These were the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the World Day of Peace, 2010, sentiments echoed in the ethos and philosophies of all the major religions the world over. Here on Holy Isle we have a long history of maintaining a strong ethic of cultivating a responsibility for environmental stewardship. As Lama Yeshe said at the beginning of the project (see the interview at the end of this post), the main ecological aspects of the Holy Isle Project are “Being in harmony”; with nature, with the community on the Isle and with the wider community of Arran, Scotland, and Earth itself.
Last Autumn the environment department planted 600 new trees on the south west side of the island. These trees included Cherry trees, Elder’s, Dog Roses, and several other varieties of berry-bearing trees. The aim is to provide nourishment for the islands bird population, and also to provide nourishment for the usually outnumbered human inhabitants of the island in the future. We have planted Cobnuts, a wild Hazel nut, for the same reason. In the coming few weeks we will be planting a further 200 trees at the South end of the island in a newly enclosed area next to the long term women’s retreat.
Holy Isle continues to run a “Trees for Peace” project which has been developed in consultation with the Forestry Commission, the Scottish Office, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and many environmental experts. The aim is to reforest the island, and there is work around the year to make our aim of planting 50,000 trees a reality. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to request further information.
With increasing concern over our interaction with nature, from a shortage of renewable energy sources to a desire to boost local industry and reduce our carbon emissions, many organisations are rising to the challenge of addressing the issues of how we live in harmony with our environment. There is the website Hazon which deals exclusively with the ecological principles of Judaism and aims to cultivate sustainable communities, and HH the Dalai Lama‘s website contains an extensive selection of articles relating to the environment while the Alliance of Religions and Conservation provides an excellent summary of the key aspects of conservation in many religions on their Faiths and Ecology site. Greenfaith.org continues to be a driving force in the development of sustainable approaches to living through religious principles.
As William Blake so beautifully put it,
“To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour“.
To me the teachings of the Dharma share this wisdom and point us ever towards our interconnected nature. Just as Chenrezig took vows to remain in the world until all the suffering of the world ceased, so too do many of us realise that as long as any single individual remains in bondage to any form of tyranny, oppression or poverty, none of us can be truly free. Having suffered hardships the like of which most of us cannot imagine, the Tibetans who fled the occupation in the 50’s have had a shocking reminder of what is truly valuable and worthwhile in this age, and I think it is partly for this reason that Akong Rinpoche continues to forge his vision, a vision based on being able to “feed everyone”, while Lama Yeshe continues with his project which aims to provide a place like the Holy Isle where these aspirations can be realised.
The same ethic is central to Islam, to Hinduism, and to Judaism, among many other religions. In the Muslim Declaration on Nature, which was delivered in 1986, it is stated that “The central concept of Islam is Tawhid – the Unity of Allah. Allah is Unity and His Unity is also reflected in the unity of mankind, and the unity of man and nature. His trustees are responsible for maintaining the unity of His creation, the integrity of the Earth, its flora and fauna, its wildlife and natural environment”. As ARC point out so succinctly, the central message of the Bhagavad Gita is simply this:
“Conserve ecology or perish”.
An Interview with Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche
Why do you think the Holy Island Project ha caught the imagination and interest of so many people around the world?
Lama Yeshe: Because this project of ours is unique, but not only that, we have gained the trust of the other major religions who are interested. We have a strong tradition, which includes tolerance of other points of view. Because we try to create understanding between people, we are trusted in what we do. So we are successful.
Is there any danger that inter-faith activities dilute traditions?
Lama Yeshe: No. What I mean is, it can only dilute a tradition if you do not have clarity. If you are nto sure about your religious practice, then there is a chance of getting things mixed together. But if you have clarity in your tradition, there is no danger of that happening. It actually enriches your knowledge.
Can you say something about rebuilding the old Celtic chapel on Holy Isle, and how this will be done?
