Friday, July 15, 2022

Book Nook: Leaf Talks Peace

I recently had a chance to see an e-book version of Leaf Talks Peace- Buddha's Message of Harmony by Priya Kumari.

The book is the first Indian author picture book to be endorsed by The Dalai Lama with his foreword and he called it:

"a beautifully illustrated book that teaches children the importance of living in harmony with nature and with all forms of life."

I thought this book was a gorgeous book, and a beautiful introduction into Buddhist concepts. As a non-Buddhist, I find it valuable to learn from other faith traditions, and the idea of living in harmony is a universal concept that anyone can follow.

I had a chance to learn more in this interview.

Why did you write this book?

The thought of writing ‘Leaf Talks Peace’ came to me after I had a conversation about friendship with my elder son who was about five-years old at that time. One day, he asked, "what is friendship?" It reminded me of an episode of Buddha’s life. Before attaining enlightenment, when Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he saw the presence of the Sun, soil, water, time, space, and even a mind in a leaf—all elements happily living together to give it life. He then gave the message of interdependent origination of life—how different elements work together as a team to make life happen. This is how I explained the term ‘friendship’ to my son. When we all work together like these elements, we will give rise to a happier world where people from all cultures, genders, colors, and ethnicities are respected and everyone lives in harmony with nature. I wrote this poem that night and decided to share this beautiful message of Buddha with the world as well.

This message, I thought, would inspire children to be compassionate and mindful by observing and connecting with nature. Harmony and compassion are inherent in Nature, and we are a reflection of the same loving Mother Nature. This book makes children take a moment and simply listen to Mother Nature’s message of peace. I wrote this book to convey to them that friendship and compassion can be observed within various elements of nature—how one element supports the other in the ecology to ensure our survival. So, why not take this message from nature and awaken the spirit of human solidarity in all? And, I wanted to write for children, as they are our hope and future!

What is the significance of being endorsed by The Dalai Lama?

I am an advocate of peace education as I feel it should be a part of early childhood education in schools. Getting an endorsement from The Dalai Lama, who has been working all his life to spread peace and is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was a dream come true. He wrote a beautiful foreword for my book and it gave me immense courage and hope as I was embarking on my journey of being a children’s author with an aim to write about humane values. When I wrote the poem, Leaf Talks Peace, from the perspective of a leaf and worked with my illustrator to have my thoughts shown in pictures for children, I did not know what was going to happen. I was simply working from my heart, without any expectations. But, I was very hopeful that this book could make a positive impact in the lives of those children who read it or simply looked at its pictures! I was extremely happy to know that The Dalai Lama appreciated my work and vision by writing a foreword. With his blessings, the book has now sparked a movement and many schools, educators, and parents are keen to use the book to talk to children about living in harmony with all beings and nature.

How can this book be a valuable read even for families that aren't Buddhist?

The whole world is talking about pollution, global warming, mental health, depletion of natural resources, is that a problem of one group of people? This book unites us as humans and helps us transcend all artificial barriers. Nature is what unites us all, from water to soil to clouds to the Sun, we are all dependent on Nature for our survival, and this book takes a message from Nature. We all need love and respect from one another to live happily, and this book talks about human solidarity and protecting diversity. Just like different elements of the universe are tied together unconditionally to make life happen, we humans can live happily in a shared world. 

I did not write this book for a particular section of society as I feel taking inspiration from someone does not need any identification. If there is a message that has the potential of bringing happiness and harmony, why not share with everyone? 

There were folks who advised that I remove the image of Buddha from the cover page to make the book sell more! But I want to be truthful and present stories as they are to children. After all, how can we make the society more tolerant and inclusive if we cannot even listen to messages of goodness and compassion. Children should be kept away from strong identifications that can stop them from becoming compassionate global citizens.

Also, I feel children are more accepting, inclusive, and open to ideas. They enjoy creativity and this book not only shares a very important message of harmony, but also has the potential of sparking creativity in children.  The values of compassion and harmony, my book talks about, are universal and for everyone. The book is for anyone interested in instilling these values in their children whether at home or in schools.

Can you share a little bit about why you founded Eternal Tree Books?

I moved to the United States with my husband about eight years ago. After becoming a mother, my children became my priority. I naturally became concerned about their mental and emotional health. What they ate, what they thought, and what were their questions—seemingly small things seemed very important to me. Seeing growing anxiety, frustration, and lack of self-confidence in children of today, I realized that it was of paramount importance to teach children how to practice emotional hygiene, how to be inclusive, how to be compassionate towards all beings and Nature, and how to be proud of their culture. Being a daughter of a bookstore owner and having grown up with these values in the foothills of Himalayas back in India, I was able to explain and talk about these values with my children but they are avid readers so I needed books too. 

I hardly found any books on India’s culture and her universal yogic values in libraries and online. More often than not I came across books which had misinformation. I then decided to open my own independent publishing company with a mission to publish uplifting books created by visionary authors and artists for all ages to share stories from under-represented Indian culture–diverse stories promoting peace education, emotional hygiene, science of well-being, and cultural competence. 

I also believe that understanding plural perspectives is pivotal to ensuring inclusion in our communities. Global citizens alike have many cultural identities and enjoy taking part in other cultures art, literature, music, food, languages, and noble ideas. This love and eagerness to learn about one another is the seed of Eternal Tree Books.

Priya is currently the founder of Eternal Tree Books, an independent publishing house which creates books inspired by Indian culture and native traditions for global distribution. Her mission is to publish positive and empowering books to educate families about Indian cultures and help families explore core values and life lessons from diverse traditions, and their relevance in today’s world.

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