Best Namarupa translation

Greetings knotty!

Yeah, the author does not dive into much detail, but you’re right.

First, the Saussurean concept of signs is essential to understanding what this paper is about, what it is for, and the scope and subsequent limitations of the study itself. If someone skips over all of that and then tries to decide what the conclusion is, they simply have not comprehended what the paper is trying to examine (very briefly at that), because it is specifically trying to see how that linguistic concept relates to particular understandings of nāmarūpa.

The passage in DN 15 covers the subjective aspect of conceptualization and signifying rūpa, literally called “designation contact” (adhivacana samphassa; I’m not sure why this word ‘designation’ is being dismissed at times? It’s mentioned in the sutta and throughout the canon). An object, such as phone for instance, is made known via a series of perceptions, feelings, its intentionality, the attention to a particular aspect of contact with it, etc. I cannot “see” pure matter, I must perceive a percetion and feel feelings in regards to it. But likewise, those perceptions, feelings, intentions, etc. correspond to particular rūpa—they are inseparable.

The paper also discusses how nāma did not mean ‘mind,’ and if anything rūpa had been used to mean that in one particular case. Nāma is, however, closely related with the aspect of a person that one recognizes. This could be a plain formal name, or carry more mystical connotations as some Upanisads used it. It was connected to ‘speech,’ though, as the author points out, rather than mind. Here again the term “adhivacana” comes up, using a verbal metaphor to refer to the perceptions and characteristics of objects (rūpa). The Buddha says that perception (a nāma factor, has language as its goal and purpose, to say we perceive X or Y and communicate; he also uses the verb sañjānāti to refer to perceiving linguistic objects and dialectal differences). [I can come back later and edit these sutta references in when I have more time]

The author is trying to make a distinction between nāmarūpa in the linguistic context and nāmarūpa elsewhere in order to evaluate how certainly one can say nāmarūpa is exclusive to the linguistic context, not to say that it is not relevant to that context. The point, to me, is to say that people cannot claim that nāmarūpa originally only meant “things designated,” but rather that that is one usage of the word that is relevant to early Buddhism, but that may oversimplify its historical usage as a Brahminical concept.

The connection between a being and its personal name is also relevant to the history of the term—both usages appear. And thus the author distinguishes between these two usages of nāma for the sake of clarity. I personally think the Buddha found a way to unite the two usages into one, as we see in DN 15 where nāmarūpa refers to the being that is conscious, but also refers to the objects that one makes contact with. As I wrote in my posts, based on some other suttas and the Brahminical goals of being freed from the entire world of nāmarūpa including one’s individual form/identity as well as the phenomenal world of distinguished objects, it seems to me that the Buddha was using that broad sense of the word where every person and every thing has its rūpa as well as nāma aspects (minus potentially formless realms which have only nāma aspects).

One of the main goals the author is trying to accomplish here is, again, relating nāmarūpa to the idea of internal conceptualization of objects, or the relationship between sign, signifier, and referent. Here, she goes on to demonstrate that the world of nāmarūpa in the Upanisads refers to all the differentiated things in that phenomenal world (including the people). It seems some authors take nāma to be a more active force whereby it was related to naming and creating concepts, and thus they connect that to the internal conceptualization about things. But what the author points out is that things in the phenomenal world already come with their nāma and rūpa, it’s not necessarily an active force of the creator or referent.

When we see an apple, that already has a color (saññā), evokes a feeling (vedanā), has particular intentionality / purpose (cetanā), and so forth. We do not create these things. And it seems the world of nāmarūpa in the Upanisads is talking about that: an apple is a nāmarūpa, for instance. This fits well into the Buddha’s usage of it imo. While I think he also talked about the conceptualization part, that’s where he would frequently connect papañca to nāmarūpa, as we thoroughly discussed in the other thread.

The Buddha did not equate papañca to nāmarūpa. Rather, nāmarūpa was said to be the source of vitakka and papañca. So the nāma of an apple (in Buddhist terms, how we recognize, designate, perceive, etc. it) is already a given. But how we conceptualize and proliferate that into more things to turn it into my apple, to make it something to crave after, etc etc. is all papañca and secondary. Just as the other concludes:

This all fits perfectly well into the Buddhist understanding of nāmarūpa both as the being and as the objects around that being. That is, all things in the differentiated phenomenal world that are used to create papañcasaññāsankhā and which the world holds dear, returning again and again.
The other way this creationist model of nāmarūpa connects to the Buddhist one in paticcasamuppāda is that, as several scholars have pointed out, the Buddha’s 12 links seem to have a bit of symmetry to certain Brahmanical and Vedic creation stories. I think it’s much more likely, personally, that it would relate to these Upanisadic ones than older Vedic ones, because those were the types of views that were prevalent among ascetics and whatnot in the time of the Buddha and to which he tended to react.

I agree that the DN 15 section is subjective. The Buddha’s teaching is phenomenological — it’s concerned with our personal conscious experience within the senses, not of ontological or metaphysical claims about the creation of the world. In a way, it’s a parody, because DO is equated with the arising of the world, but he defines the world phenomenologically. Our experience of nāmarūpa is subjective, both internally and externally, and his mention of designation-contact and resistance-contact show that interrelation I think.

Just some ideas regarding the topic. :slight_smile: The paper is not an informed overview of what nāmarūpa means in Buddhism. It is an observation of the connection between this term and certain specific conceptualizations of it from certain scholars based on the Saussurean sign model. It does certainly cover ideas from the Pāli canon, but it’s much more interested in the original Brahminic precedents for making such comparisons, which it sees both for.

Let me know your thoughts! Be well! :pray:

Much mettā


Hello helllo again

The gist is in what I said before. As for nāmarūpa, rūpa mainly refers to the physical body. This is also the most relevant meaning in the aggregate of rūpa, though not the only one, it depends a bit on context. The wider meaning of rūpa is ‘appearance’, and appearances can be things that are not material. This is why the “object” of the sense of sight (or “the eye”) is also called rūpa. Here it can be merely a color or something, not a body or even physical object. And the rūpadhātu (form realm) is not what we would call ‘physical’ either. Included in ‘appearances’ are also things that appear not to the eye but to the mind, as is rūpa in the jhāna meditations. This is why the non-returner is said to no longer have sensual desires (i.e. attachment to the body) but still has the fetter of “desire for form”, which is desire for the jhāna experiences.

I will refrain from further details for now, for two reasons:

  1. Together with Ajahn Brahmali I will give a class on samādhi later this year where the term rūpa will be discussed. I’ll wait for further discussion with Ajahn and also some more sutta study I hope to do at some point. I mean, it won’t make any pragmatic difference to samādhi or totally flip my understanding, but I might find some better ways to explain it than I have atm. Therefore, even the above summary is subject to revision! :wink:
  2. I’ve done too much typing here lately :smiley:

So let’s keep our focus on nāmarūpa rather than rūpa in isolation.

