The Battle Against Needless Blindness – In All Its Forms
Dr. G. Venkataswamy Retreat Center (Nithyatha/Perpetuity)
AuroFarm, Aravind Eye Care System
Tamil Nadu, India
2 October, 2011
“Seeing is not merely a physical act. The heart of vision is shaped by the state of the Soul.” John O’Donohue
Dr. “V” is a visionary, a pioneer, a teacher, a change agent, a healer, a holy man, and everyman. It is a deeply meaningful and humbling honor to have the opportunity to speak at the Inaugural Ceremony of this Retreat Center named in his memory.
When my wife, Susy, and I first came to India in 1983 with my friend and colleague, Dr. David Vastine, and his wife, Marcia, it was to teach ophthalmic surgery and to serve a recently formed eye hospital and a man with a deep commitment to service and a lofty vision – to eliminate needless blindness.
At that time, more than 25 years ago, the world was a different place. It was a time when a “cell” referred to a basic anatomic and physiologic component of the body or a small room in a jail to confine law-breakers – not a telephone. It was a time when “mail” required an envelope, stamps, and many days or even weeks to be delivered, not access to the “internet” and a few keystrokes for virtually instantaneous delivery to all corners of the planet. It was a time when we, and the first generation of the Aravind Eye Hospital “family” of ophthalmologists, administrators, and innovators, were younger than the second generation is today. That second generation, which is now accepting the reins of leadership, was out of diapers then, but not out of medical school, married, or actively in the process of raising the next generation.
We came to India to teach and contribute. We learned far more than we taught and were given far more than we left behind. The light that Dr. V brought into the eyes of his patients, into the lives of those around him, and into the world struck us like a bolt of lightning and opened, not only our eyes, but our minds and hearts – transforming us and adding us to his battle against needless blindness. Since our initial “inoculation” of the vision, mission, and people of the Aravind Eye Care System, we have become “addicted” to the compassionate service and spiritual aspiration they provide. This combination, which characterizes the “Aravind Family”, has strongly influenced our lives and has brought us back to India many times.
Dr. V’s battle against needless blindness, on the one hand, is fought in hospital clinics, outreach camps, community centers, operating rooms, and laboratories where the challenges of preventable and treatable diseases are daily encountered in endless quantity and the truths and principles of science predominate. On the other hand, seeing meant more to Dr. V than getting light to the retina. It was about illuminating the inner life and recognizing the deep spiritual reality which connects everything in the visible and ever-changing manifest world of our daily external reality. This inner battle against needless blindness acknowledges the direct experiences of the rishis of the Upanishads, the prophets of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, the masters of the ancient orient, the rationalists of the Mediterranean basin, and the shamans and medicine men and women of indigenous cultures across the globe. It is a battle against ignorance, anger, differences, intolerance, greed, unkindness, injustice and hatred – all forms of blindness.
Dr. V embodied the accumulated wisdom about the spiritual quest shared by seers and sages of all traditions from thousands of years ago up to present times as summarized and synthesized by Aldous Huxley in the “perennial philosophy”. This philosophy involves 3 main points. (1) There is an infinite, changeless, eternal reality underlying the constantly changing visible world. (2) This same reality lies at the core of every creature. We call it Soul or Self. (3) The purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially and to act on it. Our spirituality is a progressive awakening to this inner reality and a sign that this reality is seeking to emerge.
Dr. V’s battle against needless blindness is no less heroic than the battle immortalized in Arjuna’s conversation with Krishna on the battlefield of the Bhagavad Gita. Like Arjuna’s battle, Dr. V was engaging external and internal foes. Dr. V’s battle is a battle in the external world against eye disease and visual loss. A battle, no less fierce, is waged within for self-mastery and self-realization of our true self. Both battles are fought through our daily choices and actions.
When we act on this greater, underlying reality, which pervades the Universe, dwells within us, and connects us to each other and to a Unity or Divine consciousness, we act from love and do no harm. We live a caring, compassionate life, seeing ourselves in every person during every encounter. Unattached to selfish desires, egoistic pursuits, or greedy expectations, we act from a place of equanimity. When our seeing allows us to envision the deep connectedness in which we exist, we practice a deep medicine. This medicine has roots in the facts and truths of contemporary science and an appreciation of the truths of spiritual consciousness that give meaning, purpose, faith and power to our lives.
This union, this “yoga”, of the scientific and the sacred, which Dr. V embodied, brings us the tools to win the battle against needless blindness – in all its forms. Inspired and elevated by Dr. V’s transformative vision and work, may this Retreat Center always remind us in “perpetuity” of his living legacy so that we can bring light to wherever darkness exists.
“When we grow in spiritual consciousness,
We identify with all there is in the world.
Then there can be no exploitation.
It is ourselves we are helping.
It is ourselves we are healing.”
Dr. G. Venkataswamy (Dr. “V”)
1918 – 2006