Who said that "Nama is not bending" before Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda?

I’m not sure what you mean by “debate on the term ‘Nama’”, but speaking of Ven. Nanananda specifically, I’m sure he was influenced by the writings of Ven. Nanavira.
You can have a look at this:

" The designation of a phenomenon is nāma (‘name’), which may be seen also as its appearance (the form or guise adopted by the behaviour, as distinct from the behaviour itself)."

Ven. Nanavira also thought about nāmarūpa this way: (Note on Paṭiccasamuppāda):

" In several Suttas (Dīgha ii,1 <D.ii,32>; Nidāna/Abhisamaya Samy. vii,5 <S.ii,104>; ibid. vii,7 <S.ii,112-5>) the series runs back to nāmarūpapaccayā salāyatanam, viññānapaccayā nāmarūpam, and then forward again with nāmarūpapaccayā viññānam. (‘with name-&-matter as condition, six bases; with consciousness as condition, name-&-matter; …with name-&-matter as condition, consciousness.’) This is remarked upon by the Buddha (Dīgha ii,1 & Nidāna/Abhisamaya Samy. vii,5) as follows: Paccudāvattati kho idam viññānam nāmarūpamhā nāparam gacchati; ettāvatā jāyetha vā jīyetha vā mīyetha vā cavetha vā uppajjetha vā yadidam nāmarūpapaccayā viññānam, viññānapaccayā nāmarūpam, nāmarūpapaccayā salāyatanam, (‘This consciousness turns back from name-&-matter, it does not go further; thus far may one be born or age or die or fall or arise; that is to say, with name-&-matter as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-&-matter; with name-&-matter as condition, six bases;…’) and so on. In this formulation it is clear that there is no ‘first item with no item preceding it’—nāmarūpa depends upon viññāna, and viññāna depends upon nāmarūpa, each being determined by the other. If the puthujjana decides upon viññāna as ‘self’, he finds its permanence undermined by the impermanence of nāmarūpa; and if he decides upon nāmarūpa as ‘self’, its permanence is undermined by the impermanence of viññāna."

@stephen I’m thankful for your replies.

What I wanted to know was the level of trustworthiness of the originator of this definition “name”.
And I know the pali and sanskrit usage of “nama” is very old.
The fact why it should be “name” other than the classical meaning “bending” is confusing.
And what the problem with “bending” meaning is also not clearly said.

If you are asking for a summary of 2000 years of thinking about the Pāli Sutta’s usage of the term nāmarūpa, I’m afraid I can’t be of much help.
One would have to compare this history to the non-Buddhist usages of the term.

A place to start your search could be Nāmarūpa and Dharmarūpa: Origin and Aspects of an Ancient Indian Conception by Marlya Falk, University of Calcutta 1943.

From the first page:
“The definition of worldly reality as nāma-rūpa, “name-and-form”, expresses a conception peculiar to ancient Indian thought, widely current already in the first period of the Upanishads and further developed in the successive periods as well as throughout the stages of Buddhist speculation, but going back in its earliest evidence to the Ṛgveda.”

Maybe this footnote to Ven. Bodhi’s translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya can be of some help:

" [Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga] 558,23-28 explains that nāma denotes the three aggregates—of feeling, perception, and volitional formations—which are called thus because of their “bending” (namana) on to an object (in the act of cognizing it)."

I’m not so sure ‘bending’ is so problematic, as long as it’s understood that there doesn’t seem to be a real linguistic connection. It can still help as an illustration.

A bigger problem can be to take nāma as ‘mentality’, as opposed to ‘materiality’. [rūpa]

Ven. Nanavira has written about this problem:
" [c] When nāma is understood as ‘mind’ or ‘mentality’ it will inevitably include viññāna or consciousness—as, for example, in the Visuddhimagga (Ch. XVIII passim). This is entirely without justification in the Suttas; and it is clear enough that any mode of thinking that proposes to make a fundamental division between ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ will soon find itself among insuperable difficulties. "

That is incorrect, rupa is materiality. The name arbitrarily assigned to a baby at birth begins the entanglement with the network of conventional reality. Since conventional and ultimate reality exist concurrently an active duality is always necessary in Theravada. This is insight.

