Walking uphill on an uneven trail made of large rocks of varying heights and widths with gaps in-between is difficult enough with eyesight. Now imagine traversing the same rocky incline without eyes.
On a recent morning walk up the holy Mountain Arunachala to Skandashram, the cave location where the great sage Ramana Maharshi lived from 1916-22, I witnessed a western man tapping his way along the 1.4 km. (.87 mile) path with a white cane, the kind of cane commonly used by blind people. I was struck by the ease in which he traversed the Hill, even passing other climbers, some out of breath who were struggling with the steep ascent.
Each morning the cave site is opened by a Swami around 8:00 a.m. Early arrivals sit on the steps or on nearby rocks waiting to get inside. I caught up with this man before the Swami arrived and had an opportunity to chat with him a bit. I learned that Daniel Kish from California was visiting India as part of his service work. His non-profit organization called, World Access for the Blind helps blind people increase their level of perception so they can become more self-sufficient. Daniel was accompanied by a local Indian man named Satish Kumar.
I asked Daniel if he had any eyesight at all and he said, “No, I cannot see anything.”
Later, Satish informed me that Daniel has been blind since the age of one when his eyeballs were removed due to retinal cancer. He does have prosthetic eyes, but it was obvious that he does just fine without the real things.
Satish said, “Daniel rides a bicycle, he mountain climbs, he really feels blind people can be self-sufficient. He goes around the world teaching a special technique to blind people to free them from limitations. His organization has helped over 5,000 blind people be independent worldwide.”
I later learned Daniel is an echolocation expert – like bats, he uses sound to detect obstacles.
In a 2008 interview with BBC “Ouch!” Interviews, when asked to give his best piece of advice Daniel said, “Make a point of regularly challenging what you think you know. Most of it is based on assumptions that have been programmed into us by a society which doesn’t necessarily have our best interest at heart. If we challenge what we think we know, there is a chance we can break out of that and begin to touch what is real.”
I did not want to impose on Daniel’s visit to the Holy cave where silence is respected.
I took my seat in the room preceding the main cave and listened to the Swami’s morning chanting, a short daily devotional recitation to Ramana Maharshi. Daniel sat nearby. Afterward, Satish directed Daniel verbally into the inner-most recess of the cave.
Satish said, “Daniel prefers to make his way alone, he needs very little assistance, just a few words as a guide.”
Daniel could not stay long as he needed to get to his next appointment. I was interested to learn how he came to know about Arunachala and what he felt sitting inside the cave but we did not have the opportunity to talk. Before he left to walk down the Hill, I went to say goodbye and we agreed to meet at a later date. He was very kind and welcoming. I watched him leave, navigating the high set steps down to the trail that is more difficult to negotiate on the descent.
Watching him I thought, “I can’t” is not part of Daniel’s vocabulary.
For more information about Daniel and his organization please visit: