the beholder


Bangkok: The world seems different, everything suddenly seen in clear three-dimensionality. Reflected light, rich, deep colours and a strange familiarity, objects in the environment become somehow known. I’ve seen these things so often before but now seeing them with an expanded awareness. It sounds visionary, you could say revelatory but it’s the result of eye surgery, rather than insight… nonetheless quite astonishing. I have this clarity in one eye only, vision in the other eye is like an old yellowed photo, dull and indistinct. The operation on that eye will be in October, back to the Rutnin Eye Hospital in Bangkok. The surgeon makes a hole in the eye and puts in a tool that uses ultrasound to emulsify the lens. The lens becomes liquid and is sucked away, then a plastic foldable lens is inserted in the place where the natural lens used to be. That’s it, done. Local anaesthetic is enough, or general if you feel claustrophobic about the covers over the face. After the op there are different kinds of eye-drops that go on for about three weeks and it feels a bit itchy but that’s all.

I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this; the plasticity of the human body, parts can be taken out, replaced; systems are deconstructed, reconstructed, subject to change. It all supports the idea of anatta: no abiding self. There’s an underlying flexibility about the mind/body organism namarupa. One example of this is that I have a very refined piece of plastic in my eye instead of a natural lens. And, looking at the world, I find an affinity with clear-wrap, cling-film, transparent plastic food packaging – the way the plastic surface refracts the light. In this strong sunlight in Thailand, I notice the reflections on chrome and glass – the clarity is sparkling and beautiful. Also these enhanced colours, reds mostly, and an overall bright clear blueness in the white areas. It has the quality of an iPad screen, retina display, high density pixels merge into one – an extraordinary brightness.

Faces of friends and family are seen as if for the first time. I notice small expressions now I didn’t know were there, maybe because everybody is looking at my new eye, intense Thai faces examine my new eye, and I’m looking back at them looking at me, seeing subtleties in their features that I’ve never seen before. It’s all quite new, a curious reality.

So, I’ll be going around for the next few weeks, looking at my surroundings and considering the phenomenon that I am experiencing this. Can it really be so? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ (Margaret Wolfe Hungerford). The expression always seemed a bit mean and divisive to me, ‘I’ think it’s beautiful but ‘you’ might think it’s not; beauty becomes a matter of opinion… In Buddhism, the ‘beholder’ sees the world and identifies the self, ‘me’. If ‘I’ am inside the body, in ‘here’, I must be separate from everything else out ‘there’, isolated, alone, anxious – wrong view a fundamental error. The attachment to a perceived self and craving for it to become real, creates suffering. Language has a naming function, creating an apparent identity. Anything that is stated is always missing the point because of these characteristics of language. Better to think of it in terms of what it is not, rather than what it is: ‘… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha)’ [SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)]


Photo image: Skyline at Ploenchit Bangkok.

12 thoughts on “the beholder

  1. Good that you had this operation. Wishing you all success for the other eye. Isn’t it amazing how perception and beautiful colours can deliver joy to our mind – and isn’t it beautiful how it works like that.

    • Thank you yes, beauty is transient, no attachment to it; there is perception. The act of perceiving interests me – how things are ‘seen’. At the outset I wasn’t aware the eye operation would be such a wonderful opportunity to study this…

  2. Pingback: where I’m calling from | dhamma footsteps

  3. Pingback: appearances | dhamma footsteps

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