Names and forms are all just thoughts, so we can free ourself from them only by investigating their root, our ego
- Why are phenomena called ‘names and forms’ (nāma-rūpa)?
- Names and forms are just thoughts or ideas
- Whatever we perceive any form to be is metaphorically called a ‘name’ because it is the identity we have attributed to it
- Nothing exists or even seems to exist unless we are aware of it
- Mental chatter is not the only kind of thought, so stopping this ‘flow of words’ is not silencing our ego
In Indian philosophy a term that is often used to refer to phenomena in general is nāma-rūpa, which literally means ‘name-form’ and is generally translated as names and forms. The reason why phenomena are described as nāma-rūpa rather than just rūpa (though rūpa is often used on its own to refer to them) is that our perception of forms is greatly influenced by the names or labels we apply to them, because names represent what we identify them to be and therefore perceive them as. For example, we see something lying on the ground, and we can identify it either as ‘rope’ or as ‘snake’. If we identify it as ‘rope’, we see it as a rope, whereas if we identify it as ‘snake’, we see it as a snake.
Likewise in the case of an ambiguous image or a rabbit or duck, we can see it either as a rabbit or as a duck but never as both simultaneously, and what we see it as is determined by the identity (represented by a name) that our mind attributes to it. Suppose that you had never seen such an image before, if someone shows you one and says, ‘See this drawing of a duck’, you will naturally see it as a duck, because that is what you are expecting to see. But if someone else says, ‘No, see, it’s a rabbit’, you will then notice that you can see it as a rabbit instead. Once you notice that you can see it as either a duck or as a rabbit, you will then be able to switch back and forth at will between seeing it as one and then as the other. The form does not change, but the name (identity) you mentally apply to it at each moment determines what you see it as.
Therefore in the compound term nāma-rūpa or ‘name-form’, rūpa or ‘form’ refers to whatever we perceive, and nāma or ‘name’ refers to whatever we identify it to be. In other words, ‘form’ is what we perceive, and ‘name’ is what we perceive it as. Everything that we perceive (whether externally as physical phenomena cognised through our sense organs or internally as mental phenomena such as hopes, fears, desires, memories, plans, concepts, feelings or emotions) is a form of one kind or another, and we never perceive any form without perceiving it as something — whether as something that we can positively identify or as something that we can identify only as unidentifiable (or in other words, that we can name only as nameless). That is, whenever we perceive any form we interpret in it some way, so we perceive it as whatever we interpret it to be (even if as something that we do not recognise).
For example, if we hear people talking in a language with which we are familiar, we perceive the sounds that they make as words conveying certain meanings, whereas if they were talking in a language that we do not know, we may perceive the sounds as words, but we would perceive them as words whose meaning we cannot understand. If we see something written on paper or on a screen, the forms we perceive are just lines of various shapes, but if we can read the script and understand the language, we would perceive those forms as letters, and clusters of them as words, and clusters of words as sentences conveying certain meanings. If we see any form that we recognise, we see it as whatever we recognise it to be (even if it is in fact something else), whereas if we see one that we do not recognise, we see it as something that we cannot identify (even if it is actually something that we know but just fail to recognise, such as a person we have not seen for many years).
Therefore our perception of the world is determined by our interpretation and consequent identification of whatever forms we perceive, and our interpretation of them is what we express in language as names (first mentally, and then perhaps vocally or in writing). Is this what you mean when you say, ‘Language IS matter’? That is, since the material of which any world that we perceive is made is just perceptual images or impressions (each of which is a form of one kind or another), and since those impressions are interpreted by our mind with the aid of identifying labels (names) such as rope, snake, rabbit or duck, do you mean that these labels are what form the world as we perceive it? If this is what you mean by saying that language is matter, it would be more accurate to say that matter is language, rather than vice versa, because matter is language in the sense that all material phenomena are just names and forms, and ‘names’ are whatever we identify and consequently perceive the forms to be.
According to Bhagavan everything that we perceive is nothing but thoughts or ideas, so not only are names ideas, but so too are forms. Therefore the distinction between names and forms is simply that they are different layers of thought. Our mind projects a form and simultaneously projects a name (an identity) onto that form, so for example instead of seeing a particular form as a rope we see it as a snake, or vice versa, and instead of seeing another form as a rabbit we see it as a duck, or vice versa.
