Two young monks in the Shinbinthalyaung temple in Bagan appear tiny in contrast to the scale of the feet of a colossal, 60-meter long recumbent Buddha figure. Illuminated by candlelight and natural light from an open doorway, they are engaged in a spiritual practice that dates back and beyond the 11th century A.D., when in this narrow brick shed the Buddha was sculpted. Lying prone on its right side in a preferred sleeping posture that correlates with Indian yoga precepts, the Buddha is located near the Shwesandaw Pagoda, the tallest pagoda in Bagan and known for the golden glow of its surfaces.
It could be thought the boys are diminished by the iconic sculpture and its history, but to say think would be to misread the enormity of their commitment. Young monks step onto the footpath of a life that will be devoted to meditative discipline and expansive, even radical orientation to family and the material world. Foregoing attachments most of us hold dear, they devote their lives to the betterment of all life—theirs, and that of every person, animal, and natural resource they encounter.
To me, this image strikes a flame. This means the luminosity of their innocence and purity lights up my world and their commitment to peace fires my imagination. As is true of so many of the people who grant permission for me to make photographs of them as they go about their daily rituals and chores, I revisit this image to relearn the lessons taught by the young monks. Be simple, be small, be enlightened, they tell me. Submit, I tell myself. To render control and embrace my own fragility becomes sublime.
18 x 24 inches (45.72 x 60.96 cm)
24 x 32 inches (60.96 x 81.28 cm)
30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)