On the morning of Friday, January 13, I witnessed one of the most profound and memorable sunrises of my life over the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and one of the religion’s greatest global monuments. To learn more about the temple and its rich 1200-year history, please click here and here.

As you’ll see in the photos that follow, it’s difficult for me to put the morning into words, for I simply have none. I only have a feeling, which days later still brings tears to my eyes to recall.

That feeling is of heart-rending gratitude, of being so gently yet firmly opened to an experience of transcendent beauty that one day later or one day before might not have been. (In fact, I know for certain that the day after, Saturday, was not as glorious.)

What to even do with that? And what to do with the intertwined streams of fortunes and misfortunes that put me there at that time, and no other? How to respond in the face of such a gift, such a blessing?

I honestly don’t know.

But in amongst those feelings of personal gratitude is a similar gratitude that lives alongside of it: that one of us gets to see this. That of the hundreds of people I know, one of that group was fortunate to witness it, to share it with all. Because otherwise, none of us would. And how many such moments disappear, washed away by the seas of time forever, for want of someone to document them?

So while these photos are not the same as the morning itself, in my curation and editing of them I have sought to capture as much of it as I can, so that together we might all enjoy the beauty of nature and the beauty of the works of humankind, bound together by something Higher. And whether you name that thing “fate” or “chance” or “Spirit”, I think we all would describe its behavior similarly:

It appears when it wills and disappears as mysteriously as it came, but in departing leaves all around it transformed.

In closing, to accompany these photos, I have chosen a brief passage from a classic novel I just finished, that illustrates much that the images leave unseen.

It is my joy to share this morning with you. Thank you for reading.

Buddha Moon
The full moon rests atop a Buddha’s head. Click any image to enlarge.

Whispy mountains

“And just for a moment I had reached the point of ecstacy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wondernment in the bleakness of the mortal realm and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels…

Smoky path

… and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-hands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven.

Sunrise Panoramic. Click to enlarge.

Sun break

Pagoda sun
A bird takes flight in the morning sun.

Sun peek

I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds.

Pagodas back

Rear pano
Valley panoramic, looking away from sunrise.

Burning Sun

Sun pagoda

I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transitions from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it.

Buddha overwatch

Some of the thousands of unique faces in relief on the panels of Borobudur. An entire society, carved in stone.
Palace guards
Palace guards. Their carved shields are visible on their backs.
In the final panel of a Buddhist parable, a monkey shares his mango with a sad friend who has none. Said my tour guide, “Life is sharing. Life is caring.”

I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic Mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like the action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water. I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment.

Buddha hair
Aided by spirits above and attendants below, Prince Shakyamuni cuts his hair in preparation to become the Buddha.
Borobudur Temple
Borobudur in the morning sun
The path home.

But I didn’t die, and walked four miles and picked up ten long butts and took them back to Marylou’s hotel room and poured their tobacco in my old pipe and lit up.

Breakfast from my hotel. A brief illness gave me budget to splurge.
Final view
Borobudur Valley. The temple is visible at the foot of the small hill, at center.

“I was too young to know what had happened.”  

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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