Why it is called Rupa?

This is exactly the Abhidhamma doctrine. The so-called dhammārammaṇa—which is the Abhidhammic term for the “mind objects”—are sabhāvadhamma, i.e. they inherently exist. Nagarjuna’s rebuttal of this is the single most famous and divisive philosophical argument in Buddhist history.

To ignore it would be like a Christian saying to a Muslim, “We have to have a crusade against extremism!” “Umm, do you think that’s the best choice of words … ?”


Ok, well I haven’t followed those debates in detail, but I do have the feeling that this idea of “inherent existence” is overplayed, both by supporters and critics.

There is a nice list of counterarguments here:
I don’t want to drag this thread off topic, but here’s one quote:

Harvey, in his excellent INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM, characterizes the Theravadin position, page 87 wrote:
"‘They are dhammas because they uphold their own nature [sabhaava]. They are dhammas because they are upheld by conditions or they are upheld according to their own nature’ (Asl.39). Here ‘own-nature’ would mean characteristic nature, which is not something inherent in a dhamma as a separate ultimate reality, but arise due to the supporting conditions both of other dhammas and previous occurrences of that dhamma."

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Interesting point.
In Narada’s translation he reject this.
In Bikkhu Bodhi’s translation it appears he support the inherently exist argument. When I read this I was bit disappointed.

‘Ruppati’ is from SN 22.79.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it form? ‘It is deformed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form. Deformed by what? Deformed by cold, deformed by heat, deformed by hunger, deformed by thirst, deformed by contact with flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and serpents. ‘It is deformed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form.

It bends’ (namati) is in MN 16, where it means the mind’s ‘inclination’.

As his mind does not incline to ardour, devotion, perservence & striving that is the first wilderness of the heart…

Again in MN 19:

Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind.

Personally, I like this general (broad) translation of ‘nama’ in Dependent Origination because, to me, it is at nama-rupa where the mind (nama) inclines under the influence of ignorant sankharas to pursue external sense contact or, otherwise, inclines to counter the flow of ignorant sankharas.



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Maybe so, but this is still a good reason to avoid invoking the issue when it’s not necessary.

Is mind-made body refers to Rupavacara Jhana?

Potthapada, there are these three acquisitions of a self: the gross acquisition of a self, the mind-made acquisition of a self, and the formless acquisition of a self. [9] And what is the gross acquisition of a self? Possessed of form, made up of the four great existents, feeding on physical food: this is the gross acquisition of a self. And what is the mind-made acquisition of a self? Possessed of form, mind-made, complete in all its parts, not inferior in its faculties: this is the mind-made acquisition of a self. And what is the formless acquisition of a self? Formless and made of perception: this is the formless acquisition of a self.


Another strange idea. The video in Sinhalease language.

Kama raga :Related to nose, tongue, and body. Because it require some object for feeling
Rupa rage : Related to eye and ear. There is no contact of physical object. Beings in Rupaloka can see and hear.
Arupa raga : Concepts.

It is best not to rule out existence:

when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.

Use the possibility of existence to stop clinging to a conditioned arising. Then one may live without confusing either one, but knowing both.

with metta


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[quote=“sujato, post:3, topic:3064”]
Well, when we come back to the roots of the word rūpa it is, of course, also used in the sense of “sight, something that is seen”. And it seems that this is a very old sense. The basic idea seems to be that it refers to the manifest physical world; that is, the world as it appears to the senses. In fact, “appearance” is a possible translation.

This contrasts greatly with the western conception of matter as being an underlying substance. This is why we really can’t translate rūpa with “matter” or any similar English word.
[/quote]Now, certain sectarians would say this as an insult, or an an attempt to discredit by means of association, so I want to pre-emptively insist that it is not an insult, I mean to inquire on neutral grounds.