In the term nāma-rūpa, it is significant that nāma (name) precedes rūpa (form) rather than the other way round. Logically one may expect forms to be mentioned first and then names, because names are labels applied to forms, but names are mentioned first because they are what we identify and consequently perceive each form to be. More significant than what we perceive (which is just a form) is what we perceive it to be (which is the name or identity we attribute to it). A snake and a rope share the same form when seen in dim light, but if we perceive that form as a snake we do not perceive it as a rope and vice versa. Therefore a form is considered to be of secondary importance in the sense that it is less significant than our interpretation of it, which is what we perceive it to be. If we perceive it as a snake, it gives us a shock and we step back from it, whereas if we perceive it as a rope we may bend down to pick it up, thinking that we can put it to good use.
2. Names and forms are just thoughts or ideas
As I mentioned above, both the forms we perceive and the names we apply to them are all just thoughts or ideas, as Bhagavan clearly indicates in Nāṉ Yār?. For example, in the final sentence of the eighteenth paragraph he says:
ஜாக்ரம் சொப்பன மிரண்டிலும் நினைவுகளும் நாமரூபங்களும் ஏககாலத்தில் நிகழ்கின்றன.Though this sentence could be interpreted as implying that thoughts and names-and-forms are two distinct classes of phenomena, that is not what Bhagavan intended to imply, as we can infer if we compare this sentence with the following sentences from the fourth paragraph:
jāgram soppaṉam iraṇḍilum niṉaivugaḷum nāma-rūpaṅgaḷum ēka-kālattil nihaṙgiṉḏṟaṉa.
In both waking and dream thoughts and names-and-forms occur in one time [or simultaneously].
நினைவுகளைத் தவிர்த்து ஜகமென்றோர் பொருள் அன்னியமா யில்லை. தூக்கத்தில் நினைவுகளில்லை, ஜகமுமில்லை; ஜாக்ர சொப்பனங்களில் நினைவுகளுள, ஜகமும் உண்டு.Since all the phenomena that constitute any world in either waking or dream are only names and forms, and since he says here that any world is nothing other than thoughts or ideas, he clearly implies that all names and forms are just thoughts. Therefore as he explains in the next two sentences, what we perceive as a world is just a projection of our own mind:
niṉaivugaḷai-t tavirttu jagam-eṉḏṟōr poruḷ aṉṉiyamāy illai. tūkkattil niṉaivugaḷ illai, jagam-um illai; jāgra-soppaṉaṅgaḷil niṉaivugaḷ uḷa, jagam-um uṇḍu.
Excluding thoughts [or ideas], there is not separately any such thing as world. In sleep there are no thoughts, and [consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, and [consequently] there is also a world.
சிலந்திப்பூச்சி எப்படித் தன்னிடமிருந்து வெளியில் நூலை நூற்று மறுபடியும் தன்னுள் இழுத்துக் கொள்ளுகிறதோ, அப்படியே மனமும் தன்னிடத்திலிருந்து ஜகத்தைத் தோற்றுவித்து மறுபடியும் தன்னிடமே ஒடுக்கிக்கொள்ளுகிறது. மனம் ஆத்ம சொரூபத்தினின்று வெளிப்படும்போது ஜகம் தோன்றும்.This is further explained by him in the following two sentences of the sixth paragraph:
silandi-p-pūcci eppaḍi-t taṉṉiḍamirundu veḷiyil nūlai nūṯṟu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉuḷ iṙuttu-k-koḷḷugiṟadō, appaḍiyē maṉam-um taṉṉiḍattilirundu jagattai-t tōṯṟuvittu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉiḍamē oḍukki-k-koḷḷugiṟadu. maṉam ātma sorūpattiṉiṉḏṟu veḷippaḍum-pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟum.
Just as a spider spins out thread from within itself and again draws it back into itself, so the mind projects the world from within itself and again dissolves it back into itself. When the mind comes out from ātma-svarūpa, the world appears.
சூக்ஷ்மமான மனம், மூளை இந்திரியங்கள் வாயிலாய் வெளிப்படும் போது ஸ்தூலமான நாமரூபங்கள் தோன்றுகின்றன; ஹிருதயத்தில் தங்கும்போது நாமரூபங்கள் மறைகின்றன.Since the world is nothing but a collection of names and forms, and since names and forms are just illusory phenomena projected and perceived by our mind, all names and forms are only thoughts. Therefore, since the root of all thoughts is only our ego, as Bhagavan explains in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār, and since this ego rises, stands and flourishes only by grasping forms, as he explains in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, in order to eradicate our ego along with all the names and forms that it has projected in its awareness, we must try to be attentively aware of ourself alone, thereby excluding all names and forms from our awareness.
sūkṣmam-āṉa maṉam, mūḷai indiriyaṅgaḷ vāyilāy veḷippaḍum pōdu sthūlam-āṉa nāma-rūpaṅgaḷ tōṉḏṟugiṉḏṟaṉa; hirudayattil taṅgumbōdu nāma-rūpaṅgaḷ maṟaigiṉḏṟaṉa.
