An unlikely row between the oldest Buddhist monastery in the Western world and the gun lobby has reached the Scottish Parliament.
A petition has been filed, supported by the monks of Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir in Dumfriesshire, who are working to protect the serenity that has drawn visitors from around the world, including Hollywood actor Richard Gere.
It calls for areas of spiritual or religious importance to be protected by rural ranges law within a five mile radius and is the culmination of a bitter dispute.
Two town planning applications have been submitted by neighboring farms to set up commercial shooting ranges in the small border village.
One, at the Over Cassock farm about five miles from Samye Ling, hosted by landowner Euart Glendinning and the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association was looking to replace the temporary buildings with a permanent structure.
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Meanwhile, Cumbria-based Eskdalemuir Forestry and Gardners Guns, who already operate a game shooting business next to the monastery, were hoping to expand a shooting range at Clerkhill Farm, two miles away.
Both requests were rejected by Dumfries and Galloway Council, but for administrative reasons, as they were treated as local ‘change of use’ developments. The latter is now preparing to submit a new request for a major development, which will require a public consultation.
Opponents of the latest plan hope it will attract enough local objections to stop it in its tracks, but also hope to gain national support for a petition that has been filed with parliament.
There is currently nothing in law to prohibit their development of gun fields near places of spiritual importance.
The petition, which was filed by local general practitioner Dr Conrad Harvey, could have implications for other sites, including Rosslyn Chapel in the Midlothian, Callanish Stones in Lewis and Dunblane Cathedral in Perthshire .
The US military planned to train at a long-range, high-speed firing range within two kilometers of Samye Ling, on forest land, but reportedly moved away out of respect for the community.
âIt’s our way of life,â said Ani Sonam, who was ordained a monk in Samye Ling in 2013.
âIt is a place of worship, it is a place of study to practice meditation. To have gunshots ringing around the valley is destructive. We have many visitors, many staying guests who are looking for a place of peace and tranquility.
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âIt has been shattered. Knowing that these are weapons of war that are used, it does not arise so easily.
âOne of them has been there for a few years. It has become a problem because they use high speed rifles with a range of a mile and a half to two miles, which creates a lot more noise.
“The proposal is that all places of spiritual importance or of religious worship be protected by an exclusion zone.
âWe are not trying to prevent people from running their businesses, we are just asking that some respect be shown to places of worship or spiritual significance.
âWe are not only asking that a Buddhist monastery be protected, we are looking for all places or any spiritual significance such as mosques, cathedrals and places like Callanish in Lewis.
âOne of the shooting ranges is planning to submit a major development. This means that there will be a consultation period and that the public will be able to participate.
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She added: “These ranges are open to everyone, maybe there is also a question there.”
Samye Ling, home to around 60 monks, nuns and volunteers, was established in 1967 and has hosted famous names such as Billy Connolly and David Bowie – the latter, according to the story, was so moved by his time there that ‘he considered becoming a monk, until spiritual leaders told him to pursue a career in music.
A Gardners Guns spokesperson claimed their company had been the victim of a “witch hunt” and said noise level tests had been carried out. The Herald contacted the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association and no one responded to our request.
Nicolas Jennings, who sits on the local community council and has lived in the area for 50 years, said: âThis is a huge cultural and social asset for Scotland.
“They created a special atmosphere of peace and tolerance and people feel disrespectful. When the US military realized they were offending, they said we will go elsewhere.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of this petition and our response will be available on the Scottish Parliament website in due course.
âPlanning requests are considered in accordance with the development plan for the area and it is up to the decision-maker to take all relevant material considerations, such as noise and safety issues, into account in the decision-making process. ”
The Herald has contacted the council of Dumfries and Galloway.