The translators of the Hridaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra had struck gold with the pick of the English word to translate Shūnyam by reaching into the vocabulary of Classical Logic. But they were flailing around, understandably, for an equivalent choice for the term NamaRupa. In fact by this time its interpretation in the Sanskrit itself had become entirely flaccid.
Then the Translators noticed the English word ‘Form’ which happened to be part of the extended vocabulary of Classical Logic. It had a nice ring to it and the meaning appeared very close to the word Namarupa. And so they went with ‘Form’, a palliative compromise. [The word first appears in Plato’s ‘Theory of Forms’ which is probably where it was noticed.]
But Namarupa is not exactly ‘Form’. And the two words are not perfect translation matches. And to see where and how they are different can make all the difference.
For Namarupa has a seriously slippery feature to it: Self-Reference.
‘Form’ as commonly used in Classical Logic is: ‘Something that is marked, has taken shape’. A line, a curve, a color, a smell, a melody, a scratch. Logic comes alive, is operative, only in the abstract, only in the world of Form.
But NamaRupa does not exactly overlap with the ‘Form’ as defined by the Logician. NamaRupa like Form, is ‘Something that is marked, has taken shape’. But NamaRupa, unlike the Logician’s Form, an ‘Objective’ presence, includes within its domain all ‘Subjective’ presence’ as well.
Feeling is NamaRupa, a mental-image is NamaRupa, internal-dialogue is NamaRupa. All that you see with your eyes closed or hear with your ears plugged are part of NamaRupa . If you can name it, mark it, express it, put a metaphorical finger on it, it is part of Nama Rupa.
All references to NamaRupa are already contained in NamaRupa as are all thoughts you have in response to it. If you slip on its self-referential feature you will confound NamaRupa with Awareness, Consciousness, Presence, World and other such heavy concepts, all of which are equally misleading.
[Next time a book-read teacher goes on about how ‘Form is Emptiness and Emptiness, Form’, do the class a favor and stop him in his tracks.]
How lightly can you touch on something without violating it by your touch? Why does the modern Logician not include the ‘Subjective’ presence so integral to NamaRupa within his own definition of ‘Form’? [ The Logician’s ‘Form’ as used here is not to be conflated with ‘Logical Form’, a different and very useful concept.]
He doesn’t, because the rules of Logic say that what happens in his Mental-Space belongs to him. In fact it is him. The Logician recognizes himself, has modeled himself from just that very mix of elements that stand in counter-point to the abstraction he has defined as ‘Form’.
Mental-Space is not in his field-of-vision because it is one with his field-of-vision. It is what makes him who he is. Its elements are part of his organic contact lenses and without them he will not be able to see as he see’s.
To expand on Descartes: I am Thinking, therefore I am; I am what I am now Thinking.
The material can be expanded substantially if one were to go into the later evolution of Platonic Form and the Academic Philosopher’s love of ‘Universals’. But I think I’ve expressed what is relevant in the evolution of Shūnyathā.