The Path of Kindness: Walking in the Dalai Lama’s Footsteps

Issue 292
September/October 2015
Lines of Hope

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The Path of Kindness: Walking in the Dalai Lama’s Footsteps
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Cover: Boyhood Line, 2015 by Richard Long. Photograph: Max McClure

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Leon Stuparich and Dalai Lama

Leon Stuparich and Dalai Lama

In the lead-up to the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday this year, film-maker Leon Stuparich walked penniless from London to Glastonbury, putting His Holiness’s teachings of kindness and peace to the test.

In June this year, as the Dalai Lama arrived in Glastonbury to talk at the festival, I completed a 200-mile, two-week walk from London to the ancient pilgrimage town, with only the contents of my backpack, and no money in my pocket. I wanted to know whether, in a country so driven by materialism, people in the UK would be kind enough to help me succeed in my mission by giving me food and shelter.

I have been fascinated by the Dalai Lama since spending two weeks with him filming Road to Peace. I was moved by his message of kindness and compassion, and I decided that the best way to learn this would be to put his teachings to the test by attempting a traditional Buddhist pilgrimage across Britain.

I decided to walk with three friends, fellow film-makers and writers, undertaking the challenge to see if this sort of journey was still possible in modern Britain. I wanted to discover how the British public would respond to the messages of the film, and whether the Dalai Lama’s solutions for peace were really something everyday British people want to engage with and are capable of applying in their busy daily lives.

The Road to Peace Pilgrimage blended a mix of ancient and modern trails, pioneering a new pilgrimage route along the Thames Path and the Ridgeway. Reflecting some of the Dalai Lama’s main commitments – interfaith harmony, promotion of human values and addressing climate change – we hosted free screenings of Road to Peace to locals along the way, including interfaith leaders, climate change groups and schoolchildren. We ended up in random locations, from local people’s living rooms to art house cinemas to the back rooms of pubs along the Kennet and Avon canal, sharing our experiences of the pilgrimage in order to create a dialogue around how to attain peace and happiness in our everyday lives.

At one screening I asked a 10-year-old boy what peace meant to him. His answer was as simple and precise as any I’ve heard: “Calm, relaxed.” It was so encouraging to hear the younger generation interested and engaged with such a complex subject.

Having set off into the unknown, I was excited, yet fearful of what might happen. But I soon realised that the things that could go wrong were far outweighed by the things that were going right. I was surprised and shocked by the responses of people we met every step of the way. Often people spontaneously gave food or opened their homes for us to sleep in. Often we were treated to a feast in the evening by people who were moved by our efforts to promote a dialogue of peace. The Dalai Lama often says that warm-heartedness is the key factor to a successful life. And on the road we experienced this at first hand.

The pilgrimage has changed my perspective on life and my understanding of the different ways of life across Britain. We met with druids, nuns, priests, travellers living off the land, town mayors and even a retired bishop of the armed forces. Without exception they were generous with their time and their wisdom. Many shared their own interpretations of peace. “It’s simple really,” said the bishop. “Being comfortable approaching your neighbours and being approachable yourself. That’s the key to peace.”

In everyday life we seldom discuss peace, but subjecting yourself to a pilgrimage without money presents you with a scenario where you rely on the charity and generosity of strangers. And through this experience I found – somewhat surprisingly – that the vast majority of people I met take peace and creating it in their lives very seriously.

While revellers drank up the afternoon sun at Glastonbury Festival on the final day of our walk, we were greeted with a traditional pilgrims’ reception by the mayor of Glastonbury, Denise Michell, and other local dignitaries. Crowds gathered for our public foot-washing ceremony and the peace procession, culminating with a world peace event atop Glastonbury Tor led by local pagan priestesses and featuring talks by bestselling author Tim Freke and interfaith minister Nixie James-Scott, and attended by over a hundred people.

Before we ascended the tor for our final steps of the walk, I wanted to demonstrate the kindness of strangers to the gathered crowd. At the bottom of the path was an ice-cream van. Half joking, I asked my fellow pilgrims: “Who fancies an ice cream?” Immediately people began putting their hands in their pockets to buy them for us. “No need!” I said. I approached the man inside the ice-cream van and shared the story of the pilgrimage, telling him that this was the end of our journey, and asking him whether on this hot day he would gift us an ice cream. Surprised by our journey of 200 miles without money, he handed over the ice creams and promptly received a cheer from the crowd of people behind his van!

And that was the lesson of the currency of kindness: giving people the opportunity to be kind, and allowing myself to be vulnerable by asking for help.

As I write this back home in the comfort of my South London flat, I realise that the pilgrimage was a life-changing experience. The pilgrimage has certainly taught me many profound personal lessons. The most important lesson I have learnt is to live in my own integrity. To do what I say and say what I do. To live honestly and explore my inner values and deepen them and then live life from those values. It certainly isn’t easy, but in putting those values into action during the pilgrimage, especially by going penniless, I have come to realise that only through taking action – through that intention – can we really learn and hope to create lasting change within ourselves and the world in which we live.

Watch the trailer for Road to Peace on the Road to Peace website: www.roadtopeacefilms.com/watch-the-film/watch-the-trailer/ For more information about Road to Peace and the Road to Peace Pilgrimage, visit www.roadtopeacefilms.com

Leon Stuparich is a Producer, Director and Film Editor

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