Nāma Loka and Rupa Loka – Two Parts of Our World

Nāma Loka is very different from the rupa loka. Scientists are primarily concerned about the rupa loka, but the Buddha taught that nāma loka is highly significant.

 November 4, 2020; revised August 1, 2022; May 1, 2023

 Nāma Loka Is One of Two Parts of Our World

1. We have a “mental world (nāma loka)” as well as a “material world (rupa loka).” The material world is the same for all of us. But each person creates one’s mental world based on that material world. We briefly discussed that in the previous post, “Ārammaṇa Plays a Critical Role in a Sensory Event.”

  • A mind experiences the material world with the help of the five physical senses. Then it plans to re-live any “pleasurable experiences” again and again. That is related to greed or lobha (a reduced version is kāma rāga, or the craving for sensory pleasures.)
  • If it were a “bad experience,” the mind would avoid such future experiences by taking various actions. Such actions may involve dosa (hatred), or its reduced version is paṭigha (“friction” or “annoyance.”)
  • Both of the above actions will lead to future suffering. That suffering can be significantly enhanced if someone’s actions include strong dasa akusala. Such a “totally covered” mind has moha and can lead to immediate and harsh suffering.
  • But even those who live moral lives cannot escape future suffering because they are not aware of the “real nature” of the world. They have a lower version of moha (i.e., avijjā), the ignorance referred to in the Four Noble Truths.
Previously Unknown Teachings

2. That last bullet point about future suffering is unknown to the world in the absence of a Buddha. Only a Buddha can discover that our world is much more expansive (with 31 realms), where life in some realms can be full of suffering.

  • Other religions teach that one would be guaranteed “future happiness” in heavenly worlds if one lives a moral life.
  • With his knowledge about a much wider world of 31 realms, the Buddha showed that there is no realm in this world where one can avoid suffering. Furthermore, suffering in the lowest four realms (apāyā) can be quite harsh.
  • Therefore, the key question is, how is it possible that one who lives a moral life is still subjected to suffering in future births?
  • The explanation is in the “previously unheard Dhamma” of a Buddha. In the current series of posts, we first need to understand our “nāma loka.” Of course, there are other ways to get there, mainly by just realizing the dangers of pursuing sense pleasures.
Everything in the World Belongs to One of Six Dhātu

3. The Buddha categorized everything in the world into six types of dhātu: pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo, ākāsa, and viññāṇa. The conventional translation of the word “dhātu” is “element,” but in this context, “essence” may be a better translation.

  • We are quite familiar with our “physical world” made of pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo spread out in space (ākāsa dhātu.) Therefore, those five dhātu are associated with the rupa loka.
  • The sixth, viññāṇa dhātu, is associated with the nāma loka.
  • When a lifestream dissociates from this world of 31 realms, it merges with Nibbāna dhātu. See, “Nibbānadhātu Sutta (Iti 44).”
Viññāṇa Dhātu Is Nāma Loka

4.  Viññāṇa dhātu INCLUDES all mental entities: vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.

  • Here, viññāṇa is a bit complex. It is of two types. (1) Vipaka viññāṇa arises when we experience something with any of the six senses. Thus, it can be one of the six types of viññāṇa: cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivha, kāya, and mano. They arise as kamma vipāka or RESULTS of kamma. (2) Kamma viññāṇa arises ONLY in mind as mano viññāṇa.
  • Unlike vipāka viññāṇa, kamma viññāṇa has ENERGY. That energy arises in javana citta when we DO kamma.
  • As we see, the experiences through any of the six senses give to “mental entities” that are in viññāṇa dhātu.
  • In other words, the mind experiences both parts of our world.
Viññāṇa Dhātu Is Very Different From Other Five Dhātu

5. According to modern science, our mental world is a byproduct of the material body (specifically the brain.) It only deals with the rupa loka and disregards the nāma loka (viññāṇa dhātu) altogether.

