Your awareness divides into the 6 senses through the body – The Shurangama Sutra

“In your own body:

  • What appears as solid is composed of the primary element earth,
  • What is moist contains the primary element water,
  • What has warmth belongs to the primary element fire, and
  • Movement constitutes the primary element wind.

Because these four primary elements are bound together, your pure, perfect, wondrous enlightened mind that understands is divided into the functions of seeing, listening, touching, and cognition. 5 Turbidity, in five layers, comes about as a result.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3204-3207).

So the body is composed of the 4 elements – earth, fire, water, wind.  In other words:

  • Solids – the flesh of the body, nerves, sinews, bones, organs etc…
  • Liquids – blood, tears, urine, saliva etc…
  • Gases – oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs and in the bloodstream
  • Heat –

Now when your awareness starts to manifest through the body, then what was originally 1 awareness becomes 6 different types of awareness, limited by each sense organ:

  • The 5 senses – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch PLUS
  • Thoughts/intellect

We can experience this for ourselves – when we sit still with our eyes closed in a silent room, our bodies not doing anything – our awareness is maintained within the body itself – so it’s not yet flowing out of the senses to experience the sensory world.

But when we open our eyes, then our attention goes outwards to experience the sights of the world of the senses. When we hear music, our attention flows outwards to the sounds to listen to the music.

So the attention is flowing outwards and being dissipated into seeking the pleasures of the world of the senses.

But the eyes are only limited to perceiving sights.  The ears are limited to perceiving sounds.  The tongue is limited to perceiving tastes.  The nose limited to smells.  The body limited to touches.  Each of the senses is limited by their unique sense organ.

How I like to think of it is you have 1 wide pipe and then it divides into 6 different types of pipes.  So your attention is split up in 6 different ways through your body.

In meditation, it’s sort of like not letting the attention flow outwards – by letting things go – no longer grasping, no longer trying to constantly seek transient pleasures in the everyday world of the senses because anything impermanent is not ultimate because it leads to decay, separation and death.

So Buddhist meditation in a way is sort of like a dam – plugging up holes in the dam, so the water is not leaking out.

Now because of the 4 elements of the body, 5 layers of turbidity arise as a result – this is called the world of the 5 turbidities, which the Buddha explains next in the Sutra – so you should read that section of the Sutra – it’s basically about the space/time that we experience and how it is created within the mind.


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