Greetings! Hope you are well. Thanks for the comment/food for thought.
I think it will be helpful for myself and for anyone else who reads this thread if we break down the paper in question, which can be found right here for those interested. I think this is very easy to misread because it is addressing something quite particular which I myself do not fully understand the history of. Nonetheless, we can assess what the author is really saying here.
Generally, textual scholars explain nāmarūpa—both in Buddhist and non-Buddhist
texts—as a designation of “individuality” or “empirical reality,” whereby nāman and
rūpa tend to be regarded as counterparts. … Interestingly, scholars of Sanskrit and Buddhism seem to regard the non-Buddhist term as self explanatory. Thus the discussions of the non-Buddhist nāmarūpa in research literature are normally brief and quite similar. The term is explained as referring either to individuality or to the “empirical world,” which is characterized by individuation.
This is an important start. The author lists a number of highly esteemed and well known Vedic scholars, all of whom understand nāmarūpa in this way relating to empirical reality and the individualization of all people and things—comprised of the thing/the form and the characteristics/appearance/etc. of it. They describe this in slightly different terms with slightly different translations or names (pun intended), which the author maps onto the sign-signified model / triangle to assess how they fit into the scheme. The author specifies:
they understand name as “naming” and assume that it always encompasses conceptualisation. … I would like to stress that these models [linguistic sign models] are not concerned with the “outside world,” but with the process of signification that makes communication possible. In this manner they turn away from the object and, so to speak, situate the sign in the subject. Furthermore, they postulate that the link between signs and their referents is an arbitrary one, established by social convention.
That is, the author is pointing to the very active, subjective, conceptual, and social aspects of these interpretations. Olalde is going to be criticizing the idea that nāmarūpa exclusively or originally was an analysis of the two-fold division of things into sign and signifier, or referent, concept (of it), and the sign denoting it. This type of analysis of language, referents, etc. is precisely the triangle model that she is using to map these various understandings onto. Spoiler: what she is going to discuss is that nāmarūpa was originally not referring to this complicated analysis of psycho-linguistic phenomenal reality, but rather referred to the already built-in phenomenological reality of things which come *“pre-packaged,” so to speak, with a (proper) name—which can often include their appearance/characteristics—and a “form” / shape. This is hardly a surprise; such detailed psycho-linguistic analyses are not characteristic of how these terms tend to be used in the ancient Brahminical / Vedic hymns; rather, this understanding represents a much more philosophically advanced rendering that is not universal but, nevertheless, does appear.
That is, when the Buddha adopted the term nāmarūpa, he was not adopting a term concerned with this kind of active conceptualization and signification of referents. Rather, it was a term that just referred to things as we experience them with their characteristics. Just as a person is an individual with their own name and characteristics / form, so too are all animals and objects that are divided into their individual names and forms.
As early as the Ṛgveda, nāman comes up as “designation,” for instance in ṚV 7.103.6,16 where it is said that the frogs (maṇḍūka) bear one common name although they look different and make different sounds. In this case I would not object that maṇḍūka (frog) can be considered a sign and that it has a classificatory function. But nāman also comes up as a characteristic feature of an individual. … In the Ṛgveda the different forms or manifestations of the gods are often called nāman and gods are said to have a secret name: guhyaṃ nāma.
As we see here, what the author means by “sign” (or ‘signifier,’ and hence ‘signified’) is that linguistic or conceptual component in the [social] subject(s) by which they designate and signify things, chopping up basic rūpas into their own concepts and objects with nāmas. This is how we tend to think of language nowadays: the “frog” is just a word added onto the visible impression we get of an animal that likes to hop in and out of water; it’s an arbitrary designation of some referent, accompanied by conceptualization and categorization of that thing.
modern understanding of language as defined in post-Saussurean linguistics, that is, of language as a sign system.
What the author emphasizes though, too, is that the more advanced models of this sign system are not simply the designation of an object with a word, as above. Rather:
Ferdinand de Saussure rejects the idea that a sign links a word with an object. Instead, he argues that the linguistic sign […] is based on an association made by the mind between two very different things, but which are both mental and in the subject: an acoustic image is associated with a concept.