  • Modern science is not equipped to tackle the mind yet. Unlike material objects that are inert and thus follow pre-set rules (like Newton’s laws of motion,) the mind of EACH PERSON is unique. Thus, while we can accurately predict the path of a rocket, we cannot predict any given person’s actions.
  • The Buddha explained that the mind is the precursor to the material world. That is a complex subject, but I hope you are at least beginning to get the idea that our future rebirths (and thus any physical bodies in future births) arise due to our thoughts (specifically javana citta, which arise when we engage in strong kamma.)
No Spatial Boundaries In Nāma Loka (Viññāṇa Dhātu)

6. Another unique feature of the mind (or nāma loka or viññāṇa dhātu) is that there are no “spatial locations” or “spatial boundaries” in viññāṇa dhātu. We cannot ask WHERE it is located. It is everywhere and anywhere. See the previous post, “Ārammaṇa Plays a Critical Role in a Sensory Event.”

  • The absence of spatial boundaries in nāma loka becomes apparent when we realize that we only access the nāma loka while dreaming.
  • The arupāvacara Brahmas do not have access to the rupa loka. As we have discussed, they do not have any of the five physical senses or the corresponding five pasāda rupa. They have the hadaya vatthu, which can only recall memories. Those memories come directly to the hadaya vatthu since they don’t have brains.
The Best Way to Visualize Viññāṇa Dhātu – Dreams

7. When we dream, our minds are ONLY in the nāma loka. As we have discussed before, all five physical senses “go to sleep” while we sleep, which is when we dream.

  • We see, hear, smell, taste, and touch WITH OUR MINDS when we dream.
  • As we know, there are no “spatial locations” in dreams. We see a dream. We cannot say where it was. If we see a jungle, our mind is there. We feel as if we are in a jungle.
Nāma Loka and Rupa Loka Co-Exist

8. When we dream, our five physical senses become inactive. In a primitive way, our minds detach from ākāsa dhātu. A mind is then in just viññāṇa dhātu. That is why we don’t perceive “locations” in dreams. We see people, buildings, trees, etc., but a location is not defined.

  • Another way to state that is to say viññāṇa dhātu normally co-exists with the ākāsa dhātuHowever, when we dream, the mind detaches from ākāsa dhātu (since the five physical senses are not active) and is engaged only with the viññāṇa dhātu (nāma loka.)
Mind Separates From Rupa Loka After the Fourth Jhāna

9. A mind detaches from the rupa loka when transcending the fourth jhāna, the highest rupāvacara jhāna. This is a technical point that can be skipped by those not familiar with Abhidhamma/jhāna.

  • One is aware ONLY of the “infinite space” (no other rupa) when one gets to the fifth jhāna or the “ākāsānañcāyatana” (meaning “infinite space.”) When one transcends the ākāsānañcāyatana and gets to the viññāṇañcāyatana (or infinite viññāṇa.) This is when the mind (viññāṇa) “decouples” or “separates” from “space.” Now, the mind has no awareness of space or the rupa loka.
  • That is why the highest four jhānā are “arupāvacara jhāna.” Arupa means “without rupa.” The only rupa would be a trace of matter associated with hadaya vatthu of arupāvacara Brahmā. Even in ākāsānañcāyatana, there is only space and no other “rupa.”
Kamma Bhava Is Also In Nāma Loka

10.  The nāma loka encompasses (includes) kamma bhava. The appropriate bhava manifest under the right conditions. If we drink too much alcohol, we get drunk and get into a mindset of a drunkard. We may stay in that “drunkard existence” for a few hours.

