Astigmatism and Monet 

by Edi Kiyo Sensei

When I was very young, before I knew how little I would ever understand of this vast universe, of life itself, I thought the street lights at night were soft and beautiful.  I loved the fuzzy blossom-like headlights of the on- coming traffic, or the red fluffy pom-poms glowing on the tail lights of the cars we were following.  When going downtown in the evening to a restaurant or to the movie theater, the neon lights of the businesses glowed or blinked colorfully.  Somehow, the world seemed more beautiful at night because of the twinkling lights all around, as far up and away as my eyes could see. Monet_poplars-on-the-banks-of-the-epte-1891_65x100_W1298

 Although my recollection of how I truly saw the world when I was very young is limited to  fuzzy night lights, I am reminded  of the fuzzy paintings of the Impressionist painter, Claude Monet.  A few examples (Google “Claude Monet” samples online; click on Wikipedia) include: 

  • “Sunrise”
  • “Springtime”
  • “Poppies”
  • “Vetheuilin the Fog” 
  • “Womanwith a Parasol” 
  • “In the Garden”
  • “ Water Lilies”

 These scenes in Monet’s paintings– the splashes of colorful flowers, for example, as well as themes of nature, sun, fog, wind, and seasons– blurred impressions of life’s impermanence expressed in Monet’s brush strokes, reflect Reality,  the movements  of Living things, everything always blossoming and fading away, yet leaving impressions in the heart, as well as in the mind, how Good it is to be “Aliving”  and Breathing. 

 Let me tell you the rest of my story.  What a great surprise I experienced the moment I saw the world differently when  I put on my first pair of eye glasses so that I could read the blackboard in the classroom: the fuzzy words on the blackboard became  tumblr_mgl3vzk0AF1rshw4wo1_500sharper and clearer, for I was nearsighted and had astigmatism.  Without glasses, my nearsightedness and astigmatism created a world of beautiful, fuzzy forms like those in Monet’s paintings.   With glasses I could travel out into the fuzzy universe through words from many books written by great thinkers (later I began realizing they were also living “fuzzy” lives).   

 Did the glasses make me see “better “or “truer”?  Before the glasses, was I truly seeing?  Even now, with or without my eye glasses, am I truly seeing anything, everything?   Is beauty (truth) really in the eyes of the beholder?  Or is everything illusory?  

Paraphrasing the Dhammapada, I am the result of what I see and think.  I am seeing fuzziness more than crisp, sharpness.  Life is fuzzy, nothing is sharply defined or clear.  Nature is fuzzy: baby monkeys prefer soft, fuzzy towel mother bodies more than sharp, hard wire mother bodies.   In the field of physics, all our electronic gadgets are built on “fuzzy” guess work, according to Michio Kaku.   The phrase, “Seeing things as they are,”  means being “insightful,”  “understanding,” “knowing by experience,” and “fuzzy,” opposed to “seeing through rose-colored glasses,” not able to face the truth about things.   

In the example of astigmatism, one’s sight is influenced by physical deformities of one’s eyeball: 


 “Astigmatism is a common vision problem caused by an error in the shape of the cornea.  With astigmatism, the lens of the eye or the cornea, which is the front surface of the eye, has an irregular curve. This can change the way light passes, or refracts, to your retina. This causes blurry, fuzzy, or distorted vision. Farsightedness and nearsightedness are two other types of problems with the way light passes to your retina…  Two main types of astigmatism are corneal and lenticular. A corneal astigmatism happens when your cornea is misshapen. A lenticular astigmatism happens when your lens is misshapen.  It’s not known what causes astigmatism, but genetics is a big factor. It’s often present  at birth, but it may develop later in life. It may also occur as a result of an injury to the eye or after eye surgery. Astigmatism often occurs with nearsightedness or farsightedness…” (Even biology, anatomy, ophthalmology, and other sciences, are “fuzzy”). 

(Retrieved from the internet, 
article on Healthline, “Astigmatism,” by Rose Kivi and Elizabeth Boskey, PHD., Feb.  12, 2017.) 


I don’t know if I was born with astigmatism or developed it during my childhood, but I do recall seeing and enjoying those fuzzy lights at night when I was very young.   As I grew up life became more and more difficult, and I turned to various ways to help me, including  music, Impressionist art, and Buddhism.  Did astigmatism help me appreciate Impressionist paintings, especially Monet’s, because of my childhood experience with fuzzy vision before I wore corrective lenses?   Were these expedient means (upaya) to get me on the Buddhist Path? 

I see with the eyes that were given to me; I did not create my astigmatic eyes.  I learned to see life through my visual deformities, and language and thoughts are closely related to how I see things.  My views are limited; in this way I am ignorant of many things. But I can still learn.   My seeing things as they are is reflected in my experiences, and, like eye glasses which can improve astigmatized eyes to  see better,  Buddha’s words can heal “fuzzy “ views and lead to Enlightenment. 


I’m still going and going and… 





Edi Kiyo is a Lay Minister with Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha.  For information about Bright Dawn and the Lay Ministry program please visit our website.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Virginia Geiyo Parkum says:

    And it is hypothesized that much of the fuzziness and color shifts in Monet’s works was influenced by his progressively worsening cataracts! Before my own cataract operations a few years ago, Monet’s works looked sharper ( when I looked at them without my glasses). Now, after the operations, I see them in their “proper” fuzziness.


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