In any experience (leaving out of account arūpa) there is a phenomenon that is present (i.e. that is cognized). The presence, or cognition, or consciousness, of the phenomenon is viññāna (q.v.). The phenomenon has two characteristics, inertia and designation (patigha and adhivacana). The inertia of a phenomenon is rūpa ('matter' or 'substance'), which may be seen also as its behaviour; and this presents itself only in the passage of time (however short). (These four mahābhūtā are the general modes of behaviour or matter: earthy, or persistent and resistant, or solid; watery, or cohesive; fiery, or ripening, or maturing; airy, or tense, or distended, or moving. See RŪPA.) The designation of a phenomenon is nāma ('name'), which may be seen also as its appearance (the form or guise adopted by the behaviour, as distinct from the behaviour itself).[a] Nāma consists of the following (Majjhima i,9 <M.i,53>[1]): whether (the experience is) pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral (vedanā or 'feeling'); shape, colour, smell, and so on (saññā [q.v.] or 'perception [percepts]'); significance or purpose (cetanā [q.v.] or 'intention[s]'); engagement in experience (phassa [q.v.] or 'contact'); and (intentional) direction of emphasis (manasikāra or 'attention'). Phassa is included in nāma since nāma, in specifying saññā, necessarily specifies the pair of āyatanāni ('bases') and kind of viññāna involved (e.g. perception of sourness specifies tongue, tastes, and tongue-consciousness), whereas rūpa does not (inertia or behaviour does not specify its mode of appearance, visual, auditory, and so on): nāma, in other words, entails (but does not include) viññāna, whereas rūpa is simply 'discovered' by viññāna (see RŪPA). Manasikāra is included in nāma since, whereas rūpa precedes manasikāra (logically, not temporally: behaviour takes place whether it is attended to or not—the clock, for example, does not stop when I leave the room), nāma involves manasikāra: experience is always particular or selective, one thing to the fore at once and the rest receding in the background. Rūpa, in other words, in order to appear—i.e. in order to be phenomenal as nāmarūpa—, must be oriented: a phenomenon cannot present all aspects at once with equal emphasis, but only in a perspective involving manasikāra. (Manasikāra is involved as an intentional modification of the perspective or direction of emphasis that is given at the most immediate level. Cf. CETANĀ [e] & Bradley, op. cit. (Logic) , III/I, vi, §13.)

  To be present is to be here-and-now; to be absent is to be here-and-then (then = not now; at some other time) or there-and-now (there = not here; at some other place) or there-and-then. Attention is (intentional) difference between presence and absence, i.e. between varying degrees of presence, of consciousness ('Let this be present, let that be absent!'). Consciousness is the difference between presence (in any degree) and utter non-presence (i.e. non- existence). (An image may be present or absent, but even if present it is always absent reality. Mind-consciousness, manoviññāna, is the presence of an image or, since an image can be absent, of an image of an image.)[b] Intention is the absent in relation to the present. Every present is necessarily accompanied by a number of absents—the present is singular, the absent is plural. Each absent is a possibility of the present, and the ordered total of the present's absents is the significance of the present (i.e. what it points to, or indicates, beyond itself), which is also its intention. (In general, no two absents—even of the same order—are of exactly the same 'weight'.) Volition (which is what is more commonly understood by 'intention') is really a double intention (in the sense used here), i.e. it is intentional intention. This simply means that certain of the absents (or possibles) are intentionally emphasized at the expense of the others. When, in the course of time, one absent comes wholly to predominate over the others (often, but not necessarily, the one preferred), the present suddenly vanishes, and the absent takes its place as the new present. (The vanished present—see ANICCA [a] —is now to be found among the absents.) This is a description of action (kamma) in its essential form, but leaving out of account the question of kammavipāka, which is acinteyya (Anguttara IV,viii,7 <A.ii,80>[8]), and therefore rather beyond the scope of these Notes. See also a definition of action in RŪPA [b], and an ethical account in KAMMA.  