  • At the moment of death (if it is at the end of human bhava,) a mind will grasp new bhava (existence) and instantaneously be born in that existence at the CORRESPONDING spatial location. For example, if one can grasp a Deva existence, one will be instantaneously born a thousand miles above the Earth in that Deva realm.
  • That is also why a human can be born INSTANTANEOUSLY as a Deva in a Deva realm at the end of the human bhava. Grasping of a patisandhi viññāṇa of a Deva happens instantaneously at the corresponding spatial location (in a Deva realm). The viññāṇa dhātu does not have spatial restrictions. It is EVERYWHERE!
  • That happens because the viññāṇa dhātu is normally “merged with” ākāsa dhātu. They overlap. Thus, based on the type of patisandhi viññāṇa, one will automatically be born in the appropriate spatial location in ākāsa dhātu.
  • That is a very brief description. But it is enough for now to get the basic idea.
A Gandhabba Is Shielded From Both Loka While Inside a Physical Body

11. A gandhabba is shielded from the rupa loka and the nāma loka while trapped inside a human body.

  • As discussed in previous posts, a gandhabba accesses the outside material world (rupa loka) using the five physical senses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. It accesses the nāma loka using the “transmitter” and “receiver” in the brain. See “Brain and the Gandhabba.” It is good to review posts in that subsection.
  • For a gandhabba inside a physical body, sensory signals from outside must come through the five “physical sensors” mounted on the body (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body.) The brain plays a vital role in transferring those signals to the gandhabba inside.
  • In the same way, memories experienced by the gandhabba “go out” to the viññāṇa dhātu via a “transmitter” in the brain. Old memories in viññāṇa dhātu “come back” via a “receiver” in the brain. Recent findings in medical science allowed us to identify the “transmitter,” as we discussed.
Consequences of a Gandhabba Trapped and Isolated Inside a Physical Body

12. Even though viññāṇa dhātu is everywhere, it is NOT present inside the physical human body. As we discussed before, the “entrapment” of a gandhabba inside a physical body is a kammic effect.

  • This is also why an Arahant does not attain Parinibbāna until the death of the physical body. The “subtle body” of a gandhabba cannot “bear the Arahanthood” and dies instantly when it comes out of the dead physical body of an Arahant.
  • That is also why there are no Arahants in Brahma loka. As soon as a Brahma attains Arahanthood, the death of the subtle Brahma body follows.
Buddhist Model of Memory Preservation and Retrieval

13. All memories (from an untraceable beginning) are in nāma loka or viññāṇa dhātu, which may also be called “viññāṇa plane” or “nāma loka.”  Of course, our kammic energies (kamma bija) are also in nāma loka.

  • Those “physical entities” we see, hear, etc., reside in ākāsa dhātu.
  • We are familiar with our “physical world” spread out in space (ākāsa dhātu), where each “thing” has its specific location. We tend to carry over that concept to viññāṇa dhātu automatically. However, the viññāṇa dhātu is very different from the ākāsa dhātu. There are no spatial restrictions in viññāṇa dhātu
  • Thus, we cannot talk about a “specific location” for memories. They are just in nāma loka. That is why memories can be recalled effortlessly, whether on Earth or on the Moon.
Summary of Discussion So Far

14. We have been discussing the role of the brain in our mental activities; see “Brain and the Gandhabba.”  In this Buddhist model of human life, the human body is only a “shell” controlled by the “mental body” or gandhabba. See “Gandhabba in a Human Body – an Analogy.”

  • Human existence is not limited to a single life of about 100 years in a human body. Like in many other realms, human existence can be very long, at least several thousand years. See “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.” Therefore, each of us could have lived previous human lives within the current human existence (bhava.) If so, some of us may be able to recall one or two past lives. But it is very rare to recall a previous life in another existence, for example, a Deva bhava or an animal bhava.
  • A gandhabba can smell, taste, or touch only if it is inside a physical body. The physical body makes those contacts. The brain is the intermediary in all sensory interactions when the gandhabba is inside a physical body.
  • The brain also helps recall memories in the nāma loka, as discussed above—more details about that memory recall process in future posts.
  • In previous posts, we discussed the role of the brain in some special situations, including total or partial “vegetative states.”

All relevant posts in the current section at “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.”

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