I’m not a professional photographer. I’m barely a hobbyist. When I arrived in India, I didn’t even have a camera with me. I was there not as a tourist, I thought, but as a pilgrim, visiting the Buddhist holy land with Zen Master Bon Haeng and two other practitioners from the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, MA. We joined nearly two hundred other members of the Kwan Um School of Zen as part of the international school’s triennial Whole World is a Single Flower conference. Our itinerary included visits to Lumbini, Nepal, where the Buddha was born, Bodh Gaya, where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath, where he gave his first discourse, and Kushinagar, where he died after nearly half a century of teaching. Other points of interest included Rajgir, site of the ruins of Nalanda University and Vulture Peak, where the Buddha famously held a single flower aloft to wordlessly transmit his teaching to his disciple, Mahakasyapa.
Before we had left Delhi, I knew that I needed a camera, so I bought one from this guy:
Around every corner, I was met by incredible juxtapositions of antiquity and modernity, affluence and poverty, the sacred and the profane, all rich in the varied textures of human experience and awash in every color of the spectrum beneath the hazy, unrelenting sun. It was clear that one needn’t be a professional photographer in order to return home from India with an array of stunning, haunting images of a land that defies conventional Western understanding.
Shortly after coming home, I decided that it would be cool to display some of my photos at the local library, so I got on a waiting list for gallery space. It’s been a long wait. My intention in assembling this gallery display had originally been to showcase the various sacred sites we visited, but as I was perusing the couple of hundred pictures I ended up taking, I was reminded of something Zen Master Bon Haeng had said: “We go on trips thinking that we’re going to go to new places and see all kinds of incredible things, what ends up being most important is the people we met while we were there.” As it turns out, most of the pictures I chose for the gallery, many of which are displayed above and in other blog entries, are of people. I feel that this is somehow in keeping with the experience of the Buddha. I don’t think that he spent a lot of time in temples; he just walked around and talked to people. Among those pictured here are Hindu devotees, Buddhist pilgrims from around the globe, citizens of the ancient holy city of Varanasi in the process of living their daily lives on the banks of the Ganges River, and a surly camera salesman.