Viññāna Paccayā Nāmarūpa

Revised May 19, 2019; May 13, 2021; May 19, 2021; September 9, 2022


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

  • 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, in addition to vipāka in the future. See “Idappaccayātā
    Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • The upapatti Paṭicca Samuppāda process describes how viññāna energies created up to and within this life lead to future births (i.e., vipāka in future lives via future births). Here “uppatti” means “birth.” See, “Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Nāmarūpa in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda

2. Let us first discuss nāmarūpa involved in idappaccayātā 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).

  • Jāti 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

3. “Nāmarūpa” involved in Idappaccayātā 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 “rūpās” are the associated objects themselves. Thus, the corresponding “nāmarūpa” are the mental images of the subjects in question.

4. Let us take an example. When a thief plans to steal something (say a watch from a store), the process starts with the step “salāyatana paccayā phasso;” see, “Generating Kammic Energy in the ‘Upādāna Paccayā Bhava’ Step.” That corresponds to him seeing the watch on display and realizing that he could take it without anyone seeing it.

  • That is when he starts acting with avijja initiating a PS cycle at “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. In addition, various other types of nāmarūpa related to the plan will go through his mind.
  • For example, he may also make visuals of how he will be doing the stealing: “nāmarūpa” are the visuals he has in his mind to get the job done.
  • 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.

5. 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 viññāna for it) will get stronger.

  • Here the Paṭicca Samuppāda process runs backward, “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.
A Second Example

6. Let us take another case of a teenager whose peers influence him to drink alcohol. Because of his ignorance about the consequences, he engages in such activities and also in planning activities: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”

  • Here saṅkhārā includes 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 constantly be 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.”

7. Most people do not realize it, but that process of “thinking and talking to oneself” (vaci saṅkhāra) can make a big impact on 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, such manō saṅkhāra comes 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.

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

  • Suppose that “viññāna of a drunkard” stays strong to the time of death (the cuti-paṭisandhi moment at the end of his human bhava). In that case, 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 paṭisandhi viññāna is likely to give rise to rebirth in the animal realm, as mentioned above.

9. 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 stronger the viññāna gets, one is more likely to engage in the same kind of acts, i.e., saṅkhāra, i.e., “viññāna paccayā saṅkhāra.” They feed on each other. This often happens in habit formation; see, “9. Key to Ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati)“.
Viññāna Paccayā Nāmarūpa at Paṭisandhi (in Upapatti PS)

10. At the end of existence (bhava), a given lifestream jumps from one kind of existence to another. The easiest to visualize is in the case of a Brahma to a Deva transition. The “nāma” part changes from a Brahma to a Deva, and the “rupa” part changes from 2 pasada rupa for the Brahma to 5 for the Deva.

  • That transition happens in the latter part of the last citta vīthi of the life of Brahma. At that cuti-patisandhi moment, the “Brahma nāmarupa” dies, and a “Deva nāmarupa” is created by kammic energy. This is discussed in a bit more detail in the post “Cuti-Paṭisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description.”

11. For humans (and animals,) the situation is a bit more complex because the first type of “human nāmarupa” created is a human/animal gandhabba.

  • In the cases of a human or an animal, the second type of nāmarupa forms when that gandhabba merges with a zygote in a womb. That nāmarupa is the basis for the physical human body. So, it depends on the particular case at hand.
  • Let us consider the case of a human dying and born into a deer. A gandhabba is involved in both lives.
Example of a Human to Deer Transition

12. In general, 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.

  • When human life ends, that “human gandhabba” will die, and at that cuti-paṭisandhi moment, a “deer gandhabba” will arise.
  • Thus here, “nāma” includes the basic level of viññāna for the new deer’s existence, which is much different from the “nāma” of a human. The “rūpa” is that of a deer and not of a human. Thus “nāmarūpa” makes a huge transition at the end of the “bhava” from human to a deer.
  • Of course, now that “deer gandhabba” needs to be pulled into the womb of a female deer (i.e., doe) to be born a deer.

13. I have discussed previously how a “deer gandhabba” 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, a “deer gandhabba” emerges from the dead body and waits for a suitable womb for the “deer mother” to become 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 paṭisandhi to a new existence.

Viññāna is a key concept in Buddha Dhamma. We can analyze it at various levels, and a deeper analysis is at “Viññāna Aggregate.”

Next, “Nāmarūpa paccayā Salayatana“, ………

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