Lama Yeshe: It has a meaning for Christians, and those with an interest in St. Molaise, the cave and the tradition connected with the island. I am saying I would not stand in their way if our Christian friends wants to rebuild it, I will be more than happy to help them achieve that goal. I am saying I won’t be able to do it myself, but I welcome Christians who want to rebuild there. Interest has already been expressed in this by Lord Tanlaw and we shall be seeing how the Project can be realised.
What is the connection between religion and ecology?
Lama Yeshe: I think there is a strong connection. There are many similarities between them. For example some people believe that Nature is simply a reflection of the Creator; others believe there are beings in all forms of life, in trees, even in the rocks, the river, in spring water etc.. We believe in respect for all aspects of the environment.
What are the main ecological aspects of the Holy Island Project?
Lama Yeshe: Being in harmony.
What are the long term ecological plans for the Isle? Who will do the work needed there?
Lama Yeshe: Rawdon Goodier (recently retired after 29 years with the NCCS) has drawn us a conservation management plan for the Island. Our stewardship of the Holy Isle will involve partnership with bodies such as Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scottish Conservation Projects. Voluntary work has begun already on the Island. We shall need much more volunteer help to complete our projects. We need skilled individuals to lead teams of volunteers on conservation and renovation activity holidays.
Volunteer’s week for April 2012 has been a great success, and we have been blessed with glorious sunshine. The hungry workers have feasted on malaysian curry, parsnip pasta, spicy soup and chocolate bread pudding, all made with produce from the organic vegetable garden. As always, the main currency amongst the volunteers has been chocolate – those with a stash soon make friends and find their supply is quickly diminished.
The environment team, led by Rinchen, has been busy clearing the all-pervasive rhododendrons from the hillsides. This species may look pretty when in bloom but the plants prevent other vegetation from growing and limit the bio-diversity of the island. The stalks of the rhodies are kept and dried for firewood. Beach cleaning has also been taking place, with volunteer David remarking on how many plastic sticks from cotton buds he found washed up on the shore.
In the vegetable garden, Ute set the team the task of clearing rocks from the beds and turning the soil in readiness for the next season. Planting garlic and onions was done to keep the food flowing for the kitchen. The bases of the fruit trees and bushes were given a thorough weeding and fresh seaweed mulch was put down to discourage new weeds from taking root. Beds were also spread with manure in order to replenish the nutrients.
Sid’s beloved flower garden has been tidied and weeded by various members of the volunteer team.
The whole place is a riot of yellow with hundreds of daffodils smiling to welcome visitors.
The Housekeeping team have been systematically cleaning the whole of the Peace Centre from top to bottom in preparation for the guests arriving for the season of courses. Every nook and cranny has been dusted, swept, wiped and brushed. Special mention must be given to ace glass maintenance technician Fred who has cleaned every window to a wonderful shine.
Maintenance have been busy painting doors, painting walls, sawing, chopping, drilling and hammering to ensure that everything is ship shape and Bristol fashion to withstand the busy season ahead. A fresh coat of paint has graced the shrine room door and the walls of the boat house. An unusual guest visited the workshop to check on Peter’s handiwork – a sparrowhawk! Luckily the visitor was successfully shoo-ed away with no harm done to any living creature.
While the Holy Island Project continues to blossom as an interfaith retreat centre, a new development of the Gateway Project looks set to mark a milestone in the islands development as a community project that has pioneered socially-responsible approaches to living in harmony with the world around us since it’s inception in 1992 .
Earlier this month we received the news that our funding applications for a new pontoon to replace the old jetty and for a renovation of the existing path on the western side of the island have been successful. The work on the Gateway Project will be under-way by summers end with the aim of improving access to the island with the added bonus of further conserving it’s natural habitat. The work on the path means we will be able to provide access to a greater number of people, including people with limited mobility, while the pontoon will allow improved access to the island during adverse weather conditions.
Historically access to the island has been sensitive issue for locals and the wider population alike. While on the market, the possibility of private ownership of the island raised concerns that access to this historically and spiritually significant site would be restricted. As a centre for world peace and health it is very fitting for the project to be awarded council funds to allow as many people as possible to enjoy the nature, tranquillity and work of the island.