You quoted Olalde:

we are interested on [sic] processes of conceptualisation that take place in the subject

Well, to me “if we are interested”, seems to be a polite way of saying, “people can interpret it this way if they want, but I don’t”. I may be biased to read it this way. But sometimes scholars write in this noncommittal, nondivisive way and you have to read between the lines a bit.

Of course, Buddhism is all concerned about what is subjective. Dependent Arising is subjectively understood and experienced. But becuase the passage as a whole refers to subjective experience, doesn’t mean the term nāmarūpa itself can not refer to the being “having” the experience.

In DN15 the passage mentions “designation-contact” and “impingement-contact”, but the terms nāma and rūpa themselves still don’t mean these things. They are not equated, is what I’m saying. It just says, if there is the nāmakāya and there is the rūpakāya then you have these contacts. I understand it to mean, if there is the being with its immaterial aspects (nāma, or litterally the name) and body (rūpa), then there are recognition of things, and (bodily) feelings. This is how Venerable Bodhi explains it in his introduction to the translation of this sutta, saying, “it is clear that they [nāmakāya and rūpakāya] are intended in the narrower sense, as two sides of the sentient organism” (‘narrower sense’ meaning “internal” nāmarūpa in the being, not that of external objects). Venerable Bodhi’s explanation is a bit technical in language, but it is quite good reading. He’s obviously thought about it a lot.

Still, even Venerable calls the terms “designation-” and “impingement-contact” ‘peculiar’. The passage is also dense, very unique, is never explained further, and does not directly relate to any other passage that is longer then perhaps a phrase or two. The commentary is also relatively quiet, according to Bodhi. The whole direct dependency of contact on nāmarūpa is virtually unique to this passage as well. So it clearly wasn’t a very central idea to Dependent Arising, which is why for my practice I don’t worry too much about it. Pragmatically its all encapsulated in the normal six sense–contact–feeling links already, which is explained elsewhere in detail various times. But the unique and non-explanatory nature of the passage goes a long way to explaining why various interpretations have arisen over time.

Either way, Bodhi’s explanation fits the ordinary use of nāmarūpa in Dependent Arising, and surely that is the way it should be, because apart from the unique dependency of contact on nāmarūpa, the rest of the Dependent Arising chain is still quite normal and connected. In other words, the nāmarūpa in the womb is not something differerent from nāmarūpa in this designation passage.


Hi Bhante,

Will the upcoming class on samadhi be accessible via Zoom, (for those of us on far off continents :slightly_smiling_face:)?

No, I don’t think so. But it’ll be streamed on the BSWA’s youtube for sure.


Sorry for the delay in response @kaccayanagotta : there is a lot to digest here.

You discuss only half of the dynamic here. What really drives me in this sutta is the mutual conditioning (referred to only implicitly) of nāma and rūpa by way of the two types of phassa which occurs simultaneously alongside the (expressly stated) mutual conditioning of nāmarūpa and viññāṇa. And that’s what I wanted to squeeze, if possible, into one of those triangles.

At risk of being overly cautious, let me say that I am not one of those who sees uniformity in the suttapiṭaka, and so I am not so ready to adopt the standard definition of nāma (perceptions, feelings, intentionality, etc.) as the content of mentation which is only vaguely alluded to in DN 15. DN 15 is an outlier text on enough different topics that I can’t assume that’s what the author’s/authors’ vision was.

All very good points! [And coming back with sutta references would be much appreciated!] As well, in the very same DN 15, the connections drawn between the mutual conditioning of nāmarūpa and viññāṇa and the capacity for naming, verbal designation, and “wisdom” (which I take in this context as a catch-phrase for cognition, epistemic knowledge, and so on).

Yes, but, aahhh!, what a very philosophically rich (albeit rare) usage.

I know the obvious conclusion to draw from the very last factor analysis–nāmarūpapaccayā viññāṇaṃ–is that it’s just a repetition of the previous factor analysis–viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ–told in reverse: that is, that it’s pointing to rebirth. I have a theory (which I do not grasp too tightly) that it may be describing the establishment of viññāṇa in nāmarūpa as found in discourses on the four foods–or even in related discourses such as those containing some iteration of the nāmarūpassa avakkanti formula though the discourse may or may be explicitly connected to the four foods. In these contexts, the formulas do not always draw such a clear distinction between the descent of nāmarūpa (or viññāṇa, or the gabbha) as the moment of concept or as the arising of perception. This is fully in-line with the four foods teaching, which I happen to believe is the underpinning of DN 15.

So, then, if I’m understanding you, the cessation of nāmarūpa (or, either one) we read about so often in connection with the cessation of viññāṇa refers to some sort of eradication of the individual (i.e., the meditator), in addition to pointing to the cessation of external forms and their designations?

I haven’t yet checked out the other thread in depth at all, but is this the conclusion you all reached over there? Did you guys give sutta references? Because, off the top of my head, the only source that comes to mind for papañca is saññā (Snp 4.11 Kalahavivāda Sutta). But, in that sutta, if I remember correctly, saññā seemed to be in a mutually conditioning relationship with nāmarūpa, much like viññāṇa in DN 15.

You know, now that I think about, I might have to disagree with this–or at least nuance it. For, although the context is somewhat different (DN 15 describes an ontology, not a cosmogony), DN 15 says precisely that nāmarūpa (working in tandem with viññāṇa) is responsible for the sabba or the loka, as per the Buddhist definitions of those terms, for the individual:

ettāvatā vaṭṭaṃ vattati itthattaṃ paññāpanāya yadidaṃ nāmarūpaṃ saha viññāṇena aññamaññapaccayatā pavattati

I guess that’s probably why,

And, presumably, that’s what you mean when you say,

But I don’t understand why you appear to distinguish adhivacana samphassa and paṭigha samphassa along internal and external lines:

Maybe you could expound?

Thank you. They stimulated some of the deepest thought I’ve had on DN 15 in a while.


Greetings @knotty36 ! No worris :slight_smile:
Just happened to see this haha, looks like you’ve just recently sent it.

This what I was referring to actually!
There is a mutual conditioning of nāma and rūpa on one end (the “tangle without” in SN 1.23) and nāmarūpa and viññāna on the other (the “tangle within” SN 1.23). All nāmarūpa, mutually conditioned by their two respective halves of contact (adhivacana/paṭigha), simultaneously require viññāna in order to be experienced, and viññāna requires nāmarūpa otherwise it couldn’t exist.

You and me both! :laughing:
I argued quite extensively in the other post about avakkanti that nāmarūpa cannot just be understood as mind-and-body and that it in fact is referring to all “chunks” of nāmarūpa in the phenomenal world, one of which is us. My body is just as much a nāmarūpa as my bed. Viññāna ‘plants’ itself into a ‘piece’ of this world of nāmarūpa in order to inhabit it. I’ll discuss this more in response to another quote of yours.

