Duality: Mind & Matter?


What is matter after all ? It is a set of conditions, of possibilities, etc. If one were to create a virtual world that is purely mathematical, we would have an object having the property of “12” or of “010101”, we would have an algorithm that says object X with property Y would react like this when in contact with this, etc.

Matter, consciousness, perception etc. all are a set of conditions and a set of algorhitms that governs how the conditionality between them works. For example there is a certain conditionality going on between matter and perception. If one gets hit by a brick, a certain perception will arise.

If we are to find one thing that unifies them all it is conditionality. Matter, consciousness, etc. - everything is linked through conditionality that is going on between them all. That’s why we have “samsara” the conditioned world. Every single thing is this world is linked to the rest through conditionality. Every single thing has a special relationship with other things through this conditionality and the algorhitms that govern it.

What we need to do is try to find how exactly does this conditionality work, what kind of algorhitms governs this conditioned world. And here we have materialism, solipsism, buddhism with it’s 5 aggregate model, etc. trying to explain how this conditionality works. And our job is to find out which one is correct.

There is no particular distinction made between matter and non-material aggregates in the suttas. As B.Sujato said, “the knife is sticked between consciousness and the other 4 aggregates”. As far as we are concerned, matter is just the same as consciousness or perception - it is a set of posibilities, or things that have characteristics, governed by specific algorhitms just like perception or consciousnss or etc. There is no fundamental difference between the 2. Only thing that we need to find out is the exact algorhitms that govern the relationship between them.


Has anyone found out yet ? Anyone care to elaborate ?


If mind and body exists independently, there is no living the holy life.

If they exist dependently experientially, then they can cease when the cause is removed (assuming the cause can be removed. In this instance fortunately, it is avijja, which can be removed). It becomes meaningful to live the holy life i.e. practice the path, as there can be a complete cessation to suffering. This has implications to the secular path as well- there can be no end to suffering, as they don’t believe in ultimate kind of causality/dependant origination, but a mundane type: brain is the sole creator of experience, therefore with the death of the body there is no experience (annihilation). Hold a fire under a kettle of water and the water boils. These are ‘conventional’ ‘truths’, but another ultimate level of truth exists, which can be utilized, alongside it.

with metta


I was speaking about physical rules such as gravity, or other rules such as how perception can influence matter in the brain through neuroplasticity, but not external matter, etc. The rules that govern this world in general. That is what I ment by “algorithms”




Though most suttas on dependent origination don’t describe the mutual dependence of name+form and consciousness. Most suttas on DO describe name+form arising in dependence on consciousness.
Anyway, it seems that you are focussing on the distinction between consciousness and it’s objects, while I am focussing on the distinction between formless and form.


That sums it up really good! Sariputta said that seeing dependent origination was seeing the dhamma and the suttas are very clear in defining what this is.

In brief, this is how I understand it:

Consciousness conditions name and form and name and form conditions consciousness.

  • Form represents the material world, that which we can experience.
  • Name is the aspects of the mind where form is contacted, processed and concepts are created. Name consists of Contact, Feeling, Perception, Intention, Attention.
  • Consciousness is the aspect of the mind that experiences anything ( name and form).

I see Name as what subjectively defines Form. Consciousness observes. If there were no name and form, there would be nothing for consciousness to observe. If there were no consciousness, there would be no name and form. They are dependent on one another.

Like Bhante said, the division must be between the first four aggregates and consciousness. If the division was between mind and body, then mind would include consciousness which would make consciousness condition itself, thereby nullifying what the Buddha said.

Seeing DO with right view enables one to see conditionality and anatta, the impermanent process without a permanent entity.


Didn’t the interpretation of namarupa as “mind and body duality” come from the commentaries, predating European influence?

Also, if you have a citation for Cartesian Duality being the most “dysfunctional and harmful idea to come out of European philosophy” I’d love to hear it. That would be a fun read!

Personally, though, my money is on Capitalism. :wink:


Hi, Jimisommer,
Please try DN6 With Mahāli, in the latter part which says:
“They enter and remain in the first absorption. When a mendicant knows and sees like this, would it be appropriate to say of them: ‘The soul and the body are the same thing’ or ‘The soul and the body are different things?’ … But reverends, I know and see like this. Nevertheless, I do not say: ‘The soul and the body are the same thing’ or ‘The soul and the body are different things.’ ”

I reckon the use of language is more symbolic in ancient time. Though ancient people might not have used the exact terms “mind” & “matter,” they did have exactly the same concern for soul & body.

It seems that the Buddha not just denies a simple relation (or separation) between mind and matter, he also denies the ground, i.e., the methodology, to approach the problem. This implies the practice is perhaps not a due course to answering such a question. Alternatively, we may put: The Buddha’s teaching is to understand how our mind works rather than what our mind is made of.



What I find a little confusing is that nama includes phassa, and phassa includes vinnana, since phassa is the “meeting of the three”. So it appears that vinnana is both included in nama, and in a relationship with nama-rupa. Thoughts?