" What is it that overwhelmed[18] everything? What is it that nought else excels? What is it that to which one thing Everything else its course doth bend? 'Tis name that has overwhelmed everything Nought else exists that excels name And Name itself is that one thing Beneath whose sway all others came.[19]

— SN 1.61 Nanananda

Although known to be empty, conventional reality is tolerated because it is a product of human consensus and has responsibility for maintenance of the body. The problem lies in that conventional reality purports to be ultimate, “name overwhelms everything.” The practitioner has to assert a reprioritization of realities against socialization. Like winnowing grain from chaff discrimination separates the activities based on name and form from the mind oriented to the unconditioned. Through fear, insecurity, or incredulity some are unable to get beyond the chaff (words/verbal explanations):

"“Just like the man who, in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood — passing over the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood, passing over the sapwood, passing over the inner bark, passing over the outer bark — cutting away the twigs & leaves, went off carrying them, thinking, ‘heartwood’: Whatever heartwood-business he had with heartwood, his purpose won’t be served.”—MN 30

Quite so. Sometimes, nāmarūpa is translated as mentality-materiality.
Like a sort of Cartesian dualism.

Do we have any acceptable criteria for trusting Nanavira thera over the following Attadandasutta and the Niddesa of it?

TBH the question is not clear, let me try to straighten it out.

Nāma means “name”: that is the normal usage of the word in the language.

It is, in fact, from the same root as the English word “name” (which was pronounced the same as nāma until the Great Vowel Shift). It’s not only a Pali word, it means the same thing in Sanskrit and in languages all over Asia with slight changes in spelling. In fact from Icelandic nafn to Indonesian nama the same word means the same thing, all related to Pali nāma. So we know that Primitive Indo-European (PIE) must have had a root in the sense of “name”; probably the PIE form was something like no-men (cf. “nomenclature”).

There is also a verb namatito bend, to incline”, which is related to words for “bowing” and hence to “pay homage, honor”.

I think what you are asking is about the etymology of nāma, which in the commentaries is explained in terms of “bending”; that is, mind is what “bends” towards its objects or something of the sort. This was possibly inspired by passages like SN 6.1:4.1 cittaṁ namati “one’s mind inclines …”.

Given that the actual etymological root from PIE is understood, the more relevant question would be, “Did any modern linguist take the commentarial etymology seriously?” To which the answer is, so far as I know, no.

It’s not in the Pali-English Dictionary:


Or in Cone’s Dictionary of Pali.

The commentary often gives this kind of “etymology” which is more of a play on words or a pun. Whether it coincides with the actual historical root of a language seems to be just a matter of luck.


Hi Bhante,

Thanks for that.

To be fair, the suttas also have such word play, which in some cases you have captured in your translations:

“It wears away, mendicant, that’s why it’s called ‘the world’.
“‘Lujjatī’ti kho, bhikkhu, tasmā lokoti vuccati.
SN35.82: SuttaCentral

For the particular case here, Visuddhimagga XVII.48, the expression “It bends [towards an object] (namati), thus it is mentality (nāma)” is from a commentary, not a sutta, but most of the other examples in that paragraph are from suttas:

  1. What is said next after this in the [rest of the exposition] beginning, “With
    formations as condition, consciousness” should be understood in the way
    already stated. But as to those words not yet dealt with: It cognizes (vijánáti),
    thus it is consciousness (viññáóa—see M I 292). It bends [towards an object]
    > (namati), thus it is mentality (náma). It is molested (ruppati), thus it is materiality
    (rúpa—see S III 87). It provides a range for the origins (áye tanoti) and it leads on
    what is actuated (áyatañ ca nayati), thus it is a base (áyatana—see XV.4). It touches
    (phusati), thus it is contact (phassa). It is felt (vedayati), thus it is feeling (vedaná—
    see M I 293). It frets (or it thirsts—paritassati), thus it is craving (taóhá). It clings
    (upádiyati), thus it is clinging (upádána). It becomes (bhavati) and it makes become
    (bhávayati), thus it is becoming (bhava). The act of being born is birth. The act of
    growing old is ageing. By means of it they die, thus it is death. The act of
    sorrowing is sorrow. The act of lamenting is lamentation. It makes [beings]
    suffer (dukkhayati), thus it is pain (dukkha); or it consumes in two ways (DVedhá
    KHAóati—see IV.100) by means of [the two moments (khaóa)] arising and presence,
    thus it is pain (dukkha). The state of a sad mind (dummana-bháva) is grief
    (domanassa). Great misery (bhuso áyáso) is despair (upáyása). There is means “is

[Sorry about the garbled Pali. Evidently PTS didn’t use a modern encoding…]

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Oh absolutely. It was the thing to do!

Thank you very much bhante for your detailed answer.
Bhikkhu Nanananda says that the meaning “bending” is used in the commentaries as a way to include vinnana into nama.
That is why I asked the question to know whether there were other people having this opinion before him.

