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What is nāma rūpa and how does it relate to the 5 aggregates?

Hello again, a doubt…exactly what is “nāma rūpa” in early buddhism? what does it refer to? I know that nāma rūpa(name-form) was a Brahmanic term ( as I understand it refers to the designation of names to material objects) that the buddha redefined for his teaching, it is used in dependent origination, but I don’t know if it is still related to its former use, DN 15 implies this. … although in Sn 12,2 it is mentioned that rūpa are the 4 great elements (air, water, earth, fire) and that nāma is vedanā(sensation), sañña(perception), cetana (volition) and manosikaro(attention). Then, what is its relation with panccakhanda (5 aggregates)? Is it perhaps another way of referring to them? … another doubt, what is manosikaro (attention) and cetana (volition)? thanks in advance.

Hi DavidCeballos,

There happens to be some discussion of various definitions of nāma rūpa buried in this thread:

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Actually, as with so many other long-held beliefs, we also have to re-think the whole namarupa business. We got used to believe that it was a Vedic concept with an established meaning. Well it is not that simple. Individually, nama and rupa occur numerously in pre-Buddhist literature, but the compound namarupa is not that common, and the meaning is complex

There are basically only two detailed treatments of the term as far as I know. The older one is

Falk, Maryla. 1943. Nāma-rūpa and dharma-rūpa. Origin and Aspects of an Ancient Indian
Conception. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.

And far too little attention is given to Liudmila Olalde’s work:
An English abstract to her German book about nama-rupa
And her article Nāmarūpa; a Linguistic Perspective

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It is related to material objects and contemplated that way (rather than DO) will lead directly to the insight path in the following way. Name is an arbitrary label attached to material things for the convenience of the institutions of conventional reality, it bears no relation to their reality yet a conventional reality is developed around it.

“Name has weighed down everything;
Nothing is more extensive than name.
Name is the one thing that has
All under its control.”–SN 1.61

Ajahn Sumedho on how name bears no relation to reality (first 15 mins.):

https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/10/talk/4262/

There is paramattha sacca (conventional reality) and sammuti sacca (ultimate reality) both existing concurrently.

“Citta, these are the world’s designations, the world’s expressions, the world’s ways of speaking, the world’s descriptions, with which the Tathagata expresses himself but without grasping to them.”—DN 9

Convention and Liberation, Ajahn Chah:

“So you should know both convention and liberation. Conventions have a use, but in reality there really isn’t anything there.”

https://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Convention_Liberation1.php

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I’ll try and offer a working explanation. It is a view based on my current understanding and is still subject to evolution based on further input.

Rupa, loosely translated as ‘Form’ refers to the physical aspect of what is there viz, what in modern understanding is ‘matter-energy’. It can come together as various shapes and can also flow between agglomerations. When it is loosely collected together in a shape, it is subject to deformation- that is why it is called ‘Form’. It has properties such as hardness, movement, liquidity and temperature which are related to the 4 great elements that in the ancient understanding were supposed to make up all matter/energy. Rupa makes up the world, it also makes up the bodies of sentient beings in the dimension of form. Think of Rupa as the material in a river flowing between, around and through various whirlpools.

Nama is the dynamic process of giving a ‘Name’ to the various agglomerations of Rupa cognized by a sentient being. Think of it as the act of processing and identifying. Nama requires a (pleasant/unpleasant/ neutral) vedana (sensation) to occur at the sense receptor during contact as well as the process of sanna (perception) to translate that sense signal into meaning. This is an action of the Mind, hence it requires cetana (volition) as well as manosikara (attention). Of course, Nama needs Rupa to give a name to.

The process of Nama- Rupa is based on Vinnana (Conciousness) ie that which cognizes, hence this can only occur in sentient beings. It is Conciousness that catalyses the generation of Vedana when the exterior Rupa of the object contacts the interior Rupa of the sense organ.

This is how the World a sentient being knows comes to be.

As far as the 5 aggregates classification is concerned, Rupa is the aggregate of Rupa (duh!) while Nama loosely comes under Vedana-Sanna- Sankhara with Vinnana being the catalyst of the process.

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Here’s a straightforward answer.

Left is nama-rupa, right is 5 aggregates.

Rupa= form
Vedana= feelings/ sensation
sanna= perception
cetana, manasikara= volitional formation

Only consciousness is not included in nama-rupa but it’s in 5 aggregates. The others are easily mapped as shown above. Whatever’s that’s mind, but not feeling, perception or consciousness are to be grouped into volitional formation. See the Abdhidhamma for the list of 50 of them.

Attention is where you shine your torchlight of awareness to, where you choose to place attention. It requires volition, which is basically will, choice.

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Many people claim that nama means labeling/conceptualizing but I don’t really see any evidence for this in the suttas.

As OP quoted, nama is just the part of mind that where the defilements get churned out.

Before nama-rupa you have ignorance, sankhara, consciousness.

So the way I look at it, what we call mind is:

ignorance/wisdom, sankhara, consciousness, sanna, vedana, cetana, manasikara, and when you include rupa that concludes the 5 aggregates

sankhara, vinanna, sanna, vedana, rupa

Ignorance/wisdom is the fuel, and all the other parts are the mechanisms of the vehicle that is the mind.