It actually isn’t that rare! There are many many suttas that use it this way that I’ve linked to in the other post. You might enjoy them.

Yes, I think you have a point and that’s one of the ways I understand it as well. Like I said, consciousness, in order to experience nāmarūpa, needs to ‘plant’ itself into a new chunk of nāmarūpa (a body, for instance) in order to be able to continue at the death of the current body. (Note: I am personifying ‘consciousness’ but it is of course not just a single thing transmigrating).
Because it is ‘attached’ to nāmarūpa as in the entire world of nāmarūpa, it just goes on to continue planting itself in new nāmarūpa according to that attachment. In regards to the nutriment of consciousness, it is said that by fully comprehending it one would comprehend all nāmarūpa. This is of course because by fully comprehending cognizance, one thereby fully comprehends every thing that can be cognized. This is the same with the nutriment of contact where it says one fully understands all feeling. Being attached to the nutriment of consciousness is really being attached to being conscious of things, i.e. nāmarūpa. We of course don’t only cognize our own ‘organism.’

And I’d agree with you that this makes sense as the reading of their mutual conditionality between one another. viññānapaccayā nāmarūpam: Viññāna must plant itself in the world of nāmarūpa in a body / being in order for it to continue and appear; nāmarūpapaccayā viññānam: nāmarūpa must be there for consciousness to stick to and get attached to in the world in order for it to be conscious and in order for it to then plant itself in a new body for more nāmarūpa. If it isn’t attached, there will be no rebirth. In the other post I argue that avakkanti in SN 12.64 is not referring to rebirth because of the ordering of the words and the parallel and some other reasons, but this is not something one can say 100%.

In a sense, because the complete stopping of all viññāna would be the ending of the appearance of any phenomenon whatsoever, i.e. nāmarūpa and whatnot.
What I mean by ‘individuality’ is the diversity of things. So the bed, table, phone, counter, me, the window, etc. These are all different things with their own designated ‘individuality.’ In the time of the Buddha this was seen to be different from the true Brahman or Atman or Pure Consciousness, where everything was non-dual and one (ofc different philosophers had different ideas, but this was a main idea prominent that the Buddha surely knew about and reacted to). So the goal was that everything would unite with this one-ness and the diversity of things and people would stop. But the Buddha of course points out that there is no viññāna without the nāmarūpa: there is no ‘escape’ into oneness and non-dual consciousness; the escape is the cessation of both. Ven. Sāriputta discusses this in SN 12.67 where he says it is like two bundles of reeds leaning up against one another, and if you pull one out, the other falls.

As for the cessation of avijjā, consciousness will no longer be ‘established’ on nāmarūpa or propelled by sankhārās for one to make kamma or for consciousness to be reborn/re-planted. Consciousness simply hangs out until it grows cool, no longer “feeding” the arahant who has gone beyond the 4 nutriments.

I did indeed give lots of references and discussion! Plenty over there :smile:

Ah, I certainly agree that it is responsible for the sabba/loka, but what I mean is that it not an active creator force, in the sense that nāmarūpa is not itself the chopping and splitting up the world into separate objects and people and whatnot, it just is that, and papañca is what is really doing that by means of craving, conceit, and views and whatnot: proliferating and expanding the world of nāmarūpa into reified concepts and identities that hold personal value and people crave or fight over.

What I mean by ‘internal nāmarūpa’ is my own chunk of nāmarūpa that consciousness inhabits, and ‘external nāmarūpa’ I mean the nāmarūpa made available by viññāna but not that it inhabits. This internal/external line is mostly a constructed one related to our sense of self, ofc, but it has some practical usage. The patigha-samphassa and adhivacana-samphassa do not fall into that internal/external distinction because they are simply the features of all nāmarūpa, internal or external. Hope that clarifies things a bit!

Thanks for the discussion! Be well!
Mettā :pray:


Thank you @kaccayanagotta and @knotty36 for some of the best discussion I’ve seen on D&D in years.

Could you elaborate on this?

with metta


I just want to echo @Adutiya and say that this is a great thread! I have read over it quickly and loved it, now I will have to have some lunch and roll up my sleeves and read over it again slowly and carefully!



@Adutiya and @josephzizys Those are very kind words, but I think it’s more of a testament to the profundity of the subject than anything else. It’s like a bucking bronco at a rodeo; who’s responsible for the show: the man or the horse?

I will say that, precisely because of its depth, DN 15 (and all of its parallels) is my absolute favorite sutta in the world. It’s the first sutta I really ever read in depth more than 12-13 years ago, and any thing I’ve read since is judged against it. Like Mahāyāna sūtras try to be, I feel like it suffices as a complete path in and of itself. It’s inexhaustible, as the Buddha says in the intro. It’s criminal how understudied it is.

@kaccayanagotta was using the standard definition for nāma as a paṭiccasamuppāda link met with in the suttas (vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phassa, manasikāra) as his explanation of the content of the mental half of the two-way exchange (via adhivacanasamphassa and paṭighasamphassa) between nāmakāya and rūpakāya in DN 15. For the record, I would normally agree that that’s what it consists of, but, since we were really going into the nooks and crannies of the sutta, I wanted to remind ourselves that DN 15 itself is silent on the content, and we shouldn’t presume, as the sutta is wholly unique on so many fronts. So, when the mind decodes the forms it has come into contact with, there is a cognitive process, we just can’t be sure that the author(s) of DN 15 believed it to be exactly in-line with that definition. Although, again, in light of their silence, that is probably the very best (if not the only) guess or placeholder available to us.

In other words, I was being unnecessarily nitpicky.

This is really good! I’ve long been into this gāthā (because of its relation to DN 15), but I always took the first stanza as just poetic flowery. But, when you put it like that, it’s so obvious. Thanks!


To Whom It May Concern:

I’m taking a class right now on modern philosophy of mind–specifically, one on the idea of embodied mind. My teacher recommended to me works of the author Evan Thompson who apparently has a strong Buddhist background as well. (Sorry, I might be overdoing things a bit with all this contextualizing.) One article in particular stuck me: it was on embodiment/own-body perception bifurcated into body-as-subject and body-as-object. @kaccayanagotta This seemed to me closely in-line with much of what you said regarding the DN 15-type of nāmarūpa viz. one’s own body vs. external objects. I’m really new to philosophy and so on, but I was just wondering if anyone out there’s ever forayed at all in this sort of direction.

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I am wondering whether “mental and physical individuation” would work for nāmarūpa.

