Rupa or Matter, as expounded by Ven.Nanavira Thera with the aid of the Suttapitaka
Rupa or Matter or Substance
Inertia or Resistance or "Patigha",
Rupa as the four ' mahabhuta '
can be regarded as
four kinds of ' behaviour '
or as the
four primary ' patterns of Inertia '
Behaviour (or inertia)
is independent of the particular sense-experience
that happens to be exhibiting it:
In any one kind of sense-experience
there is revealed a vast set of various behaviours,
of various patterns of inertia
In any other contemporary sense-experience
there is revealed a set that, to a great extent,
corresponds to this first set.
One particular group of behaviours common to all my sense-experiences is of special significance
it is 'this body',
ayam kayo rupi catummahabhutiko
(this body composed of matter, of the four great entities)
[Majjhima viii, 5 -M.i,500] )
Thus, when I see a bird opening its beak at intervals I can often at the same time hear a corresponding sound, and I say that it is the bird (visible) that is singing (audibly) .
The fact that there seems to be
one single (though elaborate) set of behaviours
to all my sense-experiences at any one time,
not an entirely different set for each sense,
gives rise to the notion of
one single material world
revealed indifferently by any one of my senses.
the material world of one individual largely corresponds to that of another
(particularly if allowance is made for difference in point of view),
and we arrive at the wider notion of
one general material world common to all individuals.
The fact that a given mode of behaviour can be
common to sense-experiences of two or more different kinds
shows that it is independent of any one particular kind of consciousness
(unlike a given perception—blue, for example, which is dependent upon eye-consciousness and not upon ear-consciousness or the others)
and being independent of any one particular kind of consciousness
it is independent of all consciousness
except for its presence or existence.
One mode of behaviour can be distinguished from another,
and in order that this can be done they must exist
they must be present either in reality or in imagination,
they must be cognized.
But since it makes no difference in what form they are present—
whether as sights or sounds
(and even with one as visible and one as audible, and one real and one imaginary)
the difference between them is not a matter of consciousness.
Behaviour, then, in itself does not involve consciousness
(as perception does),
and the rupakkhandha is not phassapaccaya
(as the saññakkhandha is)
[ Majjhima xi,9 -M.iii,17 ]
Quoting Heidegger, the Ven.Thera says,
'In itself, purely as inertia or behaviour, matter cannot be said to exist. '
And if it cannot be said to exist it cannot be said to cease.
Thus the question 'Where do the four mahabhuta finally cease?' is improper.
(The question will have been asked with the notion in mind of an existing general material world common to all. Such a general world could only exist—and cease—if there were a general consciousness common to all.
But this is a contradiction, since 'consciousness' and 'individuality' are one.)
'behaviour' can get a footing in 'existence' by being present in some form. As ' rupa ' in ' namarupa ', the' four mahabhuta ' get a borrowed 'existence' as the 'behaviour of appearance'.
(just as feeling, perception, and intentions, get a borrowed substance as the appearance of behaviour).
And 'namarupa' is the condition for 'viññana' as 'viññana' is for 'namarupa'.
When viññana is 'anidassana' it is said to have ceased (since 'avijja' has ceased).
Thus, with 'cessation of viññana there is cessation of namarupa',
and the 'four mahabhuta no longer get a footing in existence'
...bhikkhu catunnam mahabhutanam samudayañ ca atthagamañ ca yathabhutam pajanati, ...
a monk understands as they really are the arising and ceasing of the four great entities.
- is to be understood in this sense.)
From the foregoing discussion it can be seen that in order to distinguish
'rupa' from 'nama'
it is only necessary to separate what is (or could be) common to two or more kinds of consciousness from what is not but care is needed.
It might seem that 'shape' is 'rupa' and not 'nama' since it is present in both eye-consciousness and body-consciousness (e.g. touching with the fingers).
This, however, is a mistake.
