Monk who sells photos to build monastery!

Monk Nicholas Vreeland

A rare snapshot of the Dalai Lama standing on a mat with his hands folded is part of an exquisite collection of 20 black and white photographs that American Buddhist monk Nicholas Vreeland has put together for an exhibition in the capital.

Titled “Photos for Rato”, it doesn’t just show the lives of monks through the eyes of Vreeland but also aims at collecting funds for the re-establishment of the Rato Dratsang monastery in Karnataka where he is based.

“All the photographs that you see here have been taken over a period of 25 years and are special. But the one of Dalai Lama is among my favourites. I have photographed him five times until now, and this was the first,” he said.

“I also like taking pictures of trees, so you will find a lot of them here,” he added. The exhibition, at the India International Centre, will culminate Jan 18.

According to Vreeland, a trained photographer, the 14th century Rato monastery in Tibet was destroyed when the Chinese invasion took place in 1959. A few monks of the monastery who managed to escape to India re-established it in Karnataka in 1983.

“I became a part of the Rato monastery and a monk in 1985. At that time there were 12 monks in the monastery and now there are 120. We also receive monk guests from outside who come for learning there. There is a need for more space,” Vreeland said.

“During the 2008 economic meltdown, our sponsors dwindled. This exhibition is therefore a fundraiser,” he added.

The photographs are priced approximately at USD 1,000 each.

While Vreeland discovered his passion for photography at the age of 13 and went on to study at New York University’s film school, Buddhism happened to him on a visit to India when he was 18.

“My godfather used to live in Sikkim and I came to see him when I was 18. That was the first time that I got introduced to Buddhist culture. After that I went to Bhutan and then went back home. I studied Buddhism in New York and in 1979 came back to India,” Vreeland told IANS at the inauguration of the exhibition late Wednesday.

While photography may have been his passion, Vreeland said he was very careful about using his camera in the monastery. He used to keep the camera inside a trunk and took it out to take photographs only occasionally.

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