Besides the five physical senses, each of us is also endowed with five subtle senses through which we can see, smell, hear, taste and feel the world of the spirit. Read Uriel’s inspiring journey of discovery and development of these subtle sense.
The question of the existence or non-existence of the spiritual world should be solved by each of us, individually. After all, it is the inner feeling of each of us that will ultimately decide this issue. Those who seek knowledge of the existence of the spiritual world, can find it through the development of the five subtle senses, which are parallel to the physical senses. Through these subtle senses the chakras can be felt and seen, one can have spectacular visions in meditation and hear the music of the spheres.
Exercises for developing the subtle senses can be found in almost every esoteric spiritual school. Some focus on one particular subtle sense, while others, such as Tantra and Yoga, invite us to develop of all these senses.
The most accessible subtle sense is the sense of touch, through which the flow of energy that is present in everybody can be felt. Even those who have never felt a subtle thing in their life can almost certainly detect the flow of energy around their bodies when someone with a strong energetic structure guides them and accompanies them in the process. Attention should be focused on one area continuously, and at a certain moment the sensations will begin to expand beyond the body’s boundaries. Even fifteen minutes of practice may bring concrete results.
Tai Chi teaches us to place palms facing each other, to move them softly and to give a lot of attention to the area in the center of the palm. After a while we can easy begin to feel a warm sensation in the palms and then to perceive the energy around, like a magnetic field or a field of static electricity. At first the sensations are very vague, but continuous practice makes them clear and systematic. Over time, you can sense intuitively what type of energy you experience, whether the energy is condensed or loose, if it is attractive or daunting, if it takes or it gives. The development of this sense gives a new dimension and special depth to the relationship with the outer and inner world. Through these subtle sensations you will open an intimate communication channel that is beyond words and beyond physical contact.
That sense was my first gateway to the “hidden world”. After following some lessons on the subject, I began to feel the energy around my body, especially my forehead and palms. In the early years I was very curious to feel more of it, and with the guidance of Krishnamurti’s writings I mapped out the energetic sensations in a systematic way and started to understand how my mental states were related to different energy flows. Yet my knowledge was passive. I could feel the energy, but I couldn’t change anything when the energy flowed in a negative direction. Unfortunately I didn’t have any tools to change the flow at that time.
Mantras echoing within
Everything changed when I came across the yoga classes of Atman Federation. Already in the first lessons of their yoga course, I received methods that allowed me to consciously and clearly change the flow of energy and with it, my state of mind. I was so excited to discover these methods, that in the first few weeks I practiced the yoga and breathing exercises everywhere: in restaurants, on the street and at parties. Everyone I’d met, I taught them these methods and encouraged them to practice without delay. It may have been a little bit childish, but some people started practicing yoga at the time and some even quit smoking because of these exercises.
If the development of the subtle sense of touch was easy, spontaneous and quick, the development of the subtle sense of hearing was for me a long, frustrating and difficult journey that required a demanding practice. This was perhaps because the subtle sense of hearing is the most subtle and highest of all inner senses. Both in Judaism and Christianity, God’s appearance is described as the sound of many waters, or the sound of invisible waters. The sound of God’s voice is not heard in the physical ear, but in the inner ear.
It was within this yoga course that I learned how, instead of mechanically repeating mantras, I can listen to the echo that they (the mantras) create within the inner auditory space. The teachers said that when we begin hearing this subtle sound (created from the inner echo of the mantra), we should let ourselves be absorbed by it, as it encapsulates a divine essence.
About half of the people who receive such initiations are able to hear the sound within the first few weeks, and almost everyone will hear it within a few months if they practice. It took me almost two years of frustrating but determined practice until I could hear the sound for the first time, and in a rather vague way.
My subtle hearing was only really awakened by a few long retreats, during which the sounds of mantras turned from a background noise, similar to the sound of a computer fan, to wonderful sounds, that at peak moments sounded like crystal bells or Tibetan singing bowls. Since then, meditation has become a must and an act of discipline in order to fulfill my heart’s deepest desire.
49 days in the dark
The subtle sense of hearing is the highest and most refined, but the subtle sense of sight is the most famous. In the West, it’s called “clairvoyance”, meaning clear vision. This sense is related to the third eye opening in the center of the forehead. If the opening of the subtle sense of touch allows one to sense the energy, the opening of this sense allows one to see it. The appearance of the flow of energy is usually quite spectacular, and you can get hints of it in Alex Grey’s paintings. Yoga recommends various methods, such as keeping the focus still on a sacred symbol, or even in a dark space.
In the years during which I practiced these methods daily, I saw a few colors here and there for a few moments, but I almost never learned how to focus my eyes on a subtle object. I could only do it for a few seconds, without results, and then my focus would again return to the familiar picture of the usual world. The only time things got a little more steady was when I spent a week with my teacher. During that time my subtle vision become brighter, but I couldn’t go back to it on my own. Yoga goes on to describes how the third eye also allows for visual telepathic communication and even for intuiting what others think of.
When the mystic vision is perfected, visions of different astral worlds, of different strata of paradise and of glorious entities appear. Isaiah’s vision and Dante’s “Divine Comedy” attest to the complex opening of this sense. A special Tibetan practice indicates a 49-day darkness retreat, keeping a herbal stick on the center of the forehead. At the end of the 49 days, the yogi is supposed to have developed the occult vision.
The few mentions about developing the subtle sense of smell appear especially in the Yogic tradition as well as in the Buddhist one. Visions of spiritual entities are described as sometimes being accompanied by sublime incense scents which have no physical source. These scents are considered a gateway to heaven. Dissolving our consciousness into them leads us to lofty astral worlds. At the famous 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda presented a simple exercise for developing the subtle sense of smell. The idea is to focus meditatively on the tip of the nose for several minutes every day. Beyond the soothing and euphoric feeling that appears at first, at some point a non-physical odor will appear, which in turn becomes the object of meditation. Absorption of this fragrance within allows us to make contact with higher worlds.
Bodhisattvas from another world
Buddhist folklore tells of some Buddhists from our world who met Buddhists from another world. They asked them how do they teach Enlightenment. Bodhisattvas from the other world said that they do not teach Buddha’s teachings in words, because words are very limited and enlightenment is unlimited. Therefore, they teach the way to enlightenment with the help of different perfumes and scents.
As for the subtle sense of taste, yogis awaken that by bringing awareness to a specific point within the body which is connected to the nectar of life. In Sanskrit, this nectar is called “Soma” or “Amrita” and its source is located in the lower brain region, above the upper palate. Yoga claims that this nectar goes down from the head area until it finally burns in the stomach. In order to accumulate it in the head area, yoga instructs us to roll the tongue up to the upper palate and keep it there for a long time, attentively. After a while a refreshing feeling of sweetness appears in the mouth and the head area fills with life-giving coolness. The great advantage of this exercise lies in the fact that it greatly relaxes the mind, to the extent that the brain becomes silent from the pleasure generated by this nectar.
In spite of all the colorful descriptions of the spectacular experiences that the subtle senses impart, it is important to remember that such experiences are not the goal of the spiritual path – they are mere gateways to the spiritual world. Over the years, these experiences have become an integral part of my life, to the extent that they have expanded from being just spontaneous glimpses to becoming systematic experiences that gradually make it clearer that there is no line separating the physical world from the world of spirit. I have found that in fact these worlds are shades of the same reality, which is all sacred, beautiful and sublime, and all worthy of sincere admiration and love.