Rupa and Rupakkhandha, Nāma and Nāmagotta

 October 16, 2020; revised October 17, 2020; September 10, 2022; May 28, 2023

Rupa/rupakkhandha and nāma/nāmagotta help describe two parts of our world: rupa loka and nāma loka. Rupa (forms) are in the rupa loka (material world), and rupakkhandha includes mental images of ALL rupa that we have ever experienced (but not directly preserved.) The four nāma aggregates are preserved in the nāma loka (immaterial or mental world) as nāmagotta.

Critical Differences Between Rupa Loka and Nama Loka

1. We are familiar with the rupa loka, or the material world. It has people, animals, trees, the Sun, the Moon, stars, etc. One distinct feature of the rupa loka is that EVERYTHING has a finite lifetime, i.e., no permanent existence. Each “thing” comes into existence, exists for a finite time, and is then destroyed. No exceptions.

  • We experience the rupa loka using the five physical sense faculties. We see “things” with our eyes, hear sounds via vibrations in the air, smell things when tiny particles enter our noses, taste things when they touch our tongues, and feel the touch sensation when things touch our skins. 
  • Each physical contact involves an interaction of a sensory faculty with external “things” or “rupa” or “forms.” The result is a mental image of a rupa that arises in the mind. The collection of all possible such MENTAL IMAGES is the rupakkhandha. Thus, rupa and rupakkhandha are two different things.

2. Furthermore, nāma loka is our “main world.” With that mental image of a rupa, four types of “mental attributes” or “nāma” arise in mind: vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. Records of only those four “nāma” entities are preserved in nāma loka as nāmagotta. When we recall such nāmagotta, we can re-create the corresponding rupa in our minds.

  • We experience the nāma loka with the mind, the sixth sense faculty.
  • One unique aspect of nāma loka is that all our thoughts will leave a PERMANENT record (nāmagotta) in the nāma loka.
  • Thus, even though rupa in the rupa loka decay and die, nāmagotta in nāma loka never die, as stated in the “Najīrati Sutta (SN 1.76)” which states, “rūpaṃ jīrati maccānaṃ, nāmagottaṃ na jīrati.”
  • Until a Buddha explains, humans don’t think much about the nāma loka or the mental world. It is also called the viññāṇa dhātu.
“Seeing” Is In a Thought (Cakkhu Viññāṇa)

3.  Let us take a simple example to illustrate this point. Suppose you are looking at an apple on your desk. An apple is a physical object.

  • You can see the apple if there is light in the room. Light bounces off the apple and enters your eyes. The brain processes that apple’s image and passes it to cakkhu pasāda rupa in the gandhabba. The cakkhu pasāda rupa makes contact with the hadaya vatthu and transfers that image to the hadaya vatthu, the “seat of the mind,” as we discussed. See “Gandhabba in a Human Body – an Analogy.”
  • What we stated above appears in Pāli as “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” That means cakkhu viññāṇa (or seeing) arises when a rupa makes contact with the cakkhu (short for cakkhu pasāda rupa.) Here, paṭicca means cakkhu and rupa, “getting together” or “making contact.”

4. Thus, “seeing” is a cakkhu viññāṇa (a thought.) We see that apple when a cakkhu viññāṇa arises in our minds. This is a fundamental fact, but it is good to clarify it. When we see that apple, a thought arises in our mind, saying, “It is an apple.”

  • The apple that you saw is NOT the same as the apple itself. It is just an image of the apple captured by your eyes. “Seeing” happens in your mind.
  • Every time you see an object, that “image” goes into the “rupa aggregate” or “rupakkhandha.” However, that rupakkhandha is NOT preserved directly, i.e., as an image. When you recall a memory, you “regenerate that mental image” in your mind. This is discussed in detail in “Rupa, Dhammā (Appaṭigha Rupa) and Nāmagotta (Memories) (with chart #14).”
  • There is no record of rupakkhandha (aggregate of forms) in the rupa loka! Memories of “rupa experienced in the past” are recalled from viññāṇa dhātu, as explained in the above post. Rupa and rupakkhandha are different entities.
That Holds for the Other Sense Faculties – The Origin of Nāmagotta

5. Similarly, we hear a sound with cittās (i.e., with a sotadvāra citta vithi) and recall a memory with cittās (i.e., with a manodvāra citta vithi). All six sense faculties work the same way.

  • As soon as a thought arises in mind, the critical point is that it is transmitted to the nāma loka (via the mana indriya in the brain), where a record of that will stay forever. This may sound astonishing, but that can be shown to be correct. How else would those people with HSAM be able to recall their memories with such precision? See the post, “Autobiographical Memory – Preserved in Nāma Loka.” Some children can recall their past lives, and those with abhiññā powers can recall many past lives in great detail.
  • We will discuss the details of the “memory preservation” process in the future. But it turns out that it is not the rupakkhandha that is preserved but the other four aggregates: vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. The four mental aggregates are preserved as a memory record or nāmagotta.
  • That is how the Buddha recalled how he received “niyata vivarana” from Buddha Deepankara, who lived many billions of years ago by recalling those ‘memory records” are nāmagotta.
Each Person Has His/Her Nāmagotta Preserved

6. Each event that we experience has a rupa, vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa associated with it. For example, when we see an apple, the associated rupa is the MENTAL IMAGE of the apple (which becomes part of rupakkhandha.)

