In 1933, when Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory was established, the name given to cameras manufactured on a trial basis at the time was Kwanon. This title reflected the benevolence of Kwanon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and embodied the Company’s vision of creating the best cameras in the world. The logo included the word with an image of “Kwanon with 1,000 Arms” and flames.
It’s an interesting assumption that “creating the best cameras in the world” is a reflection of infinite mercy.
I sometimes wonder, vaguely, about the nature of my compulsion to take photographs.
How the desire to capture, preserve, reproduce, hold on to something of a moment might be a form of grasping, in the sense of the second of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths:
Suffering’s Origin (Samudaya):
“Now this … is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.”
Is it grasping, I wonder, to remember and regret the time when there was a Tunnocks Tea Cake wrapper flattened onto the pavement in the shape of a ballerina swirling long red and white striped skirts and I didn’t have my camera? To remember and regret that I could not hold onto that moment, skewer it with a lens and pin it in the display cabinet that is flickr? Was it not a moment, like all other moments, to be lived in fully and succeeded by the next moment of the present continuous?
For example, I’ve always liked beautiful scenery. Once during a retreat that I led in Switzerland, I was taken to some beautiful mountains and noticed that there was always a sense of anguish in my mind because there was so much beauty, a continual flow of beautiful sights. I had the feeling of wanting to hold on to everything, that I had to keep alert all the time in order to consume everything with my eyes. It was really wearing me out! Now that was dukkha, wasn’t it?
I find that if I do things heedlessly – even something quite harmless like looking at beautiful mountains – if I’m just reaching out and trying to hold on to something, it always brings an unpleasant feeling. How can you hold on to the Jungfrau and the Eiger? The best you can do is to take a picture of it, trying to capture everything on a piece of paper. That’s dukkha; if you want to hold on to something which is beautiful because you don’t want to be separated from it – that is suffering.
And there’s also this:
When you really see the origin of suffering, you realise that the problem is the grasping of desire not the desire itself. Grasping means being deluded by it, thinking it’s really ‘me’ and ‘mine’.
Now we’re getting somewhere. This reminds me of something Tom Montag wrote recently about making music with friends:
I am playing music and sometimes the music plays me… And if we’re lucky, the songs will play us.
And, if I am luckier still, that bass will play me, and I will have found the last instrument I’ll ever need to buy.
When the music plays you, there’s nothing you can do but keep on playing, keep on playing, and hope it doesn’t end.
It is that magical limen of un/intentionality where the conscious mind seems to cease operating and a synthesis occurs between the internal and external, when with sudden sharp hot stink of fox It enters the dark hole of the head.
Or the dark hole of the camera. The boys call my camera the “black hole” because, they say, no light escapes from it. I prefer to think of it as a conduit porting light from one place to others.
That is how it is, sometimes. The world in all its infinite infinitesimal glory. “Look, look at the beauty. Love it. Rejoice, revel, revere.” That is how it is sometimes.