A Hare-Marked Moon
By David Lascelles
From Bhutan to Yorkshire: The story of the Harewood Stupa
Publication date: May 2021Support this project
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From the author...
What is a stupa?
The shape is quite simple: at the bottom is a cube made up of a series of stepped ledges; on top of that is a cow-bell-shaped dome; above that a cone-shaped spire made up of thirteen rings, topped by a half-moon, sun and stylized flame. You will come across them all over the Buddhist Himalayas. I’ll take you there in the course of the book. You find them in scruffy little villages and in the courtyards of isolated monasteries. Or swamped with visitors on the increasingly popular Buddhist pilgrim trails in northern India. Sometimes they are huge, majestic structures like the Great Stupa at Baudhanath, Nepal’s most famous tourist destination. Sometimes they seem have grown spontaneously out of the landscape, like in the dramatic mountain moonscapes of Ladakh or around Mount Kailash in Western Tibet, the holiest mountain in Asia. But, though the shape is simple, what a stupa represents symbolically is far more complex. It represents the enlightened mind of the Buddha and a guide to the path to achieving enlightenment for yourself.
In the spring of 2004, I invited a group of monks from the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan to build a stupa in the gardens of Harewood House in Yorkshire. It was a step into the unknown for the Bhutanese. They didn’t speak any English, had never travelled outside their own culture, had never flown in an airplane or seen the ocean. Theirs was one kind of journey. But the project was also another kind of voyage for me, an attempt to reconcile an interest in Buddhism with the 250 years that my family has lived at Harewood, the country house and estate that I have loved, rejected, tried to make sense of and been haunted by all my life.
I have read that a landscape full of stupas seems to become more peaceful, the people there more gentle and that has very much been my experience on my travels. I’ve started to believe that it also applies to Harewood and its single stupa, made out of local stone by Yorkshire builders, their labours overseen by Bhutanese monks. Although the very first stupas were built as reliquary shrines to house the ashes of the Buddha himself, they have come to mean something quite different, the possibility of freedom from suffering that is at the heart of all Buddhist teaching. And that very positive energy is now here, in a garden at the head of the lake, at the very heart of Harewood.
Crowd-funding seems a particularly appropriate way to support a book about stupas. They are inclusive, welcoming, harmonizing points in a landscape, accessible to anyone, whatever their faith - or lack of it. All you have to do to engage with one is walk around it in a clockwise direction. And crowd-funding is a wonderful way of engaging an audience with a book while it is being written. All you have to do is pledge and you have become part of the project.
By profession I’m a film producer. I started off making documentaries, including Tibet - a Buddhist Trilogy in 1977, which I write about in the book. My credits include Inspector Morse, Moll Flanders, and Second Sight for television and, for the cinema, The Wedding Gift (with Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent), The Wisdom of Crocodiles (with Jude Law) and the movie of Shakespeare’s Richard III, starring Ian McKellen. Several of them received nominations and Morse won a BAFTA for Best Drama Series under my watch in 1991.
I now live at Harewood, which has been my family’s home since the 18th century, and I’m chair of Harewood House Trust, the educational charitable trust that looks after Harewood House, its gardens and collections for the public benefit. In 2007 I produced Geraldine Connor’s theatrical spectacular, Carnival Messiah (Handel’s Messiah performed Caribbean Carnival style), at Harewood as part of the commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire. We made a film of the show, finally released in 2017.
I have travelled widely in the Himalayas and in 2004 invited a group of monks from Bhutan to come to Harewood and build a stupa there – the subject of this book.
I was standing in the reception area of the Gangtey Palace Hotel in Paro in Bhutan, battling with the international telephone system, trying to call my wife Diane back in England. Watching me with some amusement were four Bhutanese monks. We were due to fly early the next morning to Delhi and then on to England a couple of days later. The monks were coming to build a stupa, a Buddhist monument, in the grounds of my family’s home, Harewood House in Yorkshire. For all of us it was a step into the unknown. None of the Bhutanese had ever been on an airplane before or travelled outside the Himalayan region; they had never driven on a motorway or seen the ocean. Two of them, including Lama Sonam, a master builder of stupas who was to supervise the whole project, spoke no English. I had no idea how they would react to a wholly unfamiliar environment, both physical and cultural: the language barrier, the weather, the food, the Yorkshire sense of humour.
I finally got through to Diane and we discussed arrangements: when we would be flying, how we would get to Yorkshire from the airport, who would be there when we arrived, and so on.
‘How are you feeling?’ she asked.
I thought for a moment. I knew that having the opportunity to be involved in building a stupa was seen as something very special by Buddhists. But what kind of a Buddhist was I? Was I a Buddhist at all? How was it all actually going to work when the Bhutanese got to England? I had no idea. So it was a good question. How was I feeling?
‘David? Are you still there?’
‘Well’, I said, ‘I think this is either the best or the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life’.
- 4th October 2019 The last lap
I'm entering the last few weeks of crowdfunding and we've nearly reached our target. A final push will get us over the line.
So - a huge thank you to all of you who have pledged so far. Because I dont want to push my luck too far, I daren't ask you to pledge more. Dare I? But please, please, please do spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. If every one of you pledgers were…20th August 2019 Half way there.
We've reached half way! Many thanks to all of you who have pledged already - keep spreading the word!
What is A Hare-Marked Moon? My book title come from a poem in praise of the Buddhist deity Tara, the embodiment of active compassion, but it is an image that occurs in mnay cultures: Japan, China, India unsirprsingly I suppose, but also South Africa, North Western America and among the ancient…26th July 2019 Thanks - and some information about the film
Many thanks to all of you who have made pledges so far. A very good start! And to everyone who hasn't pledged yet - there's still plenty of time.
A couple of you have asked about the archive footage in the trailer on the website. The footage of the Himalayas at the very beginning is from Tibet - a Buddhist Trilogy, a feature-length documentary filmed in 1977 which is one of the rewards if you pledge…
These people are helping to fund A Hare-Marked Moon.
Mark R Cordell