Sandokai: Grasping at things is surely delusion by Josema Zamorano

This has been the most exciting and inspiring exhibition that I’ve had the pleasure to view during this year’s Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver.

Josema Zamorano is a multi-talented artist. He is a university professor at Capilano University and has taught students in a variety of subjects: Spanish, engineering, literature, philosophy and photography. He has also worked as a telecommunications engineer. The fact that “his work aims to question identities by means of experimental photography and visual poetry” quite excited me as I stand at the beginning of this Identity and Place module. I’m sure I will find some inspiration for some of the forthcoming assignments here.

His Sandokai series is based on a poem written by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian and is chanted daily in the temples in Japan and around the world. The translated text is at the end of this write up.

Zamorano has drawn his inspiration from the Japanese belief that the ghosts of the ancestors are ever present among the living. In his use of multiple exposures, photographing the same scene from slightly different perspectives, he has created illusory effects that bring the ghostly appearances to the forefront. I think his most successful images were those done at the temples, where there is not quite so much pedestrian traffic and the ghosts are more visually apparent. However, all his images are quite fascinating and one feels the necessity of wanting to peel away the layers to reveal more of the mystery. In contrast to what one would normally expect of a ghostly image, Zamorano’s images come across as warm and friendly. The ghosts are not something to be feared, but are really part of the cycle of life. The words in the poem “To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment” seem to encapsulate his images perfectly.

Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano


Identity of Relative and Absolute

The mind of the Great Sage of India was intimately conveyed from west to east. Among human beings are wise ones and fools, But in the Way there is no northern or southern Patriarch.

The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary streams flow through the darkness. To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time, independent. Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place. Form makes the character and appearance different; Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.

The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases. The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother. Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.

Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour. Each is independent of the other; cause and effect must return to the great reality Like leaves that come from the same root. The words high and low are used relatively.

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind, in walking.

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards. If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it. When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far. If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it.

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time by night or day.


Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano

More images from the Sandokai series can be seen at:

Reference List

Josema Zamorano [online]. Capilano University. Available at: [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Sandokai [online] Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Zamorano, Josema (2016) Sandokai: Grasping at Things is Surely Delusion [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 April, 2016]



One thought on “Sandokai: Grasping at things is surely delusion by Josema Zamorano”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s