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The ''Abhidharmamahāyānasūtra'', as cited in the ''Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā'', Chapter 1, verse 149—152. Translated by Karl Brunnhölzl.
See page 254: In Sanskrit and Pāli, “element”; a polysemous term with wide application in Buddhist contexts.
In epistemology, the dhātus refer to the eighteen elements through which sensory experience is produced: the six sense bases, or sense organs (indriya; viz., eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind); the six corresponding sense objects (ālambana; viz., forms, sounds, odors, tastes, tangible objects, and mental phenomena); and the six sensory consciousnesses that result from contact (sparśa) between the corresponding base and object (vijñāna; viz., visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental consciousnesses). As this list makes clear, the eighteen dhātus also subsume the twelve āyatana (sense-fields). The dhātus represent one of the three major taxonomies of dharmas found in the sūtras (along with skanda and āyatana), and represent a more primitive stage of dharma classification than the elaborate analyses found in much of the mature abhidharma literature (but cf. Dharmaskandha).
In a physical sense, dhātu is used to refer to the constituent elements of the physical world, of which four are usually recognized in Buddhist materials: earth, water, fire, and wind. Sometimes two additional constituents are added to the list: space (ākāśa) and consciousness (vijñāna).
In the ''Ratnagotravibhāga'', dhātu is synonymous with gotra, the final element that enables all beings to become buddhas.
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