'Vision' is a 'double faculty':
it cognizes both
'colour and shape'
The eye touches what it sees
(it is only necessary to run the eye first across and then down some vertical lines or bars to discover this),
and the result is coloured shapes. The eye is capable of intentional movement more delicate even than the fingers, and the corresponding perception of shapes is even more subtle.
Similar considerations apply, though in a much lesser degree, to hearing (and even to taste and to smell) where perception of shape, when present (however vaguely), corresponds to movement, real or imaginary (which will include the directional effect of two ears),of the head or of the entire body.
But provided different kinds of consciousness are adequately distinguished, this method gives a definite criterion for telling what is matter from what is not. It is consequently not necessary to look for strict analysis of the four mahabhuta: provided only that our idea of them conforms to this criterion, and that they cover all the primary modes of matter, this is all that is needed.
Thus it is not necessary to look beyond the passage at Majjhima xiv,10 <M.iii,240> for a definition of them.
(It is easy, but fatal, to assume that the Buddha's Teaching is concerned with analysis for its own sake, and then to complain that the analysis is not pushed far enough.)
A human body in action, clearly enough, will present a behaviour that is a highly complex combination of these primary modes:
it is behaviour of behaviour, but it still does not get beyond behaviour.
(It is important to note that the laws of science, of biochemistry and physics in particular, do not cover behaviour of matter associated with conscious or intentional action.)
Some Comments on 'Rupa' or 'Matter'
Considering Ven. Nanavira Thera's following statement
There seems to be one single set of behaviors common to all my ‘sense experience’ ,
at any one time and not an entirely different set for each sense.
set of behaviours= earthy, watery, fiery and airy- or Rupa –or 4 mahabhuta
different set = different behavior of either earthy alone or watery alone or fiery alone or airy alone
each sense= for seeing only or hearing only or smelling only or tasting only or touching only
There seems to be that earthy, watery, fiery and airy behaviors are common to all my sense experience at any one time and not an entirely different behavior mode of either earthy alone or watery alone or fiery alone or airy alone for (the sense of) seeing only or hearing only or smelling only or tasting only or touching only.
Similarly considering another statement by Thera,
If we reconstruct the above statement we get,
Producing the feeling of a material world (consisting of four mahabutha such as Earthy, Watery, Fiery and Airy) was brought out without any difference by my senses ( by seeing or hearing or smelling or tasting or feeling)
Producing the feeling of a material world was brought out without any difference by my senses.
fact that a given mode of behaviour can be common to sense-experiences
of two or more different kinds shows that it is independent of
any one particular kind of consciousness
Taking Ven. Thera's example of a ' Bird singing', further with additional examples for ease of understanding, let us consider few 'phenomenons' of 'behaviours' in little more detail, as appearing in the following Table
We can expand the sentence
The fact that a given mode of behaviour can be common to sense-experiences of two or more different kinds shows that it is independent of any one particular kind of consciousness
A mode of behaviour such as Earthy behaviour or Watery behaviour or Fiery behaviour or Airy behaviour or combinations of such behaviors can also be experienced independently or separately in Sense bases such as eye, ear, nose, tongue or body
which further expresses as
A mode of behaviour such as Earthy behaviour or Watery behaviour or Fiery behaviour or Airy behaviour or combinations of such behaviors can also be experienced independently or separately as eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness or body consciousness.
This confirms the statement that
A given mode of behaviour can be common to sense-experiences of two or more different kinds and it is independent of any one particular kind of consciousness ( except for its ‘presence’ or ‘existence’).
Any mode of behaviour can be manifested through any type of consciousness.
The mode of behaviour can also have complex patterns.
Behaviour, then, in itself does not involve consciousness (as perception does)
Four Mahabhutha or Rupa can come into prominence through any sense experience.
Finally, the most important statement that,
Rupa or Matter can be manifested through any type of consciousness.
All sense bases are equipped with the 'measuring' ability of their objects !
