The Four Tattva (四塔)

The four tattva refer to the four elements: earth, water, fire and wind. The belief of four tattva is not unique to Buddhism alone however. 

In Buddhist perspective, this material world is composed of 'four realms' or 'four majors' (四大) this includes the human beings. Our world is formed by 'cause and effect' (因缘): any matters exist when there is a cause and when the being has come into existence, it will gradually expire and disintegrate.

The characteristic of the four elements are:

Earth: it has holding power and its character is solid.

Water: it has absorbing power and its characters are moist and sticky.

Fire: it has maturing power and its character is warm.

Wind: it has growing power and its character is motion.

In Buddhist philosophy, our body is created by four elements through power of 'cause and effect'. The weakening of holding power of 'cause and effect' causes our human body to be impermanent, illusive and suffering.

Buddhist medicine systems such as Thai and Tibetan medicines make use of the characteristics, forms and functions of four elements to explain the changes in our human physiological (生理) and pathological (病理) patterns so as to device a set of clinical diagnosis, cure and illness prevention methodologies.

Let's look into each of those four elements briefly:

The 'earth' element refers to about 20 types of human body parts: hairs, teeth, finger nails, bones, internal organs etc.

The 'water' element refers to mucus, blood, sweat and any types of body liquids.

The 'fire' element related to our body can be subdivided into four types:

1, The fire uses in digestion
2. The fire uses in growing
3. The fire of life
4. The fire of body temperature

Finally, the 'wind' element can be subdivided into 6 types:

1. The downward wind controls the operations of organs below belly button.
2. The upward wind controls the operations of organs above belly button.
3. The inside stomach wind that moves up and down inside of the stomach to aid in digestion.
4. The outside stomach wind that moves across 32 places of our internal organs. This is the basic life force of our human beings.
5. The recirculating wind of our body and limbs aids in our daily activities.
6. The breathing wind (air) is the wind that goes in and out of our lungs.

In Buddhist medicine, the four elements in the nature and our body are inter-related and inter-dependent. The exercise of one 'tattva' consists elements of the other three.

Hence, illness caused by one element can also trigger a chain reaction of other elements.
As the saying goes: "When all four elements are in peace, a person is healthy and tough, when four elements become disintegrated, the person will become very sick."

A person inherited his pre-natal four elements from his parents, and  through the post-natal food consumption that a person manages to keep his four elements in balance conditions and health is hence maintained.

A person will fall sick if one of the elements became too weak or too strong. So, Buddhist medicine seeks to balance the four elements and established medicines for combined four elements and also seperate elemantal treatments.