As I understood it from the abhidharma, nama-rupa is just another way of looking at the five skandhas, a different scheme for the same thing, along with others (e.g. the dhatus).

But, as far as I can tell, this is never quite explicitly stated.


And are they identical ways of saying the same thing?

  • 2
    "from the abhidharma, nama-rupa is just another way of looking at the five skandhas" Would you be able to provide more details on where exactly in abhidharma, this is explained? Jun 28, 2016 at 17:44
  • it's not ever said in anything i've read, but there is nothing outside the skandhas and it seems that nama-rupa is everything, else something is neither psychological not physical @SajeewaWelendagoda
    – user2512
    Jun 30, 2016 at 4:47

4 Answers 4


Nama-rupa & the five aggregates are taught for different purposes.

The five aggregates are objects of insight.

'Such is form, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is feeling, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is perception, such its origination, such its passing away. Such are fabrications, such their origination, such their passing away. Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' ...AN 4.41

Nama-rupa is a condition in Dependent Origination, where it serves as the 'control centre' for meditation. Either nama-rupa is overcome by ignorance or nama-rupa is controlled to end ignorance.

He sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body [rupa] erect and setting mindfulness [nama] to the fore....MN 118

He lives with attention to body [rupa] established, with an immeasurable mind [nama]...MN 38

Nama-rupa is 'mentality-materiality' & excludes consciousness (although includes internal contact, which includes consciousness one of three constituents but predominantly the mind/mano as a sense organ).

What is mentality-materiality (nama-rupa)? Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention — these are called mentality. The four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements — these are called materiality.

What is consciousness? There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness.

SN 12.2 & MN 9

Nama = mentality. It also includes another mental functions, such as mindfulness, zeal, energy, persistence, decision, etc (as listed in MN 111).

Why consciousness is kept separate is because consciousness is mere sense awareness, like a mirror. It is essentially 'passive' in nature.

Where as 'nama' is like 'intelligence'. It is a grouping of those functions of mind that discern, develop wisdom & makes decisions. Otherwise, if nama does not develop wisdom, it is controlled by ignorance (avicca paccaya...nama-rupa).

'Nama-rupa' is used as a word-compound to show nama & rupa are inseparably interrelated. For example, when nama becomes agitated, rupa simultaneously becomes agitated.

His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress. MN 149

Where as consciousness is just awareness or objectivity. Consciousness does not produce suffering where as an ignorant 'nama' produces & is afflicted by suffering; which also afflicts the physical body.


'Nama-rupa' is also a pre-Buddhist-Brahmanistic term that the Buddha adopted, redefined & thus debunked.

Brahmanism was concerned with 'creationism', of how the mind names forms. In Brahmanism, nama-rupa is 'name-form'. Where as the Buddha said 'nama-rupa' is 'mind-body' (mentality-materiality), which should be observed in meditation so to understand how suffering afflicts the mind-body & also can cease in the mind-body.

Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the world/suffering, the origination of the world/suffering, the cessation of the world/suffering and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the world/suffering... AN 4.45

There are many scriptures where the Buddha talks to Brahmans and the word 'nama-rupa' retains its Brahmanistic meaning as 'name-form'. This causes confusion to most Buddhists & scholars, who incorrectly translate nama-rupa as 'name-form' in all contexts.

When the Buddha teaches Buddhists, the translation is 'mentality-materiality'. When the Buddha teaches Brahmans, the translation is 'name-form'.

The brahman Jata Bharadvaja went to the Blessed One and said: Gotama, I ask you this: who can untangle this tangle?

Where name-&-form, along with perception of impingement & form, totally stop without trace: that's where the tangle is cut.

When this was said, the brahman Jata Bharadvaja said to the Blessed One, "Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent!

SN 7.6



Different time period. Namarupa is more Theravadin and Five Skandha is a much precise, evolved system that isn't really deeply spoken of until Surangama Sutra--a Mahayana invention.

And are they identical ways of saying the same thing?

No. Not identical but very close.

From Wikipedia entry:

"And what [monks] is name-&-form? Feeling, perception, intention, contact, & attention: This is called name. The four great elements, and the form dependent on the four great elements: This is called form. This name & this form are, [monks], called name-&-form."

Katamañca bhikkhave nāmarūpaṃ? Vedanā saññā cetanā phasso manasikāro, idaṃ vuccati nāmaṃ. Cattāro ca mahābhūtā, catunnaṃ ca mahābhūtānaṃ upādāyarūpaṃ, idaṃ vuccati rūpaṃ. Iti idañca nāmaṃ, idañca rūpaṃ, idaṃ vuccati bhikkhave, nāmarūpaṃ.

