The only way he could find his way forward was by scraping his cane along the side of the curb separating the outer sandy parikramā path around Govardhana from the joining asphalt road. He looked sad and alone in life. Otherwise why was there no one assisting this poor blind man on his arduous journey? I didn’t have the impression that he was on parikramā either, instead just someone dredging home from town a few kilometers down the road. He was also not dressed as a sādhu, nor exhibiting the joy of spiritual life. Rather he was shabbily dressed in pants and shirt and the strain and pain in his face was apparent. But whether he was doing parikramā or heading back towards a broken dwelling, there was one thing for sure: he was suffering greatly. I felt for him. My mind naturally went into his. I began to ponder what did the blind man see?
As I continued to look through the “eyes” of that seemingly hapless soul and envision his plight, a thought persistently came to mind. What exactly was he missing? Surely such loss is tragic, but as I kept pursuing this vicarious exercise, I was confronted with the same question. What value and joy does vision actually add to one’s life, specifically my own?
There is an interesting verse, actually verses, in the Bhāgavatam, that question the value of perception devoid of meaning. These verses suddenly came to mind:
“One who has not listened to the messages about the prowess and marvelous acts of the Personality of Godhead and has not sung or chanted loudly the worthy songs about the Lord is to be considered to possess earholes like the holes of snakes and a tongue like the tongue of a frog.
“The upper portion of the body, though crowned with a silk turban, is only a heavy burden if not bowed down before the Personality of Godhead who can award mukti [freedom]. And the hands, though decorated with glittering bangles, are like those of a dead man if not engaged in the service of the Personality of Godhead Hari.
“The eyes [emphasis mine] which do not look at the symbolic representations of the Personality of Godhead Viṣṇu [His forms, name, quality, etc.] are like those printed on the plumes of the peacock, and the legs which do not move to the holy places [where the Lord is remembered] are considered to be like tree trunks.” (Bhāg. 2.3.20-2.3.22)
Whether you embrace this specific theistic metaphysic, or not, quite an interesting general point is being made:
What is important is not just what one sees, but how one sees it. The senses only bring input into the mind, but it is the mind that identifies and interprets such sensual data. Therefore if the mind is not pure it is questionable how much sight actually helps us. We can see the world through 20/20 vision, but if the lens of our mind is distorted by hate, greed, anger, lust, or envy then what is the value of our so-called seeing?
Bilvamaṅgala, the great Vaiṣṇava saint, previous to his enlightenment was so plagued by lust that he even rushed the completion of his father’s funeral for an appointment with a prostitute. Through her, however, he heard the voice of his guru and vowed to change his ways. When he later again fell sway to the lure of a beautiful woman’s form, he gouged out his eyes and lived the rest of his life in Vṛndāvana as a renowned Vaiṣṇava saint and poet.
I had a friend who worked with deaf people. He commented to me how much more compassionate they were than people in general and surmised that this was because their minds were not polluted with the degrading sounds and speech of today.
At the moment of death we will have little control over what comes to the forefront of our consciousness. Whatever we have put in during our lives will likely come out beyond our power determining our next destination. A scary thought for those who constantly surf the web through their eyes and with their ears.
So what did the blind man see? I’m not sure. But what is sure is that even a blind man with a pure mind envisions a lot more than one just viewing that same world in a mood of exploitation.