Duality: Mind & Matter?

Maybe this talk from Ajahn Brahm’s Word of the Buddha sutta class might help too. Especially from 20mins onwards. He spent more time in the consciousnesses when he went through it with the monastics but hopefully this is somewhat clear.

I’m not sure if you can find a copy of his translation around so I’ll list the suttas in order here.
DN16 MN26
1st Noble Truth DN22 MN44 SN22.59 MN28 SN36.1 SN22.56 SN22.57 SN22.53 SN12.67
3 characteristics AN3.136 SN22.59


My opinion is that it’s either a “unanswered question” type thing where it just drives you nuts thinking about it (and believe me, philosophy of mind has driven me a little bonkers) or it’s like the leaves on the simpsapa tree, irrelevant to the practice.

All in all best not worry about it much.

Hi Jimi,

I’ve written about this in various places, but let me just be brief here, if you can forgive my bluntness!

There’s no mind/body dualism in early Buddhism. Terms and ideas that seem to imply this in later Buddhism, such as nāma-rūpa, which is sometimes translated as “mind and body”, have quite a different meaning in the early texts. When the Buddha divided things up, he usually inserted the analytical knife elsewhere; for example, in the five aggregates, the classification is not mental vs. physical aggregates, but the first four vs. consciousness.

Rather, the Buddha took as the primary reality the complex web of interconnected experience. He then used analysis to tease out the different aspects of that in order to understand it. But this is the opposite technique to that used by dualists. You don’t start with two incompatible substance, then try to fuse them together. You start with a complex messy unity, and learn to make sense of it by seeing how different aspects work together.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t discern between mental and physical aspects of reality. It just means that you are not assuming there is some fundamental underlying substance behind that experience.

Thus the whole philosophical Frankenstein of mind/body dualism has no place in early Buddhism, and we should always avoid imposing such ideas on it.

Further complicating and nuancing this picture is that the boundaries of what is mental and what is physical are drawn differently. Rūpa is essentially physical properties as perceived by the mind, so it includes things like colors and shapes even if they are seen only in the mind’s eye. So something like what we in the west would call an “out-of-body” experience is certainly not “out of rūpa”: it is just a more subtle form.


Hi jimisommer

So I think everytime the Buddha describes the 4 Jhanas and the 4 Immaterial attainments (for example in MN 6, MN 53, MN 60) he’s discerning between the various aspects of the mental worlds and physical worlds. And this happens so often in the EBTs that I couldn’t possibly find all the references!!

This fits in within the notion of tiloka and I think all this highlights the following:

…which links in nicely with:


Ven, isn’t rūpa defined as matter, or that which is material and solid, in MN 28 ?

So in terms of

and referring back to part of the quote by @Pasanna from SN12.56…


are referring to the other 4 khandas.

There’s a rather nice discussion around this between @Brahmali and @sujato here…you’ll notice I really liked it! :smile: @Sujith you might like this too. :slight_smile:


Hmmm…so it seems, it’s not a question of whether there exists two distinct parts…

Rather, it seems to be about a long slope up, and the higher you climb, the less of “your self”, you bring with you.

It makes sense and fits within the schema offered by the EBTs. I mean the Buddha didn’t present us with 2 Khandas, he presents us with 5.

Perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions?

Everytime I read the phrase “mentality-materiality”, or even see the phrase “nama-rupa”, I have to stop and deliberately remind myself what it is referring to according to the EBTs; because I can’t help but automatically percieve these phrases in the way I was long used to perceiving them…based on popular translations which, if I’m not mistaken, drew a lot on the later Abidhamma texts. (Again, I refer back to the discussion with Ajahn Brahmali and Bhante Sujato that I provided a link to above.)

I didn’t find the answer in that long thread, but the same MN 28 sutta describes rūpa in the way that Ven. Sujato does here.

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I believe it’s the 6 sense consciousnesses.

The Consciousnesses Component of Existence
And what are consciousnesses? There are these six kinds of consciousness: sight-consciousness, hearing-consciousness, smell-consciousness, taste- consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness.


