10,000 Mantras is an exploration of the myriad ways in which we search for meaning and truth. In 2015, I made a pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash, a holy mountain in western Tibet. Travelling in close quarters with Tibetan Buddhists, I had the opportunity to observe their habits and traditions. It was an enlightening experience, but not in the way that I had expected.
I came to understand that their relationship to Buddha, as well as their attitude toward sin and repentance, was remarkably similar to the tenets of Roman Catholicism. In the same way that I’d previously questioned my fundamentalist Christian beliefs, my notion of Buddhism as a “higher path” was challenged.
In humanity’s search for transcendence, we inflict penances, receive sacraments, renounce pleasures, transubstantiate, pontificate, circumambulate, and drink Kool-Aid. We surrender our free will to priests and gurus in exchange for absolution, salvation, and esoteric wisdom. In short, we engage in superstitious rituals and subscribe to belief systems that diminish our right to self-governance, and often deface our humanity.
10,000 Mantras is a commentary on self-abnegation and the desire for transcendence. Working with the Tibetan Buddhist mantra “om mani padme hum”, I explore liturgical themes: repentance through repetition, self-mortification through cutting, and purification with fire and incense. By the time that I’d completed my 10,000-plus mantras, I concluded that transcendence is often a form of escapism, and the pursuit of perfection is as elusive as the God who embodies it.