Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

Developing an Urban Buddhist Practice

For most people in China, Buddhism has a strong association with good luck. Buddhist rituals are seen as a way of shaping one’s life chances. It is a way of ensuring economic success. Xinjiang is no exception to this. It is no accident that next to the newly constructed hub of the New Silk Road – Ürümchi’s international exhibition center is a giant Buddha complex that was built by a large real estate developer. As the anthropologist Sara Davis has noted giant Buddhas are often built to signify the success of Chinese capitalism in the borderlands of the country.

Yet for Tian Lin, Buddhism does not signify this at all. Quite the opposite. For him Buddhism does not depend upon ritual and future reward but rather it is found in the basic tenants of Mahayana Buddhist practice: generosity, discipline, forbearance, zeal, concentration and wisdom. 

For him this meant giving up on working for money. He found a shabby apartment in the north of the city. And he began to live off the generosity of his friends who came to study photography and Buddhism with him. Through his Buddhist training he came to decide that he should remain single and that he would adhere to a strictly vegetarian lifestyle. After he came back to the city he found that his Buddhist practice compelled him to encounter everyone he met with a radical honesty and openness. 

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