Nāmarupa – Different Types

Nāmarūpa has different meanings for inert objects and sentient beings. Current English translations of Tipiṭaka suttas only say nāma means name and rupa means form!

April 23, 2023

Nāmarupa Associated with Inert Objects

1. Nāmarūpa of an inert object is very different from that of a sentient being. 

  • For example, for an inert object, “nāma” refers to the “name” given to it based on its shape (for a visual object.) A ball of clay can be molded into the shape of a bowl, plate, mug, etc.
  • The object’s name cannot be changed without breaking the item. A mug can no longer be called a mug if it breaks; thus, the nāmarūpa of an inert object does not change until the rūpa breaks into parts. 
  • An inert object does not have mental aspects (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa), so nāma” is used only as a “label” for identifying it. 
Three Types of “Nāmarupa” Associated with a Human

2. “Nāma” (name) of a sentient being is not just associated with just the shape; they have “mental aspects” associated with them. 

  • Sentient beings in different realms have “bodies” with differing complexities. Humans and animals have the highest complexities, with an additional stage of a manomaya kāya (gandhabba) making a series of “dense bodies” during their existence. Let us focus on a human for this discussion. Just after the death of a dense body, a human’s “form” remain the same. But the mental aspects (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa) are no longer associated with that dead body. Thus, a human’s nāma can be separated from its physical form (rupa.) 
  • However, the “primary body” of that human (manomaya kāya) survives the death of the “dense body.”  It emerges from the dead body and remains with that invisible body (and the mental aspects) until pulled into a womb. It can make many “dense bodies” during its lifetime. The “rupa” part of the gandhabba is the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) and a set of pasāda rupa
  • But that human gandhabba also dies at some point at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment. But that is not the end because a moment later, a new manomaya kāya with a new hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) and a set of pasāda rupa is created by kammic energy. (That manomaya kāya may or may not lead to a “dense body,” depending on the realm it was born into.)
  • The above process continues non-stop until dying as an Arahant at some point.

3. Thus, we can see that three primary types of “nāmarupa” can be associated with a sentient being. 

  1. The first type of nāmarupa helps create “dhammā” (energy to combine nāma and rupa) in the Idapaccayatā PS.
  2. The second type of nāmarupa arises in Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda, where nāma and rupa combine to form the basis of human life (hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupa.) This is the “mental body” or “gandhabba” produced by kammic energy!
  3. When that gandhabba “descends to a womb” later and merges with a zygote, that is the third type of nāmarupa (that leads to the formation of a “dense human body.”) This last step is there only in the human and animal realms.
  • The mental aspects (nāma) continue as the four mental aggregates (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa) and never separate from the rupa (rupakkhandha) at any point.
  • That process stops only at the death of an Arahant.
Significant Differences Between Nāmarupa of Inert Objects and Sentient Beings

4. As we saw in #1 above, nāma and rūpa of the nāmarūpa of an inert object can be separated. That happens when the rūpa breaks into parts. If a mug breaks, it can no longer be called a mug. 

  • However, as we saw in #2 and #3, the nāmarūpa of a sentient being can be genuinely separated only at the death of an Arahant. That is equivalent to breaking an inert object. Thus, for a living being, the “real break” of nāmarūpa happens only at the death of an Arahant.
  • That is the “complete separation from this world of 31 realms” (i.e., complete cessation of suffering) or “full Nibbāna” or “Parinibbāna.”
  • Until then, the physical form of that lifestream can break and take different forms. However, the nāmarūpa stream continues as the five aggregates (pancakkhandha.)
  • In addition, there are other subtle types of nāmarūpa associated with sentient beings. 
Nāmarupa as “Mental Impressions of Rupa

5. an entirely different category of nāmarūpa involved in kamma accumulation (or the creation of dhammā” per #3(i) above.) That is yet another aspect of nāmarūpa critical to understand. 

  • In Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS), a wholly different and unique type of nāmarūpa comes into play. We discussed that in the previous post, “Nāmarupa in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.” 
  •  They are “impressions of nāmarupa associated with external rupa.” They arise in one’s mind! It is a good idea to re-read Nāmarupa in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • As discussed in that post, kammic energies are created during that process. Such kammic energies will stay in viññāṇa dhatu as dhammā until their vipaka appear.
  • Some of these kammic energies grow and can bring future rebirths via Uppatti PS. That involves yet another type of nāmarūpa.

6. As we can see, dhammā” are the precursors to all existences! Furthermore, “dhammā” are created by the mind (in javana citta), as we saw in Nāmarupa in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • That is why the Buddha stated, “Manōpubbangamā Dhammā..
  • Now, let us start from the dhammā” stage and go through the three stages in #3 above.
Nāmarupa in Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda

7. In Uppatti PS, a new type of nāmarūpa is created by kammic energy with a strong “dhammā” (kamma bija) making contact with the mind at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment. That is the “invisible body” (rupa) with a hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa.

  • Depending on the realm of birth, it could be Brahma, Deva, etc. Those who start a new existence in the human or animal realm have a unique name of gandhabba.
  • They all have associated nāmarupa, i.e., a set of subtle rupa (hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupa) and associated nāma (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa.)
  • A sentient being is ALWAYS associated with the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha.)
  • Note that even though a new set of hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupa is created at the paṭisandhi moment, it is the continuation of an existing pañcakkhandha.
  • Then there is yet another type of nāmarupa created when a gandhabba “descends to a womb.”
Another Type of Nāmarupa for Animals and Humans

8. In the third step, that gandhabba “descends to a womb” and merges with a zygote generated by an egg and a sperm. This is described in the  “Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhaya Suta (MN 38).” 

