Don Farber’s path to photographing one of the world’s most revered spiritual leaders began in the 1970s, with Sundays spent taking pictures of refugees worshiping in a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Los Angeles. It was just a few years later, in 1979, that the Dalai Lama first visited the United States, making a short stop at the temple. This had a tremendous impact on Farber and sparked his desire to photograph Buddhist life around the globe.
Photographing the Dalai Lama has been the highlight of Farber’s career, and Farber has traveled extensively in order to capture His Holiness at work. While taking pictures in India on a Fulbright grant in 1997, Farber connected with His Holiness on a personal level. One morning, after photographing the Dalai Lama in meditation, Farber was able to strike up a conversation. “I told him the tragic story of my wife’s parents, who escaped from Tibet in 1959,” Farber recalls. “His Holiness said, “All the Tibetan people have suffered so much.’ His compassion really came through in the portrait I took. Afterwards, His Holiness went to his altar and took a piece of turquoise and a small shell and gave them to me. My wife now wears the turquoise as a necklace.”
Farber says that the years he’s spent learning from and documenting the Dalai Lama are an incredible blessing. “A lot of what learning from a master is about is simply being in his presence and receiving the blessings that he emanates,” Farber says. “As a photographer and spiritual seeker, my job is to get out of my own way and be receptive to what he is imparting. Then something of the depth of the master’s realization might reveal itself in the photograph.”
Farber’s images have appeared in numerous publications, including Tricycle, Shambhala Sun, and various books on Tibetan life. His work can also be seen in a recently completed boxed DVD set that brings His Holiness’s teachings home. Living Wisdom’s 400 images span 25 years, following the Dalai Lama from age 45 to age 70, and were taken in Toronto, California, New York, Cape Town, and India. “I think that by seeing the photography, combined with hearing and reading his teachings,” Farber says, “we can more fully benefit from this holy being who is a guiding light for so many of us.”
To see more of Farber’s photography, check out “Dalai Lama: Heart of Wisdom,” a 2007 calendar, and his book Portraits of Tibetan Buddhist Masters (University of California Press).