This brings us back to the author’s point in the beginning about some explanations of nāmarūpa: they assume this active process of conceptualization to be essential. Rather than understanding nāma even as the mere designation of an object with a name / linguistic sign, they understand nāma in a more complex way that encompasses the conceptual division of the world in the (social) consciousness of the individuals. This is more what we Buddhists would call papañca, specifically when concerned with the process of conceiving an “I” and building up things that are dear or hated to us, which sparks social conflict and internal turmoil.
The author continues to demonstrate that these terms do not, in the early Brahminical literature, imply this kind of mutual sign-signifier conceptualization relationship, and are more overlapping characteristics:
nāman and rūpa actually overlap and nothing indicates that they are somehow dependent on each other. Moreover, in ŚB 11.2.3 rūpa is said to be greater (jyāyas) than nāman, for all that has a name has a rūpa but not all that has a rūpa has a name.
The author discusses how nāma is not connected to the mind in the BAU—as we would expect if it was talking about conceptualization and building mind-objects—but rather to vāc (speech) and the designation of things. Rūpa is associated to the eye for visible forms / the appearance of things. On the contrary:
… in ŚB 126.96.36.1997 it is explicitly said that rūpa is mind (mano vai rūpam), and nāman is speech
(vāg vai nāma), which suggests that, if at all, it is rūpa and not nāman, which gets closer
to a “mental image.”
Here we continue to see what the author is pushing back against: the idea that nāma is a kind of mental, conceptual image that separates objects or referents into things on the part of the subject. She continues elaborating on this to demonstrate why some people may have come to this conclusion:
The fact that nāmarūpa appears several times in cosmogonic narratives has led some authors to conclude that, according to the Upaniṣads, creation consisted of naming, that is, of differentiation and conceptualization by means of nāmarūpa.
Olalde cites Reat (1987) and Hamilton (1996) for two examples of this kind of argument. In both the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, the unmanifest/undifferentiated world (brahman) is differentiated via nāma and rūpa for all the vast manifest things we now see today, including ourselves and the objects around us. What is important here is, again, the author is arguing against using this as an argument that, in these pre-Buddhist works, nāma refers to an active, mental conceptualization and vision of the things into their linguistic categories with sign designations and conceptual frameworks overlayed onto them. This is rejected, and the author states that things are implied as already having their own nāma and rūpa as the final result of the creation and vision of the universe into all the different things.
The BAU and ŚB—two of the most relevant pre-Buddhist texts for understanding the Buddha—still use nāmarūpa to refer to the individual separation of the phenomenal world, not just people. In fact, humans come several steps before the final nāmarūpa in the BAU. She then quotes a passage from the ChU which specifically states that nāma is a designation of the rūpa of things, and concludes:
In these cosmogonic narratives nāman is most likely to be taken as a designation and rūpa as the form or appearance of things and living beings.
The author says that this can indeed mesh to a degree with the linguistic sign model, but it may need to be described slightly differently in order to map onto the triangle according to the author’s preferences. She then discusses the soteriological implications of nāmarūpa as the merging of individual things/beings into the one puruṣa without any identity—a kind of non-dual true reality.
The conclusion, then, is the following:
If we are interested on the processes of conceptualisation that take place in the subject, nāmarūpa can be compatible with the linguistic sign. But if we focus on the object, nāmarūpa cannot be understood as a sign, because nāman and rūpa are actually part of the object.
That is, Olalde says there are two ways of relating to nāmarūpa in pre-Buddhist literature that could be helpful in understanding nāmarūpa in a Buddhist context and in clarifying some misunderstandings about pre-Buddhist literature
Okay! That out of the way, we have an idea of this article and are more prepared to address the matter at hand. There are a couple of things to note:
- The author does not mention, nor show awareness of, the explicit definition of the Buddha in DN 15 where nāma plays the role of adhivacana (designation), and rūpa as paṭigha (resistance).
- The author also does not discuss the many uses of nāmarūpa in the Pāḷi texts where it is referring to the exact same things in the ŚB, various cited Upaniṣads, etc. — namely, the entirety of the phenomenal world.
This should be unsurprising. We can recall that the author is *not setting out to define nāmarūpa * in a Buddhist context. Rather, the author is pushing back on a particular conception of an original meaning of nāmarūpa in pre-Buddhist literature related to modern linguistic sign theory and active/subjective conceptualization that divides this reality into a kind of conceptual mental web.
