( This is an old unpublished post)
I recently discovered a Chinese artist – Deng Cheng Wen. He does a series titled “ Blind Walking” and some of his paintings from this series are:
The comment by Wang Huaxiang (himself an artist, curator and critic) so very eloquently echoed my feelings as I immersed myself in the beauty and meaning of these paintings.
“You poor people! Crowding around and pushing forward you seem to draw only to the unknown, walking on the top of buildings, at the edge of cliff, on the speeding drive way and in the trackless desert, always in danger. Blindfolded by each other. You never attempt to pry away the hand that covers your eyes.”
Deng Chengwen, using this imagery, places these blind walkers in various places, repeatedly pointing to their ignorance, whether in the city or in the wild. The artist has no intention of removing their hands of their eyes, nor does he intend to bring them away from these dangerous settings, because he is aware that this cannot be changed unless the blind walker himself is willing to change.”
The concept of “blind leading the blind” and “ignorance” was depicted with so much “visual clarity” and “knowledge ” that I immediately asked the artist (through the gallery) his thoughts behind this series and this is what he wrote back:
He further translates this for me in English
“With rapid progress of these modern times, we have come to believe that it has made us more thinking that have become more refined and cultured, when in actual fact we might be moving backwards.
We thought that we developed a network which broadened our horizons, enabling us to never leave home to enjoy a wealth of information, perhaps the network’s development has made us more blind.
We have assumptions that living in the material world means we are prosperous and have grown wealthier, yet we might be poorer.
We believe that what our eyes see constitute the “world” and what we know of the world. Day after day, we thought that “life” is life, we thought “great” is great, we thought, “small” is small, we think that “beauty” is beautiful, we thought “ugly” is ugly, we thought is “good” is good, we thought “evil” is evil, and we thought that the “reality” of the story is the truth.
Perhaps we are all blind animals, walking on…”
Origins of this concept can be traced to Katha Upanishad ….
Cutting back to the Katha Upanishad (1.2.5), Yama explains to Nachiktha:
“avidyᾱyᾱm antare vartamᾱnᾱḥ, svayaṁ dhīrᾱḥ paṇḍitam manyamᾱnᾱḥ. dandramyamᾱṇᾱḥ pariyanti mῡdhᾱḥ, andhenaiva nīyamᾱnᾱ yathᾱndhᾱḥ.”
“People who are sunk in ignorance, considering themselves great heroes, well-learned, understanding everything, are like blind men led by one who is blind himself. They run hither and thither, finding not what they seek.”
Swami Krishnananda in his commentary on Katha Upanishad expands on this verse as follows:
“Foolish are such ones. We take advice from people who do not understand. How can it be helpful? But this is the world. People run here and there for happiness because of their desires, but find it nowhere. They are misguided, and it is unfortunate that there is no one who can see things as they are. Everyone is on the same level of learning. Not only this: the blind thinks that he sees, the ignorant thinks that he is learned. Learning itself becomes a form of ignorance, just as our happiness is itself ignorance because we think we are happy when we come into contact with sense-objects.”
..Subsequently finds mention in the Bible:
Fast forward to the Bible and you have Jesus using this metaphor in the Mathew 15:13-14 and Luke 6:39-40
“ If a blind man leads a blind man both will fall into a pit.”
In my “blind” passion for seeking Advaita in art, I could “see” wisdom traversing through different eras & countries and taking on different forms; Right from Yama to Jesus to Deng Cheng Wen but conveying the same essence and meaning !
( P.S This perhaps is the worlds oldest recorded case of appropriation of ideas without due acknowledgement. )