Trees of Dharamsala by Nicholas Vreeland


They closed the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
The weather and the rain have defeated him again,
And now you would never know
Once upon a time there was a road through the woods
Before you plant the trees.

Extract from “The Way through the Woods” by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

For in the true nature of things, if we look at it correctly, every green tree is much more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

December 1, Dharamsala trees, a new photographic art exhibition has opened at the café and art gallery, The Other Space, in Dharamsala, India. The photographer is Tibetan Buddhist monk Nicholas Vreeland (monastic name, Thubten Lhundup) who became a monk in 1985 and is now the Abbot of Rato Dratsang, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery under the patronage of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Vreeland is also director of the Tibet Center, the oldest Tibetan Buddhist center in New York City, and holds a Geshe degree, the equivalent of a doctorate. He is usually based in South India in his monastery, following his head teacher, Rato Khyongla Rinpoche, founder of the Tibet Center, whom he met in 1977.

The exhibition

Thirteen images make up the exhibition Dharamsala trees, with three sections: Portraits of trees, Trees and Barnet. The visually stunning monochrome images of trees, taken around Dharamsala, resemble intricate line drawings and remind us of their unique yet intricate aesthetic beauty, longevity and importance to nature, wildlife and humans. Close-ups of old bark, like fingerprints, offer evidence of their life and growth.


Vreeland explained to people on the show’s opening night, “I’m an amateur photographer, not a professional photographer like some of you here. I take pictures for love.

Vreeland kindly gave me an interview to talk about the new exhibit and when I told him I liked what he was saying he explained that the word “amateur” itself comes from “amare, ““ to love. ”The“ love ”of art and of the subject certainly shines through in these works.

I asked Vreeland why he chose trees as his subject and he joked that the trees were silent, open and never opposed being photographed, but also that it took time and patience to photograph a tree. Asked about his artistic influences, he said he was more inspired by French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927) than by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), whom I mentioned as a possible influence. Vreeland felt that Atget made an effort to “show” the subject more, while Stieglitz’s goal was to express himself more through his work. For me, there are definite parallels to be drawn between the aesthetic and the purpose of Vreeland. Trees Stieglitz’s pioneering cloud exhibition and photographs, Equivalents. The photos are stark and bare and Vreeland told me there was no Photoshop editing of the photographs – they were developed simply using the digital version of ‘old-school’ techniques. a dark room.

Asked about the connection between spirituality and nature, Vreeland explained how extremely valuable trees are from a Buddhist perspective as well:

In Buddhism, trees are not considered conscious beings like animals and humans etc. However, they are sensitive to the fact that they are living organisms with which the planet, animals, and us humans are completely interdependent.

L’Autre Espace is also the perfect backdrop for these exquisite photographic works. A ten minute walk from the Dalai Lama temple, opposite and surrounding it are forests and mountains, on a road that leads to the circumambulation road around the temple itself. The cafe offers some of the best coffee, pastries, and sunset and moon views in the small town. They often host art exhibitions and people can rent workspaces there.


Aesthetic value and sublimity

As I wrote in Aesthetic Experience (Routledge 2007), the sublimity and “divinity” of trees and nature have inspired writers, poets and philosophers for centuries across all cultures and races. 20th century black human rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. considered trees to be worth more than gold or silver. In Europe and North America, philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among many others, have written amazing analyzes and odes to nature, not only for its aesthetic pleasure, but for its purpose, its language, its power and majesty, that is to say the sublimity of nature.

In Emerson’s famous 1836 essay, Nature, he divides nature into four uses: Commodity, Beauty, Language and Discipline. Emerson claims that humans do not fully embrace the beauty of nature, and people are distracted by the demands of the world, while nature gives but humans fail to reciprocate. flower really; it is so small. We don’t have time, and seeing takes time, like having a friend takes time. Vreeland’s photos certainly lead us to “see” the trees and pay attention to their beauty and value.


