The whakapapa of the whakaaro that led to naming ourselves Tuwhiri

The whakapapa of the whakaaro that led to naming ourselves Tuwhiri


We received a message: ‘I’m interested in your name. What is the backstory to it, the whakapapa of the whakaaro that lead to its adoption?’ We understood this question as ‘what is the origin of the intention that led to its adoption?’. In our response, we explained what it meant to us to be known as The Tuwhiri Project and received this:

I think it would be really useful for your organisation to develop this backstory to the Māori name and include it on your website. People are being called out for appropriating indigenous knowledge in inauthentic ways. I was pretty sure that your organisation would not fall into this category but there was nothing to help me available.

Following this very useful suggestion, here are our thoughts on why we consider Tuwhiri to be an excellent name for a secular Buddhist publishing imprint with one foot in Aotearoa New Zealand and one foot in Australia:


Tēnā koe,

Thank you for your interest in The Tuwhiri Project and for asking why the name ‘Tuwhiri’ was chosen. No-one has asked that before, so we’ve given this response a lot of thought.

Three years ago, a group of people came together to publish a book, and we looked for a name for our imprint that would describe and express what we stood for as secular Buddhist practitioners who are citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand. Adopting a word in te reo Māori for our name was our way of acknowledging and showing our support for tangata whenua.

The idea that we call ourselves The Tuwhiri Project was discussed within and beyond the small community of secular Buddhists in Aotearoa. Te Aka, the Māori dictionary, sets out so perfectly how we found ourselves when we came up against traditional, ancestral forms of Buddhism. The notion of revealing, or making known, a means of discovering something lost or hidden, matched how we felt about what we discovered when we examined early Buddhist teachings in the Pali language with fresh eyes.

But let’s take a step back.

Those of us who started The Tuwhiri Project practise a form of Buddhism known as secular Buddhism. A living tradition, Buddhism began as a way of working with the difficulties we all face as mortal, vulnerable, conscious beings. As its founder, the Buddha imbued this practice with an ethic of care and a set of working concepts – the dharma – that we can use today to interpret our experience, and as a guide to full human flourishing.

Since the Buddha’s death, though, the dharma has been expressed in many ways in different cultural settings, and often these border crossings have enriched it. But when the dharma appeared in religious guise, it became burdened with cosmic beliefs, its practice was regimented, and it was used as an instrument of social control, stifling the freedom at its heart. 

The influence of secularity on western culture has been growing for centuries. It encourages a search for the good life in the circumstances that confront us in our own times, not as prescribed by timeless myths. Secular Buddhism is a contribution to the process whereby the dharma is putting down roots in the west, enabling us to bring back the vitality of the early dharma, free of later religious distortions.

Owned by a charitable trust – Aotearoa Buddhist Education Trust – The Tuwhiri Project is a social enterprise. Employing one very part-time administrator, what money we do earn remains in Tuwhiri to produce more educational resources. All our dharma books, our course, and our new Creative Dharma newsletter, are offered to the world with a Creative Commons licence.

As we state on our website, Girol Karacaoglu’s book Love you: public policy for intergenerational wellbeing makes no claim to Buddhist inspiration. However, it does directly serve the Buddhist ethic of care in advocating coherent socioeconomic policies that will benefit people alive today, and those who will succeed us. It is for this reason that Tuwhiri takes great pleasure in publishing it.

I hope you find this helpful. Girol and I would be very happy to meet with you over a cup of coffee, at your convenience, to explore ways of working together and supporting each other’s work, since we clearly share the same values.

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