Archive for Buddhism

Nature’s Great Masterpiece

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2010 by stevemccurry

The relationship between elephants and people goes back millennia. Elephants have been an integral part of history, religion, art,  and culture in many parts of Asia.


Chiang Mai, Thailand


“Th’ unwieldy elephant, To make them mirth, us’d all his might, and wreathed. His lithe proboscis.”
-John Milton, Paradise Lost


Chiang Mai, Thailand



Kerala, India


Elephants have been important in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Ganesh, the Hindu elephant God, is worshipped as the lord of success, education,  knowledge, wisdom and wealth.


Mumbai, India



Angkor Thom, Cambodia


John Kistler’s book, War Elephants,  pointed out that for over a thousand years, generals used elephants as tanks, bulldozers, and cargo trucks long before such vehicles existed. Elephants built roads, swung swords, and terrified opposing forces.




BURMA-10221NF, Myanmar (Burma), 07/1994



00163_01.Sri Lanka, 1995

Sri Lanka



Sri Lanka



Sri Lanka


Aristotle called the elephant  “the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind.”




“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.”

-John Donne (English poet, 1572-1631)


Calcutta, India



Varanasi, India


Born Unequal – India’s Dalits

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by stevemccurry

Dalits sweeping the streets, Bombay, India, 1996

The life of the Untouchables or Dalits (the oppressed)  as they preferred to be called, is to live in grinding poverty and violence, especially in the rural areas of India.

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Dalit Buddhists worship in front of a banner of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar a main architect of the Indian Constitution promoter of Buddhism amongst the Dalits. 1993

Dr. Ambedkar won a scholarship from Columbia University in New York and the London School of Economics, at a time when few Dalits could read or write. When he returned to India, he was shocked to realize that he was still considered Untouchable, and devoted the rest of his life to advocate for Dalits.

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Man working in Sewer, India, 1996

“The Dalits may live in the world’s largest democracy, but their lives are shaped by a system of sanctified apartheid.” Carla Power

India, Bombay, 1993

Bombay, 1993

Discrimination based on caste has been illegal since 1947, but little has changed for the Dalits, especially in the rural areas.


Bombay, 1993

Against all odds, some Dalits have been able to rise to prominence.  Among them are K.R. Narayanan, president from 1997  to 2002.  A Dalit woman, Mayawati, is the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state.  She heads her own  political party, the BSP.


Anand, Gujarat, India, 1996

Meira Kumar, a Dalit woman,  was elected unanimously as the first woman Speaker in the lower house of Parliament, where she will preside over 543 elected members.  She is a lawyer and diplomat and was elected to the parliament a total of five times while having served as a cabinet minister at the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment from 2004-2009.

Meira Kumar

Meira Kumar Photo courtesy: Sipra Das/India Today 

As India takes her place amongst the world’s superpowers, there are many indications that this centuries-old oppression will start to change as education becomes more available, and as globalization changes the economic landscape of India.

The Path to Buddha

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by stevemccurry

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.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2009 by stevemccurry

Debating Monks at Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India, 2001

In Tibetan Buddhism, debate is considered an integral part of sharpening critical thinking and analytical abilities and demonstrating one’s understanding of Buddhist logic and philosophy.

These monks are part of a sect called the Yellow Hat Sect or Gelugpa.  It was formed by a reformer in the 14th century who wanted to emphasize compassion and emptiness.  The Dalai Lama is the leader of this group.  The picture  of the debating monks was taken in India during the time that the Dalai Lama was present.

I have had the privilege of photographing  His Holiness the Dalai Lama many times, and each time I am impressed by his humility, humanity, and sense of humor.


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