A Himalayan consensus to resolve conflicts

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Publish Time: 2020-09-15 Author: Laurence Brahm From: China Daily

The Napa Lake is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Shangri-La, Yunnan province. [Photo by Fang Aiqing/CHINA DAILY]

Let me tell you a story about searching for a place called Shangri-la. For at times like these, people seek Shangri-la-for peace, health and happiness.

From 2002, I led expeditions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for more than a decade. Our expeditions won the National Geographic Water and Air Conservation Award for bringing attention to the climate change crisis.

Shangri-la was first coined by James Hilton in his novel Lost Horizons, published in 1933. The novel became enormously popular and was made into one of Hollywood's first blockbusters in 1937.

Asian mysticism and concept of Shangri-la

Why was it so popular? Following the 1918 flu pandemic and then the extensive over-leveraging of the financial markets, everything fell apart. The Great Depression followed when people lost all hope in the capital markets, materialism and the ability of Western governments to cope with crises. So they turned to Asian mysticism and visions of a harmonious society in the concept of Shangri-la. In Tibetan, it is pronounced Shambhala.

On one of our expeditions, we discovered the Shambhala Sutra, a Buddhist text written by the 6th Panchen Lama in the 18th century. The Sutra provides a guidebook to Shambhala, but most importantly it talks about the concept of a future society with a shared common destiny.

The vision of a future world, Shambhala, is one in which those with wealth help those without. Everyone respects the environment. In turn, the environment protects the people. Compassion overrides self-interest and greed.

Over a decade of leading the Shambhala documentary film expeditions, I discovered that many local ethnic groups on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau were working hard to preserve their cultures and the surrounding environment. Also, I learned how closely their culture is integrated with environmental protection. In fact, everything about their culture and religion involves environmental considerations. It is built into their world view.

I also observed that many of the efforts to protect their culture involved local business-related programs that allowed people to protect their culture as well as the environment businesses which ensure its sustainability. At the time, I coined the term "cultural sustainable development".

Learning from these different social entrepreneurs, I established a group of eco-tourism guesthouses in the Tibet autonomous region that involved restoring heritage buildings in the old, historic section of Lhasa, together with the spiritual and heritage sites in the mountains. All the staff of these guesthouses are local Tibetan people. All management members who now have equity in the guesthouses are Tibetans. True, they learned from me, but now they manage the hotels better than I ever could.

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