The five inner senses

Sufis (and particularly as Rumi [13 AD] illustrates) regard mystical experiences as carnal and embodied. This understanding relates to the framework of thought that was popular back then and primarily comes from the works of the early Greek philosophers (approximately 3 BC through 2 AD).  To the Greek philosophers, ecstasy (literally to stand outside of one’s self) was an event in which one’s soul (Nous) detaches from the body. The Greek philosophers thought that the experience of the divine or ecstasy was too sublime for the lowly carnal body to experience it. Consequently, they proposed that the soul had to become separated for the body to taste such pure experiences. To Sufis, vajd (Persian term for ecstasy) was an inward journey through the body and through the senses. Sufi philosophers explained our human experience in terms of the interactions between the five inner senses with the five outer senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch). The inner senses consist of the following:

  • mutiṣarrifa, or the inner sense of discernment. Partially learned and trained throughout our lives and partially inherent. For example, most people inherently recognize basic principles of ethics and morality.
  • mushtarika can be translated as the common sense. This sense binds all the inner and outer senses together and gives a cohesive realization of the seen and the unseen worlds. All senses pour into the common sense, and it uses mutiṣarrifa (the sense of discernment) to apprehend the event and then commit it to hāfiẓa, or the sense of memory.
  • hāfiẓah, or the sense of memory, is what gives us more than just a factual recollection. When a memory is activated, all senses remember what they had sensed as part of experiencing the event that was committed to the memory.
  • wāhima, which is best translated as the sense of hallucination. Can be thought of as a playback of the impressions upon the inner senses throughout our lives, being poured out of the inner senses into the outer senses. A good example is dreams that are just a different rendition of the events of the waking life.
  • mutakhayyila, or the sense of imagination, is better named as the active imagination, which is connected to the divine powers. The divine imagines, and the creation manifests. So also do humans: we imagine, and our creation becomes to the degree of the potency of our creative powers. This creative power has a direct relationship with how realized of a person we are. Prophetic dreams are a good example of this sense. In such dreams, when the five outer senses are exhausted, mutakhayyila can potentially be activated like a sap of a tree. The inspirations from the imaginal realm rise up through the unseen and pour out into the outer senses. One lucidly sees and feels significant events while the body is still and asleep.

When a person reaches a certain spiritual maturity, they can activate the same type of prophetic dream experience while they are awake. The sense of mutakhayyila penetrates the mushtarika (common sense), and one sees and hears things that are veiled to others. Sufis assert that ecstasy (vajd) is to be experienced within such an inner journey of unveiling (mukāshifa) and witnessing (shohūd).

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