Journey for Peace: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Photographed by Manuel Bauer
with text by Matthieu Ricard and Christian Schmidt
Zurich: Scalo Press, 2005
291 pp.; $49.95 (cloth)
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama has, rather quickly, become one of the most visible figures on our planet and, in the process, one of the least seen. We are all familiar with his warming smile, the image of his head thrown back in laughter, the beaming alertness with which he picks out a friend in a crowd, or waves to ten thousand people in a rock stadium as naturally as if to a fellow monk across the road; but the suspicion always remains that the more we see of his face, the less we will make of it, and the less alive it will be to us. As children in the Zurich streets around me, while I write this, hearing of an approaching celebrity, bounce on their fathers’ shoulders, shouting, “Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama,” as cities get flooded with images of the steadying face, it’s easy to feel that the real power and uniqueness of the presence will get diluted, until, like the Taj Mahal, say, it will seem more of an icon than a reality with the capacity to transform.
This feature—a symptom of the Age of Celebrity crossed with the Age of the Image—becomes doubly acute when you are dealing with a monk, and a Buddhist monk at that. The Dalai Lama is speaking, as much as anything, against surfaces and screens and projections, and for precisely those causes and conditions that can’t be seen. He famously took photographs when young himself, in the Potala Palace, and is always ready to accept images, like anything, insofar as they are “beneficial;” but a picture of a Buddhist teacher can seem, in the larger scheme of things, like a depiction of a finger pointing at the moon, no more substantial than a drawing of a sutra. The Dalai Lama has the rare capacity to speak with his being, his face, his eyes—to make his movements his message, in a way—and yet all the posters and postcards and buttons of him that fill the world seem always to speak for the effect and not the cause; what he is keen to show us is not so much his face as all that lies beneath it, which is, by definition, out of view.
It is deeply moving, therefore—a revelation, in fact-to come upon the first book that I have seen, in words or images, that somehow seems to catch the Dalai Lama in all his lights and moods—in his unvarnished reality—and, beyond that, goes deep into the heart of a life that, by definition, mostly takes place far from public sight, behind closed doors, at those moments when no eyes are watching. Manuel Bauer, a Swiss photographer, won the trust of the Dalai Lama many years ago, in part, perhaps, because he was the first photographer to accompany Tibetans—a father and daughter—and chronicle their flight across the Himalayas from Tibet to freedom (a story that leaves tears in his eyes when he recounts it even now); as a result, he became the first photographer allowed to follow the Dalai Lama at almost every moment of his day, in his bedroom, in his meditation chamber, while he is alone with his aides, for more than three years, shadowing him on more than thirty different tours. The result is surely the most intimate and objective account of this mysterious being that we’ve seen yet, which somehow becomes as various, as shifting, and as stirring as the man it chronicles.
A journey for peace is, in the Dalai Lama’s way of thinking, a journey inward, toward that center where we cultivate an inner peace; it is not just an external journey, to Croatia and Bodh Gaya and Washington, D.C. (all fully covered in this book), but, more fundamentally, a journey into that changeless core that lies inside us, a journey, you could say, into meditation. Bauer’s Journey for Peace begins, therefore, with a quite literal pilgrimage: a series of images of cars trailing down a mountainside, crowds assembling, faces glowing with expectation, a convoy approaching, and then, at last, the Dalai Lama emerging into the midst of the souls that have been waiting for him. Yet it concludes, two hundred pages later, with an extended series of black-and-white portraits of the Dalai Lama during his morning meditation, page after page of the sturdy face with eyes closed, far away, in the realm, it might seem, of nonbeing, each picture almost identical to the one before, and yet marginally different. The Dalai Lama moves a lot when he’s in meditation, Bauer reports; his book is, as much as anything, about the movements that happen within stillness, and the stillness that lies at the core of movement. The last image in the book, in the classical Buddhist tradition, depicts just a pair of sandals on the ground.
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