When the subtle mind comes out through the portal of the brain and sense organs, gross names and forms appear; when it remains in the heart [which is ātma-svarūpa], names and forms disappear.
Whenever we are aware of ourself as this ego (as we are in waking and dream) we perceive names and forms, whereas whenever we are not aware of ourself as this ego (as we are while asleep) we do not perceive any names or forms, so all names and forms seem to exist only in the view of our ego. Therefore the root of all the problems that arise from our perception of names and forms (as all problems do) is only this ego, so this is what we need to investigate before we concern ourself with investigating any names or forms.
3. Whatever we perceive any form to be is metaphorically called a ‘name’ because it is the identity we have attributed to it
In the first section I referred to your statement ‘Language IS matter’ and tried to understand what you mean by saying so, suggesting that you are perhaps using the term ‘language’ to refer to our use of names to establish the identity of the material forms that we perceive. Since names are one of the basic components of language, and since we use them in the process of interpreting and identifying forms, language does play a limited role in determining what we perceive forms to be. For example, as I mentioned earlier, if someone showed us a duck-rabbit image and said, ‘See this drawing of a duck’, their suggestion that it is a duck would probably make us see it as a duck, because that is what we would be expecting to see.
However it seems that you are perhaps attributing a more fundamental role to language than it actually has, because though in Indian philosophy whatever we identify and perceive a form to be is referred to as nāma or ‘name’, this does not mean names play an essential role in determining what we perceive any form to be. For example a baby is able to identify its mother and other familiar forms even before it learns any names to apply to them, and animals are able to identify forms without applying names to them. Therefore our perception of a form as being whatever we identify it to be is called nāma or ‘name’ in a metaphorical rather than a literal sense. That is, in this context ‘name’ simply means identity (which is whatever we perceive a form to be) rather than just a word that denotes such an identity. Though names (and hence language) can help us to identify or recognise forms, we often do so without the use of any actual names.
An example of the exaggerated role that you attribute to language is the sentence in which you say, ‘Language forms words into thoughts, objects, events, time, space, memories, etc. creating the dream of a populated earth in a vast universe’, which seems to be putting the cart before the horse, because language, words, objects, events, time, space, memories, dreams, population, earth and this entire universe are all just thoughts of various kinds, and what forms all these thoughts is only our ego, because it is the thinker (the projector and experiencer) of them. If this ego were real, its thoughts might also be real, but if it is not real, they cannot be real. So what actually is this ego? Or in other words, who am I who now seem to be this ego?
As Bhagavan often pointed out, language arises from thoughts, thoughts arise from the ego, and the ego arises from silence, which is what we actually are. Therefore if we want to return to our ultimate source, which is silence, we need to investigate ourself, who now seem to be this ego, by focusing our entire attention on ourself, thereby withdrawing it completely from all words and other thoughts. Since this ego rises and endures only by grasping forms (which are all thoughts projected by it), it cannot stand without clinging to them, so if it tries to grasp itself instead, it will subside back into its source and will thereby be dissolved in the all-consuming clarity of pure self-awareness.
4. Nothing exists or even seems to exist unless we are aware of it
Regarding your statement ‘the ego apparently projects countless things of which we are not even aware (such as endless details of “the world”, to wit: history of the planet and man, the speed of light, all of the genomes, regulating the heart beat, regulating the breathing, etc.)’, this may seem to be the case but it is not actually so, because nothing exists or even seems to exist unless we are aware of it. That is, since the ego can project things only in the sphere of its own awareness, it cannot project anything without being aware of it, so whatever we suppose exists even though we are not aware of it exists only as a supposition in our own mind.
As Bhagavan says in the first sentence of the seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, ‘யதார்த்தமா யுள்ளது ஆத்மசொரூப மொன்றே’ (yathārthamāy uḷḷadu ātma-sorūpam oṉḏṟē), which means ‘What actually exists is only ātma-svarūpa [our own real self]’, so whatever else may seem to exist does not actually exist, and it seems to exist only in the view of ourself as this ego. Therefore nothing else seems to exist unless we are aware of it, so if we are not aware of it, it does not actually exist or even seem to exist.
