What is the meaning of Nama in Nama Rupa?

This is not a simple question! But my own suggestion is to avoid the Abhidhamma explanations of this particular term, as the usage in later years is quite different from that found in the suttas.

The underlying sense of the word nāma is “name”. But in pre-rational societies, such as that which Buddhism was emerging from, name has a much more potent meaning. We still feel this when we call an evil Lord, “he who must not be named”. Simply using a name is to invoke the essence of that thing. It was felt that names and the things that they represent (i.e. rūpa) are bound together. When you know something’s name, you have power over it. This is the heart of magic.

The pre-Buddhist Upanishads critiqued this idea, moving beyond the notion of separate rūpas each with their own nāma. Instead, they postulated that, just as when the rivers flow into the ocean, each of them loses their “name” and “shape” and become one with the ocean; so too, each of us will lose our individual “name” (i.e. concept of self) and “shape” (i.e. this corporeal body into which we happen to be incarnated) and become one with the infinite ocean of consciousness (vijñāna).

The Buddha went a step further, showing that consciousness itself depends on nāmarūpa; in other words, our awareness evolves together with the external sense stimuli and the concepts and designations associated with that.

Thus the notion of nāmarūpa is evolving and shifting through this philosophical evolution. It is losing its connection with magic and pre-rational thought, and becoming a rational, psychological idea. This shift is present within the EBTs, which enable us to trace the connections backwards through the Upanishads to magic, and forwards to the hyper-rational explanations of the Abhidhamma, where the connection with magical thinking is lost entirely.


SN 12. 2 states that name is feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā), volition (cetanā), contact (phassa), and attention/mentally-produced (manasikāra).

SA 298, states that name/nāma (名) is the four non-material aggregates (四無色陰); namely feeling (受陰), perception (想陰), synergetic activities (行陰), and consciousness (識陰) aggregates.
The Arthaviniścaya sutra (Arv 5) gives also the same as the latter; with the synergetic activities as saṁskāra.

I suppose that SA 298 and Arv 5 refer to nāma as the nāma in the nāmarūpa nidāna. That is to say, the nāma part of nāmarūpa that is responsible for the sense-consciousness of satta, and the consequent processes.

While SN 12.2 refers to the nāma involved in the Saḷāyatana & Vedanā nidānas (and generally within Satta and its clinging-khandhas; with perception also involved there). In other words, are involved there in order: contact (phassa), feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā), volition (cetanā), and producing mentally with the mano (manasikāra).


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Can Nama Rupa be the mind made body?

No, it can’t!

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So what is the meaning of Vinnana paccaya Nama-Rupa?

Note that these are rationalizing definitions, i.e. they are intended to distance nāmarūpa from magical/mystical thinking and show that they are amenable to rational, psychological analysis. They are part of a discourse, an argument spread over many centuries about the nature of the mind, the soul, the body, and how all these things are related. It is critical to understand the dialectical nature of such teachings, so that they are not reified into any so-called “ultimate reality” beloved by the Abhidhammists.

Compare with how we use language in modern times. Say someone is suffering from paranoid delusions. They believe that the government is spying on them through their television. Oh, wait, that’s neither paranoid nor deluded. Okay, so they think I’m spying on them through their television. (I’m not, I promise!) So you say to them, “Don’t worry, that is not real. It’s just in your head; it’s all just thoughts and fears, making you see things that aren’t there.”

The point of saying this is not to make some definitive, final, and absolute list of everything that is, in fact, going on; it is to eliminate the delusion that is creating suffering. The Buddha’s re-definition of nāmarūpa is similar. This is why we find it treated differently in different places: it is not to define some underlying thing, but to address the specific kinds of misunderstandings and delusions that the Buddha encountered.

This all has a rather interesting implication. If nāmarūpa is a dialectical term, then the Buddha would assuredly not have used it if he was alive today. Rather, he would have addressed the actual misunderstandings that he encountered, such as the mind/body problem, the Turing test, and so on.


