From The Way of Seeing Volume II: Heart of Photography: “Introduction” by John McQuade and Miriam Hall


The realm of perception is limitless, so limitless that perception itself is primordial, unthinkable, beyond thought. There are so many perceptions that they are beyond imagination. There are a vast number of sounds. There are sounds that you have never heard. There are sights and colors that you have never seen. There are feelings that you have never experienced before. There are endless fields of perception.

—Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala, Sacred Path of the Warrior


This is the second volume in the Way of Seeing series, and it presents the heart of contemplative photography, what we also refer to as Level Two, or the second program in the Nalanda Miksang/Way of Seeing series. Nalanda refers to an early university in India which specialized in the arts, Miksang translates as “Good Eye” and is the lineage name of this practice. Underlying all of this volume is heart connection. The path is how this practice becomes meaningful and fulfilling for your life, and how your images become meaningful and inspiring for others.

These teachings and practices are the main and heart teachings of Nalanda Miksang contemplative photography. Entering the way of Nalanda Miksang begins in Level One, with our first volume, Looking and Seeing. This volume takes us to where the day-in-day-out experience of contemplative photography lives. There is a full review of the content of Looking and Seeing, covering the teachings of Level One, in the appendix to this book. If you have not read that volume or taken courses covering the material in that book, we recommend reviewing that material first before undertaking Level Two. The following brief review is more for people who have engaged the Level One teachings or have read the first volume in the Way of Seeing series.

In that first volume, Looking and Seeing, we worked through our basic connection with visual forms of perception—color, light, pattern, texture, space, and dot-in-space—as a way to both directly connect with the visual world and synchronize the eye, mind, and world. When we refer to Level One, or Looking and Seeing, this is what we are referring to. This direct contact with visual reality and the experience of harmonization of eye and mind is the first contemplative connection: to be there, with the “there,” through the there. This sounds abstract, but it could not be more sensuous and direct. You actually experience what you experience as you experience it.

What you experience directly and clearly is often different from what you think you experience. For instance, to lean into a slogan from Looking and Seeing, you first experience “fire engine red” not “a red fire engine.” Our direct experience is often not recognized until it has been filtered and distorted by a network of concepts, thoughts, interpretations, and emotional responses. With true perception, your experience is perception, and your perception is your experience. There is nothing added—we are simply recognizing direct experience before concepts, names or labels, interpretations, likes and dislikes, and so forth kick in.

Recently, John presented the following in a workshop. John asked participants to look at the wall behind the shrine in the Shambhala meditation hall of the workshop. The question was this: “What color is the wall?” The most obvious answer was “gold.” Upon further exploration, though, people realized that there were many hues of gold, which depended on the many overlapping phenomenal circumstances: shadows, intensities of light, patterns and texture in the wall. In terms of experience, there were many hues of gold. At the same time, to paint the wall, someone picked a paint chip the color of a specific gold, which looked very different from the gold of the painted wall.

Try it out yourself. Find a wall illuminated by light sources and see if you can find “one color” there.

So. Which is the real gold? The objective paint chip gold, or the experienced, many-hued gold? They are both real in their own domains, and the point is to understand that there are different domains of reality constantly coexisting. Contemplative mind and practice orient more toward the experienced domain, the lived world, rather than the paint chip world. This is the liberation aspect of the contemplative way of seeing: seeing if your life experience consists of radiant hues of gold or a single paint chip gold.