We have all the different sense organs: the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, body, and mind. If you review those, you’ll see that there’s a particular logic in that sequence.
The phenomena that arise in the eye are distant. There’s space. They’re out there. You can see things that don’t see you. You’re removed from them. The eye is very good for the hunter because it’s good at sharply defining objects in the distance. It doesn’t give you any sense of what’s happening here. It tells you what’s happening there. The eye has no feeling to it. It tends to operate in terms of a narrow attention span. This is the sense faculty that in modern life is accentuated by reading and screens. Everything tends to be seen as an object. There’s no feeling. The eyes organize things. It doesn’t matter what it feels like. When you’re seen as an object, you know what that feels like. You-there. You-there. Seeing things as an object has no sympathy to it.
The ear faculty is different. The hearing faculty is associated not so much with the hunter, but with the hunted. What’s going on around me? It’s not in front of me. What’s happening around me? It’s less object specific. It’s more object open, open to what may arise. Sound is not very good at distance, near-far, but it very easily relates to the mental apprehension of fear and safety. That’s what it’s for. So it’s a little bit more subjective. Naturally, when we listen deeply to each other, we get a sense of “I’m listened to. She’s sympathetic. She’s sensitive to my concerns.” It’s more empathic.
When you get to the nose and the tongue, phenomena that arise there are not around me, they’re in me. With the nose, it jumps into you. It jumps into your nose briefly, but when it comes into your tongue, that’s going to go down inside you. The tongue, taste sense, is very much more subjective and much more sensual.
Coming to the body as a sense organ is very intimate because whatever you touch, touches you. And it could be a matter of life and death. It could be a warm embrace. It could be a crushing blow. It could be pleasantly warm or painfully hot; pleasantly cool, freezing cold. It’s very sensitive and immediately responsive. It jumps quickly, quicker than you can think. It has to.
The body has its own nervous system, autonomous to the brain. It means don’t wait until this person figures it out because this is more important, more urgent than that. It’s a very quick, sensitive, jumpy system. It easily apprehends feeling, pleasure/pain to a very fine degree. It’s extremely connected to emotions, so much so that even when we’re not physically touching anything, there’s still that awareness. If you go into the body, you’re aware: How do I feel about being here? Nervous? Uncertain? What’s going on? Am I okay?
If you go out amongst the trees, it changes. In open space, it changes. Even if nothing is physically touching you, just the very perception in the mind affects the body. Body and the mind affect each other. Very immediately. Irrationally. Beyond reason.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is adapted from Morning Reflections: The Body As a Sense Organ, June 11, 2017, from the Beatenberg 7 Day Meditation Retreat, The Wisdom of Embodiment.