Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira told the following words

No act done with the aid of the five organs of sensual perception, is ever lost. The five sensual organs and the immortal soul which is the sixth, remain its witnesses.

[Section 7, Anusasana Parva, The Mahabharata]

Does it mean the sensory organs have their own consciousness (according to the scriptures)?

  • 1
    No. All 24 tattvas are Achit. Only Chit (jiva) and Paramatma have consciousness. The context is that jiva ALONE cannot do anything. He can only do any action (whether it be thinking or breathing or walking), with help of indriyas which he did not create, but Bhagavan 'created'. But each indriya also has a devata associated, who help the jiva go about his actions e.g. Indra is deva for right hand, Surya/Agni for eyes, Varuna for taste - because the devas are also in charge of pancha-bhuta-tanmatras which the indriyas in body require to sense.
    – mar
    Oct 2 '20 at 23:59
  • I'm commenting because I don't have scripture handy for proof. After someone else posts answer, I can delete my comments.
    – mar
    Oct 3 '20 at 0:00

Manu Smriti states that Earth, Water, Sky, Sun, Moon etc. are witnesses of any action that we perform.

Manu 8.86. ’The sky, the earth, the waters, (the male in) the heart, the moon, the sun, the fire, Yama and the wind, the night, the two twilights, and justice know the conduct of all corporeal beings.’

Now, that does not mean that Earth etc. have consciousness. It is their over-ruling deity (or the associated deity or god) that is being talked about. Like for water the god associated is Varuna. So, when it is said that "Water is the witness of all our actions" then it is to be understood that they are saying about Lord Varuna being the witness. In this manner we have to understand the passage quoted in the question too.

Because, the sense organs are also one deity (Deva) or the other. For example, Aditya (sun) is the eye, Prajapati the genitals etc.

Urdham prAnamunnayatyapAnam pratyagasyati |
Madhye vAmanamasinam visve devA upAsate || - Katha Upanishad 2.2.3

One who makes the PrANa vAyu to flow upwards and the ApAna vAyu to flow downwards, that worship-worthy AtmA is always worshipped by the Indriyas (senses; here senses are mentioned as DevAs or deities) with presents (objects of the senses eventually are all for the enjoyment of the AtmA only; this is what is meant here).

Another reference for the statement "Indriyas are actually Devas" is from Vivekachudamani:

The indriyas are the subtle counterparts of these physical organs and form part of the subtle body. The presiding deities of these five indriyas are, respectively, the deities of the quarters, the deity of air, the sun, Varuna (the god of the waters) and the two Asvini devas. (See also Panchadasi.1.19).

So, when they say "our eyes are the witnesses of all our actions" then it is to be understood that actually the deity sun (Lord Surya/Aditya) is being referred to as the witness.


No. You have to first clarify what is meant by the organs of sensual perception. There are the organs (for example the tongue, the eye) and then there are the organs of perception which make up part of the mind, manas. If the sensual organ of the eye is not attached to the visual organ in the mind, the eye can physically see, but not the mind. The Kena Upanishad I.1-2 says (Swami Nikhilananda translator):

  1. The disciple asked: Om. By whose will directed does the mind proceed to its object? At whose command does the prana, the foremost, do its duty? At whose will do men utter speech? Who is the god that directs the eyes and ears?

Commentary:...The god: Literally, luminous being. The sense organs, themselves, inert and unintelligent, must be directed in their activities by some intelligent power...The mind and the rest engage in their respective functions by the mere will of Atman...

  1. The teacher replied: It is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of the speech, the Life of the life, and the Eye of the eye. Having detached the Self [from the sense-organs] and renounced the world, the wise attain to Immortality.

Commentary: The Ear of the ear: The second word ear in the text denotes the instrument of hearing which is the subtle organ behind the outer ear, by which one hears a sound. According to the Upanishads, however, the organ itself is not the real agent of hearing. It functions in the way because of the presence of Atman, the luminous, all-pervading, and eternal Intelligence. Comparing the following Vedic statements: "Man shines by the light of the Atman." "Illumined by that Light, hhe sun shines." Also compare to tge following statement of the Bhagavad Gita: "The light that is in the sun and illumines the whole universe, the light that is in the moon and is likewise in fire--know that light to be Mine." The false notion that the sense-organs themselves are endowed with intelligence is denied by the text. "There is something which can be comprehended only by the understanding of the wise and which is the innermost Self of all, immutable, undecaying, immortal, fearless, and birthless, and at whose direction the ear, tongue, the mind and the other sense organs perform their respective functions. The reply of the teacher to this effect and our interpretation of it are correct." (Sankaracharya.)...According to Vedanta, Atman is Pure Consciousess, is free from activity, yet Its existence can be inferred from the activities of the sense-organs. A sense-organ is not a simple substance. It consists of particles of various material elements. Such a substance is under the control of another entity whose purpose it serves, as is true of a house or a vehicle. This entity is Atman, for whose sake the sense-organs perform their respective functions. Furthermore, an unintelligent object cannot work without the direction of an intelligent entity, as is true of a coach. The sense-organs by themselves are unintelligent. It is the intelligent Atman who directs them.

See also Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.3 and 6.1.7-14; and also Sri Vidyaranya Swami's Pancadasi verses VI. 64-65.

  • How do you explain the Mahabharata verse?
    – user17987
    Oct 3 '20 at 6:11
  • @kākatālīya Probably a sloppy or mistranslation. When smriti does not agree with sruti, sruti takes precedence. The translation says 'and' the immortal soul; it does not say that the sensual organs are consciousness. To extend consciousness to the word 'witnesses' is to read more into the verse than is intended. Oct 4 '20 at 7:20

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