Importance for health and the environment – oxygen and the embrace of trees

Besides aesthetic value, the importance of trees for respiration and life on Earth is often taken for granted. This is why the destruction and logging of the Amazon rainforest – the lungs of the planet – only for livestock raised and killed for meat, is an ongoing tragedy that is causing enormous damage to the air, to the planet, animals and climate change. Trees are a primary source of oxygen and habitat for many forms of wildlife, especially birds.

In India, forests, like rivers, are vital to the country’s livelihoods. There are heroic stories of Indians planting entire forests of trees, such as India’s “Forest Man”: Jadav “Molai” Payeng, who single-handedly planted an entire forest on Majuli Island in India. ‘Assam after scientists said the island could die after catastrophic drought. ** In 1979, chemist James Lovelock, in his influential and wise book Gaia: a look at new life on Earth (Oxford University Press) advanced Gaia Theory, Gaia Paradigm or Gaia Principle, which proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic environment on Earth to form a complex, synergistic and self-regulating system that helps maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. The hypothesis was formulated by Lovelock and co-developed by microbiologist Lynn Margulis. Lovelock named the idea after Gaia, the primordial goddess who personified Earth in Greek mythology.


The idea that trees are not only essential for the planet but also for human well-being was also documented in the tree hugging movement that developed in the 1970s. This activity is not only considered good for health, but in the case of the ‘tree hug’, Chipko activists of the 1970s and 1980s were part of a strategy used to save forests, drawing attention to the deep interdependence between humans and the natural world. ***


In these difficult times, we have all been more aware than ever of how “mother nature” is more powerful than all of us. We would do well to respect that and make sure we live in harmony with him and the millions of other species on this planet. If we do not listen to the clear messages that nature gives us and continue to use it as an external object only for human pleasures and desires, then at some point nature will “turn against us” and stop one. such destruction, even if it means annihilating the human race. The Buddhist view of reducing personal desires and interdependence is particularly relevant here.

I chose Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Way through the Woods” to accompany this piece, not only because the Nobel Laureate in Literature spent the early years of his life in India, later remembering it as a paradise, but also because the poem speaks of this power of nature to once again make its roads where humans walk – or fear to walk – of a magical and mystical world of forests, bark, leaves and birdsong. **** I like to choose music to accompany the songs. I’m writing, and for this short article, I’ve chosen I Talk to the Trees by Chet Baker and A Day in the Life of a Tree by the Beach Boys.

Photo courtesy of the author

The limited edition photographs signed by Vreeland are for sale (and can be shipped worldwide. All proceeds from the exhibit are donated to Rato Dratsang, India, to help feed, clothe and house the monks there. For any inquiries, contact here.


* The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor created by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore absorbs all that nature has to offer. Emerson wants the individual to become one with nature, and the transparent eyeball is a tool to achieve this.

** A Life of Tree Planting on a Remote River Island: Meet the Forest Man of India (NPR)

*** The Tree Huggers who saved Indian forests (JSTOR Daily)

**** “My first impression [of India]”Kipling wrote in his posthumously published autobiography Something of myself for my known and unknown friends (Macmillan of London 1937), “is dawn, light and color and golden and purple fruit at my shoulder.” Kipling also wrote one of the most popular children’s books about a boy who grew up with animals in the jungle, The jungle Book (Macmillan 1894).

See more trees (Nicolas Vreeland)
Nicolas vreeland
Eugène Atget (Museum of Modern Art)
Alfred Stieglitz (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Equivalents (Alfred Stieglitz Collection)
The other space (Facebook)
The path through the woods (Poets)

Related features of Buddhadoor Global

Visions of Spiritual Ecology: Diane Barker’s photograph of Tibetan nomadic life in China
The Meridian Trust: Discovering an Online Treasure of Buddhist Teachings and Films
Online portals: use your imagination
Environmental warriors: Buddhist eco-monks and tree ordination
Candid amdo

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