If you’ve the opportunity during a trip to London to visit the Imperial War Museum, you really ought to take it. Far from glorifying warfare, this acclaimed attraction in the Elephant & Castle area of the city tells it like it is – or rather was – shedding a powerful light on much of the 20th Century’s major conflicts, especially WWI and WWII.
Moreover, when you walk out of the museum, your head no doubt buzzing from all that it’s taken in, you might want to turn to the right in the gardens in which the building stands (entered via St. George’s Road), for here you’ll find the perfect place for some quiet, peaceful reflection – the Tibetan Peace Garden.
Opened 17 years ago this month by the spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it’s a consecrated site blessed by the Buddhist faith’s most holy man and donated to the people of Britain, as well as every visitor to the museum next door, as a place of soulful tranquillity and (potentially) spiritual contemplation.Indeed, in Tibetan its name is ‘Samten Kyil’, which literally translates as ‘Garden of Contemplation’. And, as such, a large part of its purpose is to honour one of the Dalai Lama’s principal teachings – the necessity for understanding between people of all different cultures and thus establishing places (literal as well as figurative) of peace and harmony.
In addition to this general aim of affording visitors a place of peace in which to pause, The Tibetan Peace Garden in London also looks to educate people a little more about Buddhism– and maybe to sate others’ curiosity about Buddhist culture, especially those visiting for leisure and so in a receptive mood, wherever they may be staying (at a hotel such as The Montcalm London City at The Brewery hotel or anywhere else).
In part, it attempts to do this thanks to its central focus being the Kalachakra Mandala, a graphic circular pattern representative of spiritual tantric teaching and associated with world peace. According to Buddhist belief, if one is just to look at this pattern it’s supposed to bestow them with a blessing and the gift to transform.
Positioned around the garden’s version of the Mandala are eight seats designed for meditation. Each of these represents the different points on Buddhism’s noble eight fold path:thought, concentration, correct view, mindfulness, action, speech, effort and livelihood.
Elsewhere, at the garden’s north, south, east and west corners are set modern Western-style sculptures, which suggest the four elements (earth, water, air and fire), while plants and herbs from the Tibet and Himalayan regions are also planted in the garden and a pergola offers jasmine, honeysuckle and scented roses for visits to enjoy. The area around the garden too is landscaped and features trees, the original work carried out by the London Borough of Southwark and volunteers from the local community.
The Language Pillar
Finally, near the garden’s entrance can be found a stone pillar– in fact, this impressive structure’s impossible to miss. Known as the Language Pillar, it underlines all that the space is dedicated to, especially the courage of the Tibetan people themselves and their non-violent and patient campaign for self-rule. Fittingly, its design is based on that of the Sho Pillar, which is a monument in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa that dates back to the 9th Century AD, erected to acknowledge the right of both Tibet and China to co-exist peacefully.
The garden’s pillar features three steps at its summit, carved in order to represent peace, understanding and love. Also – and most importantly – a message features on the pillar; written in Tibetan, Mandarin, Hindi and English, it reads as follows…
“From His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:We human beings are passing through a crucial period in our development. Conflicts and mistrust have plagued the past century, which has brought immeasurable human suffering and environmental destruction. It is in the interests of all of us on this planet that we make a joint effort to turn the next century into an era of peace and harmony. May this peace garden become a monument to the courage of the Tibetan people and their commitment to peace.May it remain as a symbol to remind us that human survival depends on living in harmony and always choosing the path of non-violence in resolving our differences”.