Joanna Jurewicz has shown that dependent origination (DO) may be based on ideas found in the Vedas, of which nāmarūpa is one. According to Jurewicz, in the Vedic context nāmarūpa refers to the individuation of a person:

In Vedic cosmogony, the act of giving a name and a form marks the final formation of the Creator’s ātman. The idea probably goes back to the jātakarman ceremony, in the course of which the father accepted his son and gave him a name. By accepting the son, he confirmed his own identity with him, by giving him a name he took him out of the unnamed, unshaped chaos and finally created him. … As the father lives in his son, so the ātman undertakes cognition in his named and formed self.

In her discussion of this ātman, Jurewicz makes the case that at its core it concerns vijñāṇa, “consciousness”. In this way she establishes a close relationship between Vedic cosmogony and Buddhist DO. This in turn means that we should expect some relationship in the meaning of nāmarūpa between the two corpuses.

So what, then, does nāmarūpa mean in the above quote? It seems fairly straightforward. Prior to the arising of nāmarūpa, the person didn’t really exist, as there was only an “unnamed, unshaped chaos”. Consciousness seems to be considered as some sort of undifferentiated, primal principle, lacking in any features by which one might describe it. The act of creating the person is then equated with “giving them name and form”, nāmarūpa. Once nāmarūpa is in place, the ātman (that is, consciousness) “undertakes cognition in his named and formed self”. This must mean that the self/consciousness experiences the world through nāmarūpa.

I don’t know. I am leaning heavily on Jurewicz here, and perhaps that is unwise. But if she is right, then the Vedic texts seem to equate the arising of nāmarūpa with the creation of personality, that is, the differentiation of the person from the underlying substrate of consciousness, or whatever it is.

Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary seems to point in a similar direction. Under the entry nāman we find the following definition: “a characteristic mark or sign”. Characteristic marks or signs are precisely those things that differentiate something from everything else.

Given the parallels between the Vedic texts and the DO, I think we have good reason to interpret nāmarūpa in light of this meaning. And I believe it works well. “Consciousness” on its own – although there is no such thing according to the EBTs – is really just an undifferentiated awareness, devoid of personal characteristics. It is nāmarūpa that differentiates and gives personality to consciousness. Rūpa is the physical aspect or the appearance of a being, whereas nāma is the mental component of individuality, quite literally the name of the person, as recognized through their distinct qualities.

This formation of individuality is obviously particularly important during the process of rebirth. If one moves from one realm to another, one’s personality will be shaped by the new realm. One will bring a number of personal qualities from one’s past existence, but one will also be given a new set of boundaries in one’s new abode. This is one reason why the establishing of consciousness in a new life is such an important part of what the conditionality between nāmarūpa and viññāṇa is about. Hence the three-life understanding of DO.

From a doctrinal point of view this is all very interesting. It establishes that all consciousness is tied up with personality, and that there is no such thing as a truly universal consciousness. This, of course, is precisely the Buddhist critique of the Vedic religion. The only way to get out of our entrapment in our identity is to end consciousness itself. And this is precisely why the Buddhist message is so radical.


If according to the Nidana Samyutta of SN and its corresponding Chinese SA version, what is the best namarupa translation/explanation?

My apologies if the brevity of this post detracts from its intelligibility, but I’m a little pressed for time. I said I had a new understanding of nāmarūpa, but I realize I really only have questions on it. I’m just going to bullet point a few thoughts, and then ask my question.

  • Olalde’s position that the nāma of nāmarūpa is “actually” just an individual entity’s proper name, it does not refer to “designation” or any capacity on the part of the subject to name percepts.
  • Therefore, as she demonstrates with her models, nāma, like rūpa, is wholly situated in the object.
  • Nāma, then, is not a cognitive function as we might conceive of it (as, indeed, Olalde points out, most scholars have), but is something within in the object, again, just like rūpa.
  • Then, the ākārā, liṅgā, nimittā, and uddesā, travelling between the nāmakāya and the rūpakāya, exist within the object.

My question is: where is the locus for all the cognitive activity which processes all of that?

Other suttas would identify all this cognitive activity as vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhārā; or, alternatively, as phassa, vedanā, saññā, cetanā, and manasikāra: i.e., the definitions for nāma. But can we take it for granted that DN 15 shares either of those definitions? DN 15 doesn’t provide a classical definition for nāmarūpa, but it does supply (very profound) content. I’m not sure if it should be viewed as “lacking.”

It’s a relatively simple definition if DN 15 is positing a model of mind like the Mahāvedalla Sutta:

“These five faculties, with their different scopes and ranges, have recourse to the mind. And the mind experiences their scopes and ranges.”

Imesaṁ kho, āvuso, pañcannaṁ indriyānaṁ nānāvisayānaṁ nānāgocarānaṁ, na aññamaññassa gocaravisayaṁ paccanubhontānaṁ, mano paṭisaraṇaṁ, mano ca nesaṁ gocaravisayaṁ paccanubhotī”ti.

In that case, all the mentation on ākārā, liṅgā, etc. takes place in the mano. But, if not, then I’m still asking about the cognitive process as described in DN 15. The Mahāvedalla model, with the centralized role and (overly?) inflated importance ascribed to mano, seems a lot like the common-sense concept of mind and self. But, DN 15 strikes me as possibly a more pared down, bare-bones model where mano is simple one faculty of apperception like the other five. As the eye “mindlessly” apperceives forms (the aggregations of the ākārā, liṅgā, etc.), mano apperceives names (the names ascribed to the ākārā, liṅgā, etc.). But all of that apperception is based externally to the subject. So what happens in the head And whence the vedanā, saññā, and so on?

There are certainly problems with what I’ve written above. There are holes. I have thoughts, but I’d like to hold them back until I hear your first reaction.

Thank you to you or anyone else who’d like to chime in.


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 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.

With mettā!


Thanks a lot for that! I remember there was at least one or two who expressed some difficulty with that article. I know I had to read it twice, with your previous explanation sandwiched between the two before I got it. And, then, you’re just on a roll with article and dissertation reviews recently, aren’t you?

Unfortunately, I think you missed my question. Like I said, I had a feeling I wasn’t explaining myself clearly–mostly because, as I was composing the post, I started realizing I didn’t have the grasp I thought I had when I first tagged you on the other thread. However, I figured something out that may have solved my puzzlement. (I think it did, anyway.) This time should be a bit clearer.

For context, let me say that this line of thought was sparked by Alexander Wynne’s 2019 article, Sariputta or Kaccāna? A preliminary study of two early Buddhist philosophies of mind and meditation I agree with his premise in theory, I guess: I agree that the the suttas don’t speak with one voice. And, though those voices are usually in harmony, there are times when they are not. And, it stands to reason that differing theories of mind might require different soteriologies: not necessarily so, but possibly.

However, irrespective of whether or not I feel his premise is theoretically possible, I do not agree with his conclusion–that a philosophy of mind such as that which he ascribes to Mahā Kaccāna is wholly incompatible with a calm-insight practice–at all.

