Category Archives: Buddha

Four Theravadan Monks Photographing in Lumbini, Nepal

Four Theravada Monks Photographing at Lumbini

This is an interesting example of how an image can change over time — change from the first impression at the time of exposure, then as it settles in, and then still more as the world changes past the still moment.

My sense while making the exposure was that this was funny. These monks had just been doing some amazing chanting in Pali under the bodhi tree at Lumbini (they were part of this group). One of them, the subject of the monks’ photography, was obviously highly venerated, maybe the head of the monastery back home, somewhere in southeast Asia. Burma? So here were these renunciates, monks of the most ancient and pure lineage of Buddhism, who had just been chanting in a 2300 year old language, and they had some expensive, high-end photography gear; they were being tourists like the rest of us. And of course with the saffron color and scene, it made for a good on- the-fly composition. I guess I thought it was funny in the way nuns on a barstool might be funny.

As time passed, out of the context, it seemed less funny to me. Somehow the plain-human quality of the monks started to shine though, and of course plain humans use cameras all the time. Also the composition started to stand up on its own, apart from concept. The origional notion faded into less significance as the photo became its own thing, as they do.

Recently, the world was shaken a little bit, at least the Buddhist world, and this photo changed with it, again. Last Sunday the 1500 year old Mahabodhi temple in Bodgaya, India, was bombed in a terror attack. That is the spot where the Buddha found the enlightened quality of his mind 2500 years ago, and now it’s being bombed with IEDs to randomly harm innocent people.

Just as I, and the monks in these photo, were tourists in Lumbini, Nepal, there were people just like us, the monks and I, at Bodgaya, who could have been hurt in the bombings. A few monks were indeed injured.

This print is for sale here.

Theravada Monks Reflected in Pool, Chanting at Buddha’s Birthplace, Lumbini Nepal 2013

Theravada Monks Reflected in Pool Lumbini Nepal

This is how I saw this image, and the first photo I took in a series was essentially this shot. Luckily I took a few more, with a larger frame, because the first one of mostly reflection wasn’t good for some reason. I cropped one of the larger frames a bit to get to the first image.

These guys (and nuns) were chanting in Pali for quite a while as we walked around the garden, and still while we meditated under a tree for a while.

These monks had traveled to be here; they were tourists as well. Or more like pilgrims, and so were we. I’ll show another image of them being tourists one of these weeks.

This print is for sale here.

Dawn Incense Offering, Bauddhanath Nepal 2013

Bauddanath Dawn Incense offering

One of the most interesting parts of the process of The Photo of The Week for me is: how do I pick one?

I have thousands of photos that at least I find quite interesting, beautiful, resonant, or chock full of some other quality. So how to pick one?

Sometimes it’s easy; it’s something new, or part of a series. Sometimes it’s really hard, and that’s true both on a day when many images look good, and on a day when everything looks like mud and I’ve never made a good image in my life.

But the main thing is, it’s a photo that rings me like a bell. As they say, “It strikes me.” So sometimes I see one and it really whacks me. Sometimes it’s more of a haunting, and an image gets in my head and just keeps popping up like a song. Sometimes in my head it’s one way, and sometimes another. It’s like that ear-worm song that you keep humming that’s always different enough to keep you interested, but multifaceted enough to keep it coming back to your mind.

So with this image. I got it in my head a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to print it. I didn’t get around to printing it today, but in the new Lightroom 5 I’ve been playing with today I did manage to export it for the web.

This print is for sale here.

Pigeons and Coffee Shop, Bauddha, Nepal 2013


Well, last week I claimed to not be afraid of a bit of chaos and energy in my photos. I’ll take that a step further with this one.

In Nepal in general, I think, and especially at sacred sites, pigeons are not reviled as they are here in the states (“rats with wings,” as they call them in New York). Instead there is some attitude that sharing with them brings good fortune. Here, early this morning, the coffee shop is not open yet, but the pigeon feeding has started in earnest.

It’s hard to convey the sense of energy and happiness I feel when I’m at this place, Bauddha, Bauddhanath, Nepal, but maybe if you imagine that the pigeons are a blessing, this will begin to convey it.

This print is for sale here.

Pilgrims by Incense, Boudanath Nepal, Losar ’13

Back to Boudha…

The old woman with the cane in the foreground walked around and around that stupa all morning, and she generally seemed to be enjoying herself on this festive day.

This is just one small facet of the huge experience of being around the circle of that stupa on that day. I’d like to post more. Stay tuned.

Such a shame to show so little, so low res, for what should be seen on a big monitor or as a decent print. Here’s a crop, unsharpened, from the 1:1

crop_Boudanath_pilgrims_by_incense_ISC2066

This print is for sale here.

Prayer Flags by Canal, Lumbini Nepal, Dawn, 2013

Another dawn, another sacred Buddhist site. This is more of a narrative thematic addition to the blog posts than an image that relates to the recent posts, though I suppose there is some relationship on more than one level. Several levels.