Personally, I would say that even in the early suttas, there is not strong evidence for the idea that nāmarūpa refers to a kind of subjective, conceptual division of the empirical world in our minds with linguistic designations and representative signs. Rather, just as the term tends to be used in the aforementioned Upaniṣads and Brāhmaṇas, nāmarūpa refers to the already-divided phenomenological world of individual things and beings. However, the insight of the Buddha in this is that these things do not have any kind of magical power or essence in them, and he is able to point to the rather plain, un-mystified phenomenological nature of lived, cognitive experience.
He defines rūpa as the materiality and elements of all these things. It is not limited to just that which is visible, but rather the basis for alll contact (phassa) through any of the senses. He takes nāma to be the designation and recognition of this resistance / contact (paṭigha), which is comprised of a series of cognitive mental factors—such as feeling, attention, and perception. This does not seem to concern conceptual division and signs, but rather, a mere de-mystification of the phenomenological individuality we experience in the world.
Remember: this would be crucial for the people in these Brahminical traditions. For them, nāmarūpa—the manifold diversity of the empirical world—was actually an illusionary distraction from the underlying reality of true existence, Brahman, the Ātman, Consciousness, Knowing, the Unmanifest energies / svar, or what have you. The Buddha is giving a plain description of how this is a plain cognitive experience that is comprised of these various factors that make up our existence. Moreover, he is pointing to how consciousness (viññāṇa) is what makes this possible. By pointing to the phenomenological nature of lived experience, he shows how viññāṇa too cannot be mystified as some underlying reality, but is rather the sheer conditioned presence / knowing of these phenomena, and it too is bound up with them—hence proving that viññāṇa is anicca, dukkha, anatta, and to be let go of. This would be a huge deal for the Yājñavalkyan or other Upaniṣadic style thinkers who aimed for a kind of pure, underlying consciousness that was unmanifest or within All—including their individual ātman in their own personal nāmarūpa — that is, their individual being.
This is why I do not see a need to differentiate, as the author proposes could be a potential solution, between a conceptual “subject-based” nāmarūpa and an “object-based” nāmarūpa. I think that there is a clear uniformity of usage going on here—one that the texts seem to take as apparent and obvious without diving too much into the definition—in that nāmarūpa means exactly what it means—all the diverse individual things that are phenomenological and are conditioned by consciousness, and vice versa. This is more “object-oriented” in that it is just how things are. The “subject-oriented” aspect—about the adhivacana and paṭigha-samphassa, rūpasaññā, papañca, etc. consistently discussed in relation to nāmarūpa—is not a real dichotomy. Rather, this is just 1) the Buddha’s analysis of phenomenological existence when he re-defines and de-mystifies nāmarūpa, and 2) secondary cognitive proccesses that go on in relation to nāmarūpa (such as papañca), but that are not nāmarūpa in and of themselves, as some previous scholars seem to have misunderstood, perhaps.
To answer your question more directly, then, the author takes no problem with these mental factors going on in the subjective mind of the conscious person. The author is not really concerned with the Buddhist meaning at all either, really, and is simply trying to undermine misunderstandings of pre-Buddhist usage. The Buddha is the one who pointed out the cognitive, subjective aspect here, but he is not using it in the sense of subjective differentiation of things via concepts and linguistic sign systems, so it is still not the same as what the author is opposing, and is thus no threat to Olalde’s work.
Consciousness, while established / localized within one particular " chunk" of nāmarūpa (that is, the body), goes on bumping into and feeding off of the external nāmarūpa where it grows attached and abides there, thus planting itself like a seed to re-arise in a new abode in a future life. It’s nāmarūpa all the way down, both the station of consciousness and the food of consciousness in that station. Joanna Jurewicz, Richard Gombrich, and Lauren Basuch’s research supports this understanding of consciousness in early Buddhism and its relation to Vedic concepts—such as nāmarūpa—as well, including paṭiccasamuppāda. In fact, this kind of ironic double-eating—where consciousness eats nāmarūpa to assume it as an abiding and identity, and is simultaneously consumed by nāmarūpa in being dependent on the 4 āhāra, upādāna, the khandhās, etc.—is a very Vedic and Brahminical image. This is a kind of “tangle within” and a “tangle without” (see SN 7.6 or SN 1.23).
I’m sorry for the long-winded post. This is a huge topic, and there is a lot to say. The answer to your question is below the " —" mark. I just found it helpful to go through and summarize the points of the article for myself and others who read this thread so that it is not misunderstood as it easily can be.