Translating 'disorders of wind'

Bhante @sujato, what do you think of translating ‘disorders of wind’ as ‘disorders of circulation’?

The fact is that ancient people, with their many theories of humors took blood flows and circulation as “winds” within the body… :thinking:



If you “translate” the word winds into something that corresponds to modern physiology you would perhaps have to do the same for the other humors as well, bile and phlegm. In this system they are not identical with the bodily fluids of these names but rather stand for complex physiological processes. I personally prefer to keep the traditional terms (and in traditional Indic medicine they may even be described a bit different from Western medicine—I don’t know these concepts in too much detail).


Sure. The idea of translating into circulation is that it may make more sense than wind for the average reader.

Not sure about your native language, but in mine when I read the other humors I can make sense of it as in popular language people refer to these fluids and associated digestive processes when alluding to being able to endure physical and emotional hardships.

Nevertheless, wind is the element that makes the least sense.

It is not breath, it is not gases, it is most likely related to the experience of blood pulsation, circulation, and what follows when the modus operandi of those things escapes normality.



It’s similar in German. But I think the way it is explained here is still working: a “bile-induced, phlegm-induced or wind-induced disease”. Would “circulation-induced” disease really make so much more sense than a “wind-induced” one? (Most likely this wouldn’t even be true in the view of this concept; but as I already said, I’m not really familiar with the details.)

It’s just very different concepts from what we use today to describe physiology. It’s a bit similar to the concept of “earth, water, fire and air” to describe physical matter. How do you translate these terms?

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I don’t agree the case here is similar to the one of the dhatus.

The dhatus are basic or elemental aspects / properties of the physical experience one can observe and discern.

Answering your question, I translate these in line with the way Bhante @sujato translates into English.

This is because in the case of dhatus the meaning is quite straightforward , and the concept of elements is not idiomatic.

On the other hand, when we look at the list of conditions among which we find ‘disorders of wind’ we are possibly looking at concepts highly tied to the context of a primitive medicine based on humorism-like framework, possibly proto-ayurvedic.

Hence, to me the terms themselves are very idiomatic and shaped under the context of a society which understands health conditions under those lens. I am unaware of a clear link between these conditions and the basic elements / properties the dhatus are all about.



Thank you, Gabriel. I will have to think about it and will let you know when I come to a conclusion.


The four elements occur throughout the suttas. For consistency of reading, I’d prefer to read “disturbance of the wind” directly since that correlates tangibly with passages such as:

DN33:3.3.39: the meditation on universal air …

In other words the specificity of “circulation” impedes the cognitive linking of Pali-related topics since all four elements circulate according to modern science.


Do we have in the suttas equivalent disorders of the other basic elements (fire, water, earth) listed as sicknesses ? :thinking:

If we don’t then I would consider your proposed link as a not a very solid one (pun unintended). :sweat_smile:



AN10.11:3.4: There’s little disturbance from flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and reptiles.

Sun is fire. :pray:
Pests are aggregates of the four.

I was talking about the list of specific sicknesses among which ‘disorders of wind’ is found… :man_shrugging:

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Ah these?

AN6.20:5.5: Or I might stumble off a cliff, or get food poisoning, or suffer a disturbance of bile, phlegm, or piercing winds.

In the above, “piercing winds” is usefully vague, a literal hand-wave at “random health disorder”. Not sure how more specificity about circulation would change my practice or understanding?

Don’t you get numb legs when not sitting the right way for too long?

Or should not people with vascular issues balance the use of the cross legged sitting posture with other postures or seating arrangements?

To use the term 'disorders of wind doesn’t allow me to reflect on these issues while I suspect this is what the people in time of Buddha would think of under their humorist proto-ayuverdic understanding of what we now call circulatory issues, or disorders associated with circulation of blood and lymph.

But please, let’s not make this thread all about me trying to convince you or you try to convince me.

The idea here is to, as per bhante @sujato’s suggestion , to find if we can gather from other sources, including parallels, what disturbance of wind would have meant in the India of 2,500 years ago, and if that could allow for a better translation or understanding of the term.

As a translator, I want to make sure I am not giving to the reader meaningless words.

And, as a reader myself, ‘disturbance of wind’ makes no sense.

As per above, it is not about breathing, it is not about gases.

What is it about then? :man_shrugging:

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:thinking: I’d guess the modern reader might learn much from searches such as disturbances of the wind veda. One might try to condense all that into a modern reference or one might leave the mystery in order to engage that neutral feeling that might lead to the discovery and learning about ancient perspectives. Translators should follow their hearts. I’m simply pointing out that there is value in mystery. Please translate as you see fit. The coherence of singular vision across the entire scope of a translated corpus is enormously valuable!

I am a bit searching around, not coming to a clear conclusion yet.

One thing: The Western theory of “humorism” is different from Indian forms of traditional physiological theories. The Western system clearly speaks of “humors”, i.e. liquids, whereas the Indian (Ayurvedic) system does not. The three terms given as pitta, semha, and vāta in the Pali text are rather considered to be principles with complex connotations. They are three, whereas in the Western system we have four humors.

So we can’t take any conclusions from the Western to the Eastern system.

