When we see "a car' then there is the "seeing of the car formation" and that is mind or "nama". At the same time there is the rupa car formation that is not a concept from our mind. I always thought rupa was "the experience or hardness , softness, roughness ect.. but I guess this is wrong because rupa is it's own ultimate reality?


7 Answers 7


According to the Abhidhamma, we don't "see a car". It is a bit more complicated :-)

According to the Abhidhamma, sensing involves seeing a small patch of colour. The small patch of colour is rūpa, an ultimate reality.

How small is this patch of colour? Extend your arm and hold out your thumb. Scientists say that the size of your thumbnail as compared to your entire field of vision is what that retina can process at one instant. The rods and cones of the retina respond to specific colours.

Once this small patch of colour (the ultimate reality) has been seen, it becomes a concept (the tadanuvattikā manodvāravīthi process). Sensing is finished and now thinking takes over. The first thing that thinking does is the “grasp the object as a whole” (samudāyagāhikā); in other words, thinking builds up the entire field of vision from these “thumbnail-sized” patches of colour.

How is this done? It is not in the linear mechanical way that a TV screen image is built up. Scientists say that the eye focuses first on areas of high contrast, on faces and on movement before filling in the rest of the scene.

Once the entire scene has been built up, the thinking mind recognizes colours (vaṇṇasallakkhaṇā). Next, a shape or “entity” is extracted from the pattern of colours (vatthugāhikā). Next is the thinking process of recognizing the share or “entity” (vatthusallakkhaṇā). Next is a thinking process of gasping the name (car in the example you gave) (nāmagāhikā) and the thinking process of recognizing the name (nāmasallakkhaṇā).

Scientists explain that the activity in the brain extends from the visual cortex to involve memory.

Of course, next comes the idea of the car, judgements and associations regarding the car, obsessions and fantasies about the car.

What we see is the ultimate reality of a small patch of colour. Once seeing of this small patch of colour is complete, then thinking of concepts takes over.

This is explained in Bhikkhu Bodhi's "Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma" (page 164).


In traditional Hindu use of the words Rupa and Nama (in context of ontology), Rupa meant a configuration of matter and Nama meant a spirit or an identity embodied in that configuration. For example this particular combination of wooden planks is a Rupa, while the chair it embodies is a Nama. Even if some parts of the chair can get broken and replaced making it a different Rupa, it still remains the same Nama. Similarly, as the person gets older, the previous Rupa is nowhere to be found, but the Nama remains the same.

From this you can see that Rupa is not the Ultimate Reality, far from it. Rupa is just a transient configuration. This was well-known even before the Buddha.

What Buddha brought in, is clear understanding that Nama is a projection of the mind, that Nama is a conditioned phenomena too and is therefore impermanent.

As was famously said (SN 5.10):

So do you believe there's "a being"?
-- this is a view of Mara.
In a pile of mere components (sankhara)
no any such being found.
Just as they say 'chariot'
of an assemblage of parts,
So they'll call "a being"
the mere heaps of components (skandha).

Here the pile of components is the Rupa, and the being / the chariot is the Nama.

So Rupa cannot be the Ultimate Reality, because it is compound and transient. Now, your next question could be, "but what about matter? can't matter be considered the Ultimate Reality?" - and the traditional answer to that is, the atoms are still made from pieces and those pieces are too made from pieces, so no matter how small we go things are always compound and transient. That is to say, as you go all the way down there is nothing like solid matter, there is only Rupa, transient configuration.


I think it is not correct to say "seeing of the car formation". When "you" see "a car" that is nama-rupa; it is just seeing - no doer nor object. The concept of "Car" is just mind-made. Yes rupa is the experience of hardness, softness etc. But when you see a car, can you "see" the hardness, softness etc? So rupa is not the ultimate reality.


Here's my guess — however it's an unreferenced statement in Wikipedia.

Reality in Buddhist sutras

We can look at the concepts of impermanence and not-self in objective terms, for example by deconstructing the concept of an aggregated object such as a lotus and seeing that the flower is made up entirely of non-flower elements like soil, nutrients, photosynthetic energy, rain water and the effort of the entities that nourished and grew the flower. All of these factors, according to the Diamond Sutra, co-exist with each other to manifest what we call a 'flower'. In other words, there is no essence arisen from nothingness that is unique and personal to any being. In particular, there is neither a human soul that lives on beyond the death of the physical body nor one that is extinguished at death since, strictly speaking, there is nothing to extinguish. The relative reality (i.e., the illusory perceived reality) comes from our belief that we are separate from the rest of the things in the universe and, at times, at odds with the processes of nature and other beings. The ultimate or absolute reality, in some schools of Buddhist thought, shows that we are inter-connected with all things. The concept of non-discrimination expands on this by saying that, while a chair is different from a flower, they 'inter-are' because they are each made of non-flower and non-chair elements. Ultimately those elements are the same, so the distinction between chair and flower is one of quantity not of quality.


  1. The quote starts with "deconstructing the concept" (to see Rupa instead of seeing Nama).

  2. Secondly it mentions "relative reality" which I think refers to Nama again, e.g. "that thing is named 'chair' and that other thing is named 'table': by comparing and naming them we see them as relatively different.

    (see also "the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao" etc.).

  3. Lastly it says that "ultimate reality" (which is what the OP asks about) is that we are interconnected, and I think its reason for saying that is that everything is created from the same stuff (i.e. Rupa) -- maybe that's saying that Rupa is more ultimately real (at the risk of introducing an anachronistic modern-science word, maybe Rupa is more "elemental").

