Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Joseph Rock

You have probably never heard of Joseph Rock. He was an Austrian/American botanist you spent much of the 1920’s 30’s and 40’s living in and traveling through eastern Tibet and south-west China. When I was in my early teens I found a box of old National Geographic magazines in which there were several articles by Rock. They showed nomads and lamas, mountain passes and high plateaus, Buddha images and wild-looking nomads. I was utterly fascinated. In fact, I think it was Joseph Rock’s images that first focused my attention on the ‘mysterious East’ which in turn lead to an interest in Tibet, then in Buddhism and finally to me becoming a Buddhist monk. Now, after 32 years as a monk, living mainly in Asia, I have absolutely no illusions about either the ‘East’ or Buddhism, other than that most people’s ideas about both are exactly that – illusions.
I recently stumbled across two websites about Rock. The first is which is an archive of hundreds of his photos. The other, even more interesting, is by an Australian named Michael who has retraced Rock’s many journeys and has juxtaposed his photos with Rock’s old ones. Have a look at It is one of the most absorbing sites I have so far found on the internet. Both sites are a reminder of my adolescent flights of fancy and also a ‘then-and-now’ record of a remote and forgotten part of the Buddhist world. They made me want to put on my trekking boots and go wandering. They made me wish I was born then (maybe I was) so I could have visited those places before the modern world so rudely interrupted. Here are some of Joseph Rock’s images.

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