Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Eye That Helps The Blind See

--Acharya Shankara’s Explanation for this paradox in “Vivekachudamani”

During the Great Plague of London in December 1952 when more than 4,000 people died and visibility got down to eleven inches at times, a man and his wife came out of an underground exit and wondered which way to proceed to reach their destination. A stranger appeared out of the fog and asked if they needed some help and volunteered assistance. The couple explained to him where they wanted to go. He asked them to follow him closely. He reached them to their residence without any problem or difficulty en-route. Thanking him they asked him how he could be so sure of himself. He said “I am totally blind but I can see”. He further informed them that he had been working happily all day, guiding people to their destinations.

Dr.S.C.Roy from Calcutta became blind at the young age of 7. However, he rose to become a distinguished scholar and a man of letters. He graduated from Calcutta University, securing M.A. and B.L.degrees and afterwards went to America, Japan and other parts of the world, totally unaccompanied. He delivered lectures at various educational institutions of higher learning in America, with his headquarters in Mew York City. While in America he got acquainted with the lives of Maharshi Aurobindo
and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He visited Pondichery in 1946 to have darshan of Aurobindo. There he met the famous musician Dilip Kumar Roy who taught North Indian music to Mrs. M.S. Subbulakshmi. Roy advised him to visit Tiruvannamalai, meet Bhagavan Ramana and have his blessings of the Maharshi before going back to Calcutta.
Dr.Roy met Bhagavan on 16th October 1946. It is learnt that he had sent two telegrams to Sri Ramanashram about his arrival to Tiruvannamalai, explaining his physical disability of being totally blind. When he reached Tiruvannamalai two ladies by name Miss. Brown, A Swiss devotee of the Maharshi and one Mrs. Taleyarkhan, a Parsi devotee received him with a warm welcome. They escorted him to the Ashram. Roy met Bhagavan and after a few minutes of discussion with Bhagavan he got all his doubts clarified pertaining to some issues related to philosophy and religion. He left the Ashram with a sense of deep satisfaction and achievement. On his way to Calcutta, he was interviewed by the Editor of the Indian Express at Madras.

Helen Keller born in 1880 in Alabama, America and was affected at the age of 18 months with illness that left her blind, deaf and mute. She was trained by a tutor and within months she learned to feel objects and associate them with words spelled out by finger signals on her palm, to read sentences by feeling raised words on cardboard and to make her own sentences by arranging words in a frame. Ten she learned Braille and also began a slow process of learning to speak. She also learned to lip-read by placing her fingers on the lips and throat of the speaker while the words were simultaneously spelled out for her. She graduated from the Radcliff College in 1904 becoming the first deaf and dumb person to have ever enrolled in an institution of higher learning .She later started writing in women’s magazines about blindness. She also wrote her life in several books. She also began lecturing with the aid of an interpreter primarily on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind. Her lecture tours took her several times around the globe. She died in 1968.

One of England’s queens once gave a reception for her which was attended by a large number of celebrities and England’s royalty. The queen questioned Helen as to how it was possible for her to enjoy all of nature, as she apparently did without sight or hearing. Helen answered “Your Majesty, even though I have no physical sight or hearing, I do have an imagination, inner eye, a sense of smell, taste and feeling of touch. This enables me to enjoy all of nature in all its splendour with inner feeling and sensitiveness. By vibrations I can also enjoy music, especially Beethoven whose glorious music is so divine”. She lived a saintly life with deep mystical union with God and nature. On a different occasion Helen remarked that people with eyes sometimes see than .people without eyes, because the latter employ their Inner Eye which is a wonderful eye which works always and is beyond defects.

This apparent contradiction between blindness and sight has been explained and elucidated by Acharya Shankara in his magnificent Vedantic treatise “Vivekachudamani.”. Shankara shows the difference between the ‘physical eye’ and the ‘inner eye’ and establishes how it is possible for the physically blind person to see the world through his inner eye. He compares the physical eye to a mere tool and the inner eye which is the atman to the tool-wielder. The defects of the tool never belong to the wielder of the tool. Acharya says that the defects of the eye could be like blindness [Andhatvam is the word used by him in the Vivekachudamani] or weakness [Mandatvam]. The eyesight could be perfect and could be in a trim state of sharpness [Patutvam]. But all these are conditions of the eye, due merely to its fitness or defectiveness. Similarly deafness, dumbness etc are the conditions of the ear and so on. Both defectiveness and fitness belong to the instrument and not to the atman, the eternal knower. The atman, our real self, is the eternal knower with an eternal vision. Elaborating further, Shankara says” There are two types of vision in every one of us—ordinary and real. We have an ordinary vision in the form of the physical sight and behind this is the real visioning of the atman. The ordinary type of vision is a process, an action and so it has a birth and a death. It has a beginning and an end. Our physical vision may be in a good shape or in a defunct condition. But the vision of the atman, like the heat and light of fire, being the very nature of the atman, has neither birth nor death”
The ordinary vision comes and goes but the eternal vision [inner eye] ever remains.

Nature has provided us with a transient instrument of vision called eye. If it becomes defective we fail to see but behind it there is the eternal vision. Who sees the dream? There are no physical eyes present in the dream. It is the atman, with the eternal vision, that witnesses the dream. In this regard there is a commanding utterance in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishd [4.3.23] which states “The vision of witness can never be lost because it is imperishable”. The atman is the eternal knower and just like heat is the nature of the fire, this witness hood is the very nature of the atman. That is why many a times a blind person sees better than a normal person with good physical eyesight. This is because the blind sees through the inner eye

Created: Friday, July 10, 2009 10:13 PM


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