I endorse his depiction of Mahā Kaccāna as espousing a philosophy of mind wherein viññāṇa represents something “pre-noetic” as well as his recognizing that, papañca being the crux of the problem, more papañca as the proposed solution is, well, problematic. However, I see DN 15’s paṭiccasamuppāda as a perfect example of the same type of mind model he ascribes to Mahā Kaccāna. Nevertheless, DN 15 clearly prescribes a calm-insight path.

I don’t want to get into why this should be; if anyone’s interested, that should probably be a separate thread. But my question concerned the cognitive functions of the mind in the DN 15 model. From nāmarūpa, through viññāṇa, and on to phassa–where I consider the mind model to be centered–there was no implication of any form of mentation on the part of the subject pertaining to intellection: that is, nothing beyond bare sense perception. There was the transmission of sense data back and forth between the nāmakāya and the rūpakāya in the form of adhivacana and paṭighasamphassa, but the locus for that as per Olalde’s article was within the sense object and not in the head of the subject. Assuming nothing, but simply taking this one, very unique sutta at it’s word, mano should be understood as simply another faculty of very basic sense perception like the others, and nothing else. That is, it simply registers the names associated with the attributes of forms, it does not “papañc-ize” about them.

“So where is the thinking?” That was my question. Between the Nikāyas and the Āgamas, for definitions of nāma we have “phassa, vedanā, saññā, cetanā, and manasikāra” and “vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhārā.” I don’t think DN 15’s nāma admits of anything like either of those. It seems like a really bare-bones schema: like Wynne posits for the Kaccāna model–perhaps even more so. So, again, I wondered, where’s the intellection, the discursion–where’s the thinking?!

Then I found it. It comes after vedanā and tañhā in the secondary chain: pursuit, gain (and loss), decision-making, attachment, etc. It’s all there. It’s not as categorically neutral as, say, a five aggregates model of mind: it is colored with Buddhist ethical sensibilities. But it is a model of mind all the same: not unlike that found in the Madhupiṇḍika Sutta which Wynne holds up as Kaccāna’s philosophy of mind.

That was my question (and answer to it). Please, don’t be afraid to tear it to shreds. I should be most grateful if you do.


Hey! Sorry if I didn’t address the question properly-- I think I too failed to make myself clear!

As you mention in the original question and here, Olalde places nāmarūpa in the object and as non-subjective in pre-Buddhist literature. She is not discussing the complex use of the term in Buddhist literature nor why / how the Buddha appropriated the term. The Buddha, does in fact connect nāmarūpa to subjectivity and individual cognition, but my point was that this does not contradict Olalde’s argument that it is not concerned with the internal meta-relation to mental experiences such as building sign systems or conceptualization, which is mostly related to papañca. However, there comes to be a lot of overlap based on how the mind works, and this is seemingly acknowledged in the suttas.

You’re right that the interaction of the nāmakāya and rūpakāya is still much more object-oriented, consistent with the history of the term nāmarūpa. That said, it is still very much phenomenological and more specifically subjectively cognitive in terms of craving/dukkha. The Buddha is pointing out that the characteristics (nāma) of something by which we recognize it are the affective tone it gives off (vedanā), our perception of it (saññā), and the way in which we contact and direct our mind’s attention to aspects of the experience (phassa, manasikāra). Note that manasikāra means ‘doing / making in the mind (manas).’

The other thing is that viññāna is often described as appetitive, especially in relation to nāmarūpa. That is, it is not just a passive awareness. In fact, Mahākaccāna is one of the most prominent Dhamma-speakers on the active nature of viññāna:

There’s also:

He talks similarly in SN 22.3 and in SN 22.4 he uses the word ‘citta’ in the same way as before with viññāna. This same active language is used when talking about consciousness getting attached to/growing in the four nutriments (āhāra), a context where nāmarūpa and viññāna find themselves re-united again, and in the khandhasamyutta in relation to consciousness being attached to the abodes of the aggregates with desire/lust. Point being, I think viññāna can be used in a more precise sense of bare awareness, and in the more Vedic sense as being impelled and driven forward (for the nutriments / abodes of everyday life, and from abode to abode in future lives).

I think this is implied in DN 15, where sankhārā (and avijjā) are missing from the list. The bound relationship between nāmarūpa and viññāna is ‘active’ until that connection is severed and obliterated, cutting off the conduit for future rebirth, and, as the suttas say, consciousness abides happy and content in the present, liberated [from attachment] until disbanding.

With this more active understanding of viññāna and the Buddha’s emphasis on the subjective, cognitive nature of our experience of nāmarūpa, the mental locus is a bit clearer. However, I don’t think searching for a ‘locus’ is the right attitude. Take a look at SN 12.61 / SN 12.62:

In reality, the ‘mind’ is a conglomeration of immaterial phenomena that are arising and ceasing constantly (for the most part). There is a stream of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, attention/subtle mental functions, intentions, etc. There is no central ‘locus,’ let alone a lasting one. When we understand the Buddha’s analysis of nāmarūpa as our cognitive experience of objects comprised of these factors, we see this more. While it isn’t concerned with the internal conceptualization Olalde criticizes, it still is subjective. Naturally, it would make sense for papañca to be tied up and implicit in this heap of hungry consciousness feeding on nāmarūpa, and indeed, we frequently find papañca occurring in discussions about nāmarūpa in the suttas (SN 3.6, SN 4.11, etc.) In MN 43, it is said that saññā, vedanā, and viññāna are bound up and mixed; and in MN 139 the verb sañjānāti (noun, saññā) is tied to language and words, just as papañcasaññāsankhā can be in some contexts (and etymologically).

If anything, I think Olalde’s work further proves that nāma cannot be understood as “the mind” in a mind-body mass. If anything, as she says, rūpa sometimes meant ‘mind,’ not nāma, and nāmarūpa is concerned not with internal mental functions or operations but rather with the experience of the diverse things (including beings) in the world. The Buddha, too, adopts nāmarūpa in a similar way, but he also recognizes that experience is inherently subjective and partly mental; this means that the lines between ‘mind’ and outside world are blurred—but not in an idealist or solipsist sense, rather, a cognitive processing one.

The internal meta-side of this—what we would mostly identify as the “mind” or processing locus—is more the internal intentions (cetanā/sankhārā), our thoughts (vitakka), our subsequent papañca and internalized papañcasaññāsankhā overlayed onto these experiences, etc. This is not, as Olalde demonstrates, nāma (related to ‘mind’ not being an accurate understanding), and yet it is intimately related to it and no central factor or domain doninates.

The use of the word manas as a sense-base is really more a useful didactic tool and something we can relate to experientially, but as the Buddha says in the above SN 12.61, this is not really a lasting locus of anything; it seems more so to be a mass of factors we relate to as internal rather than external. I don’t think that DN 15 is intending to be an all-inclusive description of cognition and mind. That’s what suttas like MN 18 are for, where Mahākaccāna expands on the DO factors to demonstrate how certain factors arise and can relate to/cause other unwholesome mental operations.

