The Path to Buddha

I am often asked about which countries I enjoy photographing the most.  That’s very hard to answer, but I do enjoy going back again and again to Buddhist countries, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Bhutan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Burma.


Buddha statue in Mandalay, Burma, 2008


Monk at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, 2000

The ethics and the aesthetics of Buddhism are melded in a unique way. The vivid color of robes and sacred places contrast with the monochromatic tradition I grew up with.


Young monks play with computer games in Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, India, 2001

Every time I have visited a Buddhist monastery, I have seen a playfulness among the monks, a joy in the way they conduct themselves and the way they interact with each other.

Young nun, Rangoon, BURMA-10013NF2, Burma/Myanmar, 1994

Young nun, Rangoon, Burma, 1994


Monks in the Rain, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 1999


A monk studies Buddhist scripture in the late afternoon at a monastery in Aranyaprathet, Thailand, 1996

As I photographed the picture of the monk and the cat in a monastery in Thailand, it occured to me that all the qualities that I observed – contemplation, serenity, meditation – are ones that are antithetical to the hard-charging, ladder-climbing Western culture.


Young monks study Buddhist scripture at a monastery in Litang, Kham, Tibet, 1999


Pilgrim praying at the Buddhist academy of Larung Gar, near Serthar, Kham, Tibet, 2001

The Monks have a way of taking something we could consider mundane, and transform it into something sacred.


Candles are a form of offering at the Tibetan Prayer Festival, during which thousands are lit under the Bodi tree. Bodh Gaya, India, 2000

Monasteries have always been places of refuge for people and animals who have no other place to go.  Monks will share whatever they have, no matter how small.


Woman meditates in Bagan monastery, Burma, 2008

Even though they get merits for helping people in need, one never has the impression that they do it for any other reason other than their good nature, dedication, and hospitality.

Quotations from the Buddha:

“Teach this triple truth to all:  A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”


31 Responses to “The Path to Buddha”

  1. The image wit the cat is quite magnificent.
    Hat’s off to your photography skill.
    Most of the pictures you include in this post are from the Burma, right?

  2. Lisa Sanchez-Holmes Says:

    I love each and everyone of your photo’s, I know that they will forever be etched in your mind. Thanks for sharing with us.


  3. C. Sachidananda Narayanan Says:

    Very nice Steve. Now, go deep into the places where the Buddha was roaming around during His lifetime and let us see that too.

  4. only compassion that will give peace to all living things in the world..

    You should make Indonesia to be your next destination, because Buddhism live here too:)

    Best Regards,

  5. Your photographs put me into a meditative state. You see colors I miss, except in your pictures, and faces whose eyes my eyes don’t want to leave. I wonder, do you look at your subjects when you make your captivating portraits? It seems to me they must be interacting with someone, certainly not a camera alone. In fact, you must have a way of making the camera disappear, because they are looking at the viewer, and you give us the privilege of interacting with them as you must have. Thank you, Mr. McCurry.

  6. artistically speaking, AWESOME JOB! spiritually speaking, AWESOME JOB!
    my travel bug just got reactivated:-)
    I am planning a trip to that part of the world, at the buddhist and hindu monasteries in india, thailand cambodia an bali, and this is more fuel to that fire.
    thank you!

  7. Stephanie Says:

    You take a beautiful photos. I like so much your work. There are very the emotions that your pictures make me feel..

    Stephanie, From Argentina.

  8. Jean christophe vincent Says:

    Beautiful and impressive photos of the planet and his inhabitants

  9. Maria Lorena Says:

    Gracias, por visitar Buenos Aires …!
    Hoy senti que viajaba al ver sus fotos, nunca pense conocerlo personalmente…me quede sin palabras…!!
    Y consegui: the best signing of the day Steve Mc Curry…!

  10. Hello Steve, I can only hope the world will act upon the realization of our human habitat that you have already known and have uncovered for many years. All takes much time, all of which you have captured and shared so very well indeed, thank you for this.