This sounds identical to Mahāyāna Cittamātra, in as much as it complies with the translations of the Dhammapada verse-translation suggested by @synesius[quote=“synesius, post:8, topic:3064”]
“Mind precedes its objects.They are mind-controlled and mind-made.”
[/quote]Where do you, Bhante, draw the line, where this “EBT Cittamātra” is historically grounded and “Yogācāra Cittamātra” is innovative Dhamma?

[quote=“sujato, post:7, topic:3064”]
I know what you mean, but there’s no such thing as an “object” in the Suttas. The words that are used to mean this in later Abhidhamma texts don’t mean the same thing in the suttas. For the Buddha, all experience is interdependent. That means there is no such thing as “object”. What can “object” mean, if not “things that exist objectively, independent of the observing mind”?
[/quote]This also relates to the above point, and is part of what caused me to ask these questions, since this very much has the outer appearance of Cittamātra, particularly as expounded by Vasubandhu, who I assume you do not agree with on a whole, given Vasubandhu’s sectarian proclivities.

I am perhaps making a mistake in presuming you do not think Vasubandhu accurately represents Buddhadharma, which is a presumption I make based on your treatment of Nāgārjuna in another thread here.

It may well be the case that you think Cittamātra or contemporary Buddhist phenomenology are correct perspectives, in line with EBTs, while also believing that it venerates flawed texts, but I do not want to speculate too much on your opinions on certain matters when you could just say what you believe yourself.

Some things you put forward also seem congruent to contemporary Buddhist phenomenology, particularly as it relates to the metaphysic of the “Buddha’s All”, is this the perspective you think informs EBTs?

In addition, Bhante, something else you have said on this thread has brought up another question:[quote=“sujato, post:19, topic:3064”]
Nevertheless, I would say that neither the phenomena nor the principle exist objectively.
[/quote]What do you make of the “persistence” (ṭhitāva?) in SN 12.20?

Uppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā.

Or the “fated dhammā” (緣生法) which are “judged as truly real, without delusion” (審諦真實、不顛倒) in SA 296?

Similarly, since you have critiqued Nāgārjuna before on this forum, how is this [quote=sujato]That means there is no such thing as “object”. What can “object” mean, if not “things that exist objectively, independent of the observing mind”?[/quote]Opposed to or disagreeing with this:[quote]na svato nāpi parato na dvābhyāṃ nāpy ahetutaḥ |
utpannā jātu vidyante bhāvāḥ kva cana ke cana |
Not from itself, not from another, not from both, nor without cause:
Never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen.[/quote]These two perspectives, what you have outlined above and this here, seem to agree more than disagree.


Thanks for the comments, gently and insightfuly put as always!

May I first say that, so far as I have studied them, I don’t really have a problem with either Nagarjuna or Vasubandhu, at least as expressed in their main theses, which are all that I have read. I find them to be challenging and interesting philosophers, whose take on Dhamma makes me go back and reconsider what I thought I knew. And that is a good thing.

My own perspective on them was shaped by my reading of David Kalupahana, who argued that they, together with a number of other texts and teachers in later Buddhism, were best considered as philosophers intent on drawing out the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings, rather than as exponents of a school. That is to say, the tenets of the developed school to which they are usually attached are often read into their works, or evolved from them, rather than being their own ideas.

It has been some time since I read Kalupahana and these works, so I cannot be too specific here. But to give just one example of this. You refer to Cittamātra. I don’t know what your take is on this, but it is usually understood to mean “mind only”. This is, for a start, dubious on linguistic grounds, for mātra in such contexts usually means “mere” not “only”; the root of the term is to measure or limit. Moreover, the decisive term in Vasubandhu’s treatise is vijñaptimātra, not cittamātra.

Now, vijñapti is a causative form, equivalent to viññatti in Pali. So the meaning of this term is not “mind-only” but “mere makings of consciousness”. In other words, it is not that mind is the only thing that exists in the world, but that mind is the primary force that shapes experience. And this in turn, is coming very close in meaning to manomayā, “mind-made”, the famous phrase from the Dhammapada that you quoted.