3 more instances can be seen in Dhammapada.


Bāhitapāpoti brāhmaṇo, Samacariyā samaṇoti vuccati;
Pabbājayamattano malaṁ,Tasmā “pabbajito”ti vuccati.

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Interestingly western philosophy has also come to an understanding of naming that relates it to “bending”:

In linguistics, logic, philosophy, and other fields, an intension is any property or quality connoted by a word, phrase, or another symbol. In the case of a word, the word’s definition often implies an intension.

That is a words intension is “that which it bends towards”.

Intensionality is also used in western philosophy as a way of defining the mental as opposed to the physical, in that the mental has the feature of “aboutness”.

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Oh and also it occurs to me to mention that consciousness is not definitionally included in the mental in any simple way in English either, one can be conscious of something mental, like being aware of the thought “I’m hungry” or aware of something physical, like “that potato over there”, so there is a sense in which consciousness is not simply located in the “mental” but rather is that which allows access to both the physical and the mental.

I wasn’t able to discern from the initial post whether the question was about etymology or philosophy, but while the etymology is certainly playful the concept of the mind bending/inclining towards an object seems very natural.

I guess my not-terribly-well-informed opinion is that there is word play in the suttas and commentaries, and I’m not sure we should make too much of those word plays. The example I gave: “it wears away, that’s why it’s called the world” is a nice expression that gives a "world weary :smile: impression. It’s obviously not trying to be an “definition”, but I can see how it would be a great line to use in a talk, something that the students would remember. Similarly, the “bending” word play has some merit as an image.

I do very much appreciate Bhikkhu Nanananda’s talks and I know he discusses nama-rupa in the first Nibbana Sermon Books Archive - seeing through the net but I can’t locate where he says

the meaning “bending” is used in the commentaries as a way to include vinnana into nama.

I’m also not sure that the question in the OP really gets to the heart of the matter. I don’t recall ever seeing much being made of “bending” in discussions of nama-rupa. Can you point to some? I would have thought the key difference in opinion is more to do with whether nana-rupa is “mind and matter” or “name and (apparance of) form”.

See Bhante Sujato’s comments here: How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

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It is in sermon 1 and it goes as follows.

"It is obvious that nāma means ‘name’, and in the suttas also,
nāma, when used by itself, means ‘name’. However when we come
to the commentaries we find some kind of hesitation to recognize
this obvious meaning. Even in the present context, the commentary,
Paramatthajotikā, explains the word ‘name’ so as to mean ‘bending’.
It says that all immaterial states are called nāma, in the sense that
they bend towards their respective objects and also because the mind
has the nature of inclination: Ārammaābhimukha namanato, cittassa ca natihetuto sabbampi arūpa ‘nāman’ti vuccati.
And this is the standard definition of nāma in Abhidhamma compendiums and commentaries. The idea of bending towards an object
is brought in to explain the word nāma. It may be that they thought it
too simple an interpretation to explain nāma with reference to
‘name’, particularly because it is a term that has to do with deep insight. However as far as the teachings in the suttas are concerned,
nāma still has a great depth even when it is understood in the sense
of ‘name’.
Nāma sabba anvabhavi,
nāmā bhiyyo na vijjati,
nāmassa ekadhammassa,
“Name has conquered everything,
There is nothing greater than name,
All have gone under the sway
Of this one thing called name.” "
With Metta

Thanks. I was over looking this bit:

Nāma is thought about and explained differently in the commentaries and abhidhamma than it is in the suttas.
I believe Ven. Sujāto has created a list of several such instances.

SN1.61 is the source of the poem quoted above, the next poem says;

“What leads the world on? “
Kenassu nīyati loko,
What drags it around?
kenassu parikassati;
What is the one thing
Kissassu ekadhammassa,
that has everything under its sway?”
sabbeva vasamanvagū”ti.

“The mind leads the world on.
“Cittena nīyati loko,
The mind drags it around.
cittena parikassati;
Mind is the one thing
Cittassa ekadhammassa,
that has everything under its sway.”
sabbeva vasamanvagū”ti.

neither of these poems, or any of the other poems in this section of the Samyutta are repeated anywhere else in the canon, so I would just caution against taking poetry as definitive with regards to the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism, the poems are often more evocative than definitive, IMO.

To be clear, though, in the Visuddhimagga (XVII.187), nāmarūpa, when applied to dependent origination, does not include consciousness in nāma.

And, of course, Bhante Sujato’s comments here: How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist acknowledge that.