Spiritual Senses


From time to time I’ve spoken in my classes about ‘awakening our spiritual senses’. This seems to inspire a consistent series of questions, beginning with ‘Hari, what are you talking about? What do you mean by ‘spiritual’ senses?’

By ‘spiritual’ I mean the opposite of ‘material’. Material things come into being at a point in time, endure for some time, and disappear at another point in time, merging back into the elements from which they arise: dust-to-dust.

So the first feature of any material thing is that it’s temporary.

Of course, the substance of a material thing is matter. Matter, in and of itself, is not cognizant of anything; it just is. It may take a functional form, such as senses, and that form may transmit information but the transmitter itself has no agency. It is insentient; unconscious.

So the second feature of any material thing is ignorance.

Which brings us to the idea of ‘senses’. Senses are simply mechanisms through which we receive input from our environment and act in relationship to elements of that environment. Being in a material environment we are equipped with material senses. Classical yoga philosophy describes 11 material senses: 5 input senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin), 5 output senses (of speech, touch, locomotion, reproduction, and excretion) and the mind, which is the reservoir of the senses and sorts the input and output of the senses into likes and dislikes. All of the senses, including the mind, are composed of matter. The mind is composed of a more subtle form of matter than the other senses but, as far as yoga is concerned, it’s a form of matter just the same.

Being insentient, the mind and senses have no feelings: nerve endings are neither happy nor sad. But a conscious being who is attached to the mind and senses, who identifies as being the mind and senses, will experience happiness or distress according to the nature of the transmissions being received; the quality of the fluctuations of the mind, as determined by the senses, determines our state of mind; how we feel.

So you may say “thanks for stating the obvious, Hari-k; what’s your point?”

My point is that the conscious being who is experiencing the fluctuations of the material mind and senses is categorically different from the mind and senses that are fluctuating: the conscious being is spiritual, not material. The attachment to the material mind and senses is the factor that obscures the presence of an alternative set of senses: spiritual senses.

Being the opposite of matter, spiritual senses are not subject to time; they never come into being nor do they ever cease to be. Spiritual senses are eternal. And, whereas material senses are dull and inert, spiritual senses are themselves fully cognizant and alive. Spiritual senses are our real senses as opposed to the material senses to which we are currently accustomed. And unlike the material senses, which are different from the person experiencing their transmissions, our spiritual senses are our very selves! There is no duality: to awaken our spiritual senses is to experience pure spiritual consciousness.

There is an unspoken assumption that’s usually made when we talk about self-realization: that the opposite of form is formlessness; the opposite of qualities is no qualities, etc. Therefore if spirit or consciousness or transcendence is the opposite of matter then it must be devoid of form, qualities, etc. The assumption is that all forms, qualities etc. are material.

But this assumption is based on the absence of a qualification of the form to which we are referring, namely, that it is material. And the opposite of material form is not the absence of form; it’s spiritual form!

Having spiritual senses implies that those senses can be used to send and receive information, impulses, feelings, etc. That requires that our spiritual senses are organized in such a way as to facilitate spiritual relationships. Organized senses are called a form, otherwise known as a sentient being or person. And being a spiritual person implies having a spiritual environment to operate in and other people to interact with. One person in particular; the Supreme Person. And that’s where bhakti comes in.

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in my devotional service and worship me with all their hearts.” (Bhagavad-gita 10.8)

The ‘me’ in this verse is the speaker of Bhagavad-gita, Krishna. “Krishna” is a name for the Supreme person that means “all-attractive”. To contextualize this a bit, the conception of Krishna is different from the conception of God; it is the idea of a person who is uniquely qualified to be God; the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And, of course, by person I mean ‘having senses’; unlimited senses that are aware of and able to act on everything everywhere at the same time all the time forever; a pretty neat trick.

Spiritual senses are therefore the faculty for spiritual experience that become awakened through the process of yoga. We can tell when they are beginning to stir by virtue of a transformation of experience; we begin to see material things as spiritual energy, identify ourselves and other living beings as spiritual beings rather than as the material bodies they inhabit, and feel the presence of the Supreme Being in all things.

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