Seeing the World Through a New Eye

I have to tell you that the world looks very bright and wonderful since my cataract surgery on Monday. Prior to that the vision in my left eye was extremely blurry. Actually, I had a cataract in both eyes, but the right is not too bad yet. Some days I would wake up and it was impossible to focus on anything relatively close like the computer or a book, everything would be blurry. Usually it would improve by nighttime. I think part of it was also the glare from daytime light, magnified by the cataract. By nightfall, of course, there is less light, so less glare, and more focus.

What they do in this surgery is just amazing. They take out the eye’s natural lens and replace it with an artificial one. The incision is about one fourth of a millimeter. I think that’s what the doctor told me. Just think microscopically small.

My vision was also foggy, and it developed so slowly and subtlety that I wasn’t aware of it. Until, I got the new lens. It’s like a whole new world out there, now. Colors are much brighter and fuller, everything is sharper, clearer. There is a slightly artificial aspect to light. The only way I can think of to describe it, and most people probably won’t understand this analogy, is that it’s similar to the effect you get when you use the Parallel Direction filter on a photo in Photoshop. Sorry, but that’s the best I can come up with at the moment.

Now, the healing process. Have to make sure it doesn’t get infected. Three different kinds of drops, four times a day. I’m also supposed to avoid is bending over. If your head is lower than your heart, it causes pressure on the eyes and that’s not good for an eye recovering from trauma. Easier said than done. Bending over is one of those things we do many times throughout our day and we don’t even think about it. All of the sudden I have to establish a new routine just to put on my socks and shoes. Tuesday when I went back to have the bandage taken off, I mentioned this to my doctor, and he said, “Well, just be mindful of it.” I didn’t ask him, but I don’t think he’s a Buddhist.

It is another lesson in mindfulness, though. The other day I wrote that the hardest part about practicing mindfulness is carrying it over into daily life. Fortunately, life throws things at us from time to time that reinforce the teachings we learn. Usually in the form of some sort of suffering. In this case, for me, it was suffering through the foggy, blurry vision, and it was also the surgery. And the worst part of the surgery was the dread leading up to it. Part of my head knew that it is a commonplace, relatively simple procedure, but there was another part that really didn’t want to be subject to any surgery of any kind and was dreaming up gloomy scenarios.

In Japanese Buddhism, zenshishiki is a term for someone  that helps pull you in the right direction, i.e. a good friend. Well, I had two zenshishiki. One who said “puleeeeeze” to my obsessions which caused me to realize that I was obsessing, and the other was the Buddha, from the Bhaddekaratta Sutta in the post I wrote for Sunday: “the future has not come. But whoever sees the Truth clearly in the present moment, and knows that which is unshakable, lives in a still, unmoving state of mind.”

There’s no reason to fret about something that hasn’t happened yet. Be in the here and now and enjoy what is before you. I keep thinking of a phrase that Thich Nhat Hanh uses frequently, “Breathing in, I am happy. Breathing out, I smile. I am in the present moment, it’s a wonderful moment.” It certainly looks that way now.

It’s human nature to be distressed about the sufferings we experience. That’s why we tap into our Buddha nature. They’re actually one and the same, but Buddha Nature comes from a state of mindfulness. “Knows that which is unshakable, lives in a still, unmoving state of mind” means to be able to face suffering with the confidence that you can endure it and come out seeing things clearer than you did before. Mindfulness means being mindful that sufferings are necessary, for without them how would we ever know happiness or see real beauty in the world. That sort of mind is indestructible because once you make peace with suffering, accept the reality of suffering, then you can transcend it. That doesn’t mean that suffering ever goes away. There will always be suffering, but when you can live solidly in the present moment, it cannot destroy your mindfulness.

Another reality we need to accept is that until we reach that plateau, there will be times when our mindfulness is shaken, or when we forget to be in the present. We’re living life and in life shit happens. We’re human and humans are not perfect. We’re doing the best we can and each suffering we face is another opportunity to strengthen our mindfulness. When we can get to the place where we can appreciate our sufferings and see them as our teachers, well, that’s strong mindfulness.

In his treatise on the Maha-Prajna-paramita Sutra, Nagarjuna talks about the five eyes (panca-caksu). These are:

(1) the Physical eye or the faculty of sight, the “eye of the flesh”; (2) the Spiritual-eye that penetrates without obstructions; (3) the Wisdom-eye that can see emptiness; (4) the Dharma-eye that acknowledges the insights gained by the wisdom eye; (5) the Buddha-eye, the eye of awakening.

Nagarjuna says that the four eyes preceding the Buddha-eye are all limited. However, the eye of the Buddha is free from delusion and filled with compassion for all beings:

When the bodhisattva becomes the Buddha, all the other four eyes enter the Buddha eye where they lose their original names and are called only the eye of the Buddha. This is like the four great rivers of India losing their original names when they enter the great ocean . . . When one gains the eye of the Buddha nothing remains unseen, unheard, uncomprehended, and unrecognized.

Buddhism is a little like cataract surgery of the spiritual kind. The Buddha has given us the guidelines of the procedure and we are the surgeons. We perform this procedure on ourselves. We take out the cloudy lens of ignorance and delusion and replace it with a new lens, one that is sharp and clear, and sees with penetrating insight the world as it really is, bright and beautiful, dark and ugly.

Buddhism is about seeing the world through a new lens. However, there is nothing artificial about this lens.  It’s not made of plastic, silicone, or acrylic. It is made of mindfulness. The Buddha-eye that we’ve always possessed.


One thought on “Seeing the World Through a New Eye

  1. Edit: BTW, it is ZenChiShiki –> zenchishiki not zenshishiki.

    It literally means Good Knowledge and google translate tells us it means “Buddhist Evangelist”.
    It is a specialized Buddhist term for someone who leads into good Buddhist teaching instead of bad.
    To put it simply — sounds a lot less mystical in Japanese.

    Hope your eye is letting read a bit better these days!

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