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Dependent Origination: The Six Senses

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2013-06-04
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



One of the questions answered by Dependent Origination is where our information about the world comes from, and what it is based upon.  As we have seen, much of what we know is what the past allows us to know. By reflecting on the moment and commenting continually about it, we use past memories as our pathway to move forward.  This imagined response (meaning these ideas we hold about reality are not based upon what is true here and now) is being organized by the brain. To show conclusively the difference, the Buddha in his famous Sabba Sutta (SN 35.23), stated that formed reality holds the six senses only: the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect and ideas. “That is all (there is in form),” he said, “there is nothing that can be added or subtracted from this.” The Buddha is specifically showing us that all our added responses from the past about the present are actually one of the six senses arising, as all the senses do, in the present moment.  This arising of ideas in the present also includes the person who seems to be receiving those very sensations. 

Not spoken about in this sutta is the unformed, commonly referred to as sati or awareness. Awareness holds a direct wordless knowing, which does not refer to the mental way we usually know something by giving it a name.  There is space between this wordless knowing and the formation of words in the mind. Thoughts from the mind encircle this wordless knowing when, under the veil of ignorance, the two forms of knowing are perceived as one and the same. Ignorance enmeshes form with the formless, confusing the sacred with the mundane. Once this occurs we have only the sense data and our accompanying commentary to give us the information needed to navigate the world, the wordless discernment of awareness is no longer perceived.


From time to time this week, stop and let your thoughts settle. Let the sense sensations be present but don’t elaborate on them.  Let the formed reality of sights, sounds, smell, tastes, physical sensations and mind activity be just what they are while you open to the wordless truth of awareness that is large enough to hold them all. Ask yourself what else there is in life that is true beyond these sense impressions and this encompassing awareness? Is my commentary or personal narrative true, are reactions true, or are these arising in response to the six senses?  It may dawn on you that the six senses and the awareness that holds them are all that is, and that everything else is an imaginative response to this.


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