In brief, the station of your consciousness in your next life will depend on the kamma you have made in this and previous lives. The nature of the other four aggregates (nāma-rūpa) in turn depends on the station of your consciousness.


Ok then what it the meaning of Nama Rupa Paricheda Nana?

This is an Abhidhamma term, which means “the knowledge of distinguishing between mind and body”.

It relies on the strictly Abhidhamma interpretation of nāmarūpa as “mind and body,” which is not found in the suttas at all.

Warning: using the Abhidhamma to understand the suttas will only lead to weariness and vexation! You will have to learn a bunch of complicated stuff, and then spend years unlearning it! Like I did! :sweat:


It’s so lovely to see you advocating for the Abhidhammic equation of the four khandhas with nāmarūpa!

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Did Buddha (Sutta) teach the five aggregate?
Did Buddha (Sutta) teach Nama and Rupa as two distinctive elements.

If you’re asking that question, I would suggest that you start by reading the suttas! :smile:


I have read 80% of the Sutta (English translation) and Abhidhamma (Narada) at least twice.

In my opinion there are no difference between the Sutta and the Abhidhamma teaching when it come to five aggregate and the distinction of Nama and Rupa.
So I wonder why you oppose to Abhidhamma.

Thank you Bhante
Can you brows through the following link and see whether you have any objection to it.

Greetings Banthe Sujato. I too do not understand in what way does your understanding differ from A.Brahmali on the problem. I am no fan of Abbhidhamma, but I see nothing wrong in this particular case. Can you detail your opinion and get a little more technical ?

Suttas do say that nama is different than rupa. Suttas say it is called “namarupa” because they are always found together, conjoined. Nama is described as “attention, feeling, perception, volition”. And rupa is described as material form, the form making up this body (blood, bones, liquid of the joints etc.) and external form.

The aggregate of consciousness is always found together with namarupa, it can not be found apart from namarupa. But it is not the same as namarupa.

There is one little trick about the aggregates that might cause misunderstandings. They can be seen in 2 ways:

Consciousness + namarupa = contact. From contact we get: feeling, volition, perception. These 3 depend on contact.

But we know that feeling, volition, perception are part of the “nama” from namarupa. This is because consciousness can be consciouss of all the 5 aggregates, including consciousness itself.

From a technical point of view, feeling-perception-volition technically depend on contact between consciousness and namarupa.(witch includes them in “name”) But things do not happen in a cronological order because the 5 aggregates exist at the same time since beginingless times. It is more like descring how an engine already built functions, not like how an engine is built in a chronological order.

In a way we can say that consciousness + the other 4 aggregates = contact, on witch 3 of these “other 4” aggregates depend on.

Aggregates can be described in multiple ways because they are like an engine already built. We see interactions between them described in different ways in the suttas.

In my opinion, what is important is to get the idea about no-self by seen how this “sense of self” is just a phenomenon, a feeling, a thing that has arisen in that moment based on conditions. Like the smoke produced by a car, or a new window that popped up on a computer screen, or the sound produced by a musical instrument. One of my favorite suttas is about this feeling of “this body is mine” that arises at a particular moment been just a feeling, just a phenomenon arisen like the sound from a musical instrument dependent on conditions present at that particular time. (like being human, attention directed at that in that particular moment etc. ) If someone would say “enough with the instrument, bring me just the sound” that would be impossible.
The main idea about the aggregates is not to get ultra-technical (like abbhidhama tries to do most of the time with everything and fail) but to get the idea, to get familiar with how the complicated instrument/machine works so we can eventually understand how a particular feeling that has arisen such as “this thought is my thought” is just like the sound of an instrument arisen dependent on conditions. It is not “my thought” any more than a window popping on a computer is “mine” or the branches and leaves scattered in a forest. (to quote suttas). That feeling of something being mine is just a feeling dependently arisen like a window popping up on a computer.



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