Buddhism has been an enduring thread throughout my adult life. From 1968 – 1990 whenever I had an important insight, I also had a vision in the form of a Buddha. When I went to Thailand in 1990 and visited the meditation room of my host family, I found all of the Buddhas that I had previously visioned, even though I had never formally studied Buddhism. In 2000, I did a 28 day Vipassana meditation retreat at Wat Ram Poeng in northern Thailand. The images included here were taken during that retreat.
In 1990, I photographed in five refugee camps, three Cambodian and two Hmong camps. While in Aranya Prathet, at the Thai-Cambodian border, I was trying to understand whether the Cambodian camps were horrific or acceptable places for the residents. Every person in the camps had survived a near death experience. I thought about the meta-story of the knight who needed to slay the dragon in order to get the prize, either the maiden or the kingdom or the pot of gold. If the dragon killed the knight, he was dead and the story was over. However, if he survived a near-death experience he received the prize. In this case, the people got the prize of evolving to the next level of development that occurs when death is survived. In the west most of us are inured from having near-death experiences and so we don’t evolve to that next level. One would never wish a near death experience for anyone; however, one could embrace the value of having a near death experience as crucial for personal evolution.
I returned to my hotel, exhausted from the day and needing a rest. I lay down on my bed thinking that I was sleeping, but instead I had the last and most complex of my Buddha visions. My mind’s eye was filled with blackness. In the middle of the black appeared a red rectangle. Then the rectangle appeared on the side of a tree and pieces of colored light began spewing out if it with a barely perceptible image of a Buddha flickering in the light. Fanciful pairs of colored animals began pouring out of the red rectangle, ice cream colored unicorns, and hydras and multi-headed dragons. They made their way passed me to my right in a brilliant green field, then turned a corner and turned again to walk passed me on my left. I turned to watch them only to discover a field of undulating golden wheat and a large mahogany Buddha turned three-quarters away from me. And then the field changed into undulating golden people who then morphized into undulating golden buddhas filling the landscape as far as I could see in all directions. It was then that I woke up and realized that that was not a dream but yet another vision.
On the same trip I went to Phnem Penh, Cambodia, where my travelers checks were stolen. I visited the Art School and admired a beautiful bronze Buddha on a naga. I returned many times to decide whether to borrow the money to buy it. I finally decided that I no longer needed this piece of metal because I had already internalized some aspect of the Buddha spirit.