From The Way of Seeing: Looking and Seeing: “A Short History of Miksang and Nalanda Miksang” by John McQuade

All the Miksang teachings emerged the same way. These teachings are not someone’s idea. They were not invented or made up. They came through clear seeing. We came to understand and categorize this clear seeing into a step-by-step practice through the insight of Chögyam Trungpa’s dharma art teachings.

The development of Miksang had two main supports: the written record of Chögyam Trungpa’s dharma art teachings and the guidance of his American dharma heirs or transmission lineage successors.

I have mentioned that the transmission of the Buddha dharma lineages is often mind to mind, warm hand to warm hand, realized teacher to trusted student. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche has two dharma heirs: his son, the current Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and Thomas Rich, the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin.

After Chögyam Trungpa presented the dharma art teachings, Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, an ama- teur photographer, established a group of photographers in Boulder to explore the teachings through that medium. He called this early photographic group Miksang.

Meanwhile, Michael Wood, a professional photographer, began meditation practice. He explored the possibility of merging the experience of meditation perception with the medium of photography. He presented a course based on this exploration. The assignments focused on color, light, and texture. To this day, Wood’s assignments remain the level one Miksang assignments.

In the same time period, I was a graduate student studying a contemporary philosophy called phe- nomenology. The ology is from the Greek logos, a Western way to study things as they are. Phenomenon are observable facts or events. So phenomenology is the way of distinguishing things as they are by observation. It is that simple—except it is philosophy, so it is expressed in a complex way. As I studied, I wondered how someone could bring together the experience of meditation with the understanding of phenomenology. I wondered how phenomenology could be something like haiku: a simple, direct, but profound expression.

My at the time girlfriend, Alice Yang, now my wife, was a friend of Michael’s. She took the first course he offered. At the conclusion of the course, they presented a show, and when I saw that show, I realized it was perception. It was dharma. It was what I had been looking for. I joined Michael in ex- ploring this way. We contacted the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, who oversaw the development of this way of seeing. He officially named what we were doing Miksang. In this way, what are now known as the official Miksang teachings emerged.

Just to be crystal clear: Miksang teachings are not something that came from Michael or myself. They are the ways of pure perception. Some of the pedagogy draws on our insights, but it also draws on the ways dharma is taught, and from the pure experience of the practice itself.

In 1985, we felt that the Miksang pedagogy and path was in place and presented this to the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin. He approved it with two conditions: that we write a ninefold logic, and that we establish a Miksang society with an executive council.

Traditional Dharma presentations often involve threefold logic. Typically these are named ground, path, and fruition. The Miksang pedagogy that we presented to the Vajra Regent had three stages, based on a dharma art teaching of Chögyam Trungpa called the Three Levels of Perception. He wanted the detailed version: each of the levels needed to be threefold. I wrote the ninefold logic, the Vajra Regent approved it, and to this day, it is the View of Nalanda Miksang.

I now understand the wisdom of this requirement. A real contemplative art practice cannot be based on only personal intuition and creativity. It must be based on some time-tested form in order to express things as they are. Our intention in these Nalanda contemplative photography teachings is to present a way to explore things as they are.

The executive and society requirements were more ambiguous. In retrospect, it’s clear that I did not understand the deep insight and vision in these requirements. I regarded them as practicalities. We set up a Miksang executive council: president, John McQuade; education, Michael Wood; and secretary, Margaret Thurlow.

Nalanda Miksang has evolved since then, through the teachings of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the projects of Nalanda Miksang teacher Miriam Hall, to begin to manifest a specific understand- ing of contemplative art. It has an impact beyond individual experience, craft, and image, and it em- powers the life situations of many people and, as a contemplative art, enriches human culture.

So Nalanda Miksang is not just a set of teachings about making contemplative images. First, it was a contemplative school whose distinctive view, pedagogy, and organization formed naturally. There was no grand plan: it just found its way in the world, with some help from humans. For example, at some point it became clear that the worldwide interest in Miksang could only be served through es- tablishing more teachers, so I offered a teacher training program. The number of Nalanda Miksang teachers began to increase, throughout North America and the rest of the world. These teachers, in turn, infused and continue to infuse the culture of Nalanda Miksang with their own unique expres- sions. In order to gather and share this collective wisdom, we have recently instituted a yearly retreat for Nalanda Miksang teachers. The Nalanda Miksang society develops in this manner.