Ven. Thera stresses out a crucial point of 'shape' which is of importance to understand. For a shape, there also should be a 'dimension' or 'distance' or 'extent' to recognize it. We normally think that it is by 'touch' belonging to 'body' sense base that we come to recognize the 'movement' that helps to cognize the size or the shape or the 'dimension' of a thing. Actually, all other sense bases does it without us being realizing the complex 'measurement' characteristic they inherit. All sense organs 'does' in real time without us realizing it. For example, if you think carefully, just by looking at a 'landscape panorama' in front of you, you might be able to say 'how wide an area you can see' or 'how much that tree is of height' or ' how far that mountain is situated' like. All these statements are derived from the 'eye', measuring the distances for you but we never realized until Thera pointed it to us.
Similarly you will realise that you can deduce where a 'noise' coming from, or the directions of various noises that you can listen to where you can easily pinpoint the direction.
Similarly you will realise that you can deduce where a 'smell' is coming from. For example, a person with fragrant body spray amply applied in the self, will be 'noticed' by your nose sense base even if you do not physical see the person approaches you but you will easily cognize the direction that fragrance came from!
Tongue also is capable to give you a 'measurement' or distance' which in contact of the organ. There it is more like a touch of the 'hand' since the Tongue can 'move' along or around the object that comes in its way. For example, even if you close your eyes, you can distinguish a toffee, a pill, a bean or a rice grain, not by its taste, but by the 'dimension' the tongue arrived at feeling the object that was in contact of the tongue.
We can consider that while the 'body' is the most prominent sense base for deducing the 'dimension' by 'touch',the 'eye' is involved in 'visible' mode dimensioning, the 'ear' involved at an 'audible' mode dimensioning, the 'nose' and 'tongue' organs are , not that well prominent modes pertaining to their own faculties.
Ven.Nanavira Thera further explains about ' Space',
This discussion, it will be seen, makes 'space' a secondary and not a primary quality
space is essentially tactile (in a wide sense), and is related to the body (as organ of touch) as colours and sounds (and so on) are related to the eye and the ear—indeed, we should do better to think of 'spaces' rather than of any absolute 'space'.
Space, in fact, has no right to its privileged position opposite time as one of the joint basic determinants of matter:
we are no more entitled to speak of 'space-(&-)time' than we are of 'smell-(&-)time'.
Time itself is not absolute , and material things, as they exist, are not 'in' time (like floatage on a river), but rather have time as their characteristic;
'space', however, besides not being absolute, is not, strictly, even a characteristic of matter.
On the other hand, our first four sense-organs are each a part of the body, which is the fifth,
and 'space does hold a privileged position relative to colour, sound, smell, and taste'.
Thus we sometimes find in the Suttas (e.g. Majjhima vii,2 <M.i,423>)
an 'akasadhatu' alongside the 'four mahabhuta'
and for practical purposes which is ultimately all we are concerned with
'space' can be regarded as a 'quasi-material element'
or 'having some resemblance' to 'material element'
But the Milindapañha has no business whatever to put 'akasa' together with 'nibbana' as 'asankhata'.
Ven.Nanavira Thera further explains about Matter and Consciousness
A visual and an auditive experience differ in consciousness (whether or not they differ in matter)
but between two different visual (or auditive) experiences
the difference is in matter (or substance, or inertia)
and not in consciousness.
At this point the question might be asked, 'What is the material difference between the simple experiences of, for example, a blue thing and a red thing (ignoring spatial extension)?'
The immediate answer is that they are simply different things, i.e. different inertia. But if it is insisted that one inertia can only differ from another in behaviour (i.e. in pattern of inertia)
in other words, that no inertia is absolutely simple, we shall perhaps find the answer in the idea of a difference in frequency. But this would involve us in discussion of an order of structure underlying the four mahabhuta.
CLEARING THE PATH – Writings of Nanavira Thera (1960-1965) – Volume-I – NOTES ON DHAMMA (RUPA, pp 98-103,BCC Edition 2001)
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