Miksang (Tibetan for “Good Eye”) is a contemplative photography discipline based on Dharma art teachings from the twentieth-century Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
In this interview, we asked John McQuade – founder of Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography, longtime student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Maitri Five Wisdoms Teacher, and Shambhala Training Teacher and Meditation Instructor – a few questions about his upcoming course, how he originally got into photography, and what makes Miksang contemplative photography stand out.
Contemplative Photography: Getting Started
What was your initial attraction to photography and how did you get started?
I was never interested in photography and had never owned a camera (this was in the days before smartphones). I had become a mediator at what we now call the Toronto Shambhala Center. In those days we were required to “sit” thirty hours a month which included three nythun sessions (three hour sessions). Some of us often got in our nythun requirement by doing all three sessions in one day (nine hours of sitting). I found that often on my walk home after these nine hour meditation sessions, my senses – and in particular the visual sense – was clarified. Like the slogan from a current detergent commercial the reds were redder, the blues were bluer and the whites were whiter.
I found that often on my walk home after these nine hour meditation sessions, my senses – and in particular the visual sense – was clarified.
At the Shambhala Center my girlfriend was taking a new “contemplative photography” course developed by the photographer Micheal Wood. At the end of the course the participants presented a collective image show. When I saw the show the images resonated with the clear perception I experienced through meditation. So I began to work with Michael and we developed what is now called Miksang Contemplative Photography.
Contemplative Photography: What Sets Miksang Apart
What is the difference between Miksang Contemplative Photography and other forms of photography (Landscape, Street, Portrait, etc.)?
The main difference between Miksang Contemplative Photography and other forms of photography is that Miksang is based on direct perception of the phenomenal world. We start with clear seeing. Most of our training is not in photography but in clear seeing. Our photographic practice is to make an equivalent image of this clear seeing.
Most of our training is not in photography but in clear seeing. Our photographic practice is to make an equivalent image of this clear seeing.
In general, clear seeing is what we actually see before an overlay and filter of thoughts, interpretations, preferences, story lines, likes and dislikes, what we think might make a good photographic image and so forth arise. In Shambhala terms, we trust the magic of perception.
Another important feature is that Nalanda Miksang is, in large measure, based on the Dharma Art and Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa. Miksang is an embodiment and expression of these teachings. “Miksang” is a Tibetan word that translates as ” Good Eye.” Miksang is the perception and photography practice that connects with Basic Goodness through the Way of Seeing.
“Miksang” is a Tibetan word that translates as “Good Eye.”
Having said this, Miksang does engage the various forms of photography – landscape, street photography, nature and so forth – with our particular contemplative orientation.
Contemplative Photography: Challenges
What do you find the most challenging when it comes to producing a thoughtful/contemplative photograph?
The challenge of contemplative photography is always the same: to relax and see clearly which is in fact the way we are always already seeing. As Chögyam Trungpa says, “to relax into a cloud by seeing it.”
“If you are able to relax – relax to a cloud by looking at it, relax to a drop of rain and experience its genuineness – you can see the unconditionality of reality… you experience a vast realm of perceptions unfolding… the realm of perception is limitless, so limitless that perception itself is primordial… there are endless fields of perception.”
– Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Contemplative Photography and Meditation
Why do you feel this work is important for the meditation community?
The great Master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, presented the Buddhadharma teachings. He was the progenitor of the Shambhala Teachings which he presented. He also practiced and taught Dharma Art. Why? I cannot say why, but I feel that a Master like Chögyam Trungpa would do so if he thought this would be of benefit.
My personal experience as a Buddhadharma, Shambhala and Dharma art practitioner, is that they work well together and enhance each other. Dharma Art works through two ways: It is a direct experience that acts like a catalyst for some of the Dharma and Shambhala teachings. It enhances those paths: they deepen, they are richer and they move faster. Chögyam Trungpa, in Sacred Path of the Warrior says that his Dharma Art practice of Ikebana (flower arrangement) is one of his connections with Drala (ordinary magic).
Also it is a way of giving expression to experience and insights of Buddhadharma and Shambhala practices: that the reds are redder. There is something fulfilling in being a Dharma artist sharing your experience with others. In this regard, Dharma Art, such as Miksang, is a Shambhala Society practice in enriching the world.
Contemplative Photography: Teaching Miksang
What is your favorite aspect of teaching this creative process to others?
I have been presenting these Miksang teachings for many decades. It never gets old. It never gets old because it is always fresh and free. Miksang orients through the perception of the phenomenal world. The phenomenal world – our first contact experience – is always fluid. It is never the “same old, same old.” It is fresh, free and spontaneously creative. If we reconnect with this then our experience is fresh, free and spontaneously creative. This is the contemplative.
It is never the “same old, same old.” It is fresh, free and spontaneously creative.