Definition - What does Rupa mean?

Rupa is a Sanskrit word meaning "form," which refers to the appearance of physical objects in yogic, Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. It is said that rupa is not just the physical existence of an object, but also its tangible nature. Therefore, the concept of rupa also encompasses the impression that an object can make on the senses. In fact, it is this second quality of rupa -- the sense it imparts to the physical body -- which is considered more important.

In the "Pali Canon" of Buddhism, rupa is described using three frameworks - material forms, visible objects and “name and form,” which refers to the spiritual properties of the object.

Yogapedia explains Rupa

Rupa in the form of matter can be described in two ways. Firstly, it can be examined in terms of its relative composition from four primary elements:

  1. Earth, which gives it solidity and rigidity;
  2. Fire, which provides heat;
  3. Water, which brings cohesion and
  4. Air, which imbues it with movement.

Alternatively, as outlined in later Pali literature, rupa can be divided into 10, 23 or 24 different types of derived matter. The first 10 are:

  1. Ear
  2. Eye
  3. Nose
  4. Tongue
  5. Body (or skin, as it is referred to in the Upanishads)
  6. Form
  7. Sound
  8. Odor
  9. Taste
  10. Touch

The additional secondary types that can be added to the list include qualities such as femininity, masculinity and physical heaviness.

The term, rupa, is used in the context of yoga, as well. It is often practiced alongside vipassana ("clear seeing") meditation. Rupa and its counterpart, nama ("mind"), are said to form the essence of meditation. While rupa is the object, nama is the consciousness that is aware of the object. Rupa needs nama in order to be known and experienced. In Buddhism, because the two concepts are interdependent, they are often referred to as one - namarupa.

During meditation, the practitioner surrenders names, labels and concepts until rupa and nama are all that's left. Yoga is one of the paths to the realization of nama and rupa, which reveals the true nature of the universe.

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