From Light to Darkness


Dr. E.W. Adikaram

Extracted from the sixth volume of ‘Sitivili’ (එළියෙන් අඳුරට pages 225-228). This article is a compilation based on a talk given at Sudarshi Hall, Colombo on 5th April, 1979 and a talk given at Peradeniya University on 23rd May, 1979).

English translation by Ravi Palihawadana.

I invite all of you to take part in a very simple experiment.

Think of a close friend — it is better if it is someone whom you saw very recently. Now how do you see her/him? Do you see her/him as clearly as when s/he stands in front of you? No. Do you see her/him as clearly as s/he appears in a photograph? Again, no. Although you can recognise her/him, you see only an indistinct image — like how you see an object in darkness when a dim light is shone on it. With your eyes, you see a clear image. But when you try to recollect, it is as if you are seeing your friend in semi-darkness.

Next, recall a dream that you saw recently. Most dreams leave only a fleeting impression and cannot be recalled. Even those dreams that you are able to recall are hazy — like the image of your friend that you were able to recall. There seems to be a strong association between dreams and the past.

We all live in the present moment — neither in the past nor in the future. We were living in the past. We may live in the future too. But we really live only in the present moment. All living and inanimate things exist only in the present moment.

We see, hear, feel, and think in the present moment, that is, ‘Now’. The present moment is an extremely short period of time — a period of time so short that it cannot be measured by a clock.

When I watch something for an hour or so, it is not one continuous act of observing but an infinite number of momentary observations one after the other — each happening in the ‘Now’ of that moment.

Let us look at something again — let’s say a flower. At that instant you see the flower clearly. And at the same moment something else associated with the flower comes to your mind. What happens then is that your attention is diverted towards that other thing away from the flower. As a result, the complete, clear observation you had of the flower is lost. In other words, you lose the light of the present moment with regards to the flower. This is a movement from ‘light to darkness’ as far as what you were observing is concerned.

This movement from ‘light to darkness’ happens almost at each moment of our lives. It is hardly possible for us to see, hear and feel something completely. At each such moment, unintentionally, recollection of past memories interferes with the observation. This is not something to be easily dismissed. The only ‘Now’ that is available for us to see, hear and feel; the only ‘Now’ that we have to live is lost to us because the past or the future impinges upon it. Since all thoughts about the future are also based on past memories, the effect of the future too is an effect of the past.

Why do we constantly move away from the light of the present moment to the darkness of the past?

The dislike or fear we have of the illumination of ‘Now’ may be one reason.

When there is illumination, we can see our lives very clearly and distinctly. Most of us dislike seeing what is inside ourselves. Our insides are repulsive. In various hidden corners there are a lot of defilements. What is surprising is our desire to hide those things and carry on regardless. If a light is shone, we start seeing these. Then we may have to completely change our way of living.

When we look at a person in the light of ‘Now’, we do not see her/his nationality, caste or the prejudices and bigotry that s/he carries. We see the person as a human being. If we live with the illumination of ‘Now’, we do not hold on to the bigotries of nationalism, caste, creed and such other divisions. Although at a verbal level we want to lead such a life, internally we don’t like to do so. Human beings prefer to live in darkness.

Habit is another reason. A nocturnal animal used to living in the dark prefers the dark. Daylight is too strong for it. As we saw in our experiment, the past is dark. For a person who spends her/his time thinking of the past and thinking of the future which is a projection of the past, the light of ‘Now’ is too strong. That is his misfortune. But that is a universal truth that applies to most human beings. Only extremely few individuals prefer to live with awareness in the light of ‘Now’ without slinking back to the past.

Various likes and dislike in the subconscious mind is another reason. Suppressed likes and dislikes have power to come to the fore again — like the energy in a wound up spring. The moment you see, hear or feel something in the present, a suppressed like or dislike that is similar or related comes up and distracts the mind from the ‘Now. This too takes a person from the illumination of now to the darkness of the past.

Someone in her/his proper senses doesn’t go from light to darkness. However, most people do not live with awareness but live in a state of ignorance. They are not in a wakeful state but are in perpetual slumber.


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