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A Preliminary photo analysis of Odd Sighting and Auspicious Signs at K Sri Dhammananda's Cremation

by Jeffrey S. Brooks (Jhanananda), The Great Western Vehicle, Tucson, AZ, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 15, 2006

It has recently come to my attention that your news service has published two separate photo essays regarding a single event where there were claims made by your news service of the supernatural.

The photo-essays and the claims that were made were from articles regarding the funeral of Dr K Sri Dammananda from “Odd Sighting At Dhammananda's Cremation” by Sin Chew Daily, Sept 7 2006 and, "Auspicious Signs at Chief's Funeral" Photos by Kooi Fong | Oon Yeoh | Bugs Tan 9/11/2006.

I have been a Buddhist for more than 30 years, and with a degree in Anthropology I am familiar with claims of the miraculous in religious communities. I happen to also have a degree in photography, and part of my study was examining old images from the 19th century that supposedly revealed miraculous happenings, such as the appearance of fairies and ghosts during Christian and Pagan European religious events.  While at the time those images were accepted as evidence of the miraculous, most people see them today as blatant examples of a setup or manipulated image.

I am not implying that the images that the Buddhist Channel published are intentional setups or manipulated images, but I believe they were nonetheless misinterpreted, and the Buddhist Channel owes it to the public to publish an alternate interpretation of those images.  In addition to a degree in photography I also happen to have worked in Astronomical and optical research for a number of years, so I have a fairly good understanding of image processing and analysis, as well as an understanding of the optical-mechanical and photochemical processes of photography and the electro-optical processes of imaging.

I examined the two images of an unusual cloud formation that were said to resemble Quan Yin. I found that these images were much too small to see much of anything in.  However, I have seen many bazaar cloud formations that occurred at random and during auspicious moment so, it seemed reasonable to me that a cloud resembling Quan Yin could appear in the sky in conjunction with the cremation of a highly respected monk; however, bazaar cloud formations are so common that the appearance can not be taken as the sole evidence of the miraculous.  A cloud formation resembling Donald Duck, for instance, could easily have been seen in the sky at that time, but no one would have considered it miraculous.

In review of the photo-essays of the funeral of Dr K Sri Dammananda from your article "Auspicious Signs at Chief's Funeral" Photos by Kooi Fong | Oon Yeoh | Bugs Tan 9/11/2006

In images 10 through 14 the notes say there are "light orbs" apparent.  While these may indeed be "light orbs" we would want more than the word of the interpreter of the photographs, but several eyewitnesses of the event as well, however, there are none.  Secondly, if you examine the 10th and 12 images you will find the largest and most dominant "light orb" is identical, although it moves across the image plane.  If we examine these images more closely we may find more similarities between the "light orbs" from one image to the next, for instance they all seem to be drooling in the same direction, which could imply they are responding in some way to gravity.

You will also notice that the "light orbs" seem to fall in the foreground of the image. We must ask, if there is a rainstorm going on, why is the lens not getting wet?  Is it possible that the photographer was in a room with a glass window, or photographing through the window of an automobile? If these points are true then we can speculate that these "light orbs" are most probably water droplets on a window that the photographer is photographing through.

In image 15 in this sequence there are no "light orbs".  If we examine the aspect of the image we can see that the lens is most probably a zoom lens and is shooting at a wider angle, in which case the "light orbs" would only be seen as tiny blurred out of focus specs in the glass and would not appear in the image except possible under high resolution examination with the original image.

In image 16, taken at 6:18 PM (30 minutes after the sequence with "light orbs," there is a note on this image that the number of "light orbs" have been "drastically reduced."  If we examine the relative lack of darkness of the background sky from this image verses the previous images, it looks as though the sky is not as dark in this image as it was in the preceding images.  If these photographs were shot through a window, then it is very possible that in the 1/2 hour interval between images the high temperature of Sri Lanka may have caused the water droplets on the window to have already dried.

The "light orbs" that appear in the image from 6:18 PM by another camera of the same event also revealing "light orbs" we see no one in this image responding to these so called "light orbs," which is hard to imagine if there were indeed "light orbs" present. It is thus very possible that the "light orbs" were in fact an artifact of water droplets on the lens, filter or window that the cameras shot through.  Additionally, this image seems to reveal much more water present than an image with the same time stamp. I would speculate if we could examine the two cameras that took these images we may find that their internal clocks are off by as much as 1/2 hour.

While the Buddhist community of Sri Lanka might very well wish to believe there were miraculous apparitions in conjunction with the funeral of Dr K Sri Dammananda, so that they may have some faith in their religion, they are no different from the faithful followers of every religion who seek apparitions and portents to support their faith. I do not wish to reduce the honor paid to the "chief" the images that we have examined thus far published by the Buddhist Channel certainly do not constitute evidence of a miracle. I am not implying that the images that the Buddhist Channel published are intentional setups, or intentionally manipulated images but I believe they were nonetheless misinterpreted, and the Buddhist Channel owes it to the public to publish an alternate interpretation of those images.

While every religion claims miracles, under scrutiny these "miracles" very often turn out to be fabricated or a romantic interpretation of every day events, or normal failures of data collecting equipment due to marginal conditions, such as a rainstorm producing water droplets forming on the optical apparatus of a camera or other photo-imaging device. However, I have seen some bazaar cloud formations that occurred at auspicious moment, and I have also observed apparent bazaar behavior of wild animals in conjunction with religious events, so I believe the miraculous is possible, however proving the authenticity of these phenomena scientifically will require sufficient levels of data collection that will often prove too difficult a task, when these events very often occur where there is no scientific data collection present to document the phenomena.

Jeffrey S. Brooks (Jhanananda)

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