What are the four primary elements of the body?

What makes up the human body?

According to Buddhist teachings, a human being is composed of the mind and matter.

The matter is also a collection of four primary elements. They are; earth, water, fire, and the air.

To progress in meditation, one needs to reflect on these elements contemplating their actual nature. Then only one can unbind matter.

This article is on the four primary elements of the body and how to develop meditation on the primary elements.

What is the earth element?

The earth element means body parts that have the nature of hardness.

Some examples of the earth element of the body are hair, nails, tooth, skin, flesh, bones, bone marrow, etc.

Earth element gives firmness to those body parts.

What is the water element?

The water element means the body parts which have the nature of cohesiveness.

Water element gives the ability to keep things together.

For example, to mix some cement, you need the correct amount of water. Otherwise, cement particles cannot be put together.

Examples of the water element are blood, urine, tears, sweat, bile, phlegm, etc.

What is the fire element?

Fire elements represent the nature of heat.

For example, food is digested with the help of the fire element of the body. A person gets old as a result of the fire element of the body.

What is the air element?

Air element means the moving nature. Breath, winds in the belly etc. represent the air element of the body.

Apart from the above four primary elements, there is a space element, in which the primary elements are located together. Space is in the holes of the ears, nostrils, etc.

The above elements cannot exist without the support of each other. The elements are interdependent.

Why is it necessary to understand the primary elements?

All living and non-living beings and things consist of primary elements.

When you see someone, you think this is my friend, enemy, etc.

According to how you cognize the person, you start generating good or bad feelings about the person.

If you generate positive feelings, you may think “this is my friend, he has helped me a lot in difficult situations.”

Now you start to respond in a positive manner toward the friend.

It is the opposite nature of feelings that you start generating about a person whom you consider as your enemy.

You will keep on living in this delusion without understanding the reality of the so-called being.

If you observe how the body of your friend composed; it is nothing but a collection of the primary elements. The body of your enemy also composed of the same elements.

Regardless of whether you like or dislike a person, the primary elements will manifest their true nature gradually.

For instance, a boy just born in 2021 will have grey hair in 2081. He will also have poor vision or hearing by that age. No one can stop him from manifesting the characteristics of changing.

Likewise, the primary elements have the inherent nature of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness.

When we attach strands of ownership to the primary elements, we have to suffer.

One who understands the nature of the primary elements will have a steady mind at the moment of their change.

Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of primary elements to live with a happy and peaceful mind.

How to understand the primary elements?

Primary elements can be understood with the practice of contemplating the elements.

One can reflect on those elements when one sees a living or non-living thing.

Let us see how the primary elements work when we walk.

Walking is done in 4 basic steps namely; lifting, moving forward, placing the foot on the ground, and pressing on the ground.

  • Lifting foot:

When we lift the foot, we feel lightness. The dominant element here is the fire element.

The fire element makes something lighter. Also, the air element can be observed in lifting the foot.

  • Moving forward:

With the motion of the foot, the practitioner observes the air element. Pushing or moving is done by the air element.

  • Placing the foot on the ground:

As you descend foot on the ground, you feel heaviness. Heaviness is a characteristic of the water element.

  • Pressing on the ground:

Here, one feels hardness or softness which is a characteristic of the earth element.


What are the meditation techniques?

Meditation is the best method to contemplate on the primary elements of the body.

Find a quite spot and sit comfortably with closed eyes.

Mentally imagine the parts of the obvious parts of the body. If you take a tooth, try to remember its color, shape, smell, and size of the tooth.

If you touch the tooth, it is hard. However, it can break at any time.  If your tooth goes bad you have to extract it. Once someone dies, the tooth will decay and become soil.

In fact, there is no difference between the earth element manifested outside and the earth element present inside the body.

That is the true nature of the earth element manifest in the form of a tooth. Likewise, you can contemplate different body parts such as hair, skin, etc.

Is there a connection between mind and matter?

Also, there is a connection between our thoughts and the primary elements.

For example, when we get angry, we feel the nature of fire, burning inside. The fire element is prominent when one gets angry.

If we understand the connection between the mind and matter, it is easy to be in control of ourselves.


In conclusion, reflection on the primary elements helps to understand the reality of the body parts.

As a result, the meditator can remain unshaken in different phases of life such as aging, illnesses, and death. One who understands reality can live a happy life.

Photo by Adam Kring on Unsplash


Rathsara (Sara) is an attorney-at-law who holds a Diploma in Buddhist Studies in ITBMU. She has engaged in community service in Sri Lanka and the United States helping many individuals. She is interested in reading, writing, and researching areas related to mindfulness. Inspired by spiritually developed individuals around the globe, Rathsara is keen to learn and practice mind-developing techniques. In the meantime, she would like to share her experience and knowledge for the well-being of others.

Recent Posts