Best Namarupa translation

I’ve noticed Ven. Thanissaro uses Name and Form and Ven. Bhikkhu Bhodhi uses Mentality, Materiality in their respective translation of Namarupa. I think I’ll go with the latter. Any thoughts?

Yeah I prefer “mentality and materiality” as well because it sounds more encompassing.

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Mind/Body locus or junction?

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Just keep in mind that nāma doesn’t include all mentality. Most importantly, it doesn’t include consciousness.

In a nutshell, consciousness is the presence of experience, while nāmarūpa is the content of experience. Consciousness is the knowing and nāma is the making sense of what is known.


The only other notion of it that I gathered from its usage would be “conceptualized world from the perspective of an organism”. It reads like pure poetry.:grin:

More than finding the best translation is then working out what it is pointing to in the experience. For that I would bring in additional suttas. There are many common occurrences of name-and-form, but I’ve included a few unique ones that may help you draw out some more meaning. I hope this isn’t received as just a wall of suttas. I think there are a lot of interesting nuggets here:

And what, bhikkhus, is name-and-form? Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention: this is called name. The four great elements and the form derived from the four great elements: this is called form. Thus this name and this form are together called name-and-form. - SN 12.2

It was said: ‘With consciousness as condition there is mentality-materiality.’

How that is so, Ānanda, should be understood in this way: If consciousness were not to descend into the mother’s womb, would mentality-materiality take shape in the womb?”

“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“If, after descending into the womb, consciousness were to depart, would mentality-materiality be generated into this present state of being?”

“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“If the consciousness of a young boy or girl were to be cut off, would mentality-materiality grow up, develop, and reach maturity?”

“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“Therefore, Ānanda, this is the cause, source, origin, and condition for mentality-materiality, namely, consciousness.
Therefore, Ānanda, this is the cause, source, origin, and condition for consciousness, namely, mentality-materiality.

“It is to this extent, Ānanda, that one can be born, age, and die, pass away and re-arise, to this extent that there is a pathway for designation, to this extent that there is a pathway for language, to this extent that there is a pathway for description, to this extent that there is a sphere for wisdom, to this extent that the round turns for describing this state of being, that is, when there is mentality-materiality together with consciousness. -DN 15

(For more on “pathways for language” see SN 22.62.)

What has weighed down everything?
What is most extensive?
What is the one thing that has
All under its control?”

“Name has weighed down everything;
Nothing is more extensive than name.
Name is the one thing that has
All under its control.” -SN 1.61

Bhikkhus, when one dwells contemplating gratification in things that can fetter, there is a descent of name-and-form.
“When, bhikkhus, one dwells contemplating danger in things that can fetter, there is no descent of name-and-form. -SN 12.58

Then Venerable Samiddhi went up to Venerable Sāriputta, bowed, and sat to one side. Venerable Sāriputta said to him:

“Samiddhi, based on what do thoughts [saṅkappavitakkā] arise in a person?”

“Based on name and form, sir.”

“Where do they become diversified?”

“In the elements.”

“What is their origin?”

“Contact is their origin.”

“What is their meeting place?”

“Feeling is their meeting place.”

“What is their chief?”

“Immersion is their chief.”

“What is their ruler?”

“Mindfulness is their ruler.”

“What is their overseer?”

“Wisdom is their overseer.”

“What is their core?”

“Freedom is their core.”

“What is their culmination?”

“They culminate in the deathless.” -AN 9.15

Pleasure and pain spring from contact; when contact is absent they do not occur. And on the topic of appearance and disappearance—I tell you they spring from there.”

“So where does contact in the world spring from? And possessions, too, where do they come from? When what is absent is there no possessiveness? When what disappears do contacts not strike?”

“Name and form cause contact; possessions spring from wishing; when wishing is absent there is no possessiveness; when form disappears, contacts don’t strike.”

“How to proceed so that form disappears? And how do happiness and suffering disappear? Tell me how they disappear; I think we ought to know these things.”

“Without normal perception or distorted perception; not lacking perception, nor perceiving what has disappeared. That’s how to proceed so that form disappears: for concepts of identity due to proliferation spring from perception.” -Snp 4.11

With the origination of name-and-form there is the origination of mind. With the cessation of name-and-form there is the passing away of mind. -SN 47.42

At Savatthī. “Bhikkhus, for the fool, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving, this body has thereby originated. So there is this body and external name-and-form: thus this dyad. Dependent on the dyad there is contact. There are just six sense bases, contacted through which—or through a certain one among them—the fool experiences pleasure and pain. -SN 12.19


I agree there are many “common” occurrences of name-and-form, i.e., used in a Brahmanistic manner possibly for a Brahmanistic audience. I suggest the following links for context.


