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Dependent Origination: Name and Form

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2013-05-21
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



Consciousness processes the mental formations by labeling and calling them something. Suddenly from a vague appearance arises the names and forms of life as we know it. Nama Rupa (name and form) arises from the fertile ground of mental formations and consciousness whose empty nature is confused by ignorance. To be called something, content requires information imparted about its nature. For example, we say an object is round, red, smooth, and small. Having recognized those traits through memory, we amass the data and call the object an  “apple.” The name we give separates it from the rest of the content before us. When we are hungry, “apple” rises to the forefront of all other forms. When we are not, it falls back and is barely noticed. The mental formations that encircle the words determine the object’s importance to us. Consciousness is now ready to develop a narrative about the relative relationships between the objects, and where there is a story there will be a storyteller.


As an example of how name and form work together to create the universe as we know it, we will focus on the most familiar form we know, namely the body. The body is not what you think it is, but you have to prove that to yourself. Make a list of images you have of your body and sit down and actually experience the list firsthand. For instance you might think the body is “yours” but when you experience the body just as it is in meditation, there is no “yours” within that experience. Or you might think the body has a defined shape, but upon dropping the concept of arm, leg, etc. the shape becomes amorphous and irregular. Where is the exact boundary of the body? Where does the internal stop and the external begin? Our narrative seems to know with certainty and adds concepts to keep us within the boundaries of our story, firmly fixed within “you” and “I.”


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