Sheila Rock is an American photographer living in London. Her photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and on album covers, and are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her forthcoming book, Sera: The Way of the Tibetan Monk, will be published by Columbia University Press in November 2003.

In 1998 Sheila Rock visited Sera Jeh monastery in Mysore, India. The original Sera Jeh monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet, was ravaged during a 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. The monastery was reestablished in its current location in India, and today it houses five thousand monks living in exile who carry on the Sera Jeh legacy.


All Images: © Sheila Rock
All Images: © Sheila Rock

I came to Sera Jeh monastery by accident. My boyfriend and I were planning a trip to India and Sri Lanka. A woman from his church in Suffolk, England, had sponsored a young monk at Sera, and she asked if we would deliver a gift to him. But it turned out to be more than a gift to him—it was a gift to us, because we just found it the most extraordinary place.

I remember arriving in the evening, and I could hear this sound of humming. The sky was an amazing violet, and in the distance I could see the main temple. I walked into the temple to see twenty-five hundred monks chanting—and I was mesmerized. It was an extraordinary time of day, the sky was the color of a pink and purple sari. The combination of coming to the monastery from urban India, which is beautiful but very mad—the electric colors and strong smells—to a place of quiet, was wonderful. I’m not a Buddhist, but I could feel the healing energy immediately.

After I returned home, all I could think about was wanting to do portraits of those faces. So I decided to come back and spend a bit longer there. I seem to blend in with Tibetans because I’m Japanese American, although I’ve lived in England for thirty years. I was like a shadow, invisible. The monks would look at me photographing, and then they would carry on with what they were doing. No one ever told me to move away.

I did meet His Holiness on a trip to Drepung Monastery. The monks gave me all of these katas [ritual scarves] to give to him, and they showed me how to do prostrations, but he just laughed and said, “Please, sit down. You don’t have to do that; you’re not Tibetan. Come close to me, I want to see what you’ve done.”

As a photographer, I try to look for subjects that are strong or atmospheric or even moody. I would set up along the side of the temple and wait for the monks, as there were only certain times of day that I was able to catch them. The only thing I ever gave them was Polaroids, which I would use as a way of explaining what I was doing, and to thank them. I also did some night photography, and there’s a photograph of a young monk in the doorway leading into the main temple, between the gates [see facing page]. It was something that reminded me of going into meditation, a visual representation of that.

I think it’s very hard for Westerners not to romanticize monastic life. The monastery walls are peeling, but in photographs it looks fantastic, particularly in black and white. I wanted the spirit of the photos to come from the people; they had a quality of light that was wonderful.

Sheila Rock is an American photographer living in London. Her photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and on album covers, and are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her forthcoming book, Sera: The Way of the Tibetan Monk, will be published by Columbia University Press in November 2003.

In 1998 Sheila Rock visited Sera Jeh monastery in Mysore, India. The original Sera Jeh monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet, was ravaged during a 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. The monastery was reestablished in its current location in India, and today it houses five thousand monks living in exile who carry on the Sera Jeh legacy.

All Images: © Sheila Rock
All Images: © Sheila Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheila Rock is an American photographer living in London. Her photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and on album covers, and are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her forthcoming book, Sera: The Way of the Tibetan Monk, will be published by Columbia University Press in November 2003.

In 1998 Sheila Rock visited Sera Jeh monastery in Mysore, India. The original Sera Jeh monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet, was ravaged during a 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. The monastery was reestablished in its current location in India, and today it houses five thousand monks living in exile who carry on the Sera Jeh legacy.


 

All Images: © Sheila Rock
All Images: © Sheila Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheila Rock is an American photographer living in London. Her photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and on album covers, and are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her forthcoming book, Sera: The Way of the Tibetan Monk, will be published by Columbia University Press in November 2003.

In 1998 Sheila Rock visited Sera Jeh monastery in Mysore, India. The original Sera Jeh monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet, was ravaged during a 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. The monastery was reestablished in its current location in India, and today it houses five thousand monks living in exile who carry on the Sera Jeh legacy.


 

 

All Images: © Sheila Rock
All Images: © Sheila Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheila Rock is an American photographer living in London. Her photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and on album covers, and are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her forthcoming book, Sera: The Way of the Tibetan Monk, will be published by Columbia University Press in November 2003.

In 1998 Sheila Rock visited Sera Jeh monastery in Mysore, India. The original Sera Jeh monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet, was ravaged during a 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. The monastery was reestablished in its current location in India, and today it houses five thousand monks living in exile who carry on the Sera Jeh legacy.


All Images: © Sheila Rock
All Images: © Sheila Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheila Rock is an American photographer living in London. Her photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and on album covers, and are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her forthcoming book, Sera: The Way of the Tibetan Monk, will be published by Columbia University Press in November 2003.

In 1998 Sheila Rock visited Sera Jeh monastery in Mysore, India. The original Sera Jeh monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet, was ravaged during a 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. The monastery was reestablished in its current location in India, and today it houses five thousand monks living in exile who carry on the Sera Jeh legacy.

All Images: © Sheila Rock
All Images: © Sheila Rock

 

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