Close, but not identical. The difference here is that the Dhammapada verse is ethical, not ontological. It is saying that our choices have effects. This is the difference between mano, which usually deals with the intentional aspect of mind, and viññāṇa, which deals with awareness. But it seems to me that, seen in this way, this difference is not an irreconcilable philosophical opposition, but a shift in emphasis.

In any case, I really don’t have enough understanding of the various schools and so on to deal with this in depth. But it does seem to me that Kalupahana’s approach allows for a more nuanced and compassionate reading of Buddhist history. Instead of seeing everyone as exponents of a school, we can see that at least some—and often this is the most exceptional—while they may be influenced by their social or philosophical context, are not bound by the orthodoxy of a school, but are insightful and provocative commentators on the Dhamma, and hence on our shared experience of suffering.

To come back to the basic issue. As far as my own philosophical perspective goes, and how I see the suttas, I would argue that the suttas reject both “naive realism” and “idealism”. That is to say, they do not accept that the world really exists objectively, independent of the observer, which is the position usually attributed to both Theravada and, in a different way, modern materialism; the difference being, of course, that for materialists this objective existence is purely material, whereas for Theravada the mind also exists objectively. But they also reject the idealist view that there is no outside world, but all there is is the projection of the mind.

Like, I think, Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, the suttas often occupy a dialectical space. But whereas those philosophers are in a discussion with other contemporary Buddhists, the suttas depict the Buddha in discussion with non-Buddhists, who themselves might lean to the naive realist side (Jains, etc.) or the idealist side (Upanishadic brahmanism).

Nagarjuna famously said that emptiness was nothing more than dependent origination. In this, he was quoting directly from a Sarvastivādin Agama sutra, from the Samyuktāgama. Thus the point of his dialectic was not to deny the reality of the world, but to clear away misconceptions that obscured the Dhamma.

And I think this points to a fundamentally important aspect of the Buddha’s teachings. By rejecting naive realism and idealism, the Buddha is not rejecting knowledge or reality. Rather, he pointed to a more powerful, meaningful, accurate, and ultimately liberating view of reality: dependent origination. Rather than seeing the world as essentially objective or essentially objective, it is a relation.

This is based, not on philosophical reasoning, but on experience. Experience is a relation: “dependent on the eye and forms arises eye consciousness, the coming together of the three is contact …” The primary experience is the relation, the mess of complexity, of things dependent on each other. Notions such as “subject” and “object” are later abstractions. they are attempts to make sense of this, to draw out different aspects of this experience so we can gain some clarity and understanding.

Hopefully this helps explain my general approach to these matters. But as to the specifics you raise:

As far as rūpa goes, the problem here is that matter is read in the west as absolutely objective. But this sense is clearly not intended by the Indic term. Regardless of one’s position in the philosophical issues, it is obviously the case that Indic philosophies generally, and Buddhism in particular, have more of a subjective emphasis than western materialism. So the point here is not to take a position on the specific philosophy, but to accurately represent an important term in its context.

As I noted above, I don’t have any problem with either of these, to the limited extent that I understand their work. I’m a little puzzled why you would think I had critiqued Nagarjuna, as I can’t recall doing so. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here?

Could you explain some what you’re referring to here? I’m not really sure.

Such laws in Buddhism are best seen as upādāya paññatti, a “derived description” or “inferred expression”.

Things behave in a certain way. Life goes on. People die. Things we love disappear.

Things are like this now. They were like this in the past. And they will be like this in the future.

From this, we can derive a general principle that describes this situation. And that’s an upādāya paññatti. But it does not refer to anything that somehow “exists” in some ill-defined metaphysical space. Rather, it is simply a description of things that remains true no matter when and where it is uttered.

(For what it’s worth, I believe that the scientific laws, causality, time, and mathematics, etc. are other examples of upādāya paññatti.)

Indeed. Nagarjuna’s quote refers to the bhāvāḥ, which is clearly a reference to the Abhidhammic svabhāva, and I agree completely.


