At a certain stage of spiritual progress, when the mind acquires the ability to stay tranquil for large periods of time and the subtle body disengages itself from the bulk of the physical body and begins to extend freely in the subtle physical world, one starts having those flashes of intuition which are indicative of the working of the greater sense-mind (called Manas in Sanskrit). The mind can see things without the aid of the senses or, as the Katha Upanishad says, mind is the real sense behind the senses.  As per the Mother Mirra Alfassa, some of the esoteric traditions of antiquity recognized that man had not five but twelve senses. The rest of this article outlines the greater powers of the sense-mind with some examples from recent history followed by a method for enhancing the action of the senses.
Powers of the sense-mind (Manas)
It is our consciousness which is contacting another form of consciousness in every case of extrasensory perception. The exact psychological mechanism by which this contact occurs tends to differ which is why there appear to be so many ways of acquiring occult knowledge. Sri Aurobindo identified a specific power called prakamya, a power of the senses and the sense-mind (Manas), by which they surpass the ordinary limits of the body and become aware by sight, hearing, touch or mental sensation and awareness. The center of the sense-mind (Manas) is located at the heart . That is one reason some of our hunches appear to emerge from the heart as opposed to previsions which originate from the Ajna Chakra in the middle of the eyebrows. These are a few different ways in which the greater sense-mind works.
1. Foresight on the material plane
The sense-mind can accurately pick up from the subtle-physical plane the “the present states of mind, feeling, sensation etc of others”, “particular thoughts which they have had in the past whose impression still remains in the chitta record” and it can also read that part of the future “whose image has been formed in the prescient parts of the chitta”. Record of Yoga – I: Sapta Chatusthaya Regarding the knowledge of the future, certain things are known while the rest is in preparation as discussed elsewhere.
In this context, we can note an incident from the life of the Swedish mystic, scientist and philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg. On July 29, 1759, at a dinner in Gothenburg, he excitedly told the party at six o’ clock that there was a fire in Stockholm (405 km away), that it had consumed his neighbour’s home and was threatening his own. Two hours later, he exclaimed with relief that the fire stopped three doors from his home. Two days later, reports confirmed every statement to the precise hour that Swedenborg first expressed the information .
2. Sensing something by proximity
Sometimes, when one comes close to an object, one can gain an inner contact and know what it is using the sense-mind rather than via physical contact. As the Mother Mirra Alfassa points out, “a person who is blind can become aware of an object at some distance through a kind of perception which is not touch for he does not feel it, which is not vision for he does not see, but which is a contact – something that enables him to make a contact without hearing, seeing or touching. This is one of the most developed senses apart from those we habitually use. ” Questions and Answers (1950 – 1951): 22 March 1951
This is nowadays referred to as blindsight and was recently demonstrated by a blind man who “zigzagged down the hall, sidestepping a garbage can, a tripod, a stack of paper and several boxes as if he could see everything clearly“. [5, 6] See the video at the bottom of this post. Neuroscientists suspect that when the visual cortex is disabled, visual signals are rerouted through some alternate channel in the brain. This differs from the occult explanation, which sees it is a manifestation of the latent power of Manas. Such disagreements can be resolved later.
This power of sensing things by proximity was also demonstrated a few decades ago by the Russian psychic, Rosa Kuleshova (1955-1978) who, after being blindfolded, could use her fingers to read text from an ordinary book. When she was handed a snapshot, she would correctly identify the scene in the picture. Some scientists speculated that gifted skin readers possess special cells-rods and cones, like those in the eyes, inside their finger skin. Others leaned to a “radiant” hypothesis, thinking the ability might be caused by infrared rays or even radioactive rays from isotopes in the body caroming back objects to the palm. The occult explanation, again, is based on the power of the sense-mind. In this context, it must be noted that the French poet and writer Jules Romain had conducted extensive experiments with paroptic vision and wrote a book titled Vision Extra-Rétinienne. 