  The passage at Dīgha ii,2 <D.ii,62-3>[9] is essential for an understanding of nāmarūpa, and it rules out the facile and slipshod interpretation of nāmarūpa as 'mind-&- matter'—rūpa is certainly 'matter' (or 'substance'), but nāma is not 'mind'.[c] The passage at Majjhima iii,8 <M.i,190-1>[10] makes it clear that all five upādānakkhandhā, and therefore viññāna with nāmarūpa, are present both in five-base experience and in mental experience. Thus, a visible (real) stone persists (or keeps its shape and its colour—i.e. is earthy) visibly (or in reality); an imagined stone persists in imagination. Both the actual (real) taste of castor oil and the thought of tasting it (i.e. the imaginary taste) are unpleasant. Both matter and feeling (as also perception and the rest) are both real and imaginary.[d] See PHASSA [a]. Nāmarūpa at Dīgha ii,2 <D.ii,63,§21>[9] may firstly be taken as one's own cognized body. Cf. Nidāna/Abhisamaya Samy. ii,9 <S.ii,24>: Avijjānīvaranassa bhikkhave bālassa/panditassa tanhāya sampayuttassa evam ayam kāyo samudāgato. Iti ayam c'eva kāyo bahiddhā ca nāmarūpam, itth'etam dvayam. ('A stupid/intelligent man, monks, constrained by nescience and attached by craving, has thus acquired this body. So there is just this body and name-&-matter externally: in that way there is a dyad.') This passage distinguishes between nāmarūpa that is external and one's own body. Together, these make up the totality of nāmarūpa at any time. The body, as rūpa, is independent of its appearance; but together with its appearance, which is how we normally take it, it is nāmarūpa. Nāmarūpa that is external is all cognized phenomena apart from one's own body. Cf. Majjhima xi,9 <M.iii,19>: ...imasmiñ ca saviññānake kāye bahiddhā ca sabbanimittesu... ('...in this conscious body and externally in all objects...') Though, as said above, we may firstly understand nāmarūpa in the Dīgha passage as one's own cognized body, properly speaking we must take nāmarūpa as the total cognized phenomena (which may not be explicitly formulated), thus: (i) 'I-[am]-lying-in-the- mother's-womb'; (ii) 'I-[am]-being-born-into-the-world'; (iii) 'I-[am]-a-young-man-about-town'. In other words, I am ultimately concerned not with this or that particular phenomenon in my experience but with myself as determined by my whole situation.


[a] Inertia or behaviour, as just noted, is what we call 'matter' or 'substance', rūpa—and nāma is the appearance of rūpa—its 'name'. The appearance of rūpa is 'what it looks like', its description (though not the description of how [it] behaves). Conversely, rūpa is the behaviour of nāma—its 'matter'. So we get nāmarūpa, 'name-&-matter'. (N.B. Neither the use here of the word 'appearance' [= manifestation, as opposed to substance] nor our normal use of the word 'reality' [see (b) below] has anything to do with the celebrated [and fictitious] distinctions between Appearance and Reality of Bradley and others. The idea that there is a so-called 'reality' behind or beyond phenomena ['mere appearance'] is a mistake ['the illusion of hinder-worlds' in Nietzsche's phrase]. Phenomena present themselves for what they are, and can be studied and described simply as they appear. But this is not to say that they are simple. Cf. Sartre, op. cit., pp. 11-14.) [Back to text

Real = {Present
Imaginary = {Absent

(The disjunctions 'central/peripheral' and 'actual/possible' [or 'certain/possible'] represent two slightly different aspects of the more general 'present/absent': the former is as it is in strict reflexion, the latter is as it is in abstract judgement or discursive reflection—see MANO [b].) Although, relative to the imaginary of mental experience, five-base experience is real, yet, relative to what is central in a given field of five-base experience, whatever is peripheral in that field is already beginning to partake of the nature of the imaginary. In general, the further removed a thing is from the centre of consciousness the less real it is, and therefore the more imaginary. In mental experience proper, however, where there is more or less explicit withdrawal of attention from reality (see MANO), what is central in the field is, precisely, an image (which may be plural), with more imaginary images in the periphery. (There is no doubt that images are frequently made up of elements of past real [five-base] experience; and in simple cases, where the images are coherent and familiar, we speak of memories. But there are also images that are telepathic, clairvoyant, retrocognitive, and precognitive; and these do not conform to such a convenient scheme. The presence of an image, of an absent reality, is in no way dependent upon its ever previously [or even subsequently] being present as a present reality [though considerations of probability cannot be ignored]. On the other hand, no image ever appears or is created ex nihilo. See FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE [c] & [l].) [Back to text