I recall @Sujato suggested a corruption in SN 47.42. Since the words samudayañca atthaṅgamañca are generally used for the arising & cessation of dukkha, it seems strange they are used for the arising & cessation of the Satipatthana. Even @Thanissaro required to use multiple footnotes to explain this very short sutta. It seems SN 47.42 may be a later addition or corruption despite its final verse seeming to be a favourite for adherents of mind-only Solipsism.

What is meant by “external” name-form? How can “name” be “external”? :saluting_face:

How can “name” cause contact? Surely contact with an object occurs before the object is named?

What does the word “descent” mean? :saluting_face:

DN 15 seems to define nama-rupa differently to SN 12.15. The DN 15 definition seems to be a pure Upanishadic definition. DN 15 says: “Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which the category of physical phenomena is found… Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which the categories of mental or physical phenomena are found. Would either linguistic contact or impingement contact still be found?.. Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which name and form are found.”

If the above is namarupa, how can this namarupa “descend into a womb” and what is the connection of this “descend into a womb” with the following connected phrase: “there is a pathway for designation, to this extent that there is a pathway for language, to this extent that there is a pathway for description, to this extent that there is a sphere for wisdom, to this extent that the round turns for describing this state of being, that is, when there is mentality-materiality together with consciousness”. :saluting_face:

A wall suttas for me, rather than valuable gold or tasty KFC nuggets. :face_with_spiral_eyes:

Please feel free to correct me as I might be mistaken, but I think namarupa is literally translated as name-and-form, the Buddha’s brilliant re-definition of an already existing term.

Rupa: The material side of experience; what is experienced in terms of objects, sounds, odors, etc. (materiality)
Nama: The functions of the mind (apart from consciousness). Nama consists of five factors: feeling, perception, intention, contact and attention. In conjunction, mental concepts are formed. (mentality)
Vinnana (consciousness) is the mind’s ability of being conscious of something. (also mentality)

Vinnana is also one of the five aggregates of clinging and would also fall under mentality even though vinnana is distinctively separate from namarupa because namarupa and vinnana are mutually dependent on each other. So it follows that the mentality of nama and the mentality of vinnana are mutually dependent on each other. But it makes some sense because the mentality of nama feeds vinnana’s mentality.

So in my mind, name and form is a better term because it’s strictly defining what namarupa is aside from vinnana without commingling them.

I find each of your questions very interesting. Not what came to my mind when I was reading those suttas, but that is what makes Dhamma discussions so fascinating. I hope you have a lovely weekend, CC. :slightly_smiling_face:

I think this very nicely supports Bhikkhu Buddhadasa’s interpretation that dependent origination can only further manifest if there is no proper Mindfulness at the time of contact.

@JoeL people who follow traditional buddhism seem to prefer the translation “name” rather than “mind” because they focus on its purpose to conceptualize and name things. People who follow EBT tend to like the translation “Mind” or “Mentality”. Although this isn’t true for everyone as Ven. Thanissaro tends to lean EBT and Bhikkhu Bodhi tends to lean traditonal.

Personally I think the real takeaway for Nama is attention, and that is where one can have Proper Attention or Improper Attention, which would determine the outcome of contact leading to suffering.

Notice Nama has phasa (contact), intention (cetana) and manasikara (attention)

Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention — these are called mentality.

  • Samma ditthi sutta

A bad intention born of ignorance (5 hindrances) will lead to improper attention with contact.

A good intention born of sati (mindfulness aka remembering dhamma aka no 5 hindrances) will lead to proper attention with contact.

One is said to enter the path when they have proper attention at the time of hearing the dhamma, which means remembering the dhamma (sati) seems to be a prequisite for proper attention.

Lack of mindfulness and clear comprehension, too, I say, has a nutriment; it is not without nutriment. And what is the nutriment for lack of mindfulness and clear comprehension? It should be said: careless attention. Careless attention, too, I say, has a nutriment; it is not without nutriment. And what is the nutriment for careless attention? It should be said: lack of faith. Lack of faith, too, I say, has a nutriment; it is not without nutriment. And what is the nutriment for lack of faith? It should be said: not hearing the good Dhamma.

Hearing/remembering the true dhamma must come before proper attention, which leads to sati-sampajanna which leads to sense restraint which leads to overcoming the 5 hindrances which prevents ignorance and the 3 poisons from manifesting. Hence recollecting the triple gem is one of the practices outlined in the suttas. (AN 11.13)

"Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’ At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Dhamma, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Dhamma. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.


