The Bhagavad Gita for Landscape Photography

Nikon D810A + AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Listening to audiobooks has been one of my favourite activities for nearly a decade. It is a great pleasure to gain knowledge while driving, walking, jogging, cocking, and ironing shirts like a character in a novel by Haruki Murakami. Lately I started listening to audiobooks while shooting landscape photographs. Because you often need to wait for the right moment when shooting landscapes, there’s nothing left to do until you press the shutter button after you set up your tripod and camera. So I was listening to the Bhagavad Gita translated into English by Eknath Easwaran while shooting the sunset yesterday.

A brief description for those who are not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian text which is part of the epic Mahabharata. The Gita is a dialogue between the supreme guru Krishna and his disciple Arjuna, who is facing the duty as a warrior to fight his relatives. In Hinduism, Vishnu descends to Earth in a from of an avatar to restore the world. Krishna is said to be  the eighth avatar of Vishunu, Buddha is referred to as the ninth avatar, and the tenth (and last) avatar Kalki is predicted to appear in the future .

Lord Krishna says:

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engaged in action, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments ,and a like in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.” (2:47-48)

I saw thin clouds over Mt. Fuji and left the house in anticipation of a dramatic sunset. Yes, I went to Lake Yamanaka because I expected a good result. In a strict sense, this action seems to indicate attachment to a good result. But it can also be regarded as part of my dharma (duty).

Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

As a photographer, I should try my best to take good photographs making full use of my knowledge and skills. But, once I make a decision on where and when to shoot, I just take care of things I have control over such as finding the best composition and getting perfect focus and appropriate exposure. Then I detach from the result: “I may capture a beautiful sunset or maybe it will be mediocre. But in either way, I will be content.” How nature changes its appearance is beyond my control, and I shouldn’t worry about things I have no control over.

I’d like to point out the fact that yoga mentioned in the quotation from the Gita doesn’t mean physical exercises. In the West, the physical postures (asanas) of Hatha yoga (one of the branches of yoga) became very popular and now people call such physical exercises yoga. In my opinion, it’s as absurd as calling the act of sitting on a floor zen. In this part of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about Karma yoga, which is is the process of attaining Nirvana in action. The Bhagavad Gita also teaches two other paths to self-realisation (Bhakti yoga and Jnana yoga), but I don’t write about them for now.

This was how far I could apply the knowledge of the Gita to my photography. I’m sure I will gain more insights from this ancient wisdom and apply them to my everyday life as I read (and listen to) it over and over. But I can safely say that it wasn’t too difficult to detach from the fruit of my action in this case since I love nature in any form.

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

The exposure time of the above shot is 300 seconds and I had to wait for another 300 seconds for noise reduction. So it took 600 seconds (10 minutes) all together. It gets cold in winter in the area and I don’t use my Kindle when the temperature is below the freezing point. But it is getting warmer now. I find Kindle is quite useful when waiting for a very long exposure to finish after sunset or before dawn as it lets you read books in the pitch dark. Perhaps it is also a good idea to meditate while waiting for a very long exposure to finish. But I wouldn’t do it in Yamanakako as this area isn’t that deserted and I may appear too far-out. I meditate in nature when trekking in the backcountry.

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