Sense stimuli at the sense door gives rise to sense consciousness. So you are watching TV and there is a sudden sound of someone dropping something in the kitchen, so your consciousness arises at the ear sense base. Immediately it adverts to that ear to listen to it ‘properly’ (experientially speaking to detect it better). This is the coming together of the three or tinnang sanhati phasso. At this point the consciousness dhathu passes away but the added awareness remains in the aggregates to follow (sanna, sankhara etc are all ‘conscious’…).


With phassa it seems like vinnana “goes out” to the sense-object. But vinnana being part of phassa, and therefore part of nama, seems to contradict the mutual dependence of vinnana and nama-rupa in DO.


What do you mean by ‘being part of’ here though?

IMO, one of the main problems with the Western mind-matter duality is its inbuilt substances; i.e. the idea of mind-stuff and matter-stuff. On one hand, a glassy, ethereal substance and on the other a solid, tangible substance (but how can to substances that don’t touch each other interact? = interaction problem)

But the EBT doctrines are built on causality, not substances.

So if you’re thinking in terms of phassa-substance, nama-substance, rupa-substance (or namarupa-substance) and vinnana-substance, you get into trouble with which things belong to what substance.

But if you look at it as describing a causal interaction it makes good sense.

No namarupa means no contact (given that contact is part of namarupa). If there was no contact, “the three” never came together.

If the three never came together, it was either because there was no consciousness, or there was no organ and/or no corresponding object to go with that organ.

We are back at the mutual dependency of consciousness on namarupa :slight_smile:


It would be interesting to examine whether the commentaries really take that stand, or whether translation of namarupa as mind-and-body giving that impression.


But with the meeting of the three ( phassa) we have vinnana arising in dependence upon rupa. For example eye-consciousness arises in dependence upon eye and form, which are both rupa. I struggle to understand how this relates to the DO relationship between vinnana and nama-rupa.


Isn’t nama-rupa most often translated as “mentality-materiality”? I still struggle to see the problem with this, given the way that nama-rupa is described in SN12. 2.


Take eye-consciousness, if you understand ‘arising in dependence upon’ as meaning that in the absence of eye and form, there is no eye-consciousness, then this is an example of the (causal) relationship between vinnana and nama-rupa.


The two translations here: SuttaCentral use “name and form”…

One problem with the mentality-materiality translation is that the definition of nama omits consciousness. Another is whether “forms” really are “materiality”. We have suttas that describe “forms seen by the eye”, which seems to be talking about perception based on shape and colour, a “perception of form” rather than an " experience of materiality".

Bhikkhu K. Ñāṇananda’s lectures “Nibbāna –
The Mind Stilled” (“Nibbana Sermons”) discuss this in great detail. From the first sermon:

“Feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention - this, friend, is called ‘name’. The four great primaries and form dependent on the four great primaries - this, friend, is called ‘form’. So this is ‘name’ and this is ‘form’ - this, friend, is called ‘name-and-form’.”

Well, this seems lucid enough as a definition but let us see,
whether there is any justification for regarding feeling, perception,
intention, contact and attention as ‘name’. Suppose there is a little
child, a toddler, who is still unable to speak or understand language.
Someone gives him a rubber ball and the child has seen it for the first
time. If the child is told that it is a rubber ball, he might not under-
stand it. How does he get to know that object? He smells it, feels it,
and tries to eat it, and finally rolls it on the floor. At last he under-
stands that it is a plaything. Now the child has recognised the rubber
ball not by the name that the world has given it, but by those factors
included under ‘name’ in nāma-rūpa, namely feeling, perception,
intention, contact and attention.

This shows that the definition of nāma in nāma-rūpa takes us
back to the most fundamental notion of ‘name’, to something like its
prototype. The world gives a name to an object for purposes of easy
communication. When it gets the sanction of others, it becomes a



I think a better translation would be something like “concept-and-object” or “conceptialized object.” In much early philosophical thought worldwide we see a continued slippage between the concepts we apply to things and the common names we apply to those things, and I suspect something like that is going on in the early buddhist context. Maybe there is no harm in just keeping it as “name-and-form” and letting the reader figure it out from there.

When I see a cow, I don’t just make visual contact with the cow’s form or shape, I think of it as a cow, and mentally apply the term “cow” to it. My stream of cognitive experience is not just filled with unconceptualized shapes, but conceptualized objects of thought. But it is first necessary for my organs of conscious awareness to make contact with the forms of those objects. So contact pre-conditions the occurrence of conceptualized objects of experience.

IMHO, the ideas that nama represents the totality of the mental as opposed to the physical, and that the process of dependent origination is a comprehensive philosophy of the natural world including an account of how the “mental” becomes fused to the “physical” is just way, way off. Dependent origination is all about the processes taking place in our experiential life, including our suffering, and was taught as part of the explanation of how we can suspend or detach from these processes and become liberated from suffering.


Well, nothing in Indian philosophy after Alexander can be 100% said to be entirely free of European influence—and vice versa.

But yes, to some extent, although the exact nature and evolution of the idea is complex. To be fair, however, the Visuddhimagga explicitly states that the dualistic reading of namarupa does not apply in the context of dependent origination.