  11. My son, having just turned 21, is stuck between the ladder-climbing generation and …going nowhere. There must be a middle ground between finding a spiritual aesthetic and the reality modern culture.

    Your pictures are fulfilling. Breathtaking and thought provoking. Tears and joy.

  12. You are one of my favorite photographers ever. I know that seems like a vapid comment, but your work moves me on levels that leave me bereft of amazing intellectual comments and observations. I am just blown away.

  13. I can’t imagine ever being lucky enough to see these sights for myself, so thank you for sharing them so beautifully.

  14. Thank you for sharing the history and the beautiful images from distance lands, to me. I can only assume there is wonderful energy to take during a journey to these countries. Thanks again ;o)

  15. My parents lived in Southeast Asia in the late 80s and early 90s. I miss it so much, thanks for the journey! They are amazing.

  16. Nancy Weber (FKA Curtis) Says:

    Hello from your past…I think 1987, New Orleans Superdome, Charismatic Conference there. Then you came to Lakeland to photograph us “in action” again. (my late husband was Ken).
    I still follow your amazing life and photography, tho sporadically. Now I am working on my own blog on WordPress.
    Since I don’t know how else to contact you, I wanted to say hi again here.
    May God continue to bless you and your inspiring work.

  17. I love the first image:)

  18. I love the Buddhist culture for the same reasons! But how old was the man at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa? His face is stunning!

  19. I discovered your blog only after seeing the current exhibition in Milan at Palazzo della Ragione, even though I had already seen many of your photos. I think you’re a great photographer and I thank you for the beautiful pictures, I really like your portraits, they are not just photographs of people, but images that can tell a whole story and convey emotions.

    Best regards,

    Cinzia (from Italy)

  20. I love how you pointed out the joy that they have in their lives. You show it very well in your photographs.

    Great work as per usual.

  21. I absolutely love the snaps posted here…there’s a certain calmness about the Buddhist religion which is really beautiful and makes one want to be a part of it…

    I wonder whether you’ve been to Ladakh in India…if not you must visit the place…it too has some heavenly sights with an all-pervading serenity in the air…you’ll find there are lots of monastries there and the friendly and simple people will make you want to visit the place again and again…:)

    love your work!

  22. thanx steve for posting them …………i belive your favourite color is maroon….

  23. […] The Path to Buddha « Steve McCurry's Blog […]

  24. […] November 21st, 2009 In one of the latest blog posts on Steve McCurry’s Blog, a series of pictures of Buddhist monks in a number of countries (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Bhutan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Burma). Here’s an image of Monks in the Rain, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 1999. […]

  25. To Path Funder,

    You can’t imagine how much peace, warmth and compassion shines out from each of your photos. . .

    Oh, yeah. You knew that when you were shooting . . .

    Well, thank you for sharing them with all of us. Look forward to more of your kindness.

    Thank you,

    Michael J, looking for the buddha in conshohocken, PA

  26. The picture “Monk at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, 2000” is beautiful! It took my breath away; I just couldn’t stop looking.

  27. Steve,

    Very nice post! I especially enjoyed the relationship between the photographs and what you have written here.

    I too hope that our western culture can at some point value those truths which are so intrinsic to Eastern Cultures, Eastern Philosophies and Buddhism itself.

    I have always loved the image of young monks walking towards the camera, reflected by the wet surface of stone and set against such a dramatic background- makes me want to have experienced the moment, day or temple first hand!

    Cheers, Jeremy

  28. Steve, what reason do you have not to include Sri Lanka in your list of buddhist countries? From your Batticaloa pictures I know you have been there, and I don’t ask to provoke:

    Through all my visits to Sri Lanka I did not perceive it as a buddhist country. Maybe the civil war and the involvement of the clergy in politics is the reason for my perception, but I would be interested to hear about your view of this country.

  29. Thanks for this great post, Steve!:)

  30. Unfortunately I discovered your blog only recently, so I’m trying to read all of your old posts. I love your shots, the emotions that they make me feel are awesome:)
    Thank you.

    Riccardo (from Italy)

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