables, the five Buddhas. -- Kukai (9th c. Founder of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism)

Eating a manfruit enables one to live for a very long time. This refers to a state of prolonged presence of the Original Spirit or Higher Self, rather then prolonged life of the physical body. The thirty manfruit symbolize methods to reach this state. In the passage where the garden god describes the five elements meeting manfruit, the five elements manifest as the five rebels, symbolizing five different emotions as describes in the quote from Liu Yiming above. This means that the state of Divine Presence cannot come into being if one experiences these emotions.

The heart must be frequently swept,
The dust of emotions removed,
Lest the Buddha be trapped in the pit.
-- Journey to the West Ch 50

More specifically, presence cannot come into being if one attaches one`s identity to these emotions. There is a difference between feeling I am angry, and feeling there is an emotion of anger inside of me. When the Higher Self is present, it observes and is separate from the lower self. In this state one`s identity is in the Higher Self while the lower self may still experience certain emotions. To reach this state, however, one needs to create an empty space within, by stopping the endless churning of thoughts in one`s mind, created by these emotions. By focussing one`s attention on the present moment and not listening to these thoughts, one can create a separation between 'I' and these thoughts and emotions, through which one`s Higher Self can come into being.

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