This is perhaps a bit of an odd post but odd can be fun. At least I hope
I was reading reginald ray’s saints in india and there was a passage on the possible characteristics of a buddha. One being that the eyes do not blink. He was using the buddhacarita by Asvaghosa to support that position. I know that in hinduism the gods are depicted as not blinking.
In buddhism however I have not come across the same depiction when it comes to a living buddha or at all for that matter. Asvaghosa appears to be the only one I could find. Although reginald refers to multiple passages in the buddhacarita but there is mainly one passage explicitly mentioning a state of no blinking for a prolonged period of time which is in the 7 days after his enlightenment. I am assuming that the inference is made from that statement that buddhas do not blink generally.
The only thing I could find that would be somewhat similar is sayadaw u pandita’s view on buddha’s enlightenment saying that because of the pervasive dhamma rapture he did not want to move and he could not close his eyelids. Ironically mahasi sayadaw talks about this rapture as well but says that one does not want to move and even blink or open one’s eyes.
Even if we take pandita’s view there is a difference between your eyes being open for a prolonged period and not willfully closing them or actually not blinking at all. Even harder to justify if not impossible is the claim that generally a buddha does not blink. There is plenty of footage showing arahants and saints blinking away just like the rest of us mere mortals.
Funnily enough I researched the relationship between attention and blink rate a while back before this even came about which perhaps is why it piqued my interest (my background being in psychology and neuroscience) and although relationships can be found they are highly task specific and often times contradictory especially relating to internal states. In addition there are individual differences and a lot of other variables that play a role. Overall the research is rather limited but it does appear to be more in congruence with what I mentioned earlier regarding the actual footage of saints and there seemingly being little to no meaningful difference that can be discerned let alone a complete absence of blinking.
Personally I view it as poetic liberty taken by asvaghosa to metaphorically emphasize wakefulness at the moment of liberation because of the simple reason that wakefulness is associated with eyes (wide) open and sleep with eyes shut. However I do think one potentially develops a more attentive gaze in the process of walking the path.
Of course I’d be interested to know what people here think of this phenomenon and if there is support for it from a buddhist perspective or if it is more so a hindu artifact being smuggled into buddhism. Let me know!
Painting the eyes of the Buddha in Sri Lanka:
"The artist, still facing the crowd with his back to the Buddha, drew a small box from under his robes, and then a mirror. From the box he took an artist’s paintbrush and a small pot of black paint.
Then, holding the mirror and painting over his shoulder because it would be presumptuous to gaze directly on the Buddha while creating his eyes, with half a dozen strokes each he painted the Buddha’s eyes.
Immediately the other man placed the cloth over the artist’s head so his face was hidden from view.
The artist said some phrases I couldn’t hear, then leaned forward and washed his face in the milk and rubbed his eyes with the betel leaf and ash. Only then, thus purified, did he lift the cloth away and look upon the crowd.
I looked at the Buddha’s eyes. It was uncanny-the artist had managed to capture perfectly the serenity of looking into eternity without a worldly thing distracting the vision, in twelve strokes with a paintbrush. Now I knew why it was such a specialised profession."—BPS
Thank you paul for the buddhist reference.
However this is solely in relation to his gaze but says nothing about blinking. Undistracted and blinking need not be mutually exclusive.
In Patrick Olivelle’s translation there’s an endnote on this:
Eyes that are not blinking are viewed as a sign of a god. Thus, for example, in the famous epic story, Damayanti recognizes the gods, who had assumed the form of Nala, by the fact that their eyes did not blink: MBh CE iii. 54.21-4.
Yes I am aware of the endnote. Partly why I talked about it possibly being a hindu artifact being smuggled into buddhism. Do you personally believe it is justified to attribute this characteristic in a literal sense to a buddha and if so how would you reconcile it with actual footage of a presumed arahant like maha bua seemingly blinking like an ordinary person?
I don’t know for sure, but the fact that in the same text we also find unblinkingness predicated of infatuated women:
And they stood there surrounding him,
minds surrendered to the god of love,
drinking him, as if, with their eyes,
unblinking, open wide with joy.
For those women imagined him to be
Kāma, god of love, in bodily form;
for he was resplendent with brilliant marks,
as if with adornments that were inborn.
… and of the sleeping nautch girls in the palace:
others looked revolting, lying as if dead,
their jewelry and their garlands fallen down,
unconscious, with eyes unblinking,
the whites gazing in a fixed stare;
leads me to suspect that the expression may be a merely hyperbolical one, like the English “his eyes were popping out of his head”.
Ah! Perhaps this explains the Thai fear that geckos are actually some kind of otherworldly spirit?
It also, perhaps, adds a layer of meaning to Buddha statues which often have the eyes half or fully closed. Perhaps this is a nod towards his status as not-a-God?
Ah good find! Another one I found interesting is apparently from ‘the record of transmitting the light’ from keizan jokin saying: ‘When the Buddha raised the flower and blinked his eyes, Kashyapa broke out in a smile’.
He continues: ‘leaving aside the raising of the flower for the moment, everyone should clearly understand the blinking of the eyes. You raise your eyebrows and blink your eyes in the ordinary course of things, and Buddha blinked his eyes when he raised the flower. These are not separate at all. Your talking and smiling and Kashyapa’s breaking into a smile are not different at all’
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