From the context of the Wikipedia quote it might be a Mahayana doctrine (e.g. the quote mentions the Diamond sutra).


To continue this discussion further we must have an agreement of the (Dhamm) terms "Nama", "Rupa" and "Nama-Rupa" that we are using in this Question and answers.

There are three things to consider.
1). The Basic materials (Rupa Dhatu)/(particles).
2). The material creation / Form/physical phenomena- (a car)(Nama-Rupa).
3). The Perception/ Mental Formations.- (Nama Dhamma)

There are two usages according the difference of the understanding about the "car".
1). There is a car. (Aththi) - considering the structure as a thing.
2). There is no car. (Naththi) - considering the parts, No whole-( a thing).
But there is a “Mid point” (Kaccanagotta Sutta).

“‘All exists’: Kaccana, this is one extreme. ‘All does not exist’: this is the second extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle:

3). When there is a person to perceive, then only "the car" exist.
(There is no sound in the forest-This is very special-Unique- finding in Buddhism).

We should use "Nama-Rupa" for this car. Because it is mental formation (sankhara).
It is Mind-made. (“Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā,manoseṭṭhā manomayā;”).Dhammapada

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.

Is there three things?
1). Can we sence/ identify (Rupa)Dhatu? - (Particals) - No. - (Allways we sence whole lot).
2). Can we identify/ Sence separate (Nama) Dhatu? - No. - (Allways we sence whole( single) feeling/Thought).
3). Can we sence/identify Consepts (Nama-Rupa)? - Yes. - (It is mental creation).
(In Any scale we sence only "Nama-Rupa"). So we cannot divide this to three. Only Nama-Rupa process(Vinnana) is the reality.

In Majjhesutta - 'Nama' is one end, 'Rupa' is the second end, Vinnana is middle,..

“nāmaṃ kho, āvuso, eko anto, rūpaṃ dutiyo anto, viññāṇaṃ majjhe,

Then what is Rupa?(Rupa Dhatu)?
We may assume we feel hardness, softness, roughness ext. ...But they are all mental creations. We can Know only the nature / Behavior of Rupa, Or its own ultimate reality - The Impermanency (Anithya) . (By using our own developed "Dhamma Chakku"-(Using Vipassana Mditation)/(Zazen)).

Then what is Nama?(Nama Dhamma)?
Our Thought process)/(Vinnana process) may identify (intention, attention, contact, feeling, discrimination) or (Vedana, Sanna, Chethana, Passa, manasikara) and any other mental factors(combination of Chathasikas). But these are also mental creations. (There is no way -other than analyzing -to identify them. Except Using vipassana to see the Anithya).

We cannot divide our experiences to”Nama” or “Rupa”. Because every experience need Rupa for create form(Nama-Rupa) and Nama for identifying or feel them. without “Nama” no experience and none can be happen without "Rupa".

So finally we can consider only "Nama-Rupa".
In English What is the word for this?
When somebody is watching something for so long they stop seeing details.

  • Are you agree on this?
    – Shrawaka
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 23:37

From Ven. Bodhi's "Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma", ultimate reality(paramattha) can be seen as 4-fold: citta, cetasika, rupa, and Nibbana. These 4 are further classified into Sankhata(the conditioned) and ASankhata(the un-conditioned). Citta(mind/consciousness) and cetasika(mental factors) belong to the Nama(mentality) group, while Rupa is the materiality group. Both are under Sankhata. Only Nibbana is under ASankhata. A quick layout as below:

Paramattha(ultimate reality):
|__1. Sankhata(the conditioned)
|           i. Nama(mentality): citta(mind/consciousness) and cetasika(mental factors)
|           ii. Rupa(materiality): forms
|__2. ASankhata(the un-conditioned)


The original question is about Brahmanism (namarupa-vyakarana) rather than about Buddhism.

The term 'nama-rupa' is confusing for many students of Buddhism because, in many suttas, the Buddha was speaking to Brahmans. Since those Brahmans did not understand the terminology of Buddhism, when the Buddha spoke to them, he was referring to nama-rupa as it was understood in Brahmanism.

(In addition, there are suttas obviously composed after the Buddha died probably for the purpose of preaching to & converting Brahmans, such as DN 15, since these suttas contradict the core principles of what the Buddha taught).

In Buddhism, a 'a car' is a sense-object of form (rūpāyatanaṃ) rather than 'rupa' (the physical body) as found in the term 'nama-rupa'.

The "seeing of the car formation" is eye contact (phassa) dependent on viññāṇa (consciousness) rather than "nama". "Nama' is defined as 'feeling, perception, intention, (internal) contact & attention (SN 12.2), and also other mental faculties, such as mindfulness (MN 111).

Therefore, that the car is a material thing (rupa dhatu) is an ultimate reality since, no matter how small the atoms of a car are broken down into smaller particles, those particles remain as rupa dhatu (material elements). Being rupa dhatu, the rupa dhatu contains no 'self' within it.

The essential matter about ultimate reality is the car is anatta (not-self) & sunnata (empty of self) since the car can never be held to permanently belong to any owner (due to its impermanence).

The car does not really have an 'owner'. This is the ultimate reality the Buddha was concerned with.

The eye is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit. Forms are not yours... Eye-consciousness is not yours... Eye-contact is not yours... Whatever arises in dependence on eye-contact, experienced either as pleasure, as pain, or as neither-pleasure-nor-pain, that too is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit.

SN 35.101

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