Dharma Topic: Coming to Our Senses

Dharma Topic: Coming to Our Senses

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 16, 2004 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

A critical part of the Mahayana Zen tradition,which Thich Nhat Hanh is passing on to us, is that there is no separationbetween heaven and earth, no separation between the ultimate dimension andeveryday life. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

Tenth century Vietnamese master Thien Hoi told his students, "Be diligent in order to attain the state of no birth and no death." One student asked, "Where can we touch the world of no birth and no death?" and he responded, "Right here in the world of birth and death." To touch the water, you have to touch the waves. If you touch birth and death deeply, you touch the world of no birth and no death.

Rather than retreating from our senses, ratherthan being frightened or overwhelmed by them, we are encouraged to calmly andmindfully enter into our senses – even to enjoy them without clinging. Thisapproach is delightfully embodied in the Plum Village gatha for washing dishes:

Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.

This Thursday evening, September 16, after our7:30 sitting, we will mindfully explore sensations with each of our senseorgans: our body, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and mind.

You are invited to join us.

Below is a segment of an interview with JonKabat-Zinn on mindfulness and our senses.

Warm wishes,


*** Jon Kabat-Zinn "Coming to ourSenses" from an interview in Inquiring Mind ***

The first thing is to realize how little weactually see, hear, smell, taste or feel. For years we can walk down the samestreet or through the same field and never quite see it, although our eyeballsare taking it in, so to speak. . . .

For example, you walk into a room and seepeople in conversation. For some reason or other, the scene may trigger anemotional feeling within you, say a wish to be included in the energy, toparticipate, to be seen. That feeling can easily lock into an emotionally needystate and in that very moment blind you. We say you "lose sight" ofwhat is actually going on. In the next moment you may act like an idiot becauseyou’re not being true to what’s actually in front of you. I’ve experienced thatscenario more often than I’d like to admit, and it is quite humbling. When youwitness someone else doing that, it is also quite uncomfortable for allconcerned. You want to cry out: "Can’t you see what is happening?" Ofcourse, the person can’t, because they are caught by some momentary mind-statethat prevents them from seeing, and thus from being sensate, sensitive to thesituation, and even sensible in the most basic of ways. This can happen with anyof the senses, but seeing is the most dominant of the senses, and so ourmetaphors for the senses usually cluster around seeing. . . .

Presence of mind through holding the senses inawareness changes our relationship to the world "out there" and to ourinterior world as well, not that they are fundamentally two. I find myself moreand more using a particular vocabulary to describe the domains of the senses. Wecommonly talk about the landscape, but as a rule, we don’t speak or even thinkabout or perceive the soundscape, the airscape, the tastescape, the smellscape,the mindscape, or the nowscape that we are embedded in. Yet these are alldomains we can experience only through our senses. When we are paying attention,we come to know each particular "scape" or textured world in acompletely different way than when we aren’t paying attention.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 16, 2004


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