Material nature consists of eight elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego..
Prakriti - Material Nature
In the seventh chapter of Bhagavad-gita [7.6], Lord Krishna says that all created beings have their origin in two natures: the material and the spiritual; and that He is the source of both natures [Bg. 7.6].
Prakriti, material nature, is actually threefold. Nature consists of a superior energy [para], an inferior energy [apara], and a marginal energy. The superior energy manifests the spiritual realm. The inferior energy [known as "nature" by scientists] manifests this material world. And the marginal energy, also spiritual by constitution, comprises the infinitesimal sparks of consciousness known as jivas; that is, all living beings. When the jivas choose to associate with matter and identify with the inferior energy, they manipulate it for sense enjoyment and thus the entire world functions.
Material nature consists of eight elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego. These are known as Krishna's "separated material energies" [Bg. 7.4]. Another classification of the elements of the material world includes the five gross elements [earth, water, fire, air and ether], the three subtle elements [mind, intelligence and false ego], the ten senses [five for working: hands, legs, stomach, rectum and genitals; and five for acquiring knowledge: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin], the five sense objects [form, taste, smell, sound and touch], and consciousness. These twenty-four elements constitute the field of activity for the living entities.
The material body of the jiva is also called the field of activity. It is a miniature universe comprised of the twenty-four universal elements. Though covered by gross and subtle material elements, the soul retains in a dormant state its individuality as the eternal servitor of the Lord. The pure soul in the material world desires to exploit material nature, and the false ego is the identification of the self as separate from Krishna.
Material nature is endowed with the three qualities or modes [gunas]: goodness, passion and ignorance. When these three qualities combine and permutate, they create many varieties of consciousness, just as the combinations of the primary colors red, yellow and blue create many colors. Conditioned by the three modes, the living entity adheres to a particular type of faith, prefers certain kinds of food, and enjoys his own type of understanding, determination, happiness and knowledge. Bhagavad-gita [4.13] says that one's tendency towards a particular type of work is determined by the modes of material nature. Generally, the mode of goodness conditions one to happiness; passion, to fruition action; and ignorance, to madness. All three modes bind one to the cycle of repeated births and deaths. "This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome," Krishna says. "But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it" [Bg. 7.14].
TWO TYPES OF PRAKRITI
1. the material nature -- [jada-prakriti]
2. the living entity -- [jiva-prakriti]
According to Bhagavad-gita, both the living entity as well as the material nature are explained as prakriti, or the energy of the Lord. The difference is that one of the two, the jiva-prakriti, is conscious whereas the other one, jada-prakriti is unconscious and composed of inert matter. Therefore the jiva-prakriti is called the superior energy of the Lord because of the jiva, or living entity, has consciousness which is similar to the Lord's. However, one should not wrongly conclude, that the limited consciousness of living entities is equal to the all-pervading Supreme consciousness of the Lord.
[see also: two types of consciousness]
Jada-prakriti or material nature, is the inferior energy of the Supreme Lord, because it is composed of inert matter and analyzed in Shankya to be of 24 material elements. This inferior and superior energies is clearly mentioned in Bhagavad-gita [7.4-5] "This inferior energy comprised of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego--altogether these eight elements comprise My separated material energies." "Besides this inferior nature, there is a superior nature of Mine, which are all the living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe."
It is clearly mentioned that living entities belong to the superior nature (or energy) of the Supreme Lord. The inferior energy is matter manifested in different gross and subtle elements, namely earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego. Both forms of material nature, namely gross (earth, etc.) and subtle (mind, etc.), are products of the inferior energy. The living entities, however, who are exploiting these inferior energies for different purposes, are the superior energy of the Supreme Lord, and it is due to this energy that the entire material world functions. The cosmic manifestation has no power to act unless it is moved by the superior energy, the living entity. Therefore everything that takes place in this material creation is due to the combination of the superior energy with the inferior nature, or spirit and matter.
Material nature is the separated energy of the Lord, and similarly the living entities are also the energy of the Supreme Lord, but they are not separated. They are eternally related to the Lord as his spiritual part and parcels.