Sentience

In a famous dictum, Rene Des Cartes said I think therefore I am. He was referring to the ability of the human mind to reason which distinguished her from other species on earth. If you believe you are more of a touch and feel person, you may disagree and claim that you feel therefore you are. Philosophers have postulated the notion of sentience for people like you. Sentience is the capacity to feel, experience or perceive subjectively. This can range from your ability to perceive the colour red to your ability to feel pain and suffering. What constitutes a particular experience is usually defined, for example seeing the colour red, but experiences can also be subjective for example how much pain do I feel on the occurrence of an event.

Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism recognise non-humans as also being sentient meaning they have the same capacity to experience as humans do. Sentience in Buddhism is Sattva and it is believed that there are six senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and the sixth sense being the experience of the mind. Water would have only one sense touch but it is sentient because it has one of the six senses, one of the reasons for advocating caring for all things on earth.  Sentience is what causes pain and suffering as your mind perceives and experiences. Often it keeps you alive, from signalling to your body that you have a headache, all the way through to the experience of losing a loved one. In ordinary everyday life, it is your ability to reason that helps you cope with sentience. You rationalise your way through a problem or tell yourself the story of a better tomorrow to cope with the present. You win some of these battles and lose some as your monkey mind constantly chatters in the background.

Transcendence is the ability to go beyond your thinking, feeling self and escape the limitations set by your body. Buddhist monks have shown insane levels of tolerance for pain, heat and cold. They have calmed their sentience. As opposed to a mother telling a child “don’t worry, it will be fine,” escaping the battery limits of your body is a more permanent way of coping. In a cruel twist of fate though, it is not your ability to think but rather the ability to stop thinking that will get you there. Your sentient self cant wait for you to start!