His Holiness the Dalai Lama has topped the Watkins list of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People for 2020. Watkins bookshop in London has been compiling the list since 2011 as a way to celebrate living spiritual teachers. Along with the Dalai Lama, other leading figures listed included Pope Francis at No.2, teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg at No.3, talk-show host and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey at No.5, and Vietnamese Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh at No.7.
As evidenced by the inclusion of Thunberg, Winfrey, and others, the list aims to go beyond established religious institutions to include leaders making a difference in areas of global spiritual importance. This includes teachers, leaders, activists, artists, and others addressing issues of fundamental human concern.
The list is available in the spring issue of Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine. The special issue features 16 pages dedicated to photographs, biographies, and further details about each person on the list.
The Dalai Lama, known for his global interfaith peace work as well as his teachings on the full range of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, teaches the practices of kindness and compassion around the world. He has consistently landed in the top ten of the list, ranking at No.3 in 2019—behind Pope Francis at No.1 and Oprah Winfrey at No.2—and No.2 in 2018, with Pope Francis again at No.1. The last time that the Dalai Lama was No.1 was in 2016. Recent books auhtored by the Dalai Lama include The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (Morgan Road Books 2005), Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World (Mariner Books 2012), and The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery Publishing 2016). The last of these was co-authored with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is No.8 on Watkins’ 2020 list.
Other notable Buddhists on the list include the prolific author and speaker Pema Chödrön at No.57, poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder at No.67, peace activist and honorary president of Soka Gakkai Daisaku Ikeda at No.71, British-Australian Theravada monk and advocate for full female ordination Ajahn Brahm at No.77, Vipassana teacher and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society Jack Kornfield at No.83, and psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach at No.98. Several others on the list are influenced by Buddhism, either in traditional forms or by way of mindfulness practice or an interest in Buddhist philosophy or psychological teachings.
According to the website, several factors are used in compiling the list of influential figures. The main three are that the person is alive as of 1 January of the year, that the person has made a global contribution to spirituality, and that they have had an impact that can be traced through metrics such as Google searches, having a Wikipedia page, and so on. Lastly, the creators of the list note that they are careful to ensure that none of the individuals listed have spread messages of intolerance or hatred.
Watkins Books is described as London’s oldest esoteric bookshop, established in 1897 by John M. Watkins, a friend of the world traveler and co-founder of Theosophy, Helena Petrovna (commonly known simply as “Madame”) Blavatsky (1831–91).