It’s not actually that we set out at dawn every day in our month in Nepal, as one might conclude from recent posts here. In fact it was too rare for us. We mostly stayed with Nepali friends, and the way meals work in Nepal is that “lunch,” or “breakfast” — Dal Bhat by any other name — is a delicious and somewhat elaborate meal mid-morning. Things don’t really get rolling until after that. Our hosts generously cooked some amazing meals for us at that time, and — unless we were already out wandering before that — we stayed around “home” for that. (Thanks Kamal, and all the cooks, and thanks Hari Pal for hosting us in Lumbini).

Lumbini, of course, is the Buddha’s birthplace. While I didn’t personally feel the power and presence of ages of aware intensity built up in the place — as I did in places like Sechen, Bouddha, Swayambhnath, etc — my own sense of wonder was piqued. The Buddha was here once. Here. That big wave of waking-up that exploded across the lowlands of asia, which then trickled up the mountains evolving and spreading, started right here. And this dawn was beautiful. Actually, except for the big chunk of time we spent wandering around the “wrong” part of the park, lost and hungry during the hot part of the day, it was quite lovely and we were quite happy here. I have a lot more good photos of it.

There were some amazing monasteries, monks visiting from all over and in residence. The morning chanting in the garden was beyond amazing. I will have more images from here to post, but there are also other stories to tell.

This print is for sale here.

Stupa Cleaner, Dawn, Boudhanath, 2013

Here is another dawn at another Stupa. It’s not just that it’s a different morning from the photo posted last; this place, Boudhanath, has completely different energy. This morning was my third time at the Bauddha Stupa; we spent a whole morning starting at dawn. All three times there I felt an intensity, an egoless happiness. My wife had to pry me away each time. I want to move there. Our friend Sarbajit lives there, right there. (and in fact this image is exposed from his rooftop). I don’t think he needs to meditate: it meditates him.

Except for the dead-on, “this is a direct photo of the stupa” images I was compelled to take over and over (some of them are in fact good!), the hundreds of photos I exposed there have a vast range of texture, color, mood, and in one insufficient word: energy. But within that multiplicity of experience, there is a commonality. There is the quiet, awake center.

People, many hundreds per day, circumambulate counterclockwise. It’s a parade of people of all ages; parents carry babies, and old folks limp slowly with canes. It’s a visual feast: clothes of all colors; birds; sky; changing light; prayer flags in the breeze; shops with all their dharma trinkets, art, and clothing displayed around. People feed the pigeons, which gather and disperse in huge flocks. I shifts and changes like mind, like life.

And right in the center of that, there is a focus, an awakeness, and a sense of devotion. There is the accumulation of the merit of centuries of that devotion and thousands of awake and focused minds. That seems to radiate, maybe from the center of the stupa. It’s hard to find a source for something like that. Probably there is no spatial or temporal source for that sense of energy that pervades this place — put it feels that way, “It’s coming from here, somewhere, now.” But no. It’s timeless. It helps me to realize it’s ultimately placeless as well. It’s something we make with our minds.

This print is for sale here.

Swayambhunath Sunrise, Woman Sitting, 2013

I’m just back from a month in Nepal, photographing and visiting with friends of my wife. Now they are friends of mine. An amazing time with Nepali people and places.

Visiting the ancient Buddhist sites (but also some of the newly built or upgraded ones!) was one of the grab-me-by-the-shirt-collar facets of this experience — and certainly one I will naturally attempt to convey through photography. There was an intensity to the experience of being in these old and well-worn deep places that will of course be beyond anyone’s skills, as a photographer, writer, whatever. It was intense in a beyond-the-ordinary way of intensity, something that tingled my skin and rang my bones like a bell.

On this day we woke well before dawn and took a taxi to this ancient stupa, Swayambhu and we stayed from dawn past lunch. I can’t remember why we left at all. I didn’t want to leave any of these places, but there was always something pulling to the next thing we had to do.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve spent a good bit of my life and time exploring the resonances between physical spaces and emotional or psychic experiences — and that I explore the possibility of pulling some of that resonance through the two dimensional space of a photograph. What I felt in some of these places is beyond that possibility. I won’t pretend I can do anything like that — but time in these places in Nepal also showed me that my old sense of the power of a physical space or object was completely wrong and is now obsolete. So who knows…

Some other mind-blowing aspects of the experience I did capture: for one, the warmth of the people I now consider my friends. I did find a lot of their warmth came through in their smiles, in photos to be shared privately, not here.

Another poignant facet of this month was the experience of people shining through the brokenness of the world. Specifically in Nepal there are a lot of things physical and politically/socially structural that cause a lot of suffering. As many Republicans in the US want to “make the government so small it can drown in a bathtub,” the Nepalis experience what 20 years of a non-functioning, minimal, hands-off government does. There is no EPA, no traffic lights, insufficient electricity, running water, and garbage collection. And that sucks. The suffering from this is nothing to glamorize. The amazing thing is that the warmth and radiance of so many people shine through it. They are not buying assault rifles and hoarding cans, like many Americans in fear of decline. Actually already in a fallen-apart culture, many beautiful people shine through the brokenness like a bright light inside a cracked pot.

As a photographer, I found it trivially easy to document the brokenness. Conveying the shining-through radiance is another task altogether, and the coming weeks will tell if I’ve succeeded at that (beyond, as I said, private photos of friends.)

Stay tuned. Lots more Nepal to come.

This print is for sale here.