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Translations of
Englishform, material object
Sanskritरूप (rūpa)
Paliरूप (rūpa)
(rōmaji: shiki)
(RR: saek)
Sinhalaරෑප (rūpa)
Tibetanགཟུགས (gzugs)
Glossary of Buddhism

Rūpa (Devanagari: रूप) means "form". As it relates to any kind of basic object, it has more specific meanings in the context of Indic religions.


According to the Monier-Williams Dictionary (2006), rūpa is defined as:

  • ... any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure RV. &c &c ...
  • to assume a form ; often ifc. = " having the form or appearance or colour of " , " formed or composed of " , " consisting of " , " like to " ....[1]


In Hinduism, many compound words are made using rūpa to describe subtle and spiritual realities such as the svarupa, meaning the form of the self. It may be used to express matter or material phenomena, especially that linked to the power of vision in samkhya,[2] In the Bhagavad Gita, the Vishvarupa form, an esoteric conception of the Absolute is described.


 Figure 1:
The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)

according to the Pali Canon.
form (rūpa)
  4 elements


  mental factors (cetasika)  



 Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001)  |  diagram details
Figure 2: The Pali Canon's Six Sextets:
  sense bases  
<–> "external"
  1. The six internal sense bases are the eye, ear,
    nose, tongue, body & mind.
  2. The six external sense bases are visible forms,
    sound, odor, flavors, touch & mental objects.
  3. Sense-specific consciousness arises dependent
    on an internal & an external sense base.
  4. Contact is the meeting of an internal sense
    base, external sense base & consciousness.
  5. Feeling is dependent on contact.
  6. Craving is dependent on feeling.
 Source: MN 148 (Thanissaro, 1998)    diagram details

Overall, rūpa is the Buddhist concept of material form, including both the body and external matter.

More specifically, in the Pali Canon, rūpa is contextualized in three significant frameworks:[3]

  • rūpa-khandha – "material forms," one of the five aggregates (khandha) by which all phenomena can be categorized (see Fig. 1).
  • rūpa-āyatana – "visible objects," the external sense objects of the eye, one of the six external sense bases (āyatana) by which the world is known (see Fig. 2).
  • nāma-rūpa – "name and form" or "mind and body," which in the causal chain of dependent origination (paticca-samuppāda) arises from consciousness and leads to the arising of the sense bases.

In addition, more generally, rūpa is used to describe a statue, in which it is sometimes called Buddharupa.

In Buddhism, Rūpa is one of Skandha, it perceived by colors and images.


According to the Yogacara school, rūpa is not matter as in the metaphysical substance of materialism. Instead it means both materiality and sensibility—signifying, for example, a tactile object both insofar as that object is made of matter and that the object can be tactically sensed. In fact rūpa is more essentially defined by its amenability to being sensed than its being matter: just like everything else it is defined in terms of its function; what it does, not what it is.[4] As matter, rūpa is traditionally analysed in two ways: as four primary elements (Pali, mahābhūta); and, as ten or twenty-four secondary or derived elements.

Four primary elements[edit]

Existing rūpa consists in the four primary or underived (no-upādā) elements:

Derived matter[edit]

In the Abhidhamma Pitaka and later Pali literature,[5] rūpa is further analyzed in terms of ten or twenty-three or twenty-four types of secondary or derived (upādā) matter. In the list of ten types of secondary matter, the following are identified:

  • eye
  • ear
  • nose
  • tongue
  • body[6]
  • form
  • sound
  • odour
  • taste
  • touch[7]

If twenty-four secondary types are enumerated, then the following fifteen are added to the first nine of the above ten:

  • femininity
  • masculinity or virility
  • life or vitality
  • heart or heart-basis[8]
  • physical indications (movements that indicate intentions)
  • vocal indications
  • space element
  • physical lightness or buoyancy
  • physical yieldingness or plasticity
  • physical handiness or wieldiness
  • physical grouping or integration
  • physical extension or maintenance
  • physical aging or decay
  • physical impermanence
  • food[9]

