Extract from The Buddha's Teaching on Physical Phenomena:
That which is made of iron, wood or hemp is not astrong bond, say the wise; (but) that longing for jewels,ornaments, children and wives is far greater anattachment.Dhammapada (vs. 345).
Attachment to people and possessions is strong, almost irresistible. We are infatuated by what we see, hear, smell, taste, experience through the bodysense and through the mind. However, all the different things we experience do not last. We lose people who are dear to us and we lose our possessions. We can ﬁnd out that attachment leads to sorrow, but at the moments of attachment we do not want to accept the truth of the impermanence of all things. We want pleasantobjects for ourselves, and we consider the “self” the most importantthing in the world.
Through the Buddhist teachings we learn that what we take for“self”, for “our mind” and for “our body”, consists of changing phenomena. That part of the Buddhist teachings which is the “Abhidhamma” enumerates and classiﬁes all phenomena of our life: mental phenomena or n¯ama and physical phenomena or rupa. Seeing is nama, it experiences visible object through the eye-door. Visible object or colour is rupa, it does not experience anything. The eyesense,that functions as the eye-door through which visible object is experienced, is also rupa. The rupas that are sense objects, namely, visible object, sound, smell, ﬂavour and tangible object, and also the rupas that are the sense organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue and bodysense,are conditions for the namas to experience objects. Nama and rupa are interrelated.
Nama and rupa are ultimate realities. We should know the difference between ultimate truth and conventional truth. Conventionaltruth is the world of concepts such as person, tree or animal. Beforewe learnt about Buddhism, conventional truth, the world of concepts, was the only truth we knew. It is useful to examine the meaning of concept, in Pali: paññatti. The word concept can stand for the name or term that conveys an idea and it can also stand for the idea itself conveyed by a term. Thus, the name “tree” is a concept, and also the idea we form up of “tree” is a concept. When we touch whatwe call a tree, hardness, which is a kind of rupa can be experienced.Through the eyes only the rupa that is visible object or colour can beexperienced. Visible object and hardness are ultimate realities, paramattha dhammas, each with their own characteristic. These characteristics do not change, they can be experienced without having toname them. Colour is always colour, hardness is always hardness,even when we give them another name.
The whole day we touch things such as a fork, a plate or a chair. We believe that we know instantaneously what different things are, but after the sense-impressions such as seeing or the experiencing of tactile object through the bodysense, there are complicated processes of remembrance of former experiences and of classiﬁcation,and these moments succeed one another very rapidly. Concepts are conceived through remembrance. We remember the form and shape of things, we know what different things are and what they are used for. We could not lead our daily life without conventional truth; we do not have to avoid the world of conventional truth. However,in between the moments of thinking of concepts, understanding of ultimate realities, of nama and rupa, can be developed. The development of understanding does not prevent us from doing all the chores of daily life, from talking to other people, from helping them or from being generous to them. We could not perform deeds of generosity if we would not think of conventional truth, such as thethings we are giving or the person to whom we give. But through the development of understanding we shall learn to distinguish betweenabsolute truth and conventional truth.
The “Abhidhammattha Sangaha”, a compendium of the Abhidhamma composed in India at a later time states that concepts areonly shadows of realities. When we watch T.V., we see projected images of people and we know that through the eyesense only visible object is seen, no people. Also when we look at the persons we meet, only colour is experienced through the eyesense. In the ultimate sense there are no people. Although they seem very real,they are only shadows of what is really there. The truth is different from what we always assumed. What we take for a person are only namas and rupas that arise and fall away. So long as we have not realized the arising and falling away of nama and rupa we continueto believe in a lasting self.
Ultimate realities are impermanent, they arise and fall away. Concepts are objects of thinking, they are not real in the ultimate sense. Nama and rupa, not concepts, are the objects of understanding. The purpose of the development of the eightfold Path is seeing ultimate realities as impermanent, suffering and non-self. If the difference between concepts and ultimate realities is not known, the eightfold Path cannot be developed. Right understanding, the leading factor of the eightfold Path, is developed through direct awareness of nama and rupa. However, this is difﬁcult and it can only be learntvery gradually. When direct awareness arises of one object at a timeas it appears through one of the senses or through the mind-door, we do not think of a concept of a “whole”, of a person or thing, at that moment.
The study of rupas can help us to have more understanding of the sense objects and of the doorways of the senses through which these objects are experienced. If we do not have a foundation knowledge of objects and doorways we cannot know how to be aware of one reality at a time as it appears at the present moment. The study of nama and rupa can be a condition for the arising of direct awareness later on. The study of rupas is not the study of physics or medical science. The aim of the understanding of nama and rupa is the eradication of the wrong view of self and freedom from enslavement to defilements. So long as one clings to an idea of self who owns things, it can give rise to avarice and jealousy which may even motivate bad deeds such as stealing or killing. Defilements cannot be eradicated immediately, but when we begin to understand that our life is only one moment of experiencing an object through one of the six door- ways, the clinging to the idea of an abiding ego, of a person or self will decrease