Viññāna Paccayā Nāmarūpa

Revised May 19, 2019


1. Nāmarūpa can have different, but related, meanings in different contexts. Nāmarūpa in the standard Paṭicca Samuppāda is different from the “nāmarūpa” involved in idappaccayā Paṭicca Samuppāda which takes place moment-to-moment.

  • Basically, idappaccayā means “what happens at this moment depending on the conditions at this moment”. Thus, it describes “events in real time” that bring vipāka in real time, as well as vipāka in the future.
  • The standard Paṭicca Samuppāda process describes how viññāna energy created within this lifetime leads to future births (i.e., vipāka in future lives via future births).

2. Therefore, the standard Paṭicca Samuppāda can be called “Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda” and the other can be called “Idappaccayā Paṭicca Samuppāda”; here “uppatti” means “birth”.

  • Let us first discuss nāmarūpa involved in idappaccayā Paṭicca Samuppāda, i.e., how a jāti can arise in the current life, based on one’s avijjā (ignorance) and saṅkhāra (thoughts, speech, and actions).
  • Jati is not restricted to “births as a human, a deva, an animal”. Many different jāti (births) arise during the current life itself; see, “Jātidham­mā­di­ Sutta­ Dasaka (SN 35.33)“.
  • We will discuss two examples below which explain how a “thief” and a “drunkard” are “born” during the current life itself.
Viññāna Paccayā Nāmarūpa During a Lifetime

1. The “nāmarūpa” involved in Idappaccayā Paṭicca Samuppāda mainly refer to those “visual images” created by the person when making an “expectation” (viññāna) to achieve/maintain a certain goal.

  • Here, “nāma” refers to whatever the “name” given to the subject involved in the Paṭicca Samuppāda process, and “rūpa” are the associated objects themselves. Thus, the corresponding “nāmarūpa” are the mental images of the subjects in question.

2. Let us take an example. When a thief plans to steal something (say a watch from a store), the process starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra”; he starts thinking about the plan because of his ignorance of the consequences.

  • Here “nāma” or the name is “watch” and “rūpa” is the watch itself. But “nāmarūpa” is the mental image of that watch: That is formed in HIS MIND.
  • He starts doing vaci saṅkhāra first: thinking to himself about how to go about stealing the watch. This is “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna” and that gives rise to viññāna for stealing the watch.

3. With that viññāna (expectation), now he starts visualizing the stealing process. How he would find a suitable time, and may be distract store employees someway and to pick it up.

  • Now more nāmarūpa become involved: he also makes visuals of how he will be actually doing the stealing: “nāmarūpa” are the visuals he has in his mind to get the job done.

4. The more he thinks and makes plans (i.e., makes more and more nāmarūpa in his mind, that future expectation for stealing that object (i.e., the viññānafor it) will get stronger.

  • Here the Paṭicca Samuppāda process runs backwards, “nāmarūpa paccayā viññāna”. This is called an “aññamañña Paṭicca samuppāda”.
  • These forward and backward steps may run back and forth while he is planning the robbery, and the Buddha said that both viññāna and nāmarūpa get stronger due to this feedback. They depend on each other and feed on each other.
  • The more he thinks about it, the stronger those viññāna and nāmarūpa.
  • Ven. Sariputta provided a simile for this inter-dependence between viññāna and nāmarūpa saying it is like two bundles of hay leaning against each other and supporting each other without any other support.

5. Let us take another case of a teenager who is influenced by his peers to drink alcohol. Because of his ignorance about the consequences, he engages in such activities and also in planning activities: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra”.

  • Here saṅkhāra include not only drinking activities but also planning. Therefore, all three types of saṅkhāra are involved: manō, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra.
  • While he is participating in drinking he is doing kāya saṅkhāra; he will be constantly talking about having such parties and those are vaci saṅkhāra; it is also in the subconscious and many times a day they come back to his mind as manō saṅkhāra. All these are included in “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna”.

6. Most people do not realize it, but that process of “thinking and talking to oneself” (vaci saṅkhāra) can make a big impact in the formation of nāmarūpa and the cultivation of viññāna. Many people spend hours and hours doing that assuming it does not contribute to “viññāna (or kamma) formation”; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra“.