A list of 23 derived types can be found, for instance, in the Abhidhamma Pitaka's Dhammasangani (e.g., Dhs. 596), which omits the list of 24 derived types' "heart-basis."[10]

The rupa jhānas[edit]

Qualities of the rupa jhānas[edit]

The practice of dhyana is aided by anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing. The Suttapitaka (the Agamas) describe four stages of rupa jhāna. Rupa refers to the material realm, in a neutral stance, as different from the kama realm (lust, desire) and the arupa-realm (non-material realm).[11] Each jhāna is characterised by a set of qualities which are present in that jhana.[12][13][14]

  • First dhyāna: the first dhyana can be entered when one is secluded from sensuality and unskillful qualities, due to withdrawal and right effort. There is pīti ("rapture") and non-sensual sukha ("pleasure") as the result of seclusion, while vitarka-vicara ("discursive thought") continues;[15]
  • Second dhyana: there is pīti ("rapture") and non-sensual sukha ("pleasure") as the result of concentration (samadhi-ji, "born of samadhi"[16]); ekaggata (unification of awareness) free from vitarka-vicara ("discursive thought"); sampasadana ("inner tranquility");[17][18]
  • Third dhyana: upekkhā[19] (equanimous; "affective detachment"[20]), mindful, and alert, and senses pleasure with the body;
  • Fourth dhyana: upekkhāsatipārisuddhi [21] (purity of equanimity and mindfulness); neither-pleasure-nor-pain. Traditionally, the fourth jhāna is seen as the beginning of attaining psychic powers (abhijñā).[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Monier-Williams Dictionary, pp. 885-6, entry for "Rūpa," retrieved 2008-03-06 from "Cologne University" at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/monier/ (using "rUpa" as keyword) and http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/cgi-bin/serveimg.pl?file=/scans/MWScan/MWScanjpg/mw0886-rUpakartR.jpg.
  2. ^ Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, I.3. "“tadā draṣṭuh svarūpe ‘vasthānam” (Edwin F. Bryant. “The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.” p.95)
  3. ^ E.g., see Hamilton (2001), p. 3 and passim.
  4. ^ Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Chʼeng Wei-shih Lun. Routledge, 2002, page 183.
  5. ^ Hamilton (2001), p. 6.
  6. ^ Here, "body" (kāya) refers to that which senses "touch" (phoṭṭhabba). In the Upanishads, "skin" is used instead of "body" (Rhys Davids, 1900, p. 172 n. 3).
  7. ^ The first ten secondary elements are the same as the first five (physical) sense bases and their sense objects (e.g., see Hamilton, 2001, pp. 6-7).
  8. ^ According to Vsm. XIV, 60 (Buddhaghosa, 1999, p. 447), the heart-basis provides material support for the mind (mano) and mind consciousness. In the Sutta Pitaka, a material basis for the mind sphere (āyatana) is never identified.
  9. ^ The list of 24 can be found, for instance, in the Visuddhimagga (Vsm. XIV, 36 ff.) (Buddhaghosa, 1999, pp. 443 ff.; and, Hamilton, 2001, p. 7).
  10. ^ Compare Dhs. 596 (Rhys Davids, 2000, p. 172) and Vsm. XIV, 36 (Buddhaghosa, 1999, p. 443).
  11. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  12. ^ Vetter 1988.[verification needed]
  13. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  14. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  15. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  16. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  17. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  18. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  19. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  20. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  21. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  22. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]


  • Buddhaghosa, Bhadantācariya (trans. from Pāli by Bhikkhu Ñāamoli) (1999). The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-00-2.
  • Hamilton, Sue (2001). Identity and Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being according to Early Buddhism. Oxford: Luzac Oriental. ISBN 1-898942-23-4.
  • Monier-Williams, Monier (1899, 1964). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-864308-X. Retrieved 2008-03-06 from "Cologne University" at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/index.php?sfx=pdf.
  • Rhys Davids, Caroline A.F. ([1900], 2003). Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, of the Fourth Century B.C., Being a Translation, now made for the First Time, from the Original Pāli, of the First Book of the Abhidhamma-Piaka, entitled Dhamma-Saṅgaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena). Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.

External links[edit]