Funding has been awarded by LEADER, part of the Scottish Rural Development Program aimed at improving access to rural areas for community benefit and to stimulate rural industry. We have also received NAC Economic Development grants as well as Access grants from the NAC council. Our thanks go to our primary fund-raiser Yeshe Palmo for her tireless dedication to securing the Holy Isle Gateway Project despite the usual rigours of the application process.
The environment department here on the island have been working on improving the path in line with the Gateway Project for over a year now, and have been blessed by the help of several short-term full-time volunteers who stayed on the island specifically to take to the path with shovels, pinch-bars and wheelbarrows. The funding will mean we will be able to bring a mechanical digger onto the island, but for the past year or so it’s been a case of “never surrender!” as the group levered rocks weighing more than a ton out of the ground and Rinchen bellowed out over the grunting and straining “It’s a mere bagatelle, my dears, a mere bagetelle”. This phrase has become the environment departments new motto.
We also have some new signs for the island to replace the now severely weather-worn ones that go ‘over the top’ and that sit on the plinth at the North End jetty. A new sign will also grace the Lamlash pier.
With an enthusiasm for the continued development of the island many of the volunteers learn new skills and take on new responsibilities. Several members of the staff will complete a one year mindfulness training course at the end of this month, and at least one member going on to undertake the mindfulness teacher training. The environment department picked up a couple of chainsaw licenses last year, and are heading off to an introduction to funding course in Glasgow at the end of this month. The spiritual development of the volunteers continues as various members of the island engage in annual transmissions in places such as India while one of our resident artists, Bella, recently returned from a Thankga painting course in Nepal.
2012 looks set to be a dynamic year for the island with ambitious projects and some great teachers.
Holy Isle has been making news headlines since the 1700’s. While 300 years ago the majority of those headlines concerned sinking ships, messages in bottles, and elite fox hunting trips more recent years have seen a fair amount of publicity given to the Holy Isle Project.
Here on the island we recently unearthed a large red lever-arch file full of newspaper clippings, articles, press-releases, leaflets and other promotional articles dating back to the islands acquisition in 1992. We have searched long and hard for electronic versions of those articles and has uncovered a handful which are now in the “Holy Isle Newspaper Articles” section on the right hand side of this page. We are endeavouring to provide as much material as we can through scans and transcripts, and would like to request any material that you might have in order to create an archive.
We are also working on creating a ‘Writings’ section to house the reviews, blog entries, stories, accounts, reflections and memories of any and all of those people who know Holy Isle and would like to share what it means to them. No page is too big or too small so feel free to contribute anything, from that which tickles you to that which moves you to tears.
Below is a transcript of one of the articles, from The Sunday Times, found in the lever-arch file. Don’t forget to check out the others at the “Holy Isle News Archive” page to your right.
To really acheive inner peace, the solitude of a Buddhist retreat is what you need. RINCHEN KHANDRO and MARIE HELVIN took time out on Scotland’s Holy Isle.
Anon, The Sunday Times.
Call it karma or coincidence, but this story is way up in the “It’s-a-small-world premiership league. In started last August, triggered by a piece in the Style section about Scotland’s Holy Island. The island now belongs to the Tibetan Buddhists of Samye Ling monastery, who are building a multi-faith retreat centre dedicated to achieving “world peace through inner peace”.
A popular idea, it would seem, considering the deluge of calls that ensued following publication. As a nun living at Samye Ling, which is near Lockerbie in Scotland, and working in the Holy Island Project office, I was at the receiving end.
Among the requests came one from a caller giving her name as M Helvin. After putting the phone down it struck me that it could have been the famous model, Marie. I happened to have been a friend of her sister Suzon, who ad died in a tragic accident. I slipped a note in to M Helvin along with the information, and two days later Marie phoned. She said that she felt inexplicably drawn to Holy Island and really wanted to plan a visit.
