What No Eye Has Seen or Screen Has Shown
Spiritual sight in the age of saturation
Dear Living Dark reader,
Here on the first day of the new year, it occurs to me that some words of Jesus and Paul, drawn from Isaiah, could stand an update for our current American age of total saturation by and utter obsession with media, money, consumerism, entertainment, jobs, politics, drugs, education, and religion. Of course the same basic situation also obtains elsewhere in many nations and cultures around the globe. But it’s America that I know the best.
In the Gospel of Thomas 17, Jesus says, “I shall give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard and no hand has touched, and what has not come into the human heart.”
In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul says God has revealed through the spirit “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived.”
Both are quoting or alluding to Isaiah 64:4, which says that “since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you.”
All these words were originally spoken and written to an audience whose primary engagement with the world was firsthand. What made up the content of these people’s daily experience was their own sensory perceptions and associated mental and imaginative processing. By contrast, today we’re deeply immersed in the age of mediated experience through communications technologies. Our personal worlds are shaped from birth as much or more by television, movies, radio, websites, games, music, magazines, and books, and by our engagement with the associated objects and devices, as they are by our own immediate sensory experience and native mental content. At any given moment as we go about our daily lives, we may be mentally and emotionally knowing and framing events, experiences, and relationships through the lens or filter of a scene from a movie, a song from our playlist, a photo on our phone, an idea from a book, a television commercial, a political ad, a news story, a social media post, or a billboard that we randomly saw while driving down the road.
Add to this an obsession with jobs, money, politics, healthcare, pharmaceutical (and recreational) drugs, formal institutional education, professional credentialing, and religion—both the embrace and the repudiation of it—all sprawled out amid a hyper-financialized economic system, all predicated on an assumption of the consumeristic imperative playing out in a world of putatively limitless production of goods, and all announcing and perpetuating itself through that galactic web of mass mediated communication, and you have a significantly different type of person being produced today. This is not, of course, to deny that ancient peoples, too, were shaped by the sociocultural worlds in which they lived, because they certainly were. That’s just part of being human, an inescapable aspect of being born. But again, the formation of those people, and the culture that effected it, was more im-mediate, more firsthand, even immersed as they were within their own definite configurations of political power, economic order, and religious belief. The formation of their personal outlooks and horizons was more local, as contrasted with the extravagant distribution of mediated ideas and influences across vast networks of instantaneous communication at a distance that characterizes our own unprecedented situation.
Our personal worlds are shaped from birth as much or more by television, movies, radio, websites, games, music, magazines, and books, and by our engagement with the associated objects and devices, as they are by our own immediate sensory experience and native mental content.
When Jesus, Paul, and Isaiah referred to people’s eyes, ears, hearts, and minds, and when they announced that they brought a message of what had never been and could never be known through those, they were speaking to people right where they lived. They were addressing them in a vividly meaningful way by saying, “You know those primary channels you see the world through? There’s something that doesn’t even register on them. And it’s the most important thing of all.” The same basic message is still true today. It’s true for always. But in a world where our immediate experience has been roundly replaced by mediated experience and inflected by a vastly different welter of culturally specific concerns, such statements need to be updated to point more effectively, for a new kind of person, to the nondual truth behind the screen of experience.
It occurs to me that an updated version might run something like this:
What no television or movie screen has ever shown.
What no radio or earbud has ever played.
What no camera has ever captured.
What no book (newspaper, magazine, website) has ever printed.
What no merchant or store has ever sold.
What no ad has ever promoted.
What no money has ever bought.
What no lack of money has ever withheld.
What no possession has ever provided.
What no job has ever fulfilled.
What no politician has ever promised.
What no legislation has ever accomplished.
What no party has ever supported.
What no drug has ever cured.
What no school or college has ever taught.
What no credential has ever validated.
What no church has ever preached.
What is completely invisible and unknowable to all these things; what they can never show or tell; what they can never provide or fulfill; what they always miss, obscure, bury, and attempt to drown out in the name of giving you anything and everything you could ever need or want.
This is what I announce to you.
What small but significant shift in perspective does it take for us to recognize that the overlooked linchpin of everything, the key to our world and our selves, is triangulated by the very blindness of all our vast means of seeing, hearing, and knowing?
If I heard someone preaching that, and if I really listened and took it to heart, I might find myself stopped in my tracks by the assertion that the seeming omniscience of my life in the world as I have been taught to see, know, and understand it, along with its proffered blissful fulfillment, has really been just a shell game. That this clamoring narrative of knowledge has hidden the real prize under a shifting screen of obfuscation. “This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection,” Huang-Po famously said. “But the people of the world do not awaken to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source-substance.”
When it comes to perceiving the real, ultimate truth of the world and ourselves, if both our physical and mental senses are in fact a form of blindness, what happens when we massively extend and amplify them via technological means and develop an accompanying cultural narrative and ad hoc epistemology that tells us we are thereby that much more knowing and enlightened? In the inverted system of knowing that constitutes real knowledge of what’s real and who we are, how much more awesome is our blindness and ignorance when we develop our means of objective knowing to a fantastic level of power and sophistication, and place all our reliance on this?
What, exactly, are we missing?
And what small but significant shift in perspective does it take for us to recognize that this overlooked linchpin of everything, the key to our world and our selves, is precisely triangulated by the very blindness of all our vast means of seeing, hearing, and knowing?
(Note: All subscribers have access to the full text of this post, but the voiceover at top is reserved for paid subscribers. Also note that any noise you hear in the voiceover is due to the presence of a strong winter storm that was blowing in when I recorded it.)