What is the meaning of Nama in Nama Rupa?


Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention (Vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro - idaṃ vuccatāvuso nāmaṃ).

The four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements — these are called materiality (Cattāri ca mahābhūtāni catunna — these are called mentality). MN9

Note that the Buddha doesn’t include consciousness (vinnana) or Nibbana under Nama. These are added to Nama only in the commentaries like Abhidhamma (not to say that everything in the commentaries is wrong but in this case is not in line with MN9).

With metta



This means that Nama, Rupa and Vinnana arise at the same time (i.e. Co-dependant origination). Buddha says a mind, body and consciousness exists in dependence on each other:

“‘From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.’ Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form. If consciousness were not to descend into the mother’s womb, would name-and-form take shape in the womb?”
“No, lord.”
“If, after descending into the womb, consciousness were to depart, would name-and-form be produced for this world?”
“No, lord.”
“If the consciousness of the young boy or girl were to be cut off, would name-and-form ripen, grow, and reach maturity?”
“No, lord.” DN15

With metta


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Every act of seeing, hearing, thinking etc involves giving rise to the five aggregates. We usually cannot tell them apart. However when the right meditation method is used it is possible to see the aggregates as distinct from each other:

At Savatthi. “For a monk practicing the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma, what accords with the Dhamma is this: that he keep focused on inconstancy with regard to form, that he keep focused on inconstancy with regard to feeling, that he keep focused on inconstancy with regard to perception, that he keep focused on inconstancy with regard to fabrications, that he keep focused on inconstancy with regard to consciousness. As he keeps focusing on inconstancy with regard to form… feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness, he comprehends form… feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness. As he comprehends form… feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness, he is totally released from form… feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness…” SN 22.40

While seeing them apart doesn’t have a specific name (yathabhutha nana may be close) like Nama-rupa pariccheda nana, the act of seeing them distinctly is stated in the EBTs.
With metta


In MN9, the definition of nama is “feeling, perception, volition, contact, and attention”.

In dependent origination (e.g. SN12.1), we have:

… with name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases; with the six sense bases as condition, contact …


… with [feeling, perception, volition, contact, and attention], the six sense bases; with the six sense bases as condition, contact

My guess here would be that the contact in namarupa is mental contact, and with the six sense bases you get the sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch contact as well.

Is this explained anywhere in the suttas?

This is correct, but to be fair, the Visuddhimagga specifically states that in the context of dependent origination, nāma excludes vinnana—a distinction not often noted.[quote=“SarathW1, post:14, topic:4600”]
I have read 80% of the Sutta (English translation) and Abhidhamma (Narada) at least twice.

My apologies, I was feeling mischievous. :pray:

But note that your answer reveals one of the basic problems here. You equate Narada with Abhidhamma. But of course, this is a 20th century summary and explanation of a 12 century Burmese text, the Abhidhammatthasangaha, a text whose interpretation was heavily disputed for centuries in Theravada, and which is full of concepts, terms, and ideas that are not only not found in the Suttas, but are not found in the canonical Abhidhamma either.

So if you want to step beyond generalities and discuss the relation between the Abhidhamma and the Suttas, you have have to begin by asking what, exactly, do you mean by Abhidhamma?

Who said I was opposed to abhidhamma? “Abhidhamma” just means “about the dhamma”, and it is what we do here, have discussions “about the dhamma”. But in modern Theravada, abhidhamma is used in a much more pregnant sense. It has come to mean a specific body of teachings, primarily those found in the Abhidhammatthasangaha, which constitute the “Higher Teachings”.

So what I’m opposed to is misusing the abhidhamma by using it as a lens through which the suttas are seen. That’s not what it was meant for: it was meant as an advanced study for those who have already mastered the suttas and want to put their study on a more systematic basis.

The problem is that, as used in modern Theravada, the abhidhamma has come to be seen as authoritative, and rather than explaining the suttas, it explains them away. For practical purposes, in modern Theravada, when the abhidhamma (i.e the Abhidhammatthasangaha and its commentaries) and the suttas disagree, the suttas are interpreted so as to agree with the abhidhamma.

