Is this a case of meter causing a misleading abbreviation of a phrase?

The following is from Snp 4.11. I have bolded the question and answer that I am interested in.

My question is that if name and form cause contact, wouldn’t the answer here be “when name or form disappears, contacts don’t strike.” as opposed to what is does say “when form disappears, contacts don’t strike.”? Is this a case of meter causing a misleading abbreviation of a phrase?

PS. I am interpreting “name and form” to mean something like the process of name with form as its input".

This does not seem to be an abbreviation.

For the line:
Nāmañca rūpañca paṭicca phasso,

The commentary gives the gloss, “dependent on the associated “name” (mentality) and the “form” (material form) consisting in the sense base and object. “ (ven. Bodhi trans. )

Ven Bodhi goes on to gloss this:

“That is, sensory contacts depend on the associated mental factors that constitute the “name body” and on the sense base (sense organ) and sense object that constitutes the “form body”. It is from these that the corresponding types of consciousness arise. The meeting of sense base, sense object, and consciousness constitutes contact. “

Perhaps it’s helpful to take this with the following two verses, 874 & 875.

Challenging verses for sure!

As an interesting footnote, I see Ven Nanadipa has translated the last line of 874,

Saññānidānā hi papañcasankā


“For tied up with perception is expanse and name”.

It’s interesting to take ‘sankhā’ that way.

These are indeed challenging lines!

As pointed out by BB as quoted by Stephen, normally contact depends on both nāma and rūpa. In context we are talking about the shift from full contact, including the subtle rūpa of the 4 jhanas, to the arūpa realms, where only nāma operates.

The problem is, should it not be the case that in arūpa the “designation contact” associated with nāma still functions, albeit in a highly refined sense?

I can see a few possible answers here.

  1. It is a compressed idiom implying paṭighasamphassa, i.e. the “impingement contact” associated with rūpa. Remember that paṭighasaññā is said to cease on arriving at the first arūpa.
  2. Or could it be that if phassa depends on both nāma and rūpa, in the arūpa there really is no contact? Seems unlikely, but I can’t think of a passage that directly contradicts this.
  3. Or it could be that, well, it’s poetry and we can’t push the analysis too far.

I don’t think it’s likely that nāma has been dropped, just because of context. The sutta is progressing towards the arūpa and clearly nāma is still present.

I think the first option is most likely. And it is supported by the commentary:

Kismiṃ vibhūte na phusanti phassāti kismiṃ vītivatte cakkhusamphassādayo pañca phassā na phusanti.
When what disappears do contacts not strike? means: With the transcendence of what do the five contacts starting with eye contact not strike?


No it’s a matter of doctrine, name is fundamental and the origin of conventional reality. It must always be remembered the Buddha speaks from a position of having attained the unconditioned, therefore sees CR as something separate (Samyutta Nikaya 35.80), whereas listeners are immersed in it and attempt to reason from that position. Thus seeking explanations through different translations of individual words or verbal mechanisms is not profitable, and relations with other suttas through meaning should be the chosen method:

“Everything comes under the sway of name as a result of man’s urge to familiarize himself with the world. Sorting out, naming and defining things, are practical necessities in ordinary life, since they help us avoid ‘tripping-over,’ just as in the case of one groping in the dark. There is a constant need to re-cognize things and the easiest way of doing it, is by putting a sign on them. While the five senses have their own separate modes of indentation, mind largely relies on the labeling-mode of attaching a name, in the course of its own groping. Since mind partakes of the ‘range’ (visaya ) and pasture (gocara ) of the other five senses as well (M. I. 295.), its own mode of indentation has a preponderating influence over the rest. Thus, perceptual data of the five external senses, in all their permutations and combinations, finally come to be assigned names and pigeon-holed as ‘things.’ This convenient but superficial indentation beclouds the mind and prevents the immediate understanding of sense-contact (phassa ). Its mode of apperception, therefore, is largely a process of ‘imagining’ and ‘figuring-out’ of objects located in the darkness of ignorance, and in its blind groping, the phenomenon of sense-contact as such, hardly receives any serious attention.”—Nanananda, note to Samyutta Nikaya 1.61

First comes the raw sense impression which is then translated to a name. The aim should be to go beyond name to become aware of sense impression feelings themselves.

“A monk who is a trainee — yearning for the unexcelled relief from bondage, his aspirations as yet unfulfilled — directly knows earth as earth. Directly knowing earth as earth, let him not conceive things about earth, let him not conceive things in earth, let him not conceive things coming out of earth, let him not conceive earth as ‘mine,’ let him not delight in earth. Why is that? So that he may comprehend it, I tell you.”—Majhima Nikaya 1

The sutta also clearly separates the All (conventional reality) from the unconditioned. The monks were not happy with this discourse because it threatened their basic immersion in conventional reality.

I am wondering, if this is true, one could “reach the end of the world(contact)” without a formless attainment. If the four jhanas do not lead to a formless state, they could still be enough. They would not be a “half measure”. With forms without name, it could be that “in the seen, there is only the seen; in the heard, only the heard”. And no “you in that, by that, etc.” Presumably, contact is between you and something else. There might be an issue about whether thought is possible. Can one think without name?

I agree that the sutta leads to the disappearance of forms and that is where we see that very qualified notion of perception, but is that just a setup for the mention of the debate about what is the highest attainment that the Buddha chooses not to get involved with?

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Oh, by the way, I just now understand your user name. Well played!

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