The six senses are the instruments of our survival, the means by which we know the world and ourselves. In this issue of Inquiring Mind we explore the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking/feeling—from a dharma perspective. Our stage is set by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who advocates coming to our senses as the very essence of what it means to wake up to what is. To him, the senses are a definite source of delight so long as there is no clinging or aversion. Thai master Ajahn Anan, on the other hand, teaches that through restraining our senses the mind has greater opportunity to become peaceful. Poetically capturing the tension between the two, Diane Ackerman, author of the sensuously written A Natural History of the Senses, describes consciousness as a gorgeous fever and invites us to experience life’s textures and processes while being willing to abandon our sense of self.
Buddhists’ divergent attitudes toward the senses are probably most notable in views and behaviors regarding sexuality. In this issue, Eugene Cash presents a sampling of historical Buddhist references to sex, from the Buddha-to-be’s early indulgences in his father’s palace, to the origins of the monastic rules concerning sex, to the pleasures of sex extolled by some rascally Zen poets.
As you explore the senses with us in the Inquiring Mind, you will be engaging your mind (we hope), which the Buddha regarded as another one of the senses. This teaching is explored in the article by Buddhist scholar Andrew Olendzki and also in Margaret Cullen’s interview with Buddhist/scientist Alan Wallace. Seeing the mind as a sense faculty, Wallace says, is one of the crucial differences between the West and Buddhism
As you read about the senses in this issue of Inquiring Mind, we invite you to awaken to your own senses. And may they serve to awaken you.