Don’t underestimate the scope of the problem. When I taught a sutta course in Jakarta, I was told that that was the first time anyone had taught the suttas in Indonesia. Is that true? I find it hard to believe, but maybe it is. But nevertheless it is telling. Modern Theravada is all Abhidhamma, all the time. My first Dhamma lesson was not, “Here’s what the Buddha said in the suttas”, but, quite literally, drawing 17 circles on a blackboard to represent the 17 mind-moments, and go from there.

It’s not uncommon to find monasteries, even major ones, where they do not even have the suttas, but only the Abhidhamma. Or if the suttas are there, they are left in the cabinet because they’re too sacred, and only the “abhidhamma” is read. In the Thai academic system of Dhamma study, Suttas are not taught in any of the 9 years. That’s right: you get the equivalent of a Phd in Buddhsim without having ever read any suttas. This problem is hardly limited to Thailand. Ignoring the suttas in favor of later texts is, of course, normal in all the schools of Mahayana, and common in Western academic courses, too.

Sorry, I’m too busy.

Again, I don’t really want to spend too long on this, as I have written extensively on this problem elsewhere. But the basic problem is that the Abhidhamma treats the nāma as “mind”, which it never means in the suttas, and then rūpa becomes “body”, which it sometimes means in the suttas, but not here. (Rūpa is broader than “body”, as it includes the objects of the five sense, and even the objects of the sixth sense that have material properties such as color and position).

This then creates a dualistic mind/body analysis. The primary mode of analysis is to distinguish between the mind and the body, and again, this is never found in the suttas. The suttas are much too sophisticated to fall into this kind of trap. They never treat the mind and the body as separate entities, or posit them as primary forms of analytical categories.

This mind/body dualism lies at the heart of much Western philosophy, such as Descartes, and has been responsible for many of the most insoluble and damaging implications of western philosophy. Indeed, I believe that the reason we are subject to such an influential extremist materialism today, with its far-reaching and devastating consequences in terms of divorcing fact and value, lies precisely because the West has never escaped the dysfunctional abyss of mind/body dualism.

When the Buddha discussed the mind and the body, he always placed their relation foremost, not their separation. This is apparent in the commentarial attempt to justify the so-called nāmarūpapariccheda. This means the “cutting between, complete separation of mind and body”. But this is not found anywhere in the EBTs, so to support it they use a passage on meditative vision. But that passage speaks not of the separation between these things, but quite the opposite: that they are bound together, dependent on each other.

Anyway, I could keep going for quite some time on the many, many ways the modern Abhidhamma teachings neither represent the EBTs, nor are philosophically coherent, nor offer a realistic map of experience, nor provide an adequate basis for addressing the problems that we, as a species, encounter today. We should focus on bring the Buddha’s teachings alive, not on worshiping the bones of ancient scholastics.


For Buddhists, nama-rupa is ‘mentality-materiality’, as defined in SN 12.2, MN 9, etc.

For Brahmans, nama-rupa is ‘name-form’ or ‘naming-forms’, as used in DN 11, SN 7.6 & DN 15.

The term ‘namati’ is found in MN 19 & SN 6.1:

Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination (nati) of his mind. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of sensual desire, he has abandoned the thought of renunciation to cultivate the thought of sensual desire, and then his mind inclines (namati) to thoughts of sensual desire. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of ill will…upon thoughts of cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of non-cruelty to cultivate the thought of cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of cruelty.

Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of renunciation, he has abandoned the thought of sensual desire to cultivate the thought of renunciation, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of non-ill will…upon thoughts of non-cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of cruelty to cultivate the thought of non-cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of non-cruelty.

MN 19


Itiha bhagavatobhagavant paṭi­sañcik­khato appossukkatāya cittaṃ namati, no dhammadesanāya.

As the Blessed One reflected thus, his mind inclined to dwelling at ease, not to teaching the Dhamma.

SN 6.1


The above sounds similar to MN 19, however, when examining contextual usage, it appears questionable that ‘nama’ (‘mentality’) has the same meaning as ‘namati’ (‘inclines’) because it is the ‘nama’ (‘mentality’) which ‘bends’ or ‘inclines’. While ‘namati’ may mean to ‘bend’ or ‘incline’, what dependent origination is emphasising is whether or not nama (i.e., the various mental faculties) are tainted & thus ‘bent’ by ignorance.

Since ‘nama’ is used together with ‘rupa’ in ‘nama-rupa’, ‘nama’ obviously appears to refer to the mental aggregates & faculties rather than their ‘bending’; even though they are ‘bent’ by ignorance.