Could you explain some what you’re referring to here? I’m not really sure.[/quote]It relates to a theory that I have (I figured, in vain, that a few words would encapsulate it) concerning Buddhist metaphysics, namely, that the “All” of standard metaphysical inquiry is “limited” by the stipulations of Buddhavacana. The “All” becomes relativized under discourses like the Sabbasutta, etc, and therefore the metaphysics expounded by the Buddha are similarly relativized. I will explain myself better in a bit, when I have time to write a longer post to contextualize what I am referring to (probably I will make it its own thread on Buddhist metaphysics and EBTs).

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Okay, I look forward to it.

Thanks for raising this @Coemgenu. Very elegantly and diplomatically handled!

Hi Bhante

Could I trouble you to mention that sutra that forms the basis of Nagarjuna’s identification of emptiness with Dependant Arising? I pray it’s not the parallel to SN 12.15, to which we had a particularly fruitful discussion at -

I think I made the point there that with the loss of the “sarvaṃ asti” and “sarvaṃ n’asti” in the Agama parallel to SN 12.15, as well as the loss of parallels for SN 12.47 and SN 12.48, the sarvaṃ became dislocated from its Upanisadic context of the “soul” and became confused with the Buddhist sarvaṃ in SN 35.23 and SN 35.24. It is not difficult at all, once this mis-identification took place, that one loses sight of the context of SN 12.15 and its parallels, ie the existence and non-existence of personality/personhood (sakkāya). Without that context, I think Nagarjuna may have without justification assumed that the characterisation of Existence (atthitaṃ) and Non-Existence (natthitaṃ) as 2 extremes is applicable to all sorts of discourses. I have to say it - I think Nagarjuna was wrong on this.

Other than this, I am in broad agreement with your position, even if I think one’s usage of the term “object” would not necessarily entail Hard Realism.

As for -

what is Bhante’s view on this relation? Is it -

  1. B comes to be only if A exists; or
  2. Whenever A exists, B must come to be.

If this relationship issue is irrelevant here, I hope it can be moved elsewhere for a proper ventilation.


I can’t recall the reference offhand, but no, it’s a different sutta, one that, has no parallel, or at least the relevant phrase has no parallel.


Thanks Bhante. Might you be thinking of this

Whatever arises dependently
Is explained as empty.
Thus dependent attribution
Is the middle way.

Since there is nothing whatever
That is not dependently existent,
For that reason there is nothing
Whatsoever that is not empty.

Mk 24.18.

Sorry, I could not copy the Skt text over from the PDF file I found.

Now, the first sentence of the first paragraph is absolutely uncontroversial, if it is a citation of a sutra. I suspect that sutra might have been related to SA 232. Or perhaps even more to the point, SA 273 -


All empty compounded things are empty of any permanent, eternal, lasting, unchanging nature; they are empty of self and of belonging to self”. …
per Choong Mun Keat

If this sutra (or a variant) is the basis for the 1st sentence in the first paragraph, then I struggle to see how Nagarjuna could have validly drawn the premise and conclusion in the second paragraph.

If the sutra has a closed list that constitutes the entire set of the “whatever” (ya.h), how can one logically make the leap to assert that everything is dependently arisen? He’s fallen into the same trap that detained the Sarvastivadins, ie their dharma theory became a project into ontology which does not have a basis in the EBTs, except for some Abhi back-readings into sutras such as SA 298 (with its bifurcation of nāmarūpa into material and immaterial components).


The relevant sutra explicitly identifies dependent origination with emptiness, these passages do not. I think the relevant sanskrit text is this:


Great detective work!

The sutra does identify śūnyatādharma as whatever is pratyayāḥ saṃskārā. But it’s a logical mis-step for Nagajurna to use this to infer that everything is dependently arisen.

The fallacy is equivalent to inferring from “All formations are impermanent” that “All things are impermanent”.


This is maybe an old discussion, but it is very good… sadhu… sadhu… :innocent::innocent:

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