The Elements are SMiLE's greatest mystery. It is known that they were to represent the four primeval elements - earth, air, fire and water. It is also known that they were to form a suite of some sort.
And what are the four primary elements?
They are the Solid Element, the Fluid Element, the Heating Element, the Vibrating Element....
The (solid, fluid, heating or vibrating) element may be subjective, or it may be objective....
Now, whether it be the subjective element, or whether it be the objective element: they are both only the element. One should understand according to reality and true wisdom:---
This does not belong to me; this am I not;
this is not my Ego.
~The Word of the Buddha, A Buddhist Bible, (pg. 24)
The Buddha said:
You should think of the four elements of which the body is composed. Each of them has its own name, and there is no such thing there known as ego. As there is really no ego, it is like unto a mirage.
~from The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters, Zen For Americans, (pg. 13)
A sutra says, "It is only a group of elements which come together to make this body." When it arises, only these elements arise. When it ceases, only these elements cease. But when these elements arise, do not say, "I am arising," and when they cease, do not say, "I am ceasing."
The Elements represent Brian Wilson's loss of ego.
"When we are no longer identified with the idea of ourselves, the entire relationship between subject and object, knower and known, undergoes a sudden and revolutionary change....it becomes vividly clear that in concrete fact I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware."~Alan Watts, The Way Of Zen, (pg. 120)
"True humor is, indeed, laughter at one's Self--at the Divine Comedy, the fabulous deception, whereby one comes to imagine that a creature in existence is not also of existence, that what man is is not also what everything is."~Alan Watts, The Book, (pg. 156)
The Elements also represent, through the loss of ego, a profound connection to all things, everything.
"Smile was going to be the culmination of all of Brian's intellectual occupations; and he was really into the elements. He ran up to Big Sur for a week, just 'cause he wanted to get into that, up to the mountains, into the snow, down to the beach(?), out to the pool, out at night, running around, to water fountains, to a lot of water, the sky, the whole thing was this fantastic amount of awareness of his surroundings. So the obvious thing was to do something that would cover the physical surroundings."
~David Anderle in Crawdaddy!(LLVS, pg. 230)
"...the Buddhist God is not above us, nor below us, but right in the midst of us; and if we want to see him face to face, we are able to find him in the lilies of the field, in the fowls of the air, in the murmuring mountain streams; we can trace his footsteps in the sea, we can follow him as he rides upon the storm; we can meet him in the bush; indeed, wheresoever we may turn, we are sure to be greated by the smiling countenance of the author of this universe."
~Soyen Shaku, Zen For Americans, (pg. 48)
"From this it might seem that Zen can be defined as the unity of man and the universe, as the rhythm of the mind with changing forms, as a state of 'One-ness' in which all distinctions of 'I' and 'not-I', knower and known, seer and seen, are set aside. And yet master Tao-wu said 'Even One-ness when held on to is wide of the mark.'" ~Alan Watts, The Spirit of Zen, (pg.121)
This is because Zen is ungraspable. It cannot be expressed in words. There is always something that escapes definition. It can only be known to those who experience it.
"I just always felt Brian was in touch with the cosmos."
"Taking it all in all, Zen is emphatically a matter of personal experience; if anything can be called radically empirical, it is Zen." ~D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction To Zen Buddhism, (pg. 132)
"Zen is a way of living (not a theory) through which people experience themselves, not as separate beings, but as one with the whole universe, of which every individual is a unique expression." ~Alan Watts from the liner notes of the LP Music For Zen Meditation, on Verve, 1965
~ David Anderle
These shapes, representing the Universe,
can be found on the cover of the SMiLE album.
In my view, the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) are represented on SMiLE by "Vega-Tables," "Wind Chimes," "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" AKA "Mrs. O'Leary's Fire," and "I Love To Say Da Da" (incorporating the "Water Chant.")
"We were aware, he made us aware, of what fire was going to be, and what water was going to be; we had some idea of air. That was where it stopped. None of us had any ideas as to how it was going to tie together, except that it appeared to us to be an opera. And the story of the fire part I guess is pretty well known by now."~David Anderle(LLVS pg.230)
"Vega-Tables," "Wind Chimes," and "The Elements" are among the twelve tracks listed on the handwritten note furnished to Capitol Records. As "Vega-Tables" and "Wind Chimes" are listed separately, "The Elements" refers only to the "Fire" and "Water" sections.
The SMiLE booklet features full size photos of the Beach Boys boating on water and standing on a fire escape. SMiLE was conceived and based on the relationship of these two elements (rudiments) vis a vis Brian Wilson's second and third LSD trip experiences. "Two-step to lamps light."
"I took LSD, a full dose of LSD, and later, another time, I took a smaller dose. And I learned a lot of things, like patience, understanding..."~Brian Wilson to Tom Nolan(LLVS pg.167)
Brian's religious awareness shifted from a Western understanding to an Eastern one, from understanding only part of the picture to understanding the bigger picture. His enlightened third trip experience took place on a beach, in the morning, with the sun rising over the American continent (destined to set across the Pacific.) The sun was very red that day perhaps reminding Brian of fire (the "Good Vibrations" promo film featured a sun-like "red rubber ball" and a red swirling fire station light connecting the red sun to the fire experience.) The fiery red sunrise was opposite the cool blue ocean water and perhaps Brian recognized the necessity and perfection of the fire/water relationship; all of the opposites harmoniously reconciled. Brian's "fire" trip belonged to the past while his "water" trip took place in the present, the now (the "Water Chant" contains a "now, now, now" vocal part.)
"I mean the ocean is yesterday--that's where the waves are coming from, from the past. The shore is tomorrow--where the waves are going to, where they die. Where they meet is where it gets rough, but's where I want to be, riding the now."~Brian Wilson(LLVS pg.93)
"Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (Fire) is a Western reference from the past, and "Love To Say Da Da" (Water) is a hip, now, Eastern reference. The two elements form "The Elements."
This website contends that SMiLE was envisioned during Brian Wilson's enlightened third LSD trip. The past/present, West/East dynamics of that trip's Fire/Water elemental experience are in evidence throughout SMiLE.
"As waves come with water and flames with fire,
so the universal waves with us."
SMILEY SMILE's elemental "symphony," "Fall Breaks And Back To Winter," may add credence to the two element idea as its title only mentions two of the four seasons. Its bird based subtitle, the "W.Woodpecker Symphony," may be kin to some rumored studio takes of "Love To Say Da Da" which appear to contain some bird-like noises.