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I have an innate love of stories. And this is the reason what drew me to photography. I believe storytelling matters—it heals and teaches; it inspires and resolves; it enchants us as well as enlightens us. Since then, this has been a core pillar of my career as a photographer.

The aim of these projects is to reveal universal truths about humanity by sharing real stories of human struggles and their eventual triumph. Through these meaningful stories we see how very different people share the same life experiences and how human nature can transcend culture.


Buddhist enlightenment is not a product of mere intellect.

Buddhism is a righteous way of life for the happiness of every living being in this world. It is a method to get rid of miseries and to find eternal salvation. The teaching of the Buddha is not limited to one nation or race. It is neither a creed nor a mere faith. It is a teaching for the entire universe. It is a teaching for all time. Its object is the salvation or deliverance of man. Salvation in Buddhism is personal and individual. You alone must save yourself just as you alone have to eat, drink, and sleep. The advice given by the Buddha points the Way to liberation; but his advice was never intended to be taken as a theory. When he was questioned as to what theory he propounded, the Buddha replied that he preached no theories and whatever he did preach was a result of his own experience. Thus his teaching does not offer any theory to the world. Theory cannot bring one nearer to spiritual perfection. Theories are the very fetters that bind the mind and impede spiritual progress. The Buddha says, “Wise men give no credence to passing theories. Why should they tie themselves? They are past believing everything they see and hear.”

The Photography of Melvin Mapa©

Theories are products of the intellect and the Buddha understood the limitations of the human intellect. He taught that enlightenment is not a product of mere intellect. One cannot achieve emancipation by taking an intellectual course. This statement may seem ridiculous; however it is true. Intellectuals tend to spend too much of their valuable time in study, critical analysis, and debate. They usually have little or no time for practice. Remember that the Buddha was a practical teacher who made use of his knowledge and experience to attain enlightenment. Thus his teaching contains a practical wisdom that cannot be limited to theory or philosophy.

The Photography of Melvin Mapa©
The Photography of Melvin Mapa©

Buddhism is not mere philosophy because philosophy deals mainly with knowledge but it is not concerned with translating the knowledge into practice in daily living. Buddhism lay special emphasis on practice and realisation. The philosopher sees the miseries and disappointments of life but, unlike the Buddha, he offers no practical solution to overcome our frustrations which are part of the unsatisfactory nature of life. The philosopher merely pushes his thoughts to dead ends. Philosophy is very well and good but it has failed to quench spiritual thirst. However, philosophy has enriched our intellectual imagination and diminished dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against further progress. To that extend, Buddhism values philosophy.

The Photography of Melvin Mapa©

Remember that the chief aim of the Buddhist life is to attain enlightenment and spiritual freedom. Enlightenment vanquishes ignorance which lies at the root of birth and death. However this vanquishing of ignorance cannot be achieved except by the exercise of one’s will power; all other attempts—especially mere intellectual attempts—are utterly futile. This is why the Buddha concluded, “These (metaphysical) questions are not calculated to profit; they are not concerned with the Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha); they do not lead to right conduct, or to detachment, or to purifications from lust, or to quietude, or to a calm heart, or to real knowledge, or to higher insight, or to Nibbana. In place of metaphysical speculation, the Buddha was more concerned with teaching a practical understanding of the Four Noble Truths that he discovered: what the origin of suffering is; what the cessation of suffering is; how to overcome suffering and to the final salvation. For these truths are all practical matters to be fully understand and realised by anyone who really desires to accomplish the great act of emancipation.

The Photography of Melvin Mapa©
The Photography of Melvin Mapa©

This is why the Buddha placed great emphasis on personal experience. Meditation is the practical, scientific system to verify the truth that comes through personal experience. Through meditation, the will tries to transcend the condition it has put on itself and this is the awakening of consciousness. All the metaphysical problems merely involve us in a tangled and matted mass of thread.


Buddhist Missionary Society, Malaysia

Sri Dhammananda

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