The theoretical concepts of Ayurvedic medicine are estimated to have developed at least from about the time of the Buddha onward. So what the canon refers to may well be related to the Ayurvedic system as we find today, but most likely is not identical. Things are likely to have kept evolving from that time on. Terminology at least seems to have changed, as in Ayurveda the third term is kapha, while in the canon we have semha (“phlegm”). How similar or different they are I cannot judge, as my knowledge of Sanskrit is basically zero.

The principles that these three terms represent I find not easy to pin down to a simple term that summarizes the scope of meaning in a way that can easily be understood by a modern reader, and used in a list like the one in the Girimananda sutta (AN 10.60). The easiest may be pitta which could perhaps be referred to as “metabolism”. “Phlegm” does probably just as little justice to the semha (or kapha?—how similar are they?) principle as “wind” does to the vāta principle.

The three physiological principles are related to the four dhatus (earth, water, air, fire, and “ether” as the fifth), but there is more to them than just that.

So for now I stick to the literal terms as long as I don’t really find something that makes more sense. But like you, I see that it is somehow unsatisfactory.


  • Vāta or Vata is characterized by the properties of dry, cold, light, minute, and movement. All movement in the body is due to properties of vata . Pain is the characteristic feature of deranged vata . Some of the diseases connected to unbalanced vata are flatulence, gout, rheumatism, etc. [3][4] Vata is not to be interpreted as air.[1]
  • Pitta represents metabolism;[1] It is characterized by heat, moistness, liquidity, and sharpness and sourness. Its chief quality is heat.[3] It is the energy principle which uses bile to direct digestion and enhance metabolism. Unbalanced pitta is primarily characterized by body heat or a burning sensation and redness.
  • Kapha is the watery element. It is characterized by heaviness, coldness, tenderness, softness, slowness, lubrication, and the carrier of nutrients. It is the nourishing element of the body. All soft organs are made by Kapha and it plays an important role in the perception of taste together with nourishment and lubrication.

Maybe it would also be worthwhile to have a closer look at the eighth Vinaya Khandhaka which tells a lot of stories about the doctor Jivaka and also describes diseases and treatments that he applies. I’ll go there if I find the time.


Excellent, thanks for this! :anjal:

Excellent, maybe we could ask bhante @Brahmali to share with us his understanding as well, he is working on these texts at the moment, right?


Hi Gabriel, I am not sure if I have much to add, but I do agree that it would be useful to give these terms a modern rendering that people actually can make sense of. I also agree that the Cīvara-kkhandhaka (the Chapter on Robes, Kd.8) may be a good source of information, but perhaps more so the Bhesajja-kkhandhaka (the Chapter on Medicine, Kd.6). So let’s see how these chapters can help us. I will start with vāta, “the wind humor”. In Kd.6, we find the following relevant information:

Vātābādha, “a wind disease”. The medicine used for this is oil mixed with alcohol.
Aṅgavāta, literally “wind of the limbs”, which I render as “arthritis of the hands and the feet”, in accordance with the commentarial explanation. It was treated in various ways by making the patient sweat.
Udaravātābādha, “the illness of stomach wind”, which I render as “stomach-ache”. It was treated with a salty purgative, loṇasovīraka, or with rice-porridge with various medicinal ingredients, or with garlic (in Kd.8).
Pabbavāta, “wind of the joints”, which I render as “arthritis of the joints”. It was treated by blood-letting.

That’s pretty much it regarding vāta. Although the interpretations are not entirely certain, the main emphasis seems to be on arthritis and intestinal winds. (But vātābādha remains unclear. Is it perhaps an umbrella term for a number of illnesses that were considered as related?) Does this fit with any concept in Western medicine, whether modern or ancient? @Gabriel_L and @Sabbamitta, what do you think?

As for pitta and semha, there seems to be no relevant information in the Vinaya Piṭaka. That’s a bit disappointing, actually. We may need to look at the commentaries.


Fantastic, thanks for this bhante.
It may be as well good to look at how the Chinese translators rendered these terms in their versions of Vinaya texts. Maybe @cdpatton could help us here?
Any other user here could help us as well?

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I’ve run into this a few times. Generally, the Chinese texts translate the term “wind ailment” literally. One of the old glossaries equates it with epilepsy and another entry says leprosy was considered an air ailment. :man_shrugging:


Would all the following be considered “disorders of the wind”? They all relate to circulation and/or respiration yet are treated quite differently.

  • exposure
  • shock
  • covid
  • hayfever
  • stroke
  • gout
  • asthma

Thank you for your research, Ajahn.

With what you say I could think of rendering the vāta diseases as something like “pain and inflammation”.

So we would have perhaps pitta as “illness caused by metabolic imbalance”, vāta as “pain and inflammation”, and semha as … the big question mark. According to the Ayurvedic description (of kapha however) it could have something to do with the composition and consistency of the inner bodily fluids, the minerals etc. they contain or so, the intracellular and extracellular milieu perhaps.

My Pali is certainly not developed enough to do this.

Since “arthritis” means an inflammation of joint(s), “arthitis of the joints” is a bit of a redundancy.

Hard to tell in how far those would fit into this ancient concept. Gout probably would, if we define it as I just did; but the other ones I am not sure.