December 12, 2017; revised January 27, 2022
1. Nāmarūpa can have a few different meanings depending on the context, i.e., where it is used. But the most important meaning is associated with the “nāmarūpa pariccēda ñana.”
- When one has the nāmarūpa pariccēda ñana, one understands how the mind is related to the matter, i.e., how viññāna acts as the critical link between mind and matter.
- Here “pari” means “complete” or “comprehensive”; “uccēda” means to “cut off” or “irradicate”. Thus nāmarūpa pariccēda ñana, means the knowledge or understanding how nāmarūpa via kamma viññāṇa at the “viññāṇa paccayā nāmarūpa” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS).
- The two previous posts in this series provided more related information. This post wraps up that discussion; see, “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means” and “Kamma Viññāṇa – Link Between Mind and Matter.”
2. It is also important to note that nāmarūpa can be of several varieties:
- When written as two words — nāma rūpa —, nāma refers to mental attributes and rūpa relates to matter. There, nāma rūpa refers to mind AND matter.
- With viññāna, nāma COMBINES with rūpa and creates nāmarūpa — imprints for future rebirths — which eventually lead to fully-formed living beings. This happens at the “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa” step in PS.
- These are very fine rūpa which are below the suddhāṭṭhaka stage created by viññāna and are part of dhammā. Thus nāmarūpa are distinct from the more dense rūpa that we experience with the five physical senses; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhammā are rūpa too!“.
- We also talk about nāmarūpa referring to visuals in our minds; these are also related to the fine rūpa. For example, an alcoholic will be visualizing scenes of a drinking party that they are planning to attend. That comes in Idappaccayatā PS; see, “Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda“.
3. Here, it is significant to note that in PS, it is the “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa” step that separates the previous steps involving the mind to those involving rūpa. Now we have “nāmarūpa paccayā saḷāyatana“, leading to internal rūpa.
- Then those salāyatana making contact (phassa) with external rūpa: “salāyatana paccayā phassa.”
- Note that phassa means contact of internal rūpa (saḷāyatana) with external rūpa, and giving rise to vēdanā: “phassa paccayā vēdanā.” Now we are back to just nāma, i.e., vēdanā.
- So, we can see that kamma viññāṇa plays a crucial role in bridging nāma with rūpa.
4. Kamma viññāṇa with kammic energy are created in javana citta. That kammic energy may start small but can grow with the repeated generations of abhisaṅkhāra and can grow to be a kamma bīja that can give rise to a new bhava. That kamma bīja then gives rise to a very subtle mental body (gandhabba), providing the “seed” for the dense physical body.
- That happens at the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step giving rise to a gandhabba, which is a very tiny rūpa which is a “packet of energy.”
- Then at the “bhava paccayā jāti” step, gandhabba enters a womb and starts a new physical body.
- Just like a tiny seed can grow into a massive tree by taking in water and nutrients from the soil, an unimaginably small gandhabba gives rise to the heavy human body by taking in food. The only difference is that while a gandhabba or a human has a mind, a seed or a tree does not.
5. Our solid physical body starts with a gandhabba — smaller than the first cell made by the reunion of mother and father (zygote) — descending to a womb and taking hold of that zygote in the womb. We recall that the Buddha also called this event as “a viññāna descending to the womb”; see, “Gandhabba State – Evidence from Tipiṭaka,” and below. From the posts in this series, now we know why the “gandhabba descending” can also be called “viññāna descending.”
- The complex process of this single zygote growing into an adult human is discussed in “What does Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) say about Birth Control?“.
- Therefore, the “seed” to bring up this physical body of several hundred pounds (tens of kg) was the kammic energy created in the patisandhi viññāna, which gave rise to a gandhabba consisting of just a few suddhāṭṭhaka.
6. This primary mechanism of how a suddhāṭṭhaka — the smallest unit of matter (billion times smaller than an atom in modern science) — is created with the mind was discussed in the post, “The Origin of Matter – Suddhatthaka” in the Abhidhamma section. But in this subsection on nāmarūpa, we are talking about it with a more simple, fundamental analysis that everyone can understand (if they have grasped the fundamentals.).
- Furthermore, those with abhinnā powers can intensify the kammic energy in javana citta in jhānā (specifically in jhāna samāpatti), and create matter directly too. We can compare that to the difference between a regular lamp that puts out a bit of light and a laser that puts out intense light that can cut through metal; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.”
- When we dive deeper into Buddha Dhamma, we will be able to see that some phenomena that seem “supernatural” (like creating a flower using mind energy) are indeed possible. But that ability to create matter requires purifying the mind to very high levels.