  • In the above example, even when he is not drinking, those manō saṅkhāra come to the mind automatically and he starts consciously thinking about drinking activities: he visualizes pictures of “party scenes”, including friends, bottles of his favorite drink, any food that goes with it, etc.
  • That conscious thinking is also vaci saṅkhāra, and those also strengthen the viññāna via, “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna”.
  • Now those mental pictures that arise during that process are nāmarūpa that arise due to “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa”. Therefore, Paṭicca Samuppāda steps do not just flow in one way. They can run forward and backward.

7. If the teenager keeps his bad habit of drinking, he gets trapped in that bhava (state of mind of a drunkard), the more jāti that occurs, i.e., more frequently he will be drunk. When one gets really drunk, one tends to behave like an animal without any sense of decency, and the long-term consequences could be rebirth as an animal.

  • If that “viññāna of a drunkard” stays strong to the time of death (cuti-patisandhi moment at the end of his human bhava), it could lead to a new uppatti bhava via the uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda process mentioned in #1 above. We will discuss this second type of Paṭicca Samuppāda
  • The important point is that such a patisandhi viññāna is likely to give rise to rebirth in the animal realm, as mentioned above.

8. In both these examples, it is clear that those reverse steps also occur: “nāmarūpa paccayā viññāna“, can happen, and does happen, together with “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa”. The more one visualizes related nāmarūpa, the stronger that viññāna gets.

  • As we saw above, this happens in other steps too (for example, “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna” and “viññāna paccayā saṅkhāra”) and such is referred to as an “aññamañña Paṭicca samuppāda step”. Here “aññamañña” means “inter-dependent”.
  • This is especially true also for the “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna”. The more stronger the viññāna gets, one is more likely to engage in same kind of acts, i.e., saṅkhāra, i.e., “viññāna paccayā saṅkhāra”. They feed on each other. This happens a lot in habit formation; see, “9. Key to Ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati)“.
Viññāna Paccayā Nāmarūpa at Patisandhi

1. At the end of an existence (bhava), a given lifestream is making a quantum transition (meaning a large instantaneous jump) from one kind of an existence to another; for example, from a deer to a human or vice versa. The basic level of viññāna changes from that of a deer to a much higher level of a human in the first case.

2. The key point is that at the end of the last citta vīthi of the deer, a very fine human body called gandhabba emerges from the dead body of the deer. This fine body cannot be seen with the naked eye. This gandhabba is formed by the kamma vipāka that gave rise to this new human life, and blueprint of the grown human is in that gandhabba. This is the new “nāmarūpa” of that lifestream.

  • This blueprint of the human physical body thus has all the important details of the new life (jāti); for example, sex type, the height, shape, any major physical disability, etc. Some minor features such a skin color or hair color may depend on the parents, but even those may be influenced by the kamma vipāka that gave rise to this new existence.

3. Thus as soon as the viññāna for the next existence was determined at the last citta vīthi by the step “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna”, the next step of “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa” gives rise to the nāmarūpa for the next life.

  • Thus here “nāma” includes the basic level of viññāna for the new human existence, which is much different from the “nāma” of a deer. Obviously, the “rūpa” is that of a human form and not of a deer. Thus “nāmarūpa” makes a huge transition at the end of the “bhava” as a deer.

4. I have discussed previously how a deer could be reborn many times as a deer until the kammic energy of the “deer bhava” is exhausted; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“.

  • In such instances, at the death of the deer, another “deer gandhabba” emerges from the dead body and waits for a suitable womb for “deer mother” becomes available. Here the new “nāmarūpa” may be somewhat different, but still that of a deer, so any change would be minor.
  • Therefore, the “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa” gives rise to a new set of “nāmarūpa” only at the patisandhi to a new existence.

Viññāna is a key concept in Buddha Dhamma. It can be analyzed at various levels, and a deeper analysis is at “Viññāna Aggregate“.

Next, “Nāmarūpa paccayā Salayatana“, ………

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