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Nama-rupa: ‘Context and Reality’

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Nama-rupa: ‘Context and Reality’
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6/5/16 7:27 PM
Nama-rupa: ‘Context and Reality’
 
The term ‘nama-rupa’ is a pre-Buddhist Brahmanistic and ‘creationist’  term (from the Chandogya Upanishad of the Samaveda), which refers to the process of evolution of differentiation into names and forms i.e. to the unfolding of the undifferentiated primal state into the manifest world, prior to which there was nothing that existed (Wikipedia: Namarupa-vyakarana). 
 
This Brahmanistic principle is also found in the Biblical Book of Genesis, where in the beginning  the earth was formless and desolate and God subsequently created and differentiated the world by naming, such as “day”, “night”, “sky”, “earth”, “sea”, etc.
 
In his enlightenment, the Buddha discovered this ‘naming’ activity to be irrelevant to the core matter of ending suffering since the Buddha discovered Nibbana is the cessation of craving (rather than the cessation of naming, perception or conceptualising per se). 
 
Therefore, in the Pali suttas, the non-Brahmanistic stock definition of nama-rupa is:
 
Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention — these are called mentality (nama). The four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements — these are called materiality (rupa).
  
That said, in the Pali scriptures, there are a number of passages about ‘nama-rupa’ that appear to retain the Brahmanistic or pre-Buddhist context.
 
A salient feature of the Pali scriptures is the Buddha did not teach his Dhamma to all people and, generally, when speaking to Brahmans, the Buddha taught something in accord, albeit an improvement to, their existing religious beliefs.

More obviously, since such Brahmans were not learned in the teachings of the Buddha, when the Buddha used the term ‘nama-rupa’ when speaking to them, obviously, ‘nama-rupa’ meant what was comprehensible to the Brahmans.
 
For example, the Kevatta Sutta and the Brahmanimantanika Sutta both share a similar theme, namely, they are about adventures with Brahma gods and are quite adversarial or humiliating towards Brahmanism (thus it is unlikely they were actually spoken by the Buddha but are likely to be some later-day anti-Brahman propaganda). At the end of each sutta, no listener attains enlightenment thus the teachings found within are not teaching about Buddhist enlightenment.

In both suttas is found the following verse:
 
Consciousness without feature,
without end,
luminous all around:
Here water, earth, fire & wind
have no footing.
Here long & short
coarse & fine
fair & foul
name & form
are all brought to an end.
 
The verse above obviously shows ‘name-form’ retains its Brahmanistic meanings for the following reasons:

1. In the stock suttas, ‘rupa’ is defined as the four great elements of earth, wind, fire & water.

2. In the Kevatta Sutta, it is made explicitly clear the four great elements do not cease without remainder (i.e., vanish). Instead, they can have ‘no footing’ in luminous consciousness.  

3. Yet, the verse above states, in contradiction, that: “name & form are all brought to an end” or ‘stop’, which means earth, wind, fire & water are brought to an end.  

Therefore, it appears the Buddha here was possibly attempting to guide these Brahmans into a state of samadhi where they abandon their creationist fixation with 'nama-rupa'.
 
Similarly, in the Jata Sutta, the brahman Jata Bharadvaja went to the Buddha for advice, from which the Buddha provided the final answer:
 
Where name-&-form...
totally stop without trace:
that's where the tangle
is cut.
 
At the end of the Sutta, Jata Bharadvaja seeks admission as a monk (but does not immediately attain enlightenment) however at a later time attains enlightenment.
 
Again, the above verse is contrary to Buddhist principles, such as the interdependence of consciousness & nama-rupa (SN 12.67) and the interdependence consciousness and wisdom (MN 43). In other words, nama-rupa, in the Buddhist context, cannot cease for enlightenment to occur since enlightenment wisdom is dependent upon consciousness and consciousness is dependent upon nama-rupa.
 
At SN 12.63, it is made explicitly clear when: “mind and body (nama & rupa) are comprehended, there is, no further work left to do for the noble disciple”. In other words, contrary to the Kevatta Sutta, Brahmanimantanika Sutta & Jata Sutta, SN 12.63 does not state when nama-rupa ceases there is no further work to do.
 
Here, it is important to distinguish between the Pali words ‘nirujjahati’ and ‘uparujjhati’ (found in the Brahman suttas above) and the Pali word ‘nirodha’ found in Dependent Origination. ‘Nirujjahati and ‘uparujjhati’ means to ‘vanish’, ‘end’, ‘stop’ or even ‘annihilate’. Where as ‘nirodha’, whilst often translated as ‘cessation’, actually means ‘non-confinement’, having the sense of ‘liberation’. ‘Quench’ has been suggested as a more fitting translation.
 
Thus, as explain in SN 22.53, when ignorance and craving 'nirodha', consciousness, nama-rupa, sense organs, contact and feelings do not cease to be or cease to operate. Instead, they are liberated from ignorance, craving and bondage.
 
It is made explicitly clear in numerous suttas (such as MN 38 or Iti 44) that the arahant remains consciousness, and thus retains nama-rupa, in the state of enlightenment.
 
In conclusion, it appears quite obvious the verses spoken to Brahmans about the ending or stopping of nama-rupa use the term ‘nama-rupa’ in a Brahmanistic context. This accords to the salient teaching and social style of the Buddha of not teaching Buddha-Dhamma to all listeners. Also, the Brahman listeners were not familiar with the Buddhist meaning of nama-rupa and could have only understood it in their own context. Here, the Buddha is obviously encouraging the Brahmanist pre-occupation with ‘creationism’ should come to an end.  


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RE: Nama-rupa: ‘Context and Reality’
Answer
6/5/16 8:10 AM as a reply to Nicky.
A great read.  Thanks!
Eric

RE: Nama-rupa: ‘Context and Reality’
Answer
6/5/16 7:28 PM as a reply to Eric B.
Thanks for the feedback, Eric.