Hi Joel. My conclusions from my attempts at study are:

  1. The term ‘namarupa’ first appeared in what is called the Chandogya Upanishad. The Chandogya Upanishad is included in the Samaveda. Given the Buddha was aware of the Samaveda (as one of the Three Veda), it seems highly probable the Buddha was aware of at least the early parts of the Chandogya Upanishad or what became the Chandogya Upanishad. In the Chandogya Upanishad, the term ‘namarupa’ is not emphasized by the literal ‘name-form’. Instead, in the Chandogya Upanishad, namarupa refers to the Great Deity exercising their will to multiply the basic three deities (elements) of earth, fire & water into a multitude of names & forms. The primitiveness of the Chandogya Upanishad here, with its focus on ‘deities’, gives the impression to me (despite the different views of noted scholars) the Chandogya Upanishad is the oldest Upanishad.

  2. In the Suttas, the most common description/definition of namarupa found in SN 12.2, MN 9, etc, similar to the Chandogya Upanishad, also includes “the will” or “intention/volition” (“cetanā”). Therefore, my personal impression is SN 12.2 represents the original teaching of the Buddha and the use of namarupa is a redefinition of the deity based doctrine in the Chandogya Upanishad. In short, the definition found in SN 12.2 seems closer to “mentality” than to “name”. The “rupa” is definitely closer to “materiality” than to “visual form”, per the definitions of “rupa” found in suttas such as MN 62, SN 22.79 and AN 9.15.

  3. The other contender for the earliest Upanishad containing the term ‘namarupa’ is the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, namarupa has the generic & modern meaning of ‘name-form’ or naming the primal undifferentiated sense experience. Unlike the more primitive deity focused Vedic sounding Chandogya Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad emphasizes the modern Hindu notion of the Universal Atman that produces name-form, which seems a doctrine not discussed & debated in the suttas by Brahmins with the Buddha. Therefore, at least for me (but not for the mainstream establishment scholars), the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad was composed after the Buddha.

  4. Suttas such as DN 15, which is not mentioned in the later commentary called the Patisambhidamagga or mentioned in the Abhidhamma (which refer to SN 12.2 definitions), seem to include a definition of namarupa similar to the literal ‘name-form’ of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. For me, this, along with other evidence, points to DN 15 as being a later sutta, probably not spoken by the Buddha.

  5. While Bhikkhu Sujato probably does not agree with my conclusions about the two Upanishads above, Bhikkhu Sujato did write a very interesting introduction about the Digha Nikaya and how one of its purposes was for debating & converting Brahmins, here The Long Discourses: Dhamma as literature and compilation.

Therefore, in conclusion, my view is the translation of ‘mentality-materiality’ for SN 12.2, SN 12.67 & most of the SN best represents the teachings of the Buddha. Where as the translation of ‘name-form’ in suttas for Brahmins, such as DN 15, DN 11, MN 49, SN 7.6, etc, best represents these suttas. In other words, probably a single translation should not be adhered to. My impression is the current Western translators can be inflexible in their translations, such as always translating ‘dukkha’ in the same way (such as in SN 56.11 vs SN 22.59).

Also, those monks such as @Brahmali who strongly emphasize the Three-Life-Time interpretation of Dependent Origination I imagine favour the translation of ‘mentality-materiality’ because it seems obvious consciousness does not ‘descend’ or ‘rebirth’ into ‘name-form’. Where as those monks such as @ Kaṭukurunde Ñāṇananda and his unbending adherents who seem to verge on Solipsism tend to favour ‘name-form’. Interestingly, the scholar Buddhaghosa in his Visuddhimagga said ‘nama’ means ‘to bend’ or ‘to incline’, which may be supported by SN 12.38, SN 12.39 & SN 12.40 (in combination) and which also emphasizes the role of ‘the will’ (‘cetana’) & ‘attention’ (‘manasikara’) found in the definition in SN 12.2. Personally, I prefer ‘mentality-materiality’. :slightly_smiling_face:

Possibly also SN 12.38, SN 12.39 & SN 12.40 in combination.

Very good, Sir, very good. :pray:t2:

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The following is another meaning (i.e., “external objects”) of namarupa shown in SN/SA suttas (SN 12.19 = SA 294):

Pages 184-188 from The-Fundamental-teachings-of-early-buddhism_Choong-Mun-keat 2000.pdf (357.3 KB)

what about following translations

  1. Objects identified
  2. Objects named
  3. Objects understood
  4. Objects in our understanging
  5. Objects within the scope of our understanding

It occurred to me that when the Buddha says we must reach the end of the world he is essentially saying we must reach the end of namarupa. A possible translation might be “the world of the senses”