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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > The Five Extrasensory Eyes and Six Types of Advanced Awareness

The Five Extrasensory Eyes and Six Types of Advanced Awareness

Alexander Berzin, June 2006

Through the power of achieving a stilled and settled state of mind (zhi-gnas, Skt. shamatha), practitioners attain a certain degree of three of the five extrasensory eyes (spyan-lnga) and five of the six types of advanced awareness (mngon-shes drug). These enable them, while still on the path, to benefit limited beings to a certain extent. Buddhas possess all five extrasensory eyes and all six types of advanced awareness to their full degree.

The Five Extrasensory Eyes

(1) The extrasensory flesh eye (sha’i spyan) – the ability to see great distances without obstruction, to see through solid objects such as walls, to see in all directions at the same time, and so on. If we think this is impossible or ridiculous, we need to consider the case of vultures and eagles. Their vision is far superior to ours. They can see exceptionally far.

(2) The extrasensory divine eye (lha’i spyan) – the ability to “see,” in the sense of know, future rebirths. This name comes from the fact that divine beings (gods) are able to see the form they will take in their next rebirths.

(3) The extrasensory eye of discriminating awareness (shes-rab-kyi spyan) – the ability to “see” voidness. Bodhisattvas with shamatha attain these first three types of eyes to a certain degree. Only Buddhas, however, possess the next two types of eyes.

(4) The extrasensory eye of the Dharma (chos-kyi spyan) – the eye to put into effect the ten forces of a Thusly Gone (Skt. Tathagata) Buddha (de-bzhin gshegs-pa’i stobs-bcu), which enable a Buddha to lead all beings to enlightenment. This is the ability to see:

  • the appropriate and inappropriate relations between various types of karmic behavior and their results,

  • the ripened results of all karmic impulses,

  • the various aspirations of all limited beings,

  • the various sources of everyone’s ideas and misunderstandings and the various sources that will bring each being to enlightenment,

  • the superior and inferior levels of everyone’s powers and abilities,

  • the paths of the mind that lead to every type of spiritual goal,

  • the various states of deep meditative absorption so that a Buddha can lead beings lost in them to progress beyond them,

  • all one’s own and others’ previous rebirth situations,

  • the death, transference and future rebirth of everyone up to his or her enlightenment and then where each will manifest subsequently,

  • the degree of depletion of the various tainted factors (zag-pa zad-pa) on each being’s mental continuum.

(5) The extrasensory eye of deep awareness (ye-shes-kyi spyan) – the ability of a Buddha’s omniscient awareness to “see” the two truths about all phenomena – their present appearance and their natural purity.

The Six Types of Advanced Awareness

(1) The advanced awareness of physical emanations (rdzu-‘phrul-gyi mngon-shes) – the ability to produce simultaneously many different physical emanations made of the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space. It also includes the ability to produce simultaneously many different emanations of speech, such as the ability to speak in such a way that various people can understand it in their own languages and at their own levels of understanding. It includes as well the ability to produce simultaneously many different mental emanations of thoughts and levels of mind. This is the ability, for example, to be aware of many levels of meaning of a Dharma passage, all simultaneously.

(2) The advanced awareness of the divine eye (lha’i mig-gi mngon-shes) – the ability to see the different effects of karma on different beings, such as their future rebirths.

(3) The advanced awareness of the divine ear (rna-ba’i mngon-shes) – the ability to hear sounds at any distance and to understand them, regardless of language.

(4) The advanced awareness of recollection of past situations (sngon-gnas rjes-dran-gyi mngon-shes) – the ability to know past lives.

(5) The advanced awareness of knowing others’ minds (gzhan-sems shes-pa’i mngon-shes) – the ability to cognize others’ thoughts and states of mind. Bodhisattvas with shamatha attain a certain degree of these five types of advanced awareness. Only a Buddha, however, possesses the five to their full degree and, in addition, the sixth.

(6) The advanced awareness of being omnisciently aware of the depletion of all his or her own tainted factors (zag-pa zad-pa mkhyen-pa’i mngon-shes). With this type of awareness, a Buddha not only is free from uncontrollable rebirth in samsara, but also is able to manifest and enact anything at will, to benefit others.