Like you say, this is given in relation to vedanā and tanhā. So we seem to think about the same thing :slight_smile: Only thing is that I think we can understand papañca as very much related to viññāna and nāmarūpa which are not plain either. Papañca is that force driving this constant bond between the two and at the same time being created by it.

Hope this was somewhat relevant to your question / the subject matter! It seems we mostly think the same, just wanted to draw out some more of the subjectivity and active implications in the Buddha’s application. I agree too about it being a much more colorful and ethical model of mind! Great point!


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Please, no apologies necessary! I appreciate you walking with me through this bog while I hash out an idea which may, in the end, turn out to be nothing (like trying to explain nāmarūpa as a tappurisa).

I’m going to give a few, cursory replies to some individual points you’ve made here. But I probably still need a few days to mull over what you’ve said here today. There’s quite a bit to unpack in it!

You’re right, there’s much that we agree on, but I have one or two potential insights that I’m working on where we may differ (again, very possibly because they just don’t stand up).

Yes, important point. I wonder if I made it clear that I appreciate this fact. Although, she does give just a few words at the end–even sort of going back on her original point regarding subjectivity. But then she just drops it all. What a tease!

Yes he does. But there are reasons why I’m sidestepping that development towards “subjectifying” (Is that a word? It should be.) on the part of the Buddha. I am questioning whether or not DN 15 is a part of that evolution.

I don’t quite get what the meaning here (for example, the term “internal meta-relation”): are we distinguishing between the three (or five) aspects of nāma and papañca? But perhaps not a clear distinction? since you do say

You are absolutely right. Obviously, the Buddha was more focused on a practical soteriology than a comprehensive ontology, so we shouldn’t expect clear lines of demarcation.

Indeed. And all of that is the definition of nāmarūpa found here and there in the Nikāyas and the Āgamas. But my point is that I question whether it is appropriate to take it as the content of the nāmarūpa factor in DN 15’s paṭiccasamuppāda chain as well.

This is a good point! I don’t know that if affects my main argument, but it is certainly important to the “vortex” (to adopt Bhikkhu Bodhi’s terminology) mind model (and the four foods [cattāro āhārā], as you point out subsequently in your post). Nevertheless, this active aspect (perhaps intentionally illustrated metaphorically in the concept of “food”) is relevant and something I should not lose sight of. Thank you!

I fully get you here. You’re right again. My emphasis on a “locus” is actually motivated by a desire to transcend one. I am learning about the idea of extended mind in school and seeing if a case can be made for a corellation with DN 15 (and possibly other suttas, though for now I’m focused here). “Mind,” in my nascent theory, in its psychological as opposed to phenomenal aspects, is the purview of nāma, which, at least in DN 15, is located in the object. In fact, my point is precisely that

and that

I’m going to stop and do some more reflecting on your post. But, just to gum up the works a little, I would like to reference a comment Bhante @sujato made (which I can’t find at the moment) to the effect of there not really being the same subject-object in early Buddhism. (If anyone can locate that, it’d be great, because I can’t express it as elegantly or succinctly.) It was quite persuasive. How does that affect our discussion?

Thank you, in any case, @kaccayanagotta for the push-back: you stimulate me to think quite deeply about some extremely important, yet popularly overlooked, aspects of Buddhist philosophy.


I think that, because DN mentions adhivacanasamphassa and paṭighasamphassa as related to the “nāmakāya” and “rūpakāya,” it seems to me that there is definitely the same thing going on. One could argue that perhaps the definition of nāmarūpa as the 4 elements + nāma factors could not be fully fleshed out in DN 15, but I would say that it has to be something similar to the definition given elsewhere there and I see no reason why it wouldn’t be the same. In the SN where they also talk about the mutual relationship between nāmarūpa and viññāṇa, we see the classic definition of nāmarūpa. I think it’s fair to say the definition isn’t necessarily comprehensive though; things like “signs/features” or little tokens by which we recognize and designate things could fall under the nāmakāya loosely.

What were you thinking these could be referring to if not the ‘standard’ list?

This was not very clear. I wasn’t sure exactly how to express the idea. Essentially, I’m saying that what most people would relate to as their “mind” is actually a kind of internal dialogue, thoughts and images, feelings, intentions, etc. going on in relation to external stimuli. I’m saying that this aspect of subjectivity or “mind” is not what nāmarūpa refers to (as Olalde demonstrates), but that technically this distinction between a kind of “internal mind” (what I call the meta-mind) and the “external mind” (the cognitive/mental factors such as perception, feeling, etc. that relate to external stimuli and tend to be much more static) is not exactly a clear-cut one.

This is very similar to how Ven. Kaṭukurunde Ñāṇananda talks about it (i.e. using “vortex”). Do you have a link to Bhikkhu Bodhi mentioning this? I didn’t know he had talked about it and would be interested in seeing what he said.

Ah! This is exactly what I mean with all of the above on the meta/internal mind lol. That the mind actually extends into everything we experience, even though we tend to make a distinction between the “mind” as being “my own, personal, internal monologue and intentional mind that responds to the outside world.” So I would say that nāmarūpa seems to be referring to that aspect of the ‘extended mind’ as it is intrinsically bound up with the outside elements (rūpa) in a kind of symbiotic, dependent relationship.

I’m not entirely sure of what you mean by this, could you elaborate? To me, subject-object cognition is the nature of consciousness in that there is a duality, but this duality is seen as inherently inseparable and co-dependent in Buddhism, rendering it a sort of non-dual duality (or simply, a relationship of dependence). I’m starting to think that, like in Vedic cognitive models, the images of ‘food’ and ‘thirst’ (taṇhā) represent this drive for subject-object cognition where one eats and consumes other things to kind of absorb their identity, but that this process actually means repeated death. Escaping it is the goal in both systems, but the Buddha saw the escape as the cessation of that hunger (cessation of taṇhā) and, ultimately, cessation. Maybe this is along the same lines?



My sincerest apologies for taking so long: I have quite a bit going on at the moment. A the same time, no post anywhere along this thread is something easily responded to. So, I can’t just send one off in between other tasks.

First, I really would like us to be able to consult Bhante @sujato 's post on why he refrains from interpreting EBT ontology through a subjective-objective paradigm. (Moderators! Anyone! Help, please!) I’m sorry. I know I’m guilty of having introduced my views in previous posts precisely with that paradigm, and that has only added to the confusion. I think it’s more appropriate to speak of internal-external: it maps onto subjective-objective quite nicely, without all the baggage of Western conceptions of objective reality. (I think this was Bhante’s point in his post.)

