Holy Island is One Monk's Dream
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/12/24; December 24, 2001.]
Stephen Khan, Scotland Editor,
Islands off the west coast of Scotland may be best known for hard drinking and even harder Christianity, but a Buddhist monk is turning one into a multi-faith meditation centre, where alcohol, drugs and cigarettes are banned.
The Centre for World Peace and Health is the vision of Lama Yeshe Losal, a Tibetan who bought the aptly named Holy Island off the coast of Arran 10 years ago. The centre is due to open in the autumn at a cost of £1.5 million.
Following Losal's initial trip to the island, £350,000 was raised to purchase it by the Samye Ling, the longest-established community of Tibetan Buddhists in Europe, who moved to a monastery in Eskdalemuir, near the border between Scotland and England, when they fled from Tibet in the 1950s.
The retreat will be open to followers of all religions. Day visitors and groups paying to stay in the centre must leave behind vices of mainland life, such as drink and cigarettes.
'Because this is an island in the sea, I can enforce this law,' said the lama, adding that there would be no Customs and Excise enforcement unit at the ferry port. Visitors will be trusted to follow the rules.
On the island that's home to wild Eriskay ponies, black sheep and feral goats, the taking of animal life is also forbidden. 'It keeps people in harmony with nature,' the lama said.
The environmentally-friendly approach preached by the Samye Ling is already practised on the opposite side of the island where a dozen or so nuns and monks use water from a spring said to have healing properties. The lama resists suggestions that he should bottle the water and sell it. 'I don't like the idea of making money out of selling something that is holy,' he said.
The source of fresh water and an abundance of trees attracted St Molaise, an Irish prince, to the island hundreds of years ago. He had travelled to nearby Iona as a student of St Columba, who took Christianity to the Picts of northern Scotland and the islands in the sixth century. Seeking greater austerity, Molaise moved into a cave on an isle to the south which soon became known as Holy Island.
Lama Yeshe Losal is hopeful that many more people will see the attractions of the island when the peace centre opens.
The island's former owner, Kay Morris, had originally wanted £750,000 for the outpost, but accepted £400,000 less as she had had a vision in which the Virgin Mary had instructed her to sell it for peace and meditation, Losal said.
'That is why it is so important,' he added. 'Someone else offered her £400,000 but she took £50,000 less because she genuinely believed that Mother Mary had instructed her to do this.'
Her financial loss, though, was the spiritual world's gain, and while the lama is keen to welcome people of all backgrounds the rules will have to be followed. Along with the demon drink, lying, cheating and sexual misconduct are out.
'If they get involved in relationships with people apart from their partner, wife, or husband, that brings more stress and cancels the benefits of meditation.'
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