Children’s book author Priya Kumari and her two little sons were strolling in a garden when the elder one asked her, “What is friendship?” Priya paused for a moment trying to find the best way to answer the question. “It reminded me of an episode from the Buddha’s life,” says the chartered accountant and founder of a small publishing house based in East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.
“One day, before attaining enlightenment, Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree. He noticed the presence of the sun, soil, water, time, space, and even a mind – all of it in a leaf. He recognised that all elements had come together happily to give the leaf its life. Through this experience, he gave the message of interdependent origination of life, which essentially means how different elements in nature work together as a team to create life,” she narrates.
Priya used this same analogy to explain the meaning of friendship to her son: “When we all work together, we will give rise to a happier world where people from all cultures, genders, colours, and ethnicities are respected and everyone lives in harmony with nature.”
She later wrote a poem about it which eventually turned into a children’s illustrated book – Priya’s third – called Leaf Talks Peace: Buddha’s Message of Harmony.
Launched on Buddha Purnima in May 2022, this is the first Indian author picture book to be endorsed by the Dalai Lama, and carries his foreword. He calls it “a beautifully illustrated book that teaches children the importance of living in harmony with nature and with all forms of life. I hope that it will contribute to a better awareness of the responsibility each of us has to protect our environment.”
Born and raised at the scenic foothills of the great Himalayas in the small town of Siliguri, Priya’s home rested directly across a Hindu temple and a Buddhist monastery, which meant she grew up listening to the “spirit-filled chantings of both”.
She inherited her love of reading and passion for the written word from her father who owned a local bookstore, while her mother instilled in her the values of social, individual and ecological peace.
These principles found in the writings of Indian culture and mythos became the foundation of Priya’s own books, which embrace these simple but important values. “My hope is to teach youngsters how to exercise compassion and humanity towards others and our environment,” she says.
After Priya moved to the US and had children, she wanted them to know about their Indian culture and her experiences as a child. Though she was a qualified CPA, she devoted her time to writing and publishing children’s books through her own independent publishing company, Eternal Tree Books.
Their books feature uplifting stories inspired by Indian culture to educate families about Indian values, traditions, and their relevance in today’s world. Their authors – Indian and otherwise – draw on Indian values with universal messages for a global audience.
“I realised that laying down the foundation of peace through education can help us raise more mindful and compassionate global citizens. Peace and harmony are inherent in Nature. We can live in a happy state by recognising that we are all dependent on each other. If we all work together peaceably, we can achieve a state of bliss throughout the world. But to do so, it is imperative that we educate our children from an early age on how to resolve conflict – both internal and external – peacefully, and in doing so, maintain compassion towards humankind and our environment. All this we can accomplish through peace education,” she avers.
Leaf Talks Peace has been accepted as part of the peace-education curriculum in many US schools, and has been covered on various television, news and podcasts to highlight the importance of having such education in schools. “Many Buddhist experts and scholars have endorsed the book for explaining such a difficult yet easy thought in a language that young children can understand,” says Priya.
The mother of a seven-year-old and a three-year-old concludes: “It is easy to forget about the simple things such as kindness, responsibility, and respect when we consider our fast-paced lives in this world today. But the message of peace and harmony is worthy of consideration and application for the sake of our environment and our lives.”