the 5 Universal Components of Life
Tibetan Medicine, one finds both Asian systems of these famous "five
in which they apear primarily as the 5 fundamental components of all
relative phenomena, corresponding to what, on one level, we would
currently call matter, bonding, thermodynamics,
kinesis and space.
in which they appear in a more dynamic sense, corresponding to four
general phases of all life cycles and an underlying
ground state, i.e. initial growth, maturation,
decomposition and resorption into the
whole, that is taking place on all sorts of levels and over
all sorts of timescales, from the molecular right up to the duration
of a human life.
two systems are not contradictory but complementary. Both are employed
extensively in Tibetan medicine. Pulse palpation, for instance, is
very much concerned with attuning to the immediate state of the body
and so uses the dynamic form of the elements. The pharmaceutical theory
of TTM however is more concerned with the more constant therapeutic
properties of its materia medica, and hence resorts more to the compositional
aspects of the 5 elements.
Indian System of the Elements
The Buddha's teachings, 2,500 years
ago, contributed to an already vigorous debate concerning the nature
of matter, on its molecular level. The five elements, as they appear
in Buddhism, are five universal components of all things animal, vegetable
or mineral. They are each present in all material realities and one
must be careful not to be misled by their simple names. The element
'fire' (see below) is really the energy present in a reality (be that
energy latent or actually in the process of being released). Thus
the 'fire' element is present in ice, in cold rock and so forth. It
is obviously not physical fire but a metaphor for we we call today
'energy'. Actual fire is, of course, the vivid example of energy being
released. Likewise, 'earth', 'water' and 'wind', as we experience
them in everyday life, are metaphors of what those elements represent
on a more subtle level.
element. MATTER This is the material
body of a situation. It is the ground state, the basis. Its qualities
are stability, firmness, resistance, heaviness and slowness. On a
non-universal level, and more specifically in the body, the earth
element is most apparent as the flesh and bones of the bodily frame
and its organs, which constitute the basis for life.
element. BONDS/RELATIONS/FLUIDITY Matter
would just collapse were not all of its components held in relation
with each other by all sorts of forces. The water element connects
things, severally, and, by the very nature of the connections, enable
flow and change and the 'elasticity' of coming closer and drawing
apart. In the body, the water element is most obviously manifest as
the bodily fluids ensuring the maintenance and correct functioning.
FIRE element. ENERGY,
latent or manifest Each
situation has its potential. There are also times when ts potential
is being released: time of change when the old state is consumed and
a new one created. In the human body, the fire element is most manifest
in the process of nourishment, in which foodstuffs are transformed
into the energy needed by the body and, in turn, this energy is used
to enable body and mind to function properly.
element. MOVEMENT All
matter is in movement. Life is a constant flux and each situation
has its own dynamics and forces. In the human body, the wind element
is most manifest as the respiratory system and as the various intentional
and unintentional movements of the body.
element. Unlike the other
elements, which are in constant interaction, increase and decrease,
space is simply the constant backdrop of dimension which enables all
the others to exists and operate. In the human body, it is the particularly
linked to the inner cavities and bodily orifices.
Although not disposing of our present-day
means of investigation to confirm their theories, the sages of ancient
India believed the universe to be - on a molecular level - a vast
sea of matter, energy, movement and bonding. This ever-changing field
appears - on a gross level - as all the trees, rocks, ocean and living
beings we perceive. A human body is a highly-complex manifestation
of the five elements, just as the universe in which that body moves
is an immensely complex manifestation of the five elements.
When imbalance of the elements in
the body gives rise to sickness, balance can be restored by drawing
upon the elemental resources of the world around it, by using plants,
minerals and so forth which are known to increase or decrease one
or more of the elements. Furthermore, pragmatic experience has revealed
the short and long term effects of the various materia medica
on the various orans of the body and specific ailments. See section
Chinese System of the Elements
The names are the similar to those
of the system above, except that metal replaces space and wood is
the name for wind.
element. INITIAL APPEARANCE AND
GROWTH Wood is used here in the
sense of the tender green shoots of spring, denoting the appearance
of the new. What at first starts as a few signs of a new reality gradually
takes shape and strength, like branches growing or buds appearing
out of the earth. This is closely related to the WIND element above,
wind being the vector of change. On a constant level within the human
metabolism, the circulation (represented by the wind element) of oxygen,
blood and other bodily fluids brings a constant renewal of the system.
It is particularly connected with the working of the liver and the
gall-bladder. Major changes - such as conception, puberty, menopause
etc. - are heralded by changes in this element.
element. ACHIEVING FULLNESS This
is very similar to the fire element as explained above,
As the Chinese system deals more with the dynamic aspect of this element,
here it is more concerned with the release of potential and the coming
to fullnes of a situation. To use the analogy of summer and harvests
ripening, the crops reach maturity and, by the same token, create
the seeds of future realities. In the human body the fire element
is highly related to the metabolic process, to the heart and the small
element. DISAGGREGATION & DECAY This
is the destructive (one can also see it as regenerative) phase of
the cycle. Having reached fullness, a situation deteriorates, its
constituent elements gradually fall apart and take other directions,
become parts of other things. This pule is, of course, typified by
Autumn. In the body, it is associated with the lungs and the large
element. CLEANSING, DESTRUCTION & POOL
OF POTENTIAL Typified by winter, this
is the latent stage of the cycle, in which things decompose and then
lie dormant as the various constituents of what will manifest in the
spring. In the body, this element is related to the kidneys and the
element. THE BASIS, THE BACKDROP In
the parade of the seasons, the earth element occurs four times, i.e.
in between the other seasons. We can interpret this as indicating
a basic state of affairs, which can be glimpsed when the more dramatic
phases of the cycle are not dominant.
There is a natural order in these
elements and there are natural affinities and conflicts between them.
It is obvious that great release of energy will perturb the dormant
state of a latent potential. Thus fire is the 'enemy' of water. That
latent state of potential is the very source of what will happen as
new realities take shape. Thus water is the 'mother' of wood. Four
main types of relationship are described: mother, child, enemy and
friend, represented in the table below: