El-Branden Brazil

Photographer, Writer & Mystic Traveller

Archive for ‘September, 2014’

The Transition Of Seasons

Autumn Paints Its Mood At A Zen Temple
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Summers in Tokyo are extremely hot and humid. To the surprise of people outside of Japan, the temperatures here, match those in Bangkok and other tropical capitals. Japanese people often complain about the heat, but for me it beats the hell out of the British summer weather, and certainly I can live with the humidity over Winter’s chilly grip.

Unfortunately, Summer is now retreating, and the sound of the insects will also fade away shortly. The trees will change into their glorious red, orange and yellow spectacle, and then Winter will once again bring its misery upon me.

I wish that I could embrace Winter’s charms like other people, but I cannot: Skiing? Most definitely not. Christmas tackiness? Oh, God no! Snuggling up by a fire? Nah, I would prefer to be in the tropics. Spring cannot come soon enough.

A Burmese Infant & Mother

Smile!  A Burmese Infant & Mother
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

A few years later, on a return trip to Burma, I tracked down these people, so that I could give them copies of this photo, as I always do with many I take photos of in the country.  It is my way of showing appreciation.


Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Mount Everest – Goddess Mother Of The World

Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Photography by El-Branden Brazil

There, Mount Everest stood, nobly towering above the many, many white ridges and peaks of the Himalaya. Our small plane crawled along the seemingly endless wall of mountains that suddenly jut, without impromptu, from the low hills and plains of the Nepalese landscape.

Jason and I had spent an exhausting, but rewarding week trekking in the Annapurna region. On our return to Kathmandu, the call of Everest enchanted us. Due to a lack of time, it was impossible to trek to the base camp on this trip. Instead, we decided to take up the opportunity of flying with Royal Nepal Airlines, for a thirty-minute glimpse of the giant mountain.

At the time, the Maoist insurgency was causing some difficulties in the country. On several occasions while we were there, they enforced national strikes, which meant that public transport, shops and other facilities were forced to close for business, out of fear of violent retribution from the rebels.

On the day of our flight, all taxis were brought to a stand still, making it very difficult to predict whether we could get to the airport from the Kathmandu Guesthouse, downtown. Luckily, a bus organised by the airline, came to pick us up. The alternative was to pay high prices for an unscrupulous gangster to drive us there.

We waited for a while at the airport, surrounded by the usual ragbag of tourists. One Englishman sat in a corner, with his much younger Filipino wife coddling him like a baby. Finally, we boarded our small propeller aircraft. As our plane climbed altitude, we could see the wonderful, timeless roofs and spires of Kathmandu and its many temples.

Human structures quickly gave way to the brown, grassy hills of the upper plains, and then the unforgettable entrance of the majestic Himalaya range. Nothing can prepare you for the scale and magnificence of the sight. No photo or beautifully written prose can capture the almost mystical rapture that can be engaged by looking upon the spectacle with one’s own eyes. There is nothing like it anywhere else I have been.

The airplane bobbed up and down upon the varying air currents outside. Soon, Everest came into view, with a wisp of cloud wrapped around its peak. Unfortunately, the windows in the passengers’ cabin were tinted brown, so the natural colour of the surroundings were hard to perceive. However, the captain allowed us to file into the cockpit individually, where we were permitted to take photographs through clear glass.

To the inhabitants of the region, Everest is called by the much more beautiful-sounding name, Chomolungma – Goddess Mother of the World. As tantalising as our view of her was, she seemed drowned among the many other high peaks. There was a certain dissatisfaction in the glimpse we were given, perhaps due to the ease in which we were allowed to view her. I felt like a cheat, undeserving of seeing her full glory. It was as if the mountains around, shielded her from our arrogance for dare looking down on her, as we cruised by in the comfort of our airplane.

I had not felt like this in the Annapurna, where a long, arduous trek had humbled me like a rite of initiation, permitting me to the overwhelming sight of that splendid mountain range’s sheer, white walls. Like Everest, the Annapurna’s magic would have been diminished if observed from the air. Only from the ground can humans tap into their primeval faculty of mind, where the mountain connects as it has always done for millennia. It is by no accident that mountains have been the inspiration for so much spiritual faith.

