Ramesh.R.Iyer is a Singapore based Executive Coach and Photographer. A lover of Buddhist thoughts and ideas, Ramesh has been visiting Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Indonesia since 2009. In 2011 and 2015 he returned to Borobudur for spiritual retreats with fellow practitioners and disciples of Lama Marut. To preserve the memories of this special experience, Ramesh put together two photobooks. The books are compilations of photographs of temple architecture and visiting devotees along with key verses from Buddhist teachings.
We spoke to Ramesh about the making of these books and the connection between Buddhism and photography.
When did you first visit Borobudur? What makes you return to the place every year?
I have been visiting Borobudur almost every year since 2009, a sort of a retreat of sorts where I also spend time taking photos of the rock relief panels and temple architecture at different times. I was lucky to return in 2015 on a retreat to study three chapters from the text – A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.
Every trip to Borobudur has been an incredible experience and I try to make the books mirror that feeling.
Tell us a bit more about the retreats.
The retreats are an opportunity to reflect on deep teachings in a location like Borobudur. Many of us spent our time circumambulating and meditating at the monument, and some of us even took lifetime vows there. What an amazing place to start. They were very special occasions, at a very special place, in the company of very special people.
How did the photobook idea emerge? Why do you think it is important to share a story like this?
Memories fade, and sometimes fade too fast. These books help refresh and re-energize us. My photos are usually most effective after a few years of the event. When you want to explain to someone else how was the retreat – you can simple pass on the book and immediately in minutes the person is transported to the place. I have seen this happen many times.
Borobudur is a very special place. It is my dream to publish several detailed studies of the rock relief art panels in photobooks.
How did you establish the connection between the architectural images and the teachings that you visually depict in your books?
This part has been a challenge – the book was produced to be an active memoir that can be referred to, unlike a wedding album. So we decided on the most important and inspiring verses from the text that Lama Marut teaches. I took some verses from the original text, to highlight in the book. The book was designed in collaboration with the designers at Photojaanic who helped me juxtapose the images with text.
Did you have an audience in mind while making the books?
Yes – retreat participants, Buddhism and photography lovers and friends.
How does you learning and practice of Buddhism influence your photography work?
Buddhism and Photography are immensely helpful and related to each other. Buddhism helps us get out of the misery and suffering, and to make us enlightened. Photography literally means writing with light or art with light. Like Buddhism, it ‘throws light on darkness’ and helps the mind to hopefully see the blissful path. It is all about seeing the myriad possibilities, admitting and respecting nature, not harming other people, developing a right view, ignoring the self, creating a path, becoming disciplined to follow the path. It also means sharing the results yet leaving many things unsaid. I can go on and on – there are innumerable similarities. The Buddha simply said – question everything and you will see there is a cause, understand the cause, work on a right solution after understanding clearly and then let go, don’t suffer. If there is pain, physical or mental, relax and meditate on it and let it be. Try to find the cause and work on it. There is no point in suffering – don’t aggravate it by complaining and exaggerating. Almost all (if not all) these principles are true in photography as well. It is just that we are enamored the new digital process technology and buying of new equipment and gear that we sometimes miss the basics, that photography essentially is ‘writing with light and being light about it’
Visit Ramesh’s Website