More specifically, in the Pali Canon, rūpa is contextualized in three significant frameworks:
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. 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:
In the Abhidhamma Pitaka and later Pali literature,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:
↑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).
↑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).
↑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.
↑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).
↑Compare Dhs. 596 (Rhys Davids, 2000, p. 172) and Vsm. XIV, 36 (Buddhaghosa, 1999, p. 443).
Buddhaghosa, Bhadantācariya (trans. from Pāli by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli) (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. (, 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-Piṭaka, entitled Dhamma-Saṅgaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena). Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.