Marie juggled her schedule so that she could make a trip just before Easter. We arranged to go together and took with us a couple of cherry trees to plant in memory of her sister Suzon and my sister Shirley, both of who had died young. As soon as we stepped ashore we met Lama Yeshe Losal, the retreat master of Samye Ling, who welcomed us warmly and agreed to show Marie round after lunch with the islanders.
The lama’s evident joy and wisdom lit up the dining room as he patiently answered questions. “I’ve only done a little meditation and a one-month silent retreat. What advice would you give someone like myself?” asked Marie.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or the Buddha himself,” said the lama, smiling. “We all have the same potential. The only difference is that Buddha has already achieved his. Everybody is searching for inner satisfaction and a meaningful, happy life. People think they will achieve it through a good job, more money and possessions, but everything in life is impermanent. We can’t take what we have with us when we die. When we meditate, our mind becomes stable and develops clarity, so we appreciate what we have and realise that everything we need we have within us.”
After lunch, Lama Yeshe and Marie continued to talk as we strolled along the coastal path. “It’s so beautiful and peaceful here. It reminds me of my home in Hawaii. It must be the perfect place to meditate,” said Marie. The lama agreed that, for beginners, a pure and calm environment such as Holy Island is important. “It may be difficult for people in cities to develop their meditation, but coming to a place like this, at least to start with, gives you the opportunity to become naturally peaceful.”
The lama told Marie about the plans to build a retreat centre into the hillside, harmonising with the landscape and making use of the wind, sun and water to provide power. “Until then”, the lama smiled, “you can meditate in the rocks and caves, but you may have to share them with the wild goats.”
Later, back at the lighthouse cottage, after a bowl of home-grown vegetable soup, Marie and I collapsed into our beds. “Now I understand why I was drawn here,” Marie reflected. “Suzon’s death and my grieving had something to do with it, but it’s more than that. There is a sense of safety here that gives you the courage to let go. It makes you realise the need to be on your own, to explore inwardly – and personally, I need the sky and ocean, the stillness and beauty of nature to calm and inspire me.”
Next morning we planted our cherry trees in memory of our sisters where a clear spring bubbles up. We gave them a last spadeful of seaweed compost, a sprinkle of spring water, and a silent prayer to complete our ceremony. Feeling a little emotional, Marie and I hugged each other as she confided: “I swear I just heard Suzon say, ‘Me ke aloha pumehana,’ which is Hawaiian for ‘Until we meet again.'” “How strange,” I replied. “My sister Shirley just said, ‘About bloomin’ time, too,’ in pure Mancunian.”
Twenty-four hours after arriving, we boarded the boat to leave. As the island receeded into the distance, Marie’s glowing smile said it all. “I’ve barely left the place and I’m already planning to come back”.
As the season is coming to an end, and many of the people here are preparing for the winter, exciting projects are on the way.
In one hand, the project of building a new jetty,as the current one is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, and the path work, planned to start after the end of season, to improving the path, in order to make the access to Holy Island easier and more reliable and the walk through the island more comfortable and enjoyable for guest and visitors alike.(For more information in these projects click here)
To this we add another project (as we say in my country, if you don’t want stew, have two bowls) and this is the building of a new polytunnel and the planting of more fruit trees in the new garden, at the north side of the Centre. The new garden, fenced and prepared last winter-spring has given us the harvest of different varieties of pumkins and the main harvest of potatoes.
With this we want to increase the amount of food produced by the garden in order to get closer to our main goal: being self-sufficient in vegetables that so tastily are prepared for the kitchen team for the enjoyment of us, the people working here, and all the guest who visit us throughout the season.
At the moment we have started the fund-raising process (we have raised so far £250 and we still need approximately another £1000), it seems the most difficult part, because, as all of you who know Holy Island, the energy and intention are here in abundance.
We have been a long time without posting anything new. More than a year and this is quite a long time and we want to apologize for that to all of you who visited the blog, often, randomly, regurarly, to know what was going on in the island.
A view of the Centre in one of the few, already gone, sunny days
We hope we’ll be posting new posts soon.
Please, check from times to times to see if we keep the promise!