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The Buddha

In the west, people sometimes refer to their “sixth sense” to refer to intuition or some other, ineffable, source of information beyond the usual five senses our culture usually recognizes.

In Buddhism, we literally recognize six senses, the usual five of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch, but with mind added as the sixth.

It might be more accurate to call mind a meta sense, since brain researchers have shown that what actually happens is that our sense organs transmit raw data to our brains, which then interpret and assemble the raw data into a coherent whole. We never really perceive anything directly. Obviously, light bounces off of objects and enters your eyes, but that light is just bouncing light until your brain makes sense of it. That’s why two people can be looking at the same object and see very different things.

I have never heard a Buddhist teacher say this in so many words, but from what I have heard, I infer the claim that a fully awakened being does come as close as possible to direct perception because a fully awakened person no longer harbors any defilements in their mind, and defilements are the specific manifestations of our constitutive human ignorance, so they color our perception of the world.

This helps explain why, as you meditate, you may from time to time notice that everything you see looks slightly different than it did before. Some defilements, like anger and jealousy, are big and obvious, but some are tiny and very subtle, such that eliminating them will make a difference in how your mind works, but only a very small difference.

Being aware of your mind as a sixth sense is useful for practice. What you are doing when you meditate is mostly just looking at your mind in operation so you can get it to work better.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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