In Hinduism and Buddhism, rūpa (Sanskrit; Pāli; Devanagari: रूप; Thai: รูป) generally refers to material objects, particularly in regards to their appearance.


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]


 Figure 1:
The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)

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


  mental factors (cetasika)  





<td rowspan=1> </td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan=5> </td></tr> <tr> <td colspan=5 style="border-top:1px solid DarkGray; background:Ivory; text-align:left; color:RoyalBlue">

</tr> <tr> <td colspan=5 style="background:WhiteSmoke; text-align:left; color:RoyalBlue">  Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001)  |  diagram details</td></tr>


<tr><td colspan="16"> </td></tr> <tr> <td rowspan="3"> </td> <td style="background:Yellow" colspan="5">sense bases</td> <td rowspan="7"> 
</td> <td style="background:Orange" rowspan="7"> </td> <td style="background:Orange" rowspan="7">f
</td> <td style="background:Orange" rowspan="7"> </td> <td rowspan="7"> 
</td> <td style="background:OrangeRed" rowspan="7"> </td> <td style="background:OrangeRed" rowspan="7">c
</td> <td style="background:OrangeRed" rowspan="7"> </td> <td rowspan="7"> </td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background:Yellow"> </td> <td style="background:White; border:1px solid Gray; color:DimGray">"internal"
organs</td> <td style="background:Yellow"><–></td> <td style="background:White; border:1px solid Gray; color:DimGray">"external"
objects</td> <td style="background:Yellow"> </td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background:Yellow" colspan="5"> </td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="3"></td> <td colspan="3"></td></tr> <tr> <td colspan="3"></td> <td colspan="3" style="background:Gold">contact</td></td></tr> <tr> <td colspan="3"></td> <td colspan="3"></td></tr> <tr> <td> </td> <td style="background:#B0C4DE; color:black" colspan="5"> 
 </td> <td> </td> </tr> <tr><td colspan="16"> </td></tr> <tr> <tr><td colspan="16" style="border-top:1px solid DarkGray; background:Ivory; text-align:left; color:RoyalBlue; font-size:87%">

  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.</td>

</tr> <tr> <td colspan="16" style="background:WhiteSmoke; text-align:center; color:RoyalBlue">  Source: MN 148 (Thanissaro, 1998)  |  diagram details</td></tr> </table></td></tr></table> In general, 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:[2]

  • 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.


Rūpa means both materiality and sensibility — it signifies, for example, a tactile object both insofar as that object is tactile and that it can be sensed. Rūpa is never a materiality which can be separated or isolated from cognizance; such a non-empirical category is incongruous in the context of early Buddhism. Rūpa is not a substratum or substance which has sensibility as a property; it functions in early Buddhist thought as perceivable physicality. Matter, or rūpa, is defined in terms of its function; what it does, not what it is.[3] 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

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

Derived matter

In the Abhidhamma Pitaka and later Pali literature,[4] 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[5]
  • form
  • sound
  • odour
  • taste
  • touch[6]

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[7]
  • 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[8]

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."[9]

See also


  1. Monier-Williams Dictionary, pp. 885-6, entry for "Rūpa," retrieved 2008-03-06 from "Cologne University" at (using "rUpa" as keyword) and
  2. E.g., see Hamilton (2001), p. 3 and passim.
  3. Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Chʼeng Wei-shih Lun. Routledge, 2002, page 183.
  4. Hamilton (2001), p. 6.
  5. 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).
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. Compare Dhs. 596 (Rhys Davids, 2000, p. 172) and Vsm. XIV, 36 (Buddhaghosa, 1999, p. 443).


  • 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.
  • 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

Figure 2: The Pali Canon's Six Sextets:</u>
ko:색 (불교)

ja:色 (仏教) ru:Рупа

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