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Aug 23
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Heaven, Earth, and Man

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Heaven, Earth, and Man
In Contemplative Landscape Photography
John McQuade, 2021

 “Heaven, earth and man can be seen literally as the sky above, the earth below, and human beings standing or sitting between the two…if we apply the perspective of heaven, earth and man to the situation in the world today, we begin to see that there is a connection between the social and the natural, or environmental.”

Chogyam Trungpa,  Sacred Path of the Warrior

The principles of Heaven, Earth and Man can be discerned in the manifestations of many ancient cultures and wisdom traditions: some Native American practices, the Shinto religion of Japan, the Tibetan spiritual lineages and the Chinese Taoist teachings. In general these principles provide for our natural place and conduct on this earth. This vision articulates an ancient and primordial deep ecology, which, speaking to us in our time of need, remains a most up to date teaching.  Here we retain the traditional reference to Man noting that it references a primordial relationship of humankind rather than a gender specific designation. 

As a principle, heaven represents vastness and sacredness: the source of vision and inspiration. Earth embodies the principle of support and receptivity. The element of earth is both practical and fecund: it grounds and promotes life. As an element heaven is the source of rain and shine, night and day and the other conditions that foster the fruition of the earth principle. The elemental union of heaven and earth manifest as the cycle of the seasons. Symbolically heaven is the source of blessings: the enrichment of the earth and mankind. When the elemental and symbolic relationship between heaven and earth is auspicious – when the rain is a blessing – then the earth yields and can be cultivated. Mankind is the medium of that cultivation. The authentic culture of man articulates the resources of energy and intelligence as an appropriate response to the dominion of heaven and earth. It is said that when human culture is in accord with the principles of heaven and earth then the four seasons and the other elements also will work together in harmony. This is the deep spiritual ecology. According to these teachings, mankind can overcome fear and strife and celebrate our destiny by finding our place in the primordial order of heaven and earth. 

Landscapes are a traditional subject matter for photography and can be approached in many ways: for their scenic values, as travelogue, the naturalist interest in flora and fauna, the conservationist concern for the pristine beauty of wilderness and the honoring of scared sites. Contemplative photography divines the spiritual value and power of the land. It endeavors to find ways to express that sacred outlook.

Many contemplative arts such as Ikebana (flower arrangement) and Chinese landscape paintings embody the principles of heaven, earth and man as the heart and form of their discipline. Contemplative photography brings these principles to bear in the appreciation of landscapes. In general contemplative photography is a discipline of seeing that enhances the synchronization of eye and mind. When eye, mind, and world are in the same place at the same time, one sees clearly. Then the moment by moment vividness of the visual world becomes apparent and is appreciated fully. From this primacy of perception, contemplative photography approaches landscapes with the intent of discerning the relationship of heaven and earth. Continue…

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