As I gazed out towards Everest, I made a promise that next time, I would trek to the base camp, where I will be forced to prostrate and look up upon her beauty. Only then, when I am made aware of my own insignificance, can true appreciation and gratitude be appropriately graced upon her.

The Semantics Of God

“Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is we would know everything that God would know if there was a God, but there isn’t. I’m an atheist” – Stephen Hawking

This word “God” is a semantic hurdle. The word can mean many things to many people, including simply or complexly, the universe itself in abstraction. It is just a label applied to the great mysteries that abound, just as the phrase “the Big Bang” is. Words try to find meaning in the darkness. They are conveniences.

I do agree that science can discover great, underlying truths, and perhaps the mind of “God”. We may even discover if the universe is a hologram, and that we are the universe itself, enfolded infinitely. We may even discover, as some maverick scientists postulate now, that the universe is a simulation. We may discover then, that in the beginning was, indeed, the word.

What the mathematics of science brings to Truth is accuracy over the flowery flourishes of metaphor used by mystics. Yet, we must not be mistaken in thinking that the insights of mystics are any less valid and valuable for understanding Truth. I see no difference between the Big Bang and the Aborigines’ Rainbow Serpent dreaming the world into existence. No difference at all, except the words used.

I have always believed that mathematics may well be the language of God. However, the words of great mystics should not be diminished any less in their value for understanding Truth. There is much wisdom, poetry and insight to be found in the metaphors of mystics. Even the mystics themselves though have repeatedly pointed out the inadequacy of words to express the insights they have gained from their experiences of the divine. The Buddha was himself reluctant to try and explain what he had gained, because he doubted that his awakening could be adequately expressed through words. The Sufi mystic, Rumi said, “If I could repeat it, people passing by would be enlightened and go free.”

Arthur C. Clark once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In defining something, we often fail to see things as they truly are. Indeed, if I must choose labels, I much prefer the poeticness of magic, over the coolness of technology, regardless of if they are an indistinguishable thing. Perhaps it is the poetry of the term God that makes it such an appealing label for the great unknown.

Dawn In Borom
Dawn In Borom, Indonesia
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

The Sphinx – Time’s Guardian


Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Time’s stalwart guardian, the Sphinx, has seemingly forever sat upon the Giza Plateau. In fact, according to most estimates, this enigmatic creation is believed to have been built when Khafra’s pyramid was constructed between 2558 to 2532 BC.

The term sphinx comes from the Greek for strangler; although it has been suggested that the word originates from the ancient Egyptian phrase shesep ankh (living image).

Many scholars have surmised that the face of this fantastical creature is, in fact, an image of Pharaoh Khafra himself; although this has still yet to be confirmed. It certainly seems plausible, as the Sphinx stands at the end of a ritual causeway that leads up to Khafra’s pyramid.

Recently, there has been a lot of contention regarding the accepted age of the Sphinx. Some scientists have suggested that the Sphinx may belong to an older civilisation, dating as far back as 12,000 years. These controversial conclusions were founded upon the level of erosion that has affected the main body of the sculpture. The maverick scientists who promote these theories, believe that the erosion lines could only have appeared during a period of high moisture in the region, pre-dating the age of the Pharaohs by thousands of years, during a period that followed the last great Ice Age. If this could be proven, then the history of civilisation would have to be radically updated.

Traditional Egyptologists are not swayed by such ideas, as they are not by the predictions of American mystic, Edgar Cayce, who had visions of a lost library of ancient wisom laying within the Sphinx. There have been several legitimate excavations to discover if, indeed, a space within exists. Towards the back of the sandstone statue near its tail, a small, hollow chamber was discovered, but nothing that would hint towards a larger, more important inner complex.

With a maximum height of 20 metres, and a length of 73 metres, the Sphinx instantly enthralls the visitor with both powerful mythology and ancient history. There are efforts to preserve it from the increasing threat of Cairo’s pollution, which is causing the Sphinx to suffer from stone’s equivalent of cancer. How much reconstruction should be done, has been a source of great contention, but with the current environmental assault, if work is not continued, this fabled art piece will be challenged to survive another millennium.

Photography & Report by El-Branden Brazil