  • That event also has a vedana, i.e., we know that we saw that apple. The associated saññā is the recognition of the object as an apple. Then we may generate saṅkhāra about it; for example, we may be to decide to eat it (as a vaci saṅkhāra.) Then the viññāṇa encompasses all those AND any associated plan (to eat it.) All five of those automatically added to the corresponding AGGREGATES (COLLECTIONS), i.e., rupakkhandha, vedanakkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha.
  • And the four mental components get added to his/her nāmagotta.
  • Thus it is critical to see that each person’s five aggregates (pañcakkhandha) are THEIR OWN. One’s pañcakkhandha is one’s whole world! One has experienced all of it.
  • To emphasize, only the four mental components are preserved in the nāma loka. The rupa loka has only “material things,” Thus, rupakkhandha is not preserved in the rupa loka. The rupa component (the associated mental image) is “re-generated” only when one recalls that past event from viññāṇa dhātuSee “Rupa, Dhammā (Appaṭigha Rupa) and Nāmagotta (Memories) (with chart #14).”
Memory Recall – Each Person Has His/Her Nāmagotta

7. Pick the name of a friend that you have not seen for many years. How long does it take to recall his/her face? Almost instantly.

  • That is the same way those people with HSAM recall their past. I urge everyone to re-read the post “Autobiographical Memory – Preserved in Nāma Loka.”
  • That post shows how one’s experiences are preserved in the nāma loka. I must emphasize that one’s experiences are the same as one’s thoughts that arose at THAT TIME. However, that depends on one’s ability to recall that memory. An average human doesn’t even remember many past events.
  • When someone with HSAM recalls a past event, he/she RE-LIVES that experience. But it is not so vivid for those who do not have HSAM.
  • But the point is that over 50 people have such vivid and detailed “re-living” of past experiences means that those detailed records have been kept somewhere.

8. As discussed in that post, recalled memories resemble digital records preserved in video form. For example, in #5 of that post, Bob Petrella recalled past events as accurately as video recording playback. In #6, we saw how Becky “re-lives” her past experiences as a child.

  • As discussed in that post, habitual memories (like riding a bike) remain “stored” in the brain. However, it would be unimaginable to assume that detailed autobiographical memories (what happened on a past arbitrarily-picked day several years ago) can be “stored” in the brain.
  • The brain is NOT a digital computer. It is essential to think about and grasp this fundamental idea.
  • Now, let us look into another aspect of nāma loka.
“Seeing” Something Can Lead to a Lot of Mental Activity

9. “Seeing” is a mental activity, as seen in #3 and #4. But if the object seen is attractive or repulsive, that can lead to more mental activity.

  • For example, suppose you want to buy a car. You go to a showroom and see a car you like. Then, until you buy that car, your mind will be preoccupied with the car. You will spend some time thinking about various aspects, such as whether you want to go to other showrooms for a better price, how to pay for it, etc.
  • All those are “mental activities” that go on in your mind. Billions of thoughts run through your mind as you ponder such issues. Those “vaci saṅkhāra (vitakka/vicāra)” arise in your mind. See “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.”
  • You may spend hours thinking about the car. That whole time, you are in the nāma (or mano) loka. You may not even know what is happening around you. If deeply engrossed in your thoughts, you may not even hear someone addressing you or a nearby clock striking a chime at the top of the hour.
We Live In Both Worlds (Rupa Loka and Nama Loka)

10. Whenever we experience something in the rupa loka, we INVARIABLY need to “check back” in nāma loka to identify what we experienced. It is critical to understand this point.

  • When we see a person, we would not know who it is UNLESS we have some experience with him/her. The mind is VERY FAST. It goes back to records (nāmagotta) and recalls previous events of seeing and interacting with that person. We are not even aware that such a process happens.
  • However, some people with brain damage cannot recognize people because of their inability to recall nāmagotta.
  • Here is the account of Clive Wearing that we discussed in the post, “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory.”

  • As we see in the video, he cannot remember someone he talked to several minutes ago. Both his “transmitter” and “receiver'” (interacting with the nāma loka) were damaged. He cannot recall any memory. So, he cannot “match” what he is experiencing now with his past experiences.
  • The account of Clive Wearing helps explain the difference between rupa and rupakkhandha (and between nāma and nāmagotta.) He can interact with the rupa loka but cannot access his memories (nāmagotta) in the nāma loka. Therefore, he cannot “make sense” of the rupa he experiences.
  • It is a good idea to review the following post: “The Amazing Mind – Critical Role of Nāmagotta (Memories).”

All relevant posts at “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.”

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