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Buddhists take on US army to keep peace in Scottish sanctuary | Buddhism



Nestled in the village of Eskdalemuir in Dumfries and Galloway, between wet moorlands, farmland and neolithic stone circles, is the largest Buddhist temple in western Europe.

Samye Ling, home to about 60 monks, nuns and volunteers, and visited by thousands of people each year, was established in 1967 and has welcomed famous names including Billy Connolly, Richard Gere and David Bowie – the latter, so the story goes, was so moved by his time there that he considered becoming a monk, until spiritual leaders told him to pursue a career in music.


But despite being a place usually characterised by peace and tranquility, Eskdalemuir’s monastic population are now at the centre of an unlikely dispute with a firearms dealer, a shooting club, and the US military. The controversy concerns two retrospective planning applications by neighbouring farms to expand shooting ranges in the small borders village. One, at Over Cassock farm about five miles from Samye Ling, seeks to replace temporary buildings with a permanent structure while the other, at Clerkhill farm just two miles away, is to expand a shooting range, which was opened last March but closed eight months later in the absence of full planning approval.

Both plans are opposed by the residents of Samye Ling on the basis of noise concerns and disruption to wildlife, as well as the use of one range for US Special Forces machine gun and rifle training.

“Samye Ling has been here more than 50 years and we have always tried to be good Buddhists and especially to be good neighbours,” said Abbot Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche. “Now I hear the US forces will be training on a long-range high-velocity firing range within two kilometres of Samye Ling, on forestry land. We have a lot of very tame birds in Samye Ling; it’s like a peaceful sanctuary for them. They feel safe here because nobody harms them and so there are a large number of little birds and bigger ones too. They are used to our peaceful environment and the sound of gunshots is terrifying for them all.”

Samye Ling’s residents have been supported by more than 10,000 members of the public in an online petition, as well as by Eskdalemuir community council and Joan McAlpine, MSP for South Scotland, who told the Observer that constituents had raised concerns about the plans and the use of the Clerkhill range by US military. “I share the concerns of my constituents about large sections of the land around their community being given over to people who appear to want to play war games with high-calibre live ammunition,” she said.

The Kagyu Samye Ling monastery and Tibetan centre. Photograph: Sam Mellish/Getty Images

“This is about far more than noise – locals are rightly worried about safety and the militaristic nature of a development, which is completely inappropriate in a place of peace. There is not a shred of evidence it will bring economic benefits; it is more likely to drive visitors away.”

A spokesperson for the owner of Clerkhill farm and Gardner Guns, which operates the range, said it was essential to diversify income following Brexit and the pandemic, and the plans would generate jobs and income. Darren Bean of the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association, which operates the Over Cassock range, said: “The range operated for three years without the inhabitants of Samye Ling being aware of its existence: it is at the end of a valley facing away from all habitation.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway council said both applications would be considered by the planning applications committee .

For Rinpoche, the plans are a final straw after years of growing traffic and noise pollution from commercial forestry and hunting, about which the Samye Ling community have never complained. Now they are calling on supporters to contact the council with their objections.

“Thousands of people come here for courses and to meditate,” he said. “They all feel strongly opposed to this plan, and I have many friends from around the world who are determined to raise their voices in opposition to it.”


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