Of course, I’m going with the idea of internal-external in the EBTs as referring to dhammas pertaining to oneself and dhammas not pertaining directly to oneself, respectively. (See here for an excellent article on the subject.)

Without reference to subjective-objective, then, I’m saying that viññāṇa is internal and that nāmarūpa is wholly external, which is definitely not what the common interpretation of nāmarūpa. Nevertheless, I am having trouble reading DN 15 in any other way.

Yes, and that’s the only conclusion to be had if we hold on to more traditional models of mind. But I wonder if that’s the case. I grant that it’s really hard to even conceptualize the mind model we’re considering, but that doesn’t mean it’s not accurate. Honestly, without performing a search, don’t most if not all of those definitions of nāmarūpa appear in so-called proto-abhidhammic texts? What might that say about their origins? What do the more narrative, anecdotal suttas say?

I would say that they do, in fact: just as they also fall under the rūpakāya as well. Because they aren’t simply tokens by which we recognize things, they are simultaneously constitutive of those things–they are the make-up of those things; they inhere within them.

The sticking point is when we conceive of nāma as being located in our heads. The Vedas didn’t, and taking the text on face value we have no reason to assume DN 15 does either. The ākārā and so on represent a relationship obtaining between nāmakāya and rūpakāya, both of which (and, thus, the ākārā, too) are located within the object. Sorry, I said I wouldn’t use that word. Well, it’s all external.

The main difference I see between the Buddha’s concept of nāma and the Vedic concept is that the former demystified language and linguistic designations by saying that these named weren’t part of a holy language bequeathed to us by God when He created all Creation but were sāmaññanāma: designations held in common, determined by custom and tradition. For practical purposes dealing with daily use of names and the perceptive process, there is very little difference insofar as, from the perspective of a given speaker, the name came inherently with the object, in all likelihood long before the person’s birth. That is, it is not a product of the person’s head, but its origins lie without. The dynamic differs from the Vedic concept only in the demystification, no more.

Lastly on this point (because it is an important point you’ve brought up, one which had me tossing and turning for a while), we have to distinguish between the DN 15 model and the “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso” model of mind. They are not the same, though there’s much they hold in common. In tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati, indisputably internal mentation (viññāṇa) would seem directly constitutive of phassa; in DN 15, the gap between them is more explicit. That is, in the former model, it is easier to interpret the contact as being between internal and external worlds. In DN 15, however, I would argue that the contact is between nāma and rūpa, by way of the ākārā etc. Again, a dynamic wholly external to the person in question.

BB uses it in the notes to his translation of DN 15. SO does Peter Harvey. Check Piya Tan (here), who, in addition to citing all three, uses it too himself.

Indeed, but it’s not only rūpa which represents the outside elements, it’s nāma too:
Anusaya Sutta (SN 18.21): imasmiñca saviññāṇake kāye bahiddhā ca sabbanimittesu
Apagata Sutta (SN 18.22): imasmiñca saviññāṇake kāye bahiddhā ca sabbanimittesu
Bālapaṇḍita Sutta (SN 12.19): ayañceva kāyo bahiddhā ca nāmarūpaṃ

These three are obviously parallels and have to be viewed as a whole, but the inescapable conclusion would seem to be that viññāṇa is internal, while both nāmarūpa (fully inclusive of both) is external.
The traditional assimilation of nāmarūpa to the five aggregates is what has us turned around.

Again, I don’t think subject-object is useful or helpful when looking at EBTs: it only breeds confusion. I didn’t come to this on my own; again, this is Bhante @sujato’s. But it’s like the proverbial overturning of the candle or however it goes: he’s right. And the closest we can come to an isomorphic paradigm in the early texts, as far as I know, is internal-external which strictly speaking still isn’t really the same thing.

Personally, I too am really big on āhāra as a metaphor (and I really like how you roped taṇhā into it too). However, I must respectfully disagree with the idea of “subject-object cognition where one eats and consumes other things.” I’m nowhere near as familiar with the Vedas as you, but it sounds very Vedic to me and jibes with what little I know. But, as I see it, the Buddha’s strategy was to completely do away with the subject-object dyad, as seen in Saṁyutta Nikāya 12.12, the Moḷiya Phagguna Sutta:

Ko nu kho bhante viññāṇ’āhāraṁ āhāreti.

Āhāretî ti ahaṁ na vadāmi.

I’ve got a few of extended mind articles by David Chalmers and some others which make some statements which are surprisingly close (in my view, anyway) to what we see in DN 15. I didn’t want to upload so much potentially extraneous material if it wasn’t warranted. But I have it if anyone’s interested.

One last point I think we should keep in mind regarding how DN 15 relates to material from other suttas: as evidenced by the nid āna introducing the sutta, DN 15 is an unapologetic polemic directed at other (competing?) views on dependent origination (as well as competing views of liberation, as demonstrated in the final paragraph). This, coupled with the fact every single one of its seven sections (Paṭiccasamuppāda, Attapaññatti, Naattapaññatti, Attasamanupassanā, Nattasamanupassanā [present only in the Chinese versions], Sattaviññāṇaṭṭhiti, and Aṭṭhavimokkha) is either wholly unique to this sutta, or is somehow unique in its manner of presentation, tells me that its author(s) were intentionally seeking to set themselves apart from other interpretations of fundamental conceptions of dhamma.


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No worries or need to apologize on any delay! It is quite the topic.

Now that you’ve mentioned ideas of objective reality and ontology, I have a clearer picture of what you mean by subjective-objective dichotomy, and agree that the baggage from those concepts is sticky here. I agree that internal-external is a more specifically Buddhist way of talking about this experience as well, going off of translation and so forth. However, forgive the pushback here on those terms being a proper solution. I would tend to disagree that the terms ‘subject’ and ‘object’ must or even automatically do imply those ontological assumptions, and that the alternative terminology (‘internal’ vs. ‘external’) doesn’t imply them and provides a solution; “external” is much more explicitly harkening to notions of an outside reality after all, and the terms can, to me, easily impose ideas of “my world here” vs. “their world out there, existing.” I also see a difference between subject-object and subjective-objective: the former refers to the relationship between consciousness and that which is cognized, whereas the latter can refer to a divide in reality that is personal as opposed to a reality that is ultimately true, existent, or independent. I see no place for the latter in Buddhism personally, whereas the former, no matter which terms we use, I find to be a recurring theme. There is the dichotomy, but without the ontological assumptions, which seems to be what you’re trying to separate here. Please correct me if I’ve sorely mistaken you!

