Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category


Holy Isle Newsletter – January 2016

March 14, 2016

If you want to cultivate Peace, protect Creation

April 7, 2012

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.

Rinchen planting trees at the South End

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.

Rinchen with a bag of trees

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 to request further information.

Work on reforesting the island includes tackling the mammoth Rhododendron problem

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. 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 Working Week

April 3, 2012

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 with their haul of washed-ashore rubbish collected from the beaches of Holy Isle

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 ever-vigilant housekeeping team poses for a group photo at the end of the volunteer week

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.

Redecorating the boathouse in preparation for the new season.

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.

Anne takes time out sketch the island

A sunny morning see's the environment team raring to go


Holy Isle Gateway Project

April 3, 2012
The Holy Isle Jetty

The jetty was given a temporary renovation 16 years ago and today is in need of replacement

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.

Rinchen measures up the new drainage pipe.

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.

Before an image of Green Tara, Fergus strains against yet another submerged boulder.

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.