This answer refers to "mind" as a synonym for "nāma". The only relevant use of that word I have found was "nāmarūpa", which refers to the five aggregates. But is "nāma" ever used alone to signify "mind"? Or do we speak of mind in Buddhism only because it is a convenient Western abstraction that we can use?

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In the Theravada (mostly in the abhidhamma and commentaries), "nāma" is used to describe those dhammas that are mental, i.e. the last four aggregates. Also, three of the four ultimate realities (nibbana is considered a nāmadhamma, though that's a bit of a technicality).

e.g., in the Yāmaka:

ye keci nāmā dhammā, sabbe te nāmamūlā?

Whatever nāma dhammas, are they all rooted in nāma?

They're also referred to as "arūpadhamma", i.e. not physical, as in the Visuddhimagga:

yathā yathā hissa rūpaṃ suvikkhālitaṃ hoti nijjaṭaṃ suparisuddhaṃ, tathā tathā ... tadārammaṇā arūpadhammā sayameva pākaṭā honti.

For in proportion as materiality becomes quite definite, disentangled and quite clear to him, so the immaterial states that have that [materiality] as their object become plain of themselves too.


The word nāma is never used by itself to mean mind, but the reason for this is the word literally means name, so it would be very hard to tell when it is being used to mean mind and when it is being used to mean name. When it is used in the compound nāmarūpa however, the meaning is clear because it's being used as part of a set expression.

There are other Pali words for mind that are clearer, and some of them have more precise usages as well. the word viññāṇa, or consciousness is one of those words, but it specifically refers to the awareness aspect of the mind, not the whole thing. The word Mano is a more general term that refers to the mind as a whole, especially when one is contrasting it with the body, and the word Citta is usually used to refer to the mind as a whole but in some contexts (such as in Abhidhamma) it is used in the more specific sense of the word viññāṇa.


On page 111 in What Buddhists Believe by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda there is a short section about Nama-Rupa. Maybe it can help you out.

Ven. K. Sri Dhammanda talks about the definition of both nama & rupa. He says:

"... According to buddhism, life is a combination of mind (nama) and matter (rupa). Mind consists of the combination of sensations, perceptions, volitional activities and consciousness. Matter consists of the combination of the four elements of solidity, fluidity, motion and heat. Life is the co-existence of mind and matter. Decay is the lack of co-ordination of mind and matter. Death is the separation of mind and matter. Rebirth is the recombination of mind and matter. After the passing away of the physical body (matter), the mental forces (mind) recombine and assume a new combination in a different material form and condition another existence...".

He then says:

"...The relation of mind to matter is like the relation of a battery to an engine of a motor car. The battery helps to start the engine. The engine helps to charge the battery. The combination helps to run the motor car. In the same manner, matter helps the mind to function and the mind helps to set matter in motion...".

After that he goes a bit further into the subject although as stated above its a short section on 2 pages.

  • 1
    Hi, could you elaborate on that section you mention? On "How do I write a good answer?" it explains: "please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline."
    – user382
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 11:56
  • Yes i will try to do that.
    – user2424
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 12:19

"But is "nāma" ever used alone to signify "mind"?"

MN 9 defines nāma.

Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention [vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro] — these are called nāma.

So some aspects of the mind are nāma.

Outside the suttas, as in @bakmoon's answer, I understand nāma literary means "name".

However, this is one of the things that are not perfectly clear when put together with other concepts, and there has been attempts to clarify its meaning:

"Just as scholars of Buddhism have often understood the term nāmarūpa to refer to 'mind and body' rather than it's more literal meaning 'name and form', so the later Theravada tradition has understood nāmarūpa. Such an understanding, however, is scarcely compatible with the main context in which nāmarūpa is found in the pali canon, which is the fourth link in the usual twelvefold version of the chain of dependent origination". [...] If mind and body arise at this stage, how can one make sense of the subsequent arising of what seem to be mental faculties, and why do we find jāti, birth, so much further along the chain?"

-- Identity and Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being According to early Buddhism

In the book above, a chapter is dedicated to nāmarūpa. The following are a few points drawn from it:

  • MN 9 is the only sutta that defines nāma. Now, in light of nāmarūpa in the conditioned arising formula, it appears at odds, as vedanā and phassa are further down the links after nāmarūpa, and cetanā is left grouped on samkhara (or taṇhā).

  • The Papancasudani (MN commentary) projects the skhandhas in the definition above: vedanāskhandha, saññāskhanda, and samkharakhandha (standing for cetanā, phasso and manasikāro).

  • As per Visuddhimagga (p 438), it's said that a man beginning insight understands nāma as the four arupakhandhas.

  • Further on in the Visuddhimagga (p 558), while discussing the dependent origination, nāma is said to be three aggregates (saññā, vedanā, sankhara). It seems this was arranged because viññāṇa conditions nāmarūpa.

Finally, the author shows that, though there are parallels to nāmarūpa and the khandhas, the definition of one based on another is commentarial. In further analysis, she suggests that nāma should be understood as "conceptual identity".

  • Nama is defined the same as in MN 9 in many suttas, such as SN 12.2. MN 9 contains the stock definition. It is only in DN 15 where nama has an erroneous definition, reverting back to its Brahmanism meaning. Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 17:49
  • The nama definition is not "at odds" in the conditioned arising formula. Dependent Origination is not easy to comprehend. One must meditate upon each condition thoroughly until they are comprehended. If the Pali is understood, saññā & vedanā are also at the 2nd link - sankhara. So saññā & vedanā exist 3 times in the formula. If saññā & vedanā were not perceived & felt, how could they be known? Therefore, when mindfulness is functioning, perception by nama can perceive ignorant internal perceptions at sankhara & can also perceive perceptions of external sense objects at vedana (7th link). Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 18:02
  • Nama is not "conceptual identity'. MN 44 explains "self-identity" arises due to craving & becoming (rather than before craving & becoming). Nama is defined a 'mentality', i.e., feeling, perception, intention, (internal) contact & attention. The suttas are correct therefore it is up to each meditator to verify it via meditation rather than find fault with it. Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 18:10

In Buddhism, 'nama' means 'mentality'. For example, there is the term 'namadhamma', which means 'mental phenomena'.

Before Buddhism, 'nama' meant 'name' & was a key notion in the creationism of Brahmanism (refer to 'namarupa-vyakarana' in Wikipedia). For example, in the Biblical creationist story, God names things when he creates the world.

It appears the Buddha took the term 'namarupa' from Brahmanism in order to redefine it. In other words, the impression is the Buddha was debunking the Brahmanist ideas; rendering them irrelevant in relation to the arising & cessation of suffering. Since the Buddha declared all he taught about was "suffering & the cessation of suffering", the Brahmin notions of namarupa-vyakarana were irrelevant since suffering revolves around craving & attachment rather than naming.

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