The Five Elements in Tibetan
In the Tibetan tradition the elements are five: space, wind,
fire, water and earth. All phenomenas, both internal and external,
on the subtle or gross level, their formation, destruction and
existence depend on them. Our own body consists of numberless
particles formed by these elements.
You should not think that the
five elements are like atoms or particles; they are rather
principles or forces.
For example: earth correspond to
mass/extension, water to fluidity, fire to temperature and wind to
movement; space allow other elements to exist and to interact.
Tibetan tradition there are different systems that explain the
elements: according to medicine, to astrology (in particular to the
Kalachakra Astrology), to Tantra and so on. Apparently between these
systems there are little differences but, if we look carefully, we
can see that, at a deeper level, the explanation is the
The elements characteristic shows also their function:
earth gives solidity, weight and mass; water gives fluidity and
cohesion (the power of the water is to keep things together, like
when you mix water with flour); wind is movement; every movement
depends on the wind element; fire is the temperature, what ripens;
and, lastly, space allows other elements to interact, grow and
When the five elements - the five energies- are in
harmony there is health, development, growth; when they are out of
balance the result is sickness and destruction. This is true at
microcosmic level, which means our body, and also at macrocosmic
level. A serious disharmony between the elements of our planet
causes flood, earthquakes, fires and so on.
The beginning and
the end of the universe itself, and of our planet, depend on the
five elements’ harmony or disharmony. Our body grows and ripens
until the five energies co-operate. Death is caused by the
dissolution of the elements: they stop to co-operate and then
Birth and death are the most extreme examples; there
are also less serious imbalances that we experience every day.
For example: the wind element, called "wind humour" in
Tibetan medicine (Tib. Lung), usually resides in the middle part of
the body, level with the hips. If, due to an imbalance, it abandons
its "home" and, according to its nature, flows upwards we experience
headache, fears, anxiety.
If you had been in Tibet or Nepal, or
if you have just seen pictures of these countries, you have surely
noticed that Tibetans hang everywhere flags of five colours: white,
red, blue, yellow and green (the colours of the elements). The
purpose of these flags is to re-equilibrate and harmonise the five
elements: for example, for the Dalai Lama long life they would hang
green flags, because he is born in a wind element’s
Elements are influenced by many factors like climate,
season or even the time of the day.
Spring, for example has a
strong influence on the "phlegm humour"; because of that in this
season we often feel tired, sleepy and a little weak.
should not feel confused if before I was speaking about elements and
now I am speaking about humours; in fact they are the same thing. In
Tibetan medicine we mostly speak about humours: "wind humour"
correspond to the wind element; "bile humour" to fire and "phlegm
humour" to earth and water.
Illness manifests due to an
imbalance of the humours and the duty of the Tibetan doctor is to
bring them again to harmony.
If the wind becomes too strong, the
doctor will intervene to control it; if it becomes weak he will give
medicine to make it stronger and so on.
I took as an example
the wind humour because I know very well Italian people (but I think
it is the same in all the advanced countries): in Italy life is
becoming very complicated, fast and stressful. All these situations
overstimulate the wind humour and unbalance it.
I meet many
patients with wind problems so I give them the right cure to pacify
Another fact is that Italian people like sweets very much.
Sweet flavour has a cold quality and it damages the digestive fire
and weakens the kidneys. In that case I have to give medicines that
strengthens the kidneys and increase the digestive fire.
the doctor prescribes medicines he has to take into consideration
also the daily cycle of the humours.
Wind element tends to
manifest in the morning, so the medicines to control wind are given
in the morning or in the evening.
Bile imbalances tend to
manifest during the day, so the medicine for bile problems are
usually given at midday but also at midnight. Medicines for
controlling phlegm problems are given in the morning and
Before we spoke about the "Four Tantra", that is
still the fundamental text in Tibetan medicine. This text is divided
in four parts, the first one is called the "Root Tantra". The Root
Tantra explains that the primary causes of illness are the three
mental poisons; attachment, hatred and ignorance (or, in other
words, attraction, repulsion and inertia) which are the mental
aspects of the elements. Attachment corresponds to the wind humour,
hatred to bile and ignorance to phlegm.
One single humour, or two
or three humours together, can be the cause of a disease.
respect we have seven groups of diseases.
Another way to
classify sicknesses, in Tibetan medicine, is to divide them in four
- Temporary diseases, which do not require any treatment. Of
course if you take medicines you can recover faster.
- Diseases caused by spirits, negative energies, black magic and
so on. The only cure for these problems are special rituals
- Karmic diseases: problems caused by very negative actions done
in a previous life. They are very difficult to cure and also to
diagnose. When all treatments fail the chance is that the problem
is a karmic one; so the doctor can suggest to the patient a
special practice of purification like, for example, prostrations.
- Actual diseases: caused by the humours imbalance; this is the
normal field of a doctor.
(last revision: August