That said, to say: 'The four immaterial aggregates are called “name” ’ does not really make any sense in the English language. At least, for me, it is attachment to words. I think the translation ‘name’ should be discarded, except in suttas where discussions with Brahmans occur.


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Thank you Banthe. I was aware some might go in that direction because I know some translate namarupa as “mind and body” witch is not correct and is not leading to understanding them properly. The idea of “mind” is never used in the suttas as an analytical category and is misleading to think of things in terms of this dualism as you have explained. It is used some times for practical purposes but not in an analytical sense and not in matters dealing with complicated doctrinal points.

I was not aware the Abhidhamma actually treats them like that and goes into that direction. Thanks for explaining it to us. I too believe it is very important to start by reading the suttas first and only then maybe read abhidhamma otherwise the person will understand the suttas through abhidhamma lens weather consciously or unconsciously. The suttas are very subtle and difficult to understand by themselves. It’s even more difficult if not impossible to understand such subtle teachings with abhidhamma lens on our eyes.

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It’s good to keep in mind that nama-rupa is a pre-buddhist term and not invented by the buddha. It received a semantic change before him, and further in the buddhist development.

Maryla Falk wrote a detailed treatment on it back in the days: Origin And Aspects Of An Ancient Indian Conception : Falk, Maryla : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

more recent, but much shorter is:
Playing with Fire: The pratītyasamutpāda from the perspective of Vedic thought, by Joanna Jurewicz

Like Bhante Sujato already stated, it’s a complex matter, mainly because the concept changed so often its meaning and has to be understood on the basis of the vedic knowledge back then


As far as nāmarūpa is concerned, we find the same meaning in the BṛĀr.Up, than in early Buddhism - Although in EB, there is a clear-cut difference between a purely sensorial and non-sensorial manifest.

This immortal (imperishable) is covered by the real (manifest):
|tad etad amṛtaṃ satyena channam |
Prāṇa is the immortal,
| prāṇo vā amṛtam |
and name and form are the real (manifest-satya),
| nāmarūpe satyam |
and by them Prāṇa is covered.
| tābhyām ayaṃ prāṇaś channaḥ |
(BṛĀr.Up I-vi-3)

Name & form are the manifest.

This name & form feeds our Satta with its khandhas; and we appropriate them or not.
To believe that these khandhas could be ours (SN 22.33, SN 22.59,) is to believe in the brahmanic idea of a continuous and pervasive Self/self (SN 22.47).

Nāmarūpa is matter, energy and ignorance (“knowledge”).

Magic (the first, most sophisticated, yet less evolved religion, as Hegel once put it,) is about playing with these energies and elements of matter.

There is, however, something higher to be found.
Nāmarūpa must do something to arrive at true knowledge. And that is to grant a somewhat freedom to Satta. Otherwise, Ignorance would always have itself as Knowledge.
How could ignorance know if something is good or not, if it does not grant that privilege to some other? - the body is made to be felt (SN 12.37), but mano is the ultimate decider of the appreciative outcome, and also the (somewhat free) and only means of an escape (SN 22.82).

The Asmi born of nāmarūpa, and present in Satta (like the “Being” of Aristotle’s Categories,) must be granted the freedom of his own Citta (along with its debased “wordly” mano) (SN 47.8).
Mano has the right to choose between the magic of playing with matter and energy; OR stilling the stressful synergetic energies involved in the accumulation of matter (elements).
The tapas (which means “heating up”) must be cooled down and not used, either as magic; or as harsh ascetism - as it was done (and done again) in Indian philosophy. The saṅkhāras must be stilled; not excited. There is also no control to be taken on things and creatures; but instead, control to ward off from things and creatures.

By getting rid of the idea of a Self and the “I” and the “am” (asmi) and the “mine”, and the “self” - and by definitely stilling the saṅkhāras, etc. - one liberates the “imperishable” through true knowledge.
What does that “imperishable” becomes after death, no one knows; for it can’t be definable in words.

So what does nāma has to do in that picture?
Again, it involves:

  • First the nāma of nāmarūpa nidanā purely concerned with the non-sensorials (although “feeling”, perceiving and conscious) khandhas, that, with the establishing of consciousness, descends in saḷāyatana:

When (non-sensory) consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is a descent of name-and-form.
Tasmiṃ patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe nāmarūpassa avakkanti hoti.

