In the beginning it’s a sound: like a gong echo, dense and tending to infinity. Then it’s a vision: prairie full of alpine stars, soft river banks, frozen peaks, wild horses, roughness of the mountains and sweetness of the plateau.
Zanskar, “white copper land”, a name of hardness and morbidity. Himalayan valley in Ladakh, remote and minute, shy among the greats, India contains it, China and Pakistan framing it. Land where life’s tough, summer cultivates as much as possible, in winter the isolation freezes the impossible. Cradle of Buddhist mysticism, in the centuries and millennia, shelter of ascetics and hermits, Naropa and Padmasambhava among others.
I crossed Zanskar a first time, every day a halt, in a vision almost from above, like flying. Then, I came back alone, to stand, rest, immerse myself. From one monastery to another one, with monks and nuns, in their daily spiritual and material life. Just like that, simply. Days passed in silence, between the temporal boundaries of every dawn and sunset, marked by gestures and rituals. Where the light’s umbilical cord, on one end the little things, on the other end the immense.
Especially among the nuns, women of spirit, of prayer, of protection, I tried to capture in my shots that daily life, that dialogue, often without words, between me, foreign of the present, and them, ancient souls in an ancient world.
Anitya, a sanskrit word with a female sound, meaning Impermanence. One of the basic principles of Buddhist doctrine: the perception of the constant becoming of itself and of the world, the abandonment of attachment to the material, the awareness of the immaterial essence of the whole.
I looked for Anitya in the daily life in the female monasteries of Dorje Dzong, Zangla, Karcha, Tungri: into the kitchen, melting yak butter with black tea, into the indoor small school, where little nuns learn a bit of present and a bit of future, in cells, stuffed with essential things, in temples, oasis of prayer and meditation.
I’ve been looking for her, and she, Anitya, the Impermanence, has let her look. Maybe even photograph.
By Monica Bonacina