We Are More Than Our Five Senses

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Day in and day out, the world around us convinces us to rely on our five senses. In fact, not only are we to rely upon them, according to our best minds, we can rely on nothing else.

Our five senses have limits and they attach us the phenomenal world. In spiritual traditions east of Iran, this attachment, not sin against God, is the fundamental problem humanity must overcome. We are attached to the phenomenal world and it because we desire those sensory experiences, we return here time and again until we realize the clever trap they pose.

However masterful we become with these senses, they are useless in our quest to pierce the veil and tame the mystery of life. It's in the realizing of that fact that we let them go and have the realization that something far greater lies within us.

The story of Prince Five Weapons is a story that illustrates this principle. It is shared directly from Joseph Campbell's seminal 1949 work The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell's telling is an abridged version of a translation by Eugene Watson Burlingame, It's taken from his 1922 Yale University Press book Buddhist Parables.

Begin excerpt:

The second story is of a different style. It is told of a young prince who had just completed his military studies under a world-renowned teacher. Having received, as a symbol of his distinction, the title Prince Five-weapons, he accepted the five weapons that his teacher gave him, bowed, and, armed with the new weapons, struck out onto the road leading to the city of his father, the king. On the way he came to a certain forest. People at the mouth of the forest warned him. "Sir prince, do not enter this forest," they said; "an ogre lives here, named Sticky-hair; he kills every man he sees."

But the prince was confident and fearless as a maned lion. He entered the forest just the same. When he reached the heart of it, the ogre showed himself. The ogre had increased his stature to the height of a palm tree; he had created for himself a head as big as a summer house with bell-shaped pinnacle, eyes as big as alms bowls, two tusks as big as giant bulbs or buds; he had the beak of a hawk; his belly was covered with blotches; his hands and feet were dark green.

"Where are you going?" he demanded. "Halt! You are my prey!"

Prince Five-weapons answered without fear, but with great confidence in the arts and crafts that he had learned. "Ogre," said he, "I knew what I was about when I entered this forest. You would do well to be careful about attacking me; for with an arrow steeped in poison will I pierce your flesh and fell you on the spot!"

Having thus threatened the ogre, the young prince fitted to his bow an arrow steeped in deadly poison and let fly. It stuck right in the ogre's hair. Then he let fly, one after another, fifty arrows. All stuck right to the ogre's hair. The ogre shook off every one of those arrows, letting them fall right at his feet, and approached the young prince.

Prince Five-weapons threatened the ogre a second time, and drawing his sword, delivered a masterly blow. The sword, thirty-three inches long, stuck right to the ogre's hair. Then the prince smote him with a spear. That also stuck right to his hair.

Perceiving that the spear had stuck, he smote him with a club. That also stuck right to his hair. When he saw that the club had stuck, he said: "Master ogre, you have never heard of me before. I am Prince Five-weapons. When I entered this forest infested by you, I took no account of death. Ogre, why should I be afraid? for in one life one death is absolutely certain. What's more, I have in my belly a thunderbolt for a weapon. If you eat me, you will not be able to digest that weapon. It will tear your insides into tatters and fragments and will kill you. In that case we'll both perish. That's why I'm not afraid!"

Prince Five-weapons, the reader must know, was referring to the Weapon of Knowledge that was within him. Indeed, this young hero was none other than the Future Buddha, in an earlier incarnation.

"What this youth says is true," thought the ogre, terrified with the fear of death. "From the body of this lion of a man, my stomach would not be able to digest a fragment of flesh even so small as a kidney bean. I'll let him go!" And he let Prince Five-weapons go.

The Future Buddha preached the Doctrine to him, subdued him, made him self-denying, and then transformed him into a spirit entitled to receive offerings in the forest. Having admonished the ogre to be heedful, the youth departed from the forest, and at the mouth of the forest told his story to human beings; then went his way. As a symbol of the world to which the five senses glue us, and which cannot be pressed aside by the actions of the physical organs, Sticky-hair was subdued only when the Future Buddha, no longer protected by the five weapons of his momentary name and physical character, resorted to the unnamed, invisible sixth: the  divine thunderbolt of the knowledge of the transcendent principle, which is beyond the phenomenal realm of names and forms.

Therewith the situation changed. He was no longer caught, but released; for that which he now remembered himself to be is ever free. The force of the monster of phenomenality was dispelled, and he was rendered self-denying. Self-denying, he became divine—a spirit entitled to receive offerings—as is the world itself when known, not as final, but as a mere name and form of that which transcends, yet is immanent within, all names and forms.

End excerpt.

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The message of the story is clear. Our five senses, represented by the five weapons, only serve to get us stuck to the phenomenal world. We intuitively believe they are our salvation. We see the people around us believing in them too. They believe what they can see, hear, taste, smell. and touch.

"I'll believe it when I see it," and "Seeing is believing." go the popular sayings. Another of humanity's great teachers, Jesus, said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

The world around us is trapped in the five senses paradigm. The trap's intuitive nature - that I should automatically believe what my senses show me - is its seductive lure. 

The escape is counter-intuitive. It's in realizing the timeless, formless enlightenment within that we transcend the puzzle and find the solution. The thunderbolt within the prince represents the enlightenment of one who has seen through the ruse.

Your senses work fine for navigating a car to work. You must go beyond them to navigate your life to its destination.

Ray Davis
for 6 Sense Media