Reflection 1: Desjarlais 27 Ways of Viewing

REFLECTION: Desjarlais 27 Ways of Viewing

Michael Rice, October 1, 2012.

“Vision is the dominant sensory mode in many human societies” (Desjarlais, 54) and this holds true for Buddhist and Hindu societies in South Asia. Tibetan Buddhism gives priority to vision over the other senses, and the sem or the “heart-mind” is really what sees and not the eyes.  The “heart-mind” helps to explain how one can envision landscapes and objects even when the eyes are closed.

This is similar to artists who can “see” a painting on a canvas before they even begin to blend their primary colors together, or who can envision a sculpture in a solid block of ice.

At the same time, what is not seen could not be spoken of definitively for the Yolmo, so even objects viewed with the “heart-mind” had to actually exist, be physical and be able to be viewed by others.  “Well, nobody has actually seen heaven, nobody has actually seen hell. It’s just that people talk about going to heaven or hell after we die, but who has seen it?” (Desjarlais, 66).

To the Yolmo, like us, to see something is to know it or to be familiar with it. In this way the Yolmo could see hardship, and their youth who traveled could go and see something of the world. To the Yolmo it was not enough to have heard about a thing, or even to have seen an event to know truth—but great truths needed to be written down.  “When people see things written, they believe it to be true. That’s the way they think” (Desjarlais, 70).

I found the watching discussions on Page 81 to be interesting, as it reminds me of living in small town Canada where it always seems that everyone is watching you at all times, and indeed you had to be very careful who you were seen with or all the gossip girls in town would be quick to spread rumours—which also had me thinking of our obsession with celebrities, which if a tabloid sees a single guy and a girl holding hands, they are automatically viewed as a “dating” couple.

For the Yolmo acts of seeing and being seen are seeded with thoughts similar to Western thoughts and these include feelings of: presence or absence, contact or disconnection, fulfilment or longing, reality, appearance, illusion, clarity or opacity, purity or taint, comfort or violence, life and death.


About mriceanthropologist

Michael Rice is an Anthropology student at York University. He is a heavy metal fan who enjoys rocking out to Black Sabbath, Slayer, Slipknot, and Iron Maiden.

Posted on October 1, 2012, in Senses Course. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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