With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be.
Nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṃ
(SN 12.39)

Which in turn triggers the sense-consciousness, etc… in Satta.

  • So, secondly, is a quite different nāma in nature, in saḷāyatana, defined as contact + feeling (vedanā nidāna) + perception + manasikāra.

I have this very bad habit, trying to find an early non-sectarian Buddhism in the suttas.
The “neither, nor” so dear to me, (as an ultimate transcendental means - also here, ) seems to be found across all the early sects (Pudgalavāda, Sarvāstivāda, Vibhajjavāda [(Theravada]). But particularly in the very early Pudgalavāda sect.

What the pudgalavadins are saying is that, beyond the mere “world,” as defined by Buddha, the pudgala is neither the aggregates, nor is it different from them. Pudgala kind of transcends that.

On one hand, if I am identical to the aggregates, then “I” should be annihilated; because the khandhas are intrinsically impermanent (anicca), says the pudgalavadin.
On the other hand, if I am different from the aggregates, then “I” should be eternal; (which Buddha rightly denies).

For the pudgalavadins, the pudgala transcends this, as the middle way.

Here are the texts of the Pudgalavadins:
here and here (something else even more interesting [in french though]).

And here are the (pretty sapless) criticisms from the Theravadins:

For the Pudgalavadins, pudgala is a paññatti; namely a concept - not an absolute reality. It is a notion (the manifestation of the truth in things).

  • Paññatti,(f.) [fr.paññāpeti,cp.paññatta1] making known,manifestation,description,designation,name,idea,notion,concept.
  • Paññāpeti,[Caus.of pajānāti] make known,declare,point out,appoint,assign,recognise,define.
  • Pajānāti,[pa+jānāti] to know,find out,come to know,understand,distinguish.

This is where Paññatta [ññā] = wisdom takes its real meaning. Viz. a discerning knowledge.

As far as neither, nor is concerned, I would not say “neither paranoid nor deluded”, but instead “neither paranoid nor not paranoid”.
And I would definitely try to know what’s behind that. And once known, not to use this magic; but obviate it, as utterly loathsome & uninteresting; and therefore, do my best to transcend it.
For the illusion we experience, is not as bad as the false truth behind it - a false truth that has possessed more than an ignorant.
Truth in Buddhism is not the hidden reality behind the illusion - but the emetically nature of its expression and deviant use. :expressionless:

So…what does nāma mean in the suttas?

It means “name”. But see above, I talked about the evolution of the use of nāma as a philosophical term. The Sutta use is dialectical, i.e. based not on an absolute sense but on a response to the pre-existing uses and ideas and baggage.


And further down you go an at some length about how -

But surely the four khandhas don’t imply such a dualism. If they did, the Buddha’s teaching would be internally inconsistent.


Indeed not. Which is why, when a single one of the khandhas is isolated in contast with the others, it is viññāṇa, not rūpa.

Obviously this is a significant parallel between the sutta treatment of nāma and the three immaterial khandhas apart from viññāṇa—and it is not the only one.

But similarity is one thing, identity another. To equate them is to carry out the Abhidhamma project, seeing all dhammic terms as interchangeable concepts with fixed, absolute meanings. This is the first step on the dark path to the sabhāvavāda.

Nāma has a distinct contextual nuance and dialectical force which differs significantly from the way the khandhas are treated. For a start, the khandhas are never said to be dependent on adhivacanasamphassa. Furthermore, the historical dialogue on viññāṇa and nāmarūpa is specifically responding to Upanishadic ideas, whereas the khandhas are more general, and seem to be designed to encompass all the sectarian philosophies.


Bhante, thank you very much for your response.

[quote=“sujato, post:23, topic:4600”]
But the basic problem is that the Abhidhamma treats the nāma as “mind”, which it never means in the suttas, and then rūpa becomes “body”, which it sometimes means in the suttas, but not here. (Rūpa is broader than “body”, as it includes the objects of the five sense, and even the objects of the sixth sense that have material properties such as color and position).
[/quote] [my emphasis]

Alright, I’m trying to get my head (and heart) around this!!

It’s, as they say in Oz, “doing my head in!”

But possibly, perhaps…I’m might be sort of getting it now…(I feel like I’m metaphorically holding my head in my hands and twisting it about here and there!!!)