[c] When nāma is understood as 'mind' or 'mentality' it will inevitably include viññāna or consciousness—as, for example, in the Visuddhimagga (Ch. XVIII passim). This is entirely without justification in the Suttas; and it is clear enough that any mode of thinking that proposes to make a fundamental division between 'mind' and 'matter' will soon find itself among insuperable difficulties. 'Mind' (i.e. mano [q.v.] in one of its senses) already means 'imagination' as opposed to 'reality', and it cannot also be opposed to 'matter'. 'Reality' and 'matter' are not by any means the same thing—is real pain (as opposed to imaginary pain) also material pain? There are, to be sure, various distinctions between body and mind (in different senses); and we may speak of bodily (kāyika) pain as opposed to mental or volitional (cetasika) pain—see Majjhima v,4 <M.i,302>; Vedanā Samy. iii,2 <S.iv,231>—, but these are distinctions of quite a different kind. Bodily pain may be real or imaginary, and so may volitional pain (grief), but material pain—painful feeling composed of matter—is a contradiction in terms. (Observe that there are two discrepant senses of the word cetasika on two successive pages of the same Sutta [Majjhima v,4]: (i) on one page <M.i,301> we find that saññā and vedanā are cittasankhāra because they are cetasikā [see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §5] and (ii) on the next <302> we find that vedanā may be either kāyikā or cetasikā [see above]. Citta and cetasika are not fixed terms in the Suttas, and, as well as different shades, have two principal [and incompatible] meanings according to context, like their nearest English equivalent, 'mind, mental' [which, however, has to do duty also for mano—see Glossary]. In (i), evidently, cetasika is 'mental' as opposed to 'material' [see also A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [g]], and in (ii) it is 'mental' as opposed to 'sensual'. In the Suttas the contexts are distinct, and confusion between these two senses does not arise; but a passage from Russell will provide a striking example of failure to distinguish between them: 'I do not know how to give a sharp definition of the word "mental", but something may be done by enumerating occurrences which are indubitably mental: believing, doubting, wishing, willing, being pleased or pained, are certainly mental occurrences; so are what we may call experiences, seeing, hearing, smelling, perceiving generally.' [Op. cit., VIIth Essay.] 'Mind', whether in English or Pali [mano, citta], represents an intersection of mutually incompatible concepts. Confusion is often worse confounded by the misunderstanding discussed in PHASSA [e], where matter is conceded only an inferred existence in a supposed 'external world' beyond my experience.) [Back to text]

  [d] A distinction approximating to that between nāma and rūpa, under the names 'forme' and 'matiére', is made by Gaston Bachelard in his book L'Eau et les Rêves, Essai sur l'imagination de la matière (José Corti, Paris 1942). Bachelard regards matter as the four primary elements, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, and emphasizes the resistant nature of matter (which would correspond to patigha). This book (there are also companion volumes on the other elements) is written from a literary rather than a philosophical point of view, but its interest lies in the fact that Bachelard makes these fundamental distinctions quite independently of the Buddha's Teaching, of which he apparently knows nothing. He is concerned, in particular, with the various 'valorisations' of the four elements as they occur in literature, that is to say with the various significances that they may possess. These are examples of sankhārā (as cetanā): rūpam rūpattāya sankhatam abhisankharonti ('Matter as matter is the determined that they determine' (See Additional Texts 6.)) (cf. A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [f]). The philosophical distinction between primary and secondary qualities also seems to approximate to that between rūpa and at least certain aspects of nāma. (Here is Bradley [op. cit. (A.&R.), Ch. I]: 'The primary qualities are those aspects of what we perceive or feel, which, in a word, are spatial; and the residue is secondary.' But see RŪPA [e].) These indications may serve to assure the apprehensive newcomer that the technical terms of the Suttas do not represent totally strange and inaccessible categories. But it is one thing to make these distinctions (approximately, at least), and another thing to understand the Buddha's Teaching. [Back to text]