What Is Indriya?

The access points between our inner and outer experiences, they are at the core of Sadhana (spiritual practice).

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English: Faculty

Indriya Definition

Indriya, literally meaning ‘belonging to Indra’, is referring to the sensory faculties / ‘sense organs’ – the ways in which we perceive the world around us.

Indriya Deep Dive

In Hinduism, Indian religions, and yogic philosophy, the ten senses or Das Indriya are the access points between our inner and outer experiences, they are at the core of Sadhana (spiritual practice).

This is because the restraint and regulation of our Indiryas are mandatory for self-realization. Why? The senses focus on the material world, whilst the true nature of the self is spiritual which, many believe, can not be obtained through the focus on material desires.

These desires are blocking our understanding or realization of our true nature and, when we stay too focused on the external reality that we experience through the senses, we limit our capacity to know more than this, to know the higher or absolute truth.

It’s thought that the Das Indriyas do not have access to this higher knowledge, something which cannot be realized through the mind (mana). In other words, the senses are too distracting for us to get close to the Atman! We must, instead, strip back the senses.

As in the Bhagavad Gita;

With your activities dedicated to Me [Krishna] and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.

Bhagavad Gita 8.7
woman sat meditating by a lake

Das Indriya

1. Chaksu Indriya (sight – eyes)

2. Shrotra Indriya (hearing – ears)

3. Ghraana Indriya (smell – nose)

4. Rasanaa Indriya (taste – tongue)

5. Twak Indriya (touch – skin)

6. Vaak Indriya (speech)

7. Paani Indriya (grasp/hold)

8. Paada Indriya (movement/locomotion)

9. Paayu Indriya (excretion/defecation)

10. Upastha Indriya (sex)

The ten Indriyas are split into two categories; the first five allowing us to take in external experiences, and the last five giving us the ability to express ourselves outwardly.

These are:

  • Buddhi Indriyas – instruments of perception
  • Karma Indriyas (karmendriyas)- motor instruments of action

The eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin are said to be respectively connected with Light / fire, Ether, Water, Earth and Air.

child smelling flowers against a blue watercolour eye background

Who is Indra?

Known to be the Lord with a thousand eyes, Indra was the chief deity and king of the devas in the Rig Veda, a Vedic Sanskrit text. Revered for killing the great evil, Vritra, he is certainly the most referred to deity in the text, with over a quarter of the 1028 hymns mentioning him.

As God of the Indriyas, the senses, the one thousand eyes are thought to speak to his pervasiveness.

Indriya In Buddhism

In Buddhist philosophy, indriya refers to twenty two phenomenological faculties which appear in the Suttas (Sutras in Pali) and the Abhidhamma. They are as follows.

Six Sensory Faculties:

1. eye: cakkhu
2. ear: sota
3. nose: ghāna
4. tongue: jivhā
5. body: kāya
6. mind: mano

Three physical faculties:

7. femininity: itthi
8. masculinity: purisa
9. vitality: jīvit-indriya

Five Feeling Faculties:

10. bodily pleasant feeling: sukha
11. bodily pain: dukkha
12. gladness: somanassa
13. sadness: domanassa
14. equanimity: upekkhā

Five Spiritual Faculties (indriyāni):

15. faith: saddhā
16. energy: viriya
17. mindfulness: sati
18. concentration: samādhi
19. wisdom: paññā

Three final knowledge faculties:

20. the assurance: ‘I shall know what I did not yet know!’: aññātañ-ñassāmītindriya
21. the faculty of highest knowledge (gnosis): aññindriya
22. the faculty of him who knows: aññātāvindriya.

According to Buddhist texts, these twenty two facultes along with the aggregates, Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, and sense bases are the ‘soil’ of wisdom (panna).

The Buddha declares that, wisdom is the “chief” (agga) faculty.

Indriya in your life

1. Pratyahara

This is ‘sense withdrawal’, a practice of withdrawing our senses or attention away from our external environment and bringing the mind inwards. This allows us to conserve the prana or energy that might otherwise go towards interacting with or through the Indriyas.

2. Meditation

One of the best ways thought to control the Indriyas is through meditation, of which pratyahara is an essential precursor.

You can bring the attention inwards and away from the senses, or use the Indriyas themselves as the focus of the practice, choosing one sense to pour your awareness into.

The control of the thoughts in this way also leads to the control of the Indriyas.

3. Japa

If like many, you struggle or get frustrated with the first two options, you can start first with japa. As your japa practice develops, you can add or change completely to meditation for stronger control of the senses.

More on yoga’s theory:

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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