Dependent Origination simply explains how these mechanisms operate. The 5 aggregates is simply a term that describes the core components of the mechanism.

Just like the core components of a computer is the cpu, ram, gpu, hard drive, psu, etc…

The reason for classifying a “nama” is because consciousness in and of itself is pure and bright, it’s the defilements that hinder it. Nama, particularly perception, intention and Manasikara is where both those defilements can grow or be defeated. Hence yoniso manasikara is the beginning of the weakening and destruction of defilements.

Without Yoniso Manasikara the path cannot be born and the defilements cannot be removed, so yoniso manasikara is the key component, which begins in the nama, assuming one hears wisdom (dhamma) or attains it themselves as a bodhisatta.

In other words, wisdom exists in nature, it’s just your attention is not on it, your attention is on ignorance, so your actions (mechanisms of the mind) are fueled by ignorance. However, finding wisdom is not easy, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, so you are going to be ignorant by default and you’ll need an Ariya to tell you where to look unless you’re a bodhisatta.

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Here’s a short article by Ven Analayo on the “name” in “name-and-form”

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Excellent article, thank you so much for posting it!

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The SA 298 (counterpart of SN 12.1-2) includes consciousness for nama:

Pages 162-3 from the-fundamental-teachings-of-early-buddhism_Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (140.3 KB)

The two sets, SA 298 and SN 12.2, for nama-rupa are very similar. I think consciousness the 5th of the five aggregates in SA 298 is actually identical with manasikara ‘attention’ in SN 12.2.

Good, right? Those who have listened to the Nibbāna Lectures will no doubt recognize its fingerprints instantly. … And those who haven’t yet are in for a real treat! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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Looking forward to listening to those.

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This is the standard Therava answer, but can you point to suttas apart from SN 12.2 (and some of its copies in SN 12) and MN 9 where this is stated? It’s not in the Khandha-samyutta for example…

What I find really interesting about the implications of Nama-Rupa is the amazing extent to which the Buddha understood the human Mind. He really was a superman- far ahead of his times! Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), modern subliminal marketing techniques such as Stealth product placement, Nudge theory and Facebook algorithms all exploit this tendency of humans to self-construct and live in a personal dream world far removed from reality.

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You got fast internet, you can do the homework. I haven’t read all the nikayas, much less commit to memory all the suttas together with their names, location, and become a human index. Thanks for citing where the teachings are from the Canon.

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With such questions I often come across the same epistemological problem - people strongly want to know something, and this need wants to be pacified. An answer is presented and is then accepted - not because it’s a particularly good answer but because it’s an answer.

With our example at hand, the OP wants to know what namarupa is and how it relates to the khandhas. We find an answer in SN 12.2, copied into MN 9. What I find is lacking is to ask: Is this the correct answer (which prohibits any other answer)? Is it a good/plausible answer (ie one that makes sense but not necessarily come from the Buddha and allows other answers)? Or is it a wrong/misleading answer by a singular post-Buddha teacher?

Are we as practicing Buddhists or scholars able to live with the tension that an answer in the texts is not authoritative or properly understood?

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Yes, it’s worth watching the start of Ven Analayo’s second lecture to see him demonstrate it live… :sweat_smile:

https://vimeo.com/345110399/bd7db6b4f3

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Great comment. If you haven’t already figured out, which I’m sure you have, there’s plenty of interpretations of the dhamma (and even within the thai forest tradition).

  • Hillside hermitage - focusing on an object isn’t what the Buddha taught
  • Canadian thai forest monks (like ven sona and punnadhammho) - you must focus on only one object
  • Ven Thanissaro - focus on the body
  • Pau Auk - make attention so small and focused you see the atomic level (kalapa)

then when you throw the agamas and Ghandaharan fragments into the mix, you have even more interpretations.

The thing is, there’s different levels of interpretations. Even if you just stick to the suttas alone, many people have incomplete interpretations because all it takes is for one small suttas hidden somewhere in a nikaya to change their view completely.

So unless someone has read the 4 nikayas and 6 EBT books of the khuddaka nikaya thoroughly, they’re going to have an incomplete interpretation, but even if they did read all those texts thoroughly their interpretation may still be different from others who also read all those same texts.

So in the end, all that matters is that one grasps the core dhamma axioms, as that is enough to attain stream entry. The particulars and small details, imho, can serve as a distraction from practice.

Personally, I think a lot of interpretations and methods (including many retreats) haven’t been practical to me, they haven’t actually reduced my sensual desires much, until I ran into Ven Punnaji’s work which actually started changing me, and I think that’s what matters at the end of the day, actual lasting change and improvement.

Punnaji on the limitations of study

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Thanks for all your answers, metta :wheel_of_dharma::pray:t2:

The Q&A section is a place for precise questions for which there are precise answers (e.g “what’s the name or number of the sutta(s) which teaches anapanassati??”).

This is not the case of the opening post (OP).

I’m therefore taking the liberty of moving this to discussion category. There we are supposed to discuss all things EBTs :slightly_smiling_face:

:anjal:

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