Nāma is the naming of that pre-verbal place we can all access to some degree, during, for example, the experience of meditating. It’s also the naming of all the “things” we notice in that pre-verbal place. Yes?

Nāma is basically a type of Noun used to name that which is deeply internal within us (or deeply internal within something/anything, “the essence of that thing” as you call it; and Rūpa is a type of Noun that describes those things that flow from the Nāma Nouns. Gosh, this is weird stuff. 'Am I on the right track?

So…in practical terms, where the term nāmarūpa is found, nāma and rūpa cannot (should not? in all cases?) be separated. Right? That means…nāmarūpa is basically everything that we experience? Thus…okay…wow…I’m remembering @Brahmali said:

So…my understanding of what you’ve said, correlates with what Ajahn Brahmali has said… because, please correct me if this isn’t right, consciousness and nāmarūpa are mutually dependent? If one falls, so does the other, yes? This is what the Buddha said in the EBTs right?

If I’m right in the above questions/statements, then what I’m coming to is this: it’s actually a heck of a lot simpler than what I thought it was!!! I was getting all twisted up because of translations like name and form and mentality/materiality. @sujato and @Brahmali, what is the English translation that you both favour. I can see that Bhante S, prefers “name” for what I’m now seeing as the first part of the compound word, nāmarūpa; but what does Bhante S prefer for the translation of rūpa? And if it is indeed a compound word, or perhaps more specifically, a compound noun, then can we perhaps have an English neologism that reflects this and is easily understood?

With many thanks indeed! :anjal:

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Dear Bhante, dear @Brahmali

This is intensely fascinating…

Please can you tell me what these mean:

Thank you.

I’m trying to get my head around the notion of [quote=“sujato, post:31, topic:4600”]
dialectical force

Ok, so strictly speaking we should say that the nāma is conditioned by the station of consciousness. The problem with this is that it is rather obscure. By using the three khandhas instead, the idea is more easily graspable.

Also, although nāmarūpa in viññāṇa paccaya nāmarūpa may not be equivalent to the four non-consciousness khandhas, I would suggest that the conditioned nature of the four khandhas is implied. Nāma is obviously closely related to these khandhas. I’ll leave the deeper philosophical issues to you!


@sujato, @Brahmali

Dialectical force

So…our notion of nama must be informed by the history of how the word has changed in usage?

Otherwise we run the risk of simplifying it so much that we overcomplicate it and misunderstand the Buddha’s point? Like the Abidhamma does?

Yet, we want to simplify it. Well, I do. I want some kind of intellectual concept that I can hang my perceptual hat on! At least, until I don’t need it anymore. Perhaps this isn’t so dangerous, when - I’m qualifying it - when I remember and keep in mind the complicated history of the word nama?

I appreciate the round about “history” lesson and as it “talks in a circle”. I get that and indeed, I love it! It gives heartful meaning in a way a linear conversation never can. But sometimes, I need something that just cuts to the heart of something, to the main point. I mean, you are both teachers, with different and equally wonderful styles; when someone asks you to your face what ‘nama’ means, were there a variety of responses that you’ve given in the past that you can say, in hindsight, were probably useful? Or just one or two?

Sorry for the constant nattering…but this is just really cool…

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Dear Ajahn

Clearly I need to walk away from this because I feel rather clouded and stupider than usual after reading the above quote…but I can’t help myself, I shan’t walk away yet, I have to ask: can you please elaborate what you mean by the above?

I’m glad to see that you’re struggling through a cloud of incomprehension: this shows you’re on the right track!

If you haven’t already, I would strongly recommend that you have a read of the Golden Bough, or some similar work on the anthropology of magic, especially on the role that “names” have in pre-rational society.

I believe that we have become so distant from that way of thinking that we miss its implications in ancient works; but at the same time, it still informs and affects us in deep ways. Consider, for example, the meditation practice of noting, or “naming”, phenomena as they occur. This is based on a distinct psychological reality, that naming things is reassuring. We still somehow feel that if we have a name for something, it is understood, under control. Much of science is still about the correct way of naming things: when they have a name, we can begin to understand them.

Partly, yes, but remember that it is a primitive concept. To understand it, dumb yourself down. Imagine that objects in the world came labelled with hidden metadata: that’s name.

Everything that’s comprehended in experience, yes. The unnamed is the fearful, the unknown.