Dreams of the World: Buddhist Monk from Angkor (Cambodia)

Buddhist Monk Tak Tak (left) at Ta Prohm Temple in the Angkor Complex (Cambodia). Photograph © KIKE CALVO

 This post is the latest in Kike Calvo´s series Dreams of the World, which profiles interesting people we meet during our travels.

“I was young the last time I was here. It was, perhaps, 45 years ago” Buddhist monk Tak Tak, 60, said gently as he contemplated the silent magnificence of early morning Ta Prohm temple in Angkor, Cambodia. “There were many more trees, larger plants wrapping around the ancient walls,” said Tak Tak as he gazed at the bas-reliefs and recalled the emotions of the first time he saw the temple as a samaner or novice monk (śrāmaṇera).   While his monastery, Phras Ang Tep, is less than three miles away from Ta Prohm, this is only his second visit to the temple. “Monastic daily life is regimented and rules are to be respected. I go out but only on occasions,” said Tak Tak uncertain, and fairly unconcerned, about the next time he may be able to see again the striking Angkorian World Heritage site that has been standing close to his home for more than eight centuries. While a flock of two million annual tourists rush through the globe to see the ruins, scientists work hard at preserving the structure, and looters try their luck at getting a piece of the divine, Tak Tak knows that inevitably Ta Prohm will continue to change. “Everything is constant change. Everything is flowing. That’s the teaching of impermanence,” said Tak Tak. “My dream is to see more monks in Buddhism. I would like to become a chief in the Theravada Buddhist tradition to guide new generations, to teach them and inspire them to respect the rules of Buddha.”

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Award-winning photographer, journalist, and author Kike Calvo (pronounced key-keh) specializes in culture and environment. He has been on assignment in more than 90 countries, working on stories ranging from belugas in the Arctic to traditional Hmong costumes in Laos. Kike is pioneering in using small unmanned aerial systems to produce aerial photography as art, and as a tool for research and conservation. He is also known for his iconic photographic project, World of Dances, on the intersection of dance, nature, and architecture. His work has been published in National Geographic, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, among others. Kike teaches photography workshops and has been a guest lecturer at leading institutions like the School of Visual Arts and Yale University. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic blog Voices. He has authored nine books, including Drones for Conservation; So You Want to Create Maps Using Drones?; Staten Island: A Visual Journey to the Lighthouse at the End of the World; and Habitats, with forewords by David Doubilet and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Kike’s images have been exhibited around the world, and are represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. Kike was born in Spain and is based in New York. When he is not on assignment, he is making gazpacho following his grandmother’s Andalusian recipe. You can travel to Colombia with Kike: www.colombiaphotoexpeditions.com