Posted in Zen Buddhism

Common Senses

In Zen, we talk a lot about what’s happening in the present moment. What do we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch right now?

In Buddhism, there are six sense doors: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Everything that we experience comes in to our awareness through one of these doors. Let’s leave off the mind for now, and deal with our physical senses. These are the same five we’re taught in Elementary School in the West.

When we pay attention to our senses, it gives the “drunken monkey mind” less chance to wander into ruminations of the past or fantasies about the future. It may still tend to judge, however. “What a beautiful color!” “Ew! People actually eat this?!” Just bring the attention back to the sensory experience itself, releasing likes and dislikes.

The Buddha taught to follow the breath as a focus of meditation. The breath is great for two reasons. First, it’s always with us. No special equipment required. We don’t have to light a candle, put on special clothes, sit a certain way, or even sit down at all. Second, the breath is always moving. The motion gives us something to pay attention to.

Using the sense door of touch, we can tune in to where we feel the breath in the body. Is it in the chest? The stomach? Is there a sensation on the upper lip or nostrils as the breath moves past? Is the temperature of the air different on the inhalation and the exhalation? Using our sense of hearing, is there a sound when we breathe? Can we smell anything? There’s a lot going on with the breath.

Any time we need to quickly refocus our attention, we can come back to the breath. While waiting in the 15 Item or Less line behind the woman with 22 items, we can just breathe. While stopped at a red light when running late, we can just breathe. Even when being yelled at by a boss or a child, we can take a single, mindful breath.

But don’t forget all the other senses. The yelling boss is waiting for a reply, and you don’t have time to count to ten? Notice the color of his shirt, anchoring yourself in the present moment, and then answer. Be more aware as you move through your day. Pay attention to the world around you, rather than daydreaming.

Focusing on our sensory awareness in this way helps to quiet the mind. Less thinking results in less craving, and therefor less suffering.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. And tell me what you… “think.”

~ Rev. Jăbō

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Author:

Ven. Dr. Myodo Jabo (Sandy Gougis) is a Zen Master and Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order. She began studying Theravâdin Buddhism in 1998, adding Zen in 2003, and Vajrayana Buddhism in 2008. She currently practices in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Her Zen teacher is Most Ven. Wonji Dharma of the Five Mountain Zen Order, and her Tibetan guru is Lama Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala. In her free time, Myodo enjoys painting, jewelry making, and other creative endeavors.

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