7. The Buddha described how the patisandhi viññāna (which is the same as the gandhabba) “descends” to the womb of the mother and starting the process in the “Maha Nidana Sutta (Digha Nikāya 15)” where he has the following exchange with Ven. Ananda:
‘Viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpan’ti iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ, tadānanda, imināpetaṃ pariyāyena veditabbaṃ, yathā viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ. Viññāṇañca hi, ānanda, mātukucchismiṃ na okkamissatha, api nu kho nāmarūpaṃ mātukucchismiṃ samuccissathā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”. “Viññāṇañca hi, ānanda, mātukucchismiṃ okkamitvā vokkamissatha, api nu kho nāmarūpaṃ itthattāya abhinibbattissathā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”. “Viññāṇañca hi, ānanda, daharasseva sato vocchijjissatha kumārakassa vā kumārikāya vā, api nu kho nāmarūpaṃ vuddhiṃ virūḷhiṃ vepullaṃ āpajjissathā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”. “Tasmātihānanda, eseva hetu etaṃ nidānaṃ esa samudayo esa paccayo nāmarūpassa—yadidaṃ viññāṇaṃ.
Here is the English translation:
“It was said: ‘With consciousness as condition there is nāmarūpa (normally translated as mentality-materiality; which in this case is the gandhabba).’
How that is so, Ānanda, should be understood in this way: If consciousness (Viññāṇañca) were not to descend (na okkamissatha) into the mother’s womb, would that nāmarūpa take shape in the womb?”
“Certainly not, venerable sir.”
“If, after descending (okkamitvā) into the womb, consciousness were to depart (vokkamissatha), would that nāmarūpa be generated into this present state of being?”
(Note: this happens in the case of a natural termination of pregnancy, where the gandhabba comes out of the womb on its own, because it is not a suitable match).
“Certainly not, venerable sir.”
“If the consciousness of a young boy or girl (kumārakassa vā kumārikāya vā) were to come out, would that nāmarūpa grow up, develop, and reach maturity?”
“Certainly not, venerable sir.”
“Therefore, Ānanda, this is the cause, source, origin, and condition (eseva hetu etaṃ nidānaṃ esa samudayo) for nāmarūpa, namely, defiled consciousness (yadidaṃ viññāṇaṃ).
8. Therefore, it is pretty clear that the kammic energy of the patisandhi viññāna “descends” to the womb and gives rise to the physical body. gandhabba is another term for patisandhi viññāna descending to the womb; it is also called “manōmaya kaya.”
- Sometimes the gandhabba in a human body can come out in a stressful situation; see, “Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.” The Buddha compared a gandhabba coming out of a physical body to a sword being pulled out of the sheath.
9. The erroneous concept of a patisandhi taking place in a womb is nowhere in the Tipiṭaka. Note that in the above verse in #7, the term okkanti is used to describe the descent of the patisandhi viññāna to the womb, and the word “patisandhi” is not there. Patisandhi took place in the previous life, at the end of that bhava, see, “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description.”
- Furthermore, if patisandhi took place in the womb, a human bhava would last only until death. Then, since human bhava is so rare, rebirth accounts cannot be accounted for (children recall their previous human lives only several years before). See “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.“
- Some criticize the concept of a gandhabba, saying that it is a Mahāyāna concept about an “antarā bhava.” Of course, there is no antarā bhava, i.e., there is no gap between two adjacent “bhava.” Cuti (end of one bhava) is followed by grasping the next bhava in the next thought-moment, see, “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description.”
10. A human gandhabba may be born with a human body many times before the kammic energy for the human bhava runs out, and they are born in another existence (as a deva, animal, etc.); see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
- During that whole time, the human gandhabba lives moving from one body to another and spending the time “in-between successive human bodies” in para loka; see, “Hidden World of the Gandhabba: Netherworld (Para Lōka).”
- I keep repeating things because these are essential points. If there are still questions, the “Search” box on the top right is an excellent resource to find relevant posts. The Pure Dhamma – Sitemap is another good resource.
- You can also use the “Comments” box to send a comment or ask a question. I will be opening the discussion forum soon too.
11. This connection between mind and matter (nāma and rūpa) — combined via viññāna to create nāmarūpa — is what the Buddha meant when he said that, “manō pubbangamā dhammā,” i.e., “the mind is the precursor to all dhamma.”
- When one understands that point, one is said to have the “nāmarūpa pariccēda ñana.”
- We have all the significant components essentially in place now, and there may be some who can see the “whole picture” at least vaguely. But there are still more minor pieces that need to be added to make the picture much clearer.
- However, if a key piece cannot be understood, the picture will not be clear. Please do not hesitate to comment if you have questions. Even if it is clear to me, I may not be conveying it optimally, and I can make it better with your input.
12. I must emphasize that one could be a Sōtapanna and may not even know about these details; I do not want to discourage those who are not really into Abhidhamma.
- What is needed for the Sōtapanna stage is a grasp of Tilakkhana, the anicca nature of this world.
- The details discussed in this subsection are to dispel any doubts about Buddha Dhamma’s consistency and illustrate that it can explain mental phenomena to profoundly deep levels. Furthermore, it can give confidence to those who have any remaining doubts about the validity of critical concepts in Buddha Dhamma (laws of kamma, rebirth, gandhabba, etc.).