  • A better English translation is in “The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving” under the section “The Round of Existence: Conception to Maturity” as follows: “Bhikkhus, the descent of the embryo takes place through the union of three things. Here, there is the union of the mother and father, but the mother is not in season, and the gandhabba is not present—in this case, no descent of an embryo takes place. Here, there is the union of the mother and father, and the mother is in season, but the gandhabba is not present—in this case, too, no descent of the embryo takes place. But when there is the union of the mother and father, and the mother is in season, and the gandhabba is present, through the union of these three things, the descent of the embryo takes place.”
  • This “seed of a human with a physical body” has a denser rupa and is assigned a name (human baby). Upon leaving the womb, that baby grows into a particular physical form (rupa.)  
The “Essence” of a Human is the Gandhabba (Hadaya Vatthu/Pasāda Rupa)

9. The set of ajjhatta rupa (hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupadefines a living being.  It is also the primary type of nāmarupa because it can generate nāma without the dense human body

  • Nāma” arises at the “seat of the mind” (hadaya vatthu) with the help of the five pasāda rupa. Each pasāda rupa is a “doorway” to the hadaya vatthu. For example, when a vaṇṇa rupa makes contact with the cakkhu pasāda rupa, an impression of that vaṇṇa rupa is transferred to the hadaya vatthu.
  • We can see that this primary type of nāmarupa (ajjhatta rupa) has the remarkable ability to generate nāma or “mental attributes”: vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.
  • This set of ajjhatta rupa is called the “mental body” or gandhabba. It has the unique ability to generate nāma upon interactions with the five types of external rupa.
  • Hadaya vatthu and each of the pasāda rupa are the sizes of a suddhāṭṭhaka, which is unimaginably tiny. See #12 below.

10. Some living beings, particularly the Brahmas in the highest 20 realms, have only such a “mental body.” They do not have dense physical bodies like humans or animals.

  • Rupāvacara Brahmas in the first 16 Brahma realms have hadaya vatthu and two pasāda rupa (cakkhu and sota.) Thus they can only see and hear.
  • Arupāvacara Brahmas in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms have only the hadaya vatthu. They cannot see or hear either. But they can think!
Internal (Ajjhatta) Rupa Are Not Inert

11. The critical observation is that the set of internal rupa (hadaya vatthu and the set of pasāda rupa) are not inert. That set is the “mental body” or “manomaya kāya.

  • Internal rupa are the ONLY rupa that can give rise to nāma (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, vipāka viññāṇa.)
  • The Pāli word “nāma” can mean “to bend/adjust” (in Sinhala, නම්‍යතාවය.) The internal rupā generated by kammic energy is compatible with that existence. For example, a ball of clay can be molded into the shape of a mug. That mug is given the same “mug” because of its shape. That meaning holds for the “nāma” of an insert rupa.
  • Our dense physical bodies (like plants) are made of inert matter. “Consciousness” arises ONLY in the “mental body.”
  • This is why current “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) efforts will NEVER lead to “consciousness” or “sentience.” AI will be able to speed up processes but will never be “sentient,” i.e., will never be able to generate nāma (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa.)
Size of a Suddhāṭṭhaka

12. Any “rupa” (experienced with the five physical senses) is above the suddhāṭṭhaka stage. A suddhāṭṭhaka is the smallest “rupa” defined by the Buddha.

  • Thus, a “rupa” can be light, sound, food particles, particles that carry odors (scents), or physical touch experienced by the body.

13. The easiest way is to look at particles of light or photons.

  • A photon in the visible range is about 2 eV in energy units.
  • In comparison, the “mass” of a proton (roughly the mass of the smallest atom) is about 938 MeV or roughly a billion eV.
  • Therefore, a photon in the visible range is about a billion times smaller than an atom. A suddhāṭṭhaka is smaller than any particle detected by scientists. Thus, a suddhāṭṭhaka has energy much less than 2 eV and is more than a billion times smaller than an atom.
  • Of course, the Buddha could not give such an analogy those days since people knew nothing about atoms and photons. We are fortunate to be able to make such comparisons these days.

14. Such unimaginably small energies can be created by javana citta in our minds when “energized” by lobha, dosa, or moha. Yet it has abilities unmatched by any force in the universe. This is “mind power.” There are many popular books about the “power of the mind,” but they do not know that the origin of mind power is javana citta!

  • As we have discussed, a hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) or a pasāda rupa (like cakkhu, sota,..kaya responsible for the detection of the five types of external rupa) is a single suddhāṭṭhaka each.
  • For example, a cakkhu pasāda rupa that detects light is a single suddhāṭṭhaka. hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) is a single suddhāṭṭhaka.

15. Our physical bodies (that are hugely bigger) are just inert shells “powered by” such an unimaginably tiny set of hadaya vatthu and pasāda rupa.

  • One analogy is to consider an oak tree and a seed that gives rise to it. That tiny seed gets all the “material” from the earth and grows into a huge tree.
  • In the same way, a tiny gandhabba (with a set of hadaya vatthu and pasāda rupa) has the “blueprint for the physical body.” It grows by taking in food, first from the mother and then eating.
  • Ironically, the most critical set of nāmarūpa consists of several suddhāṭṭhaka-size entities (manomaya kāya.)
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