Other than pure self-awareness, which is our actual self (ātma-svarūpa), everything that we are aware of is just an illusory appearance, because it seems to exist only in the self-ignorant view of the transitive (object-knowing) awareness that we call ego or mind, and not in the clear view of the pure intransitive awareness that we actually are. And in whose view does this ego or mind seem to exist? Only in its own view, because in the view of intransitive awareness nothing exists or even seems to exist other than itself.
Therefore the seeming existence of everything else (including the supposed existence of things that we are not aware of) depends upon the seeming existence of ourself as this ego, so if we investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we actually are, this ego and everything else that seems to exist in its view will be dissolved forever in the infinite and all-consuming light of pure intransitive awareness, which is what we actually are, and which is aware of nothing other than itself.
5. Mental chatter is not the only kind of thought, so stopping this ‘flow of words’ is not silencing our ego
The mental chatter that you refer to as ‘the flow of words’ is just one form of thought, because according to Bhagavan every phenomenon is just a thought, and the root of all of them is our ego, which is itself just a thought — albeit the only thought that is aware. What is aware of both the flow of words and the stopping of this flow is our ego, so as long as we are aware of either the presence or the absence of this flow we are aware of ourself not as we actually are but only as this ego. Therefore merely stopping this flow of words is not our aim.
In sleep this flow of words stops along with all other thoughts, but our ego is then not present to notice their absence. It is only after rising again as this ego in either waking or dream that we notice that all thoughts and words were absent while we were asleep.
Even if we are able to stop the flow of words in waking or dream, that is not actually ‘silencing the ego’, as you describe it, because even when it is not projecting words, our ego is still projecting other kinds of thought, no matter how subtle they may be, because everything other than ourself — everything that we experience at one time but not eternally — is just a thought. Therefore our ego is truly silenced only in sleep and in other forms of manōlaya, but such silencing is only temporary, so it is silenced eternally only in manōnāśa.
Therefore what we should be seeking to achieve is not any temporary silence but only the eternal silence that will remain alone when our ego is destroyed, and we can achieve this only by investigating our ego, which entails focusing our entire attention on it so keenly that we do not even notice whether or not there is any flow of words or any other kind of thoughts. As I explained in one of my recent articles, What is ‘the I-feeling’, and do we need to be ‘off the movement of thought’ to be aware of it?, according to Bhagavan we should not be concerned with either the appearance or the disappearance of any thoughts, because our sole concern should be to investigate ourself, this ego, the ‘me’ to whom all thoughts appear, and who alone is consequently what notices their appearance or disappearance.
So long as we notice either the appearance or the disappearance of any thoughts, our attention is not focused entirely on ourself, so just as we should turn our attention back to ourself whenever we notice the appearance of any thought (that is, any phenomenon of any kind whatsoever), we should likewise turn our attention back to ourself whenever we notice that thoughts have disappeared (or seem to have disappeared), because our noticing this is itself another thought projected by our ego. That is, since awareness of anything other than ourself is a thought, awareness of a seeming absence of thought is just another thought, albeit a more subtle one.
Regarding your suggestion that ‘silencing’ the ego by stopping its mental chatter or flow of words perhaps ‘makes more room for the appearance of our true, adjunct-free presence which we really are’, what obstructs our being aware of ourself as we really are is only our ego and not merely its mental chatter or other thoughts. What is aware of the flow of mental chatter is only our ego, so what notices the stopping of this flow is likewise only our ego. Therefore if we notice that this flow has temporarily ceased, we should turn our attention back to ourself, this ego, to investigate who am I, who have now noticed that this flow has stopped.
Merely being aware that our mental chatter has stopped will not destroy our ego, because what is aware of its stopping is only this ego. That is, other than our fundamental self-awareness, whatever we notice or are aware of is just another ‘form’ or phenomenon grasped by our ego in its form-grasping awareness, so if we notice that our mental chatter has stopped, its stopping is another phenomenon projected and grasped by this ego, and hence since this ego rises, stands and flourishes only by grasping phenomena, it cannot subside and dissolve in its source so long as it is aware of either the flow or the stopping of mental chatter or of any other kind of thought.
You say, ‘First to watch what the ego is doing and then to stop the words feels very calming’, but what feels calmed thereby is only this ego, so its calmness is just another thought or mental phenomenon. In order to investigate our ego, we should not watch whatever it is doing, but should vigilantly watch it alone, because only then will it subside and dissolve back into its source. Whatever it is doing is something other than it, so we should watch it so vigilantly that we do not notice whether it is doing anything or not. However, since it can do anything only when it is attending to something other than itself, if it attends only to itself, it will not be able to do anything — not even to rise or stand.