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Since 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama has periodically given public initiations, including the performance of rituals and the creation and dismantling of a special mandala, known as the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time). Tracing its history to the teachings of Shakyamuni, the Kalachakra is a vast tantric body of knowledge that is used by the five major Tibetan Buddhist Schools; it covers the outer- and innermost cycles of the universe and incorporates teachings on history, science, medicine, meditation, and many other profound areas of cosmic knowledge.
This was the fourth Kalachakra that I’ve photographed, and I had a good idea of how it would unfold. It was an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the teachings as a dharma student and to receive the empowerment once again. As the monks onstage performed the sacred dance, it seemed as though they were manifesting a deity from another realm. Their slow, precise movements were in perfect harmony with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s actions as he did his practice. Everyone in the Verizon Center seemed transported in the Kalachakra energy, and that energy spread out beyond the walls of the auditorium, into the streets of Washington, D.C. The volunteers, including myself, got little sleep as we tried to keep up with His Holiness’s schedule.
On the second day of the 10-day ceremony, I went backstage and saw the Dalai Lama continuing his practice at the side of the stage. His back was to the audience, and a backboard behind his seat seemed to isolate him from the crowd. He was deep into his practice, with a few monks assisting him in the rituals. Standing to the side of the stage about 15 feet from him, I set up my camera on a monopod and began photographing. I knew that if I got too close, it would disturb him. It is an intuitive process to determine the right place to photograph from. His Holiness went on doing his prayers, looking over toward me occasionally. I took many photos from this vantage point over the next several days. What a precious opportunity it was to be recording these moments of spiritual history.