Early morning, as the sun was rising, 33 students, set off from Huddersfield, in high spirits, if not a little sleepy, for our sixth annual residential visit to London. They were about to embark on a whistle-stop tour of various Buddhist groups, from different cultural traditions practising across the capital: Tibetan, Thai and Japanese, as well as visiting some other well-known popular landmarks, such as the Battersea Peace Pagoda.
One of the many highlights this year was our visit to Tibetan Peace Garden, Samten Kyil, a ‘Garden of Contemplation’, formally opened by the Dalai Lama back in 1999; himself awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, to promote a message of peace and non-violence. This is especially poignant given its location next to the Imperial War Museum, a stark reminder of the horrors of violent conflict.
The Peace Garden, with its imaginative design, contemporary sculptors and monuments, and fragrant flowers and plants from Tibet and Himalayan regions is one of the unique Buddhist landmarks in the UK. In 2002, it featured in “Time Out” magazine as one of the best gardens in London. On our arrival, the Executive Director of the Tibet Foundation, Dhondrup Samten, gave us a very warm welcome. He went on to give an inspiring talk on the aid work that his organisation was doing to help relieve poverty, to raise standards of education and health care in Tibetan communities around the world, and to preserve Tibetan culture and the way of life.
At the centre of the Peace Garden is the “Wheel of Time” mandala; this reminds all who visit, to reflect deeply on the preciousness or the ‘oneness’ of life, and in our short human existence for each of us to work for peace and unity in the world.
The Peace Garden offers a retreat from our busy and hectic lives; and we took a few moments to reflect on the Dalai Lama’s central message: that genuine peace comes through dialogue, mutual respect and trust, and for this to take place there needs to be some kind of inner disarmament to develop love and compassion. After a long, tiring first day, if not feeling a little more ‘awake’, with the sun now high in the sky, we left the Peace Garden contemplating the following thought before the sun finally sets:
“Machines cannot generate the inner peace we require, nor can peace be bought in a shop. Peace is something that has to come from inside, through transforming our hearts and minds.” The Dalai Lama
Student comments on the trip
“Overall, the London Buddhism trip met all my expectations in that it was a jam-packed few days full of relevant subject-centred visits which brought our lessons in class to life. I would say the real benefit of the trip was the wide range of people we met.”
– Nancy Tupling
“On reflection, I enjoyed the experience as a whole, as although it enabled me to gain more of an understanding of Buddhism in the real world, it also allowed me to be more independent and make memories that I will never forget! It goes without saying that I would definitely recommend the trip to next year’s students because there is only so much you can learn from a booklet.”
– Eleanor Hannah
“I would definitely recommend the trip to next year’s students because it is a fantastic opportunity to consolidate knowledge as well as gain further insight into a vast number of Buddhist traditions and practices. All the places visited on the trip have made me feel more confident in my knowledge of Buddhism.”
– Carla Stanley