You mentioned that the drive for subject-object cognition, metaphors of eating, etc. seem very Vedic, as opposed to Buddhist, to you—which is fair, considering they are Vedic. But in Vedic cosmogony (which maps onto cognition and “psychology” for lack of a better term), the subject-object duality is not one between a subject and a supposed external objective world necessarily, but one of self-cognition or something much closer to “extended mind” in some ways (but still with its own collection of metaphysics and ontology, of course).
(There is no one metaphysical or ontological system in Vedic thought, and some of those questions seem equally irrelevant to the more experiential divide between cognitive subject and object in earlier thought especially. Just wanted to clarify this).
I find it significant that the Buddha pulled so many Vedic terms relating to these cognitive models when teaching his system to people, many of whom were educated brahmins or contemplatives, and paṭiccasamuppāda itself is one of the prime examples of that. I’m not sure if you’ve read Prof. Joanna Jurewicz’s paper Playing with Fire: The pratītyasamutpāda from the perspective of Vedic thought or where you stand on it if you have, but I find she quite convincingly shows that the Buddha’s nidānas (specifically the twelve in her article) are a formulation of the pre-existing Vedic cosmogonies with cognitive implications, stripped of the ātman and monistic Absolute. I also find the heavy emphasis on nāmarūpa and viññāṇa being co-dependent a response to later Brahminical soteriology and metaphysics, and maybe one of the Bodhisatta’s key insights in realizing the path to Nibbāna (as described in DN 14 or SN 12.65). The nidāna to DN 15 does set the scene in a major Brahminical center of India (Kuru) where much of these ideas originated and dominated. Taking all of this into account, the subject-object divide between cognizer and cognized seems, to me, more appropriate a description of the de-ontologized / phenomenological experience, and its relationship to Vedic thought is not, in my current view, opposed to Buddhism; rather, the metaphysics or ontological ideas that emerge out of it are the main opposing forces (but still not in the Western notions of objectivity as far as the Vedas go; the divergence is instead monistic and non-dual, or absolutive).

Again, I really apologize if this whole section has been a sheer misapprehension of your point on my part!

The above out of the way, I agree! Subjective-objective in terms of objectivity etc. has no place here in my mind. I’ve heard of Bhikkhu Anālayo and others referring to ‘interconnected subjectivity’, which I find could be a much more appropriate description of the Buddhist perspective. For nāmarūpa, I see it is the object of consciousness, which is therefore wholly external in one sense, and yet consumed by pure subjectivity in another. As you say, this is not the most common understanding of the term. That is, consciousness is entangled in nāmarūpa, which we could say is ‘external’ in these terms (a useful image from the suttas I’ll mention a couple more times lol).

This is a good line of questioning to pursue! If by proto-abhidhammic you mean vibhanga and veyyakarana type of suttas which analyze and describe things in more detail, I would say so, because that’s the nature of any definition in the suttas; things are defined in those types of suttas and used elsewhere. Most examples of nāmarūpa “in the wild” refer to the Brahmanical idea of it being the manifest world of external things. The few exceptions, if any, where it refers more specifically to a particular individual being can still be subsumed under this understanding, which is the proper understanding of the term IMO. That is, an individual being is still external to consciousness, and consciousness “plants” itself into nāmarūpa for re-birth. So nāmarūpa in that sense is still not “(internal) mind and body”, but rather “individual chunk of nāmarūpa with consciousness” and the external nāmarūpa to that which is of the same nature.

This also agrees with the Vedic understanding of the term, and it maps onto the Buddha’s use of paṭiccasamuppāda as a re-formulation and repurposing of Vedic cognitive models stripped of any inherent agent (and instead conditioned). In Vedic cosmogony, the ātman or creator—the cognizing subject—creates nāmarūpa and then inhabits it in order to continue cognizing [itself]. That is, nāmarūpa is external and inclusive of both the conscious individual inhabited by the ātman (and therefore external to it) and all of the external things cognized by it. Note too that the ātman is said to be consciousness in the BĀU. This also points to consciousness being entangled in nāmarūpa; in fact, this notion of the ‘tangle’ was asked by a brahmin who wanted to know how to escape or untangle it—it’s a pre-Buddhist notion. The Buddha simply says that the solution is not consciousness existing independently from nāmarūpa, but the mutual cessation of each.

This is a good point; although mental and cognitive, the things we cognize carry these traits within themselves experientially. Being within consciousness, these traits are still subjective (as are all things), but the nāmakāya may be more appropriately conceived of as with rūpa rather than applied to rūpa, as you point out. (This is also in response to your later point on the sentient body and external signs/nāmarūpa).

To contribute a bit to this same idea, I’d add that nāma is tied to an inherent creative power in vāc (speech). Similar to the logos in Greek philosophy (found in the New Testament and identified with a divine power), the Creator naming and speaking things into existence imbues them with their inherent identity. Ultimately, all things have one name and one form: that of the Absolute, the pre-creative (unmanifest) power, the Creator, etc.—and the later soteriology saw knowledge and union with that as the goal. In de-mystifying this, the Buddha is driving the sword deeper into the ant-hill to uproot and polemicize later Brahmanical notions of metaphysics, ontology, and (perhaps most importantly to him) soteriology.

I don’t see these as contradictory or distinct. We have to remember that DN 15 specifically says that nāmarūpa is dependent on viññāṇa and in a mutually supportive relationship right before its description of phassa. I agree that one could interpret the MN 18-style definition of phassa as supposing a different model of mind or ontology, but I wouldn’t agree the definitions themselves do. Either way, consciousness must be ‘entangled’ in nāmarūpa, and nāmarūpa must, in a sense, ‘collide’ with itself for there to be contact. I see what you mean though, and perhaps you’d still disagree.

According to the Buddha, we don’t know any of the Veda until we become arahants! So we’re in the same camp.

Again, I agree on (a) the Buddha removing this sort of ontological and metaphysical speculation from phenomenological experience, and (b) the Buddha removing notions of self / agency in terms of an actor. But I would say that the Brahmanical soteriology also aims to remove the subject-object dyad, just in a different way. This is why/how the Buddha could find so much common ground: both schemas ended up seeing the ignorance, desire, and suffering inherent in our search for feasting on and cognizing things. The Brahmanas/Upanisads look to find a solution to this as a problem, not encourage it. There’s a reason Moliya Phagguna asked those questions though: we have an inherent drive for and experience of this dyad. Rejecting it and denying its existence is not the strategy of the Buddha; he seeks to undermine and correct it, because it is conditioned by ignorance. Phenomenologically, the experience of subject-object is and is manifest; it is merely conditioned, and not by knowledge of how things actually work: that’s the problem. For the Buddha (and the Vedas) to map out that experience and describe its relationship to suffering is a necessary step to then correct the mistake by describing the reality of the situation and the escape from it via true knowledge. Moreover, as I said earlier, the problem is not cognitive subject-object, but subjective-objective and the plethora of implications or assumptions that may come along with any terminology we use, including internal/external.

I am interested! Feel free to DM them to me or wherever you find appropriate to link to them.

Apologies for another long reply. No rush for any response on my end! Thanks again for the pertinent subject matter and being a great conversation partner!


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