Dependent Origination of Consciousnesses
If the sense of knowing (mind) is intact but no mind objects come into its range, then there is no manifestation of mind consciousness.
If the sense of knowing is intact, mind objects come into its range, but there’s no conscious engagement, then there’s no manifestation of mind consciousness.
But when the sense of knowing is intact, mind objects come into its range and there is conscious engagement, then mind consciousness manifests.
And so with the other five sense-consciousnesses.
Consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on sight and visual objects, it is reckoned as sight-consciousness. When consciousness arises dependent on hearing and sounds, it is reckoned as hearing-consciousness. When consciousness arises dependent on smell and odours, it is reckoned as smell-consciousness. When consciousness arises dependent on taste and flavours, it is reckoned as taste-consciousness. When consciousness arises dependent on touch and tangibles, it is reckoned as touch-consciousness. When consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mind-objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness.

Again from Ajahn Brahm’s translation. I really like the way he hammers home the dependency of consciousnesses, by calling it consciousnesses in the plural. I spent a whole retreat with another monk where people were asking about thrn’true nature of consciousness’ and original mind. It was quite frustrating!


Though someone might say: ‘Apart from the form, apart from experience (vedanā), apart from perception, apart from will, I will make known the coming and going of consciousnesses, their passing away and rebirth, their growth, increase, and expansion’—that is impossible.


It is a long thread! Here are a few quotes from it:

From this and from later discussions in this thread, I started to question whether, in most contexts, we should be separating nama from rupa at all? I now believe we shouldn’t, that it ought to be treated like a compound word.

And then later…

…I think perhaps Bhante is referring to those instances in the suttas where Rupa is treated alone, and not as part of the compound word, Namarupa.

From this quote it seems the compound word “namarupa” is almost synonymous with “the four non-consciousness khandas” of perception, formations, body and feeling. So it’s not referring to some kind of dualistic split. It’s referring to everything in our experience that isn’t consciousness. That’s partly why I’m viewing it as a compound word; the other reason is to be found, if anyone has the monumental patience required to take a look, at the questions I posed in that thread and the answers Bhante gives.

Well…I hope this helps…

@Brahmali and @Sujato, my sincere apologies if I’ve misunderstood what you were both trying to say or taken what you’ve said so out of context that I’ve gotten it all wrong…which is highly likely! I would say to anyone reading this that it’s worth taking a closer look at parts of the thread that I’m quoting from…then you don’t have to rely on any misunderstandings that I may be presenting here because of course, I don’t really understand this stuff fully…not anywhere near it!!


Yes, I agree…

Though when I said this:

I was referring to what Bhante had said here:

and so I was making the distinction between consciousness (all 6 of them!) and their objects and was basically saying that their objects are equivalent to the other four khandas.

Thus in your quote from Ajahn Brahm’s translation

…you’re referring to reed 1: consciousness (of whichever type) and reed 2: the other four khandas. The dependency comes from the relationship between the four khandas (or namarupa) and each specific type of consciousness. Take one reed away, the other ceases.

I hope I have got that right! :slight_smile:


I guess if it’s both the 6 sense based and the other 4 khandas. Because vedana is experience via the 6sb, perception is eye perception, nose perception…, sankhara is volition regarding sights, sounds, tastes…

The khandas can’t really exist separately as far as I can tell.


Thanks everyone for your responses, and for finding some of my old writings!

And what is the material form aggregate affected by clinging? It is the four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements.

It’s the latter that I’m referring to.


I’m probably just being muddle-minded again…But…

@sujato did you mean to say:

It’s the latter that it’s referring to

Meaning that MN 28 is referring to the Body Khanda and not “rupa” and so rupa is not the same as the Body Aggregate?


Does the first four khandas equate to namarupa ?

Mind refer to what?

Ps . Can you explain after sankhara , on consciousness conditions namarupa in the nidana links ?
And how does it arrives at six sense base ?

Got it, thanks.

What about arupaloka then? No rupa there, only nama.

It is usually taken to be so, and this is not incorrect in a crude sense, but I believe this is not a fruitful way to think about it. These are specific kinds of terms used in distinct contexts that indicate a certain approach or way of approaching understanding, especially in the context of the times.

Here, it is viññāṇa, i.e. awareness.

You don’t ask for much, do you? Maybe some other time!

That’s right, although see above: this way of talking about these states is not really idiomatic. There’s also the realm of the asannasatta, which apparently is only rupa.

But regardless, the arupas are still dependent on rupa; they depend on the previously developed rupajjhanas, which in turn depend on having a body to practice meditation. So these are highly specialized states that can be considered as temporary suspensions of physical properties.


I meant that I was referring to “derived materiality” (upādāyarūpa) when I spoke of the subtle forms of rūpa.

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Well , I certainly would appreciate Buddha if He is still available ?!