Buddhists invite 'seekers of truth' to Holy Island

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BUDDHIST leaders yesterday unveiled a pounds 5m scheme to make Holy Island, off the Arran coast, Strathclyde, 'the interfaith capital of the world', writes John Arlidge.

Monks and nuns, who bought the 900-acre uninhabited island after raising pounds 350,000, invited 'seekers of the truth and peace' for three years of meditation, prayer and dream yoga in a retreat yet to be built.

Lama Yeshe, master of the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in the Borders, which will manage the spiritual hideaway, said it would be built alongside an interfaith centre for visitors by the turn of the century: 'It will be a new start for all peoples in the new millennium.'

The 100 inhabitants will observe a strict regime - rising at 4am, forgoing 'intoxicants' and staying silent for up to seven months. They will meditate sitting in wooden boxes in the centre of cells 2 metres by 6 metres.

Lama Yeshe, 51, said: 'We believe that the terrible problems of the world are caused by people not having time to think. Meditating for three years gives you chance to reflect. You begin to understand why you do what you do and what effects your actions have on others. If you change the individual you can change the world.'

Holy Island, an ancient centre of Christianity, was a popular site for pilgrimage until the end of the 19th century. Two years ago the Buddhists consecrated the land in a ceremony outside a cave once inhabited by a 6th-century Irish hermit, St Molaise.

The design for the retreat by the Amsterdam-based architects Bosch Haslett was unveiled yesterday in Glasgow. Gordon Haslett, an English partner, said: 'We hope the feeling of entrapment and limits that you will feel in the cell will help you to find yourself.'

Cunninghame District Council is to consider the monks' planning application in April. Lama Yeshe said: 'I am certain we will receive planning permission now, but if we don't I am sure we will get it in the next life.'

(Photographs omitted)