3. Extended physical vision
According to the Mother, “there is another sense which can put you in touch with events at a great distance; it is a physical sense for it belongs to the physical world, it is not purely mental: there is a sensation. One must be able to widen the physical consciousness, project it out of oneself so as to concentrate it on a given point elsewhere in space and thus obtain sight, hearing, smell, taste and even touch at a distance. It corresponds a little to that capacity which was developed in the Red Indians. They used to put their ear to the earth, and they had so fine an ear that they could hear steps more than a mile away.” Questions and Answers (1954): 3 February 1954
4. Vision of the inner plane realities
It is also possible by utilizing the inner senses in their purely mental or subtle activity, as distinguished from the external physical action which is only a selection for the purposes of outward life from their total and general action, to take cognition of sense-experiences, of appearances and images of things from the inner planes which do not belong to the organisation of our material environment. The Life Divine – I: The Methods of Vedantic Knowledge
5. Ability to differentiate air or atmosphere of a place
Another power of the senses can be seen in the ability to differentiate the atmosphere which prevails in different places. According to the Mother,
The air you breathe is not always the same, that there are different vibrations in the air of one country and in the air of another, in the air of one place and in the air of another. If indeed you are accustomed to have this perception of the subtle physical, you can say immediately, “Ah ! This air is as in France” or “This is the air of Japan.” It is something indefinable like taste or smell. Questions and Answers (1950 – 1951): 19 March 1951
A method to improve the perception of the senses
In the normal course of Yoga, once the subtle body becomes alive, the sense-mind spontaneously starts to exhibit the powers detailed above. However, one can also consciously enhance the powers of the senses. We allude here to some cryptic verses in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras where he talks of gaining such knowledge by samyama (concentration) on the object.
By directing the flash of inner light of higher sensory activity, knowledge of subtle objects, those hidden from view, and those very distant can be attained. (pravrittyah aloka nyasat suksma vyavahita viprakrista jnanam – Yoga Sutras 3.26)
By samyama(concentration) on the notions or presented ideas comes knowledge of another’s mind. (pratyayasya para chitta jnana – Yoga Sutras 3.19)
By samyama(concentration) over the relation between space and the power of hearing, the higher, divine power of hearing comes. (shrotra akashayoh sambandha samyamat divyam shrotram – Yoga Sutras 3.42)
We do not know if the Mother Mirra Alfassa had read these verses from the Yoga Sutras but she did happen to practice similar techniques during her early days in Paris. This is an description of how she cultivated the power of Manas.
You choose one sense (or several), perhaps the one for which you have the greatest initial aptitude, and you decide. Then you follow the discipline. It’s similar to doing exercises for developing muscles. You can even manage to create willpower in yourself.
For the subtler senses, the method is to create an exact image of what you want, make contact with the corresponding vibration and then concentrate and practice. For instance, you practice seeing through an object, or hearing through a sound or seeing at a distance. Hearing behind a sound, means to make contact with the subtle reality behind the material fact: behind the word or the physical sound, or behind music, for example. You concentrate and then hear what is behind. It means contacting the vital reality behind appearances (there can also be a mental reality, but usually what is immediately behind the physical noise is a vital reality). As an example, I was once bedridden for several months, which I found quite boring – I wanted to see. I was staying in one room and beyond that room was another little room and after that a sort of bridge; in the middle of the garden the bridge changed into a stairway going down into a very spacious and beautiful studio built in the middle of the garden. [The studio on Rue Lemercier in Paris, in 1898] I wanted to go see what was happening in the studio – I was bored stiff in my room! So I stayed very still, shut my eyes and gradually, gradually sent out my consciousness. I did the exercise regularly, day after day, at a set hour. You begin with your imagination, and then it becomes a fact. After a while, I distinctly sensed my vision physically moving: I followed it and saw things going on downstairs I knew absolutely nothing about. I would verify it in the evening, asking, “Did it happen like this? Was that how it was?”
But each of these things must be practiced for months, patiently, almost stubbornly. You take the senses one after another: hearing, sight, and eventually even the subtle aspects of taste, smell and touch. Mother’s Agenda: February 27, 1962
Video:Kuda Bux reads blindfolded
See wikipedia bio of Kuda_Bux
Video: Blind man walks the maze
- Neurology Seeing fingertips. Time Magazine Jan 25 1963. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,940237,00.html (Accessed Mar 23 2010)
- Sheila Ostrander, Lynn Schroeder. Psychic discoveries behind the iron curtain, Chapter 14. New York: Prentice Hall, 1984.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg#Psychic_accounts (Accessed Mar 23 2010)
- Carina Storrs. People hear with their skin, as well as their ear. Scientific American Nov 26, 2009. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=skin-hearing-airflow-puff-sound-perception (Accessed Mar 23 2010)
- Beatrice Gelder. http://www.beatricedegelder.com/books.html
- Benedict Carey. Blind, Yet Seeing: The Brain’s Subconscious Visual Sense New York Times Dec 22 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/health/23blin.html
- Mark Henderson. Blind man demonstrates blindsight. Times Online http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article5385633.ece
- A.B. Purani, Evening Talks, Second Series, p 228
- Jules Romains. [Louis Farigoule]. Vision Extra-Rétinienne. 1920. Translated by C. K. Ogden as Eyeless Sight: A Study of Extra-Retinal Vision and the Paroptic Sense. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924. Reprint, New York: Citadel Press, 1978.