With no argument from anyone, we can say from the above that form skandha = rupa.

  • rupa = form skandha CHECK

Now, we are left with four skandhas.

namas = feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention

Let's match them to the remaining skandhas based on the passage:

  • **feeling/**sensation skandha CHECK
  • **perception/**conception skandha CHECK
  • intention, contact, attention / part of the Ten Omnipresent Factors within the volition skandha.... CHECK
  • consciousness skandha?? 7th and 8th level of consciousness?

In conclusion namarupa can be generously rounded off to include 4.5 of the Five Skandhas as it seems to be missing much of the other delineations contained within the great volition skandha and the great consciousness skandha.

Elsewhere in the Pali Canon, nāmarūpa is used synonymously with the five aggregates.

Once again, I argue against this, since the 7th and 8th level of consciousness do not correlate entirely to "intention"... we cannot say that namarupa is a precise enough (or even late enough) to include these other layers which are actually worked on at the highest stages towards Complete Buddhahood and are described more in the Mahayana than in Theravada!


Rupa or Matter and consists of the combination of the four great elements of solidity, fluidity, motion and heat.

It corresponds to The First Aggregate of Form.

Nama or Mind consists of the combination of sensations, perceptions, volitional activities and consciousness.

It corresponds to the rest of the Aggregates, i.e. the Aggregate of Feelings/Sensations, Perception, Mental Formations and Consciousness.

  • doesn't answer the question. if you want to add comments like that the consider editing the question imho
    – user2512
    Jun 28, 2016 at 16:11
  • great answer Lanka, I have adopted your answer although I would argue consciousness is not included and is not identical to namarupa
    – Ahmed
    Jun 30, 2016 at 1:49

To get to know “Nama-Rupa”, and the ‘five skandhas” the following dialogues between King Milinda and Arahant Nagasena is helpful.

Venerable Sir, what is ‘rupa’ and what is ‘nama’? Why do they generate together?

Dear king, ‘Namarupa’ means mentality & materiality. Mentality (mind & thoughts) is ‘nama’. Materiality (the four great elements ‘Patavi’, ‘Apo’, ‘Thejo’, ‘Vayo’ which are transitory and the material form derived from them) is ‘Rupa’. ‘Nama’ and ‘rupa’ are linked together like flowers and their scent. They are born together. This phenomenon has been there for a long time.

Venerable Sir, what does conceive as the birth?

Dear King, ‘Namarupa’ (psychological elements of the human person & physical body / Mentality & materiality) conceive as the birth. The body & mind we have at present would never be reborn. Because of the results of good and bad deeds (Karma Vipaka) which we have done using our mind and body, another ‘Namarupa’ (psychological elements of the human person & physical body) is conceived.

Venerable Sir, is it the materiality or form (Rupa) which is Nagasena? Is it the feeling or sense (Vedana) (pleasure, pain or the absence of the either) which is Nagasena? Is it cognitive perception (Sanna) ( awareness of colour, shape, sound, smell, taste & touch) which is Nagasena? Is it volition or mental formation (Sankhara) (habitual actions like greed, hatred, generosity, kindness…etc) which is Nagasena? Is it consciousness (Vinnana) (all the mental faculties pertaining to perception & experience) which is Nagasena?

None dear king.

Venerable Sir, Then is it the five aggregates (Rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara, vinnana) which is Nagasena?

No dear king.

Then, who is Nagasena?

Dear King, you came here by a chariot. Do you call the compartment the chariot? Or, do you call the roof the chariot? Is the cart wheel or the beam the chariot ? Is the axle the chariot ? Is the bridle the chariot ?

No Venerable Sir.

Dear king, when the compartment, the roof, cart wheels, the beam, the axle and the bridle is combined, it is called the chariot. If it is dismantled and heaped, nobody would call it a chariot.

Similarly, when my hair, teeth, nail, skin, flesh & bones are together, it is called Nagasena. When the five aggregates are together, it is called Nagasena. But, in reality, there is no such person.

Our Great Buddha said thus to Bhikkuni Vajira : “In the manner, that a chariot is called a chariot when the cart wheels, compartment, axle, beam, etc. are combined; a being is called thus when the five aggregates (the Five Skandhas)are merged. ”

King Milinda was very happy about the explanation and thanked Venerable Nagasena.

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