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Aug 29
Opinion Pieces
Protectors of Wealth and Wisdom

A female Naga (Sanskrit) or Lu (Tibetan), photo by Thomas Laird, at the Rubin Museum of Himalyan Art

by Judy Bond

Last March I wrote an article for the Shambhala Times about drilling for shale gas, which is a new technology that allows the mining of natural gas from shale formations, often thousands of feet within the earth. Such formations are widespread and will allow humans to harvest more fossil fuel than was previously known to be available. Our dwindling fossil fuel supply is a product of solar energy processed through plants, or animals that eat plants and then decompose. We now have the capability to make biofuels that will provide the same kind of energy, but instead of mining these fuels from underground, we will be using the surface of the earth to grow them.

Given that only portions of the earth’s surface can grow plants, and that we primarily grow plants for food, it won’t be long before the earth will be unable to support the population that exists now. Some researchers estimate that our planet will only be able to provide a sustainable living situation for around one billion people (six billion less than our current population). Renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power may be of great benefit in the future, but currently they are not a viable alternative to meet all of our needs. For example, even the newest and most sophisticated electric cars can only travel for around 100 miles before requiring recharging. Thus, in the not-too-distant future, when our fossil fuels do run out, our lifestyles will have to adapt to a new world.

When I wrote the previous article, it was from the perspective of a “green” geologist and looked at how drilling for, and production of, shale gas might happen without disturbing the environment (specifically ground water that lies in formations near the surface, that must be penetrated to get to the deeper shale gas). As accurate and optimistic as this article may have been, I was neglecting the subject of dralas in connection with mining. To demonstrate the importance of dralas, here is a story told by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and recounted by Acharya Jeremy Hayward:

Trungpa Rinpoche once said to me that, although there was a great development and appearance of wealth in the Western world, through a lot of manufacturing, mining of the earth, and so forth, that had gone on, much of the vitality of the land had been harmed, had deteriorated, and because of that the dralas had departed. As a method for restoring the vitality, for healing a wounded situation, he had given the practice of drala, so that people could bring brilliance and dignity to their physical world, potency to their speech, and courage (or strength of heart) to their minds. So that both from the point of view of spiritual activity and the point of view of worldly activity, people could experience brilliance and dignity. The oral instructions he gave regarding this are extremely important. Please don’t forget them.

Padmasambhava subjugating a naga king, Nele Thokar. Photo by Thomas Laird, at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art.

In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, there are many kinds of dralas, which translates from the Tibetan as “above the enemy”. In regards to mining, lokapalas, which are protective energies associated with geographical locations, are important. Ultimately, these energies are not outside of oneself, but are aspects of the basic mind, before thought. These energies may be experienced in a non-dual way, which means not splitting into perceiver and perceived. When sensory perception is experienced in this way, gently and openly, elements of the phenomenal world take on a living quality. These energies, or dralas, are often projected as entities with forms, names, and functions. According to tradition, the historical Buddha and other enlightened beings, such as Padmasambhava, were able to actually see such beings. For the average person, however, it is more that awareness of these energetic aspects of our mind can act as reminders when our mindfulness is lost. For instance, if you are speeding through your morning you might slam the car door on your finger or misplace your keys, which acts as a reminder to slow down before something more serious happens. Thus our mind protects us.

Acknowledging and respecting the energies of the environment has been a customary practice across many cultures throughout all of history. The images above are from Lukhang Temple, courtesy of the Rubin Museum in New York City, and they depict some of the dralas and lokapalas from the murals within the Temple. Lukhang Temple was built after the life of the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682), who, having authorized the construction of a palace called the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet, was visited by nagas (serpent deities, also called lu) in a dream. They had been displaced by the excavation of a large pit behind the Potala, for clay to be used as mortar. The small Lukhang Temple was built for the displaced dralas on an island in the lake created when the pit filled with water. Besides living in low-lying wet areas or water, nagas are said to be treasure and wisdom protectors (lokapalas). Some 1000 years earlier, Padmasambhava was asked by the King of Tibet to subjugate the nagas and other local deities so that the first Buddhist monastery could be built without obstacles arising and the construction impoverishing the Kingdom.

Shortly after writing my previous article on the topic of natural gas, I was in New York to see one of Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas and to visit a photo exhibit at the Rubin Museum. The four Ring operas, though written by the German Wagner, are an example of a mythology that focuses on naga-like characters. Wagner based his opera stories on German myths and created a uniquely German form of opera to unify a fragmented country. His social-activism-turned-art-form was also in protest of the desecration of the earth and the loss of an agrarian lifestyle, as capitalism and the Industrial Revolution that drove it was rapidly spreading in England, and then throughout Europe, in the mid-nineteenth century.

The modern conveniences of contemporary society, while providing countless benefits, have created a disconnect from nature and the environment, and thus, from our own nature as well. The teachings of Shambhala Buddhism attempt to address this issue by giving us tools to reconnect with the dralas and therefore live more fully and genuinely. Also, by respecting these different energies and living harmoniously with them, we can be protected from mishaps that arise from being out of touch with our world. It is becoming increasingly apparent, and urgent, that we regain our connection to the dralas and lokapalas in order to address the difficult energy and environmental concerns we are currently facing, and will face in the future. Therefore, by looking to our ancestors, both Tibetan and Western, we may discover the path to relating with these energies again, and bring more balance to how we identify and connect with the natural world.

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5 responses to “ Protectors of Wealth and Wisdom ”
  1. Without in any meaning to cast aspersions on the character or intention of the author here, this reminds me essentially of the sort of sophistries and propaganda used by entities such as the IMF to justify the rape and pillage of various nations, and thus peoples, all over the world. The deal goes like this: you surrender to our corporate-global-cartel system and in return a) we won’t bomb you any more and b) we get to profit from your natural resources and c) we will help you keep your population subjugated somehow.

    What has this to do with fracking? The current robber-baron cartel paradigm depends not upon ‘progress’ as mentioned above, but on increasing centralisation on all sorts of levels, but which has been facilitated by technological efficiencies, or progress if you will. Some forms/conventions favor centralisation more than others. Is it a coincidence that Emerson’s factory was burnt down only days before he was about to release a form of home generation which would have allowed the typical rural householder to power all energy for home and farm without any need to tap into a central grid?

    The imperative for oil and other similar forms is fundamentally hobbled by the unchallenged assumption that the only way that makes sense is the centralised way, in the case of energy via a centralised grid system. This notion is morally and technically fallacious. It is the Elephant of Mass Deception in the chamber of polite discourse on this Energy Topic, such as this thread.

    Yes, urban population need a centralised approach. But the probable truth is that non-centralised approaches, which by definition are several orders of magnitude more efficient, could no doubt be scaled up to provide energy for urban populations, as the statement above about one day’s solar energy relative to one year’s human energy consumption.

    In short, the solution has little to do with technology and a lot to do with politics and corruption. The key dynamic is the relationship between Centre (top) and Fringe (Masses). To discuss energy issues without including the macro-political underpinnings of the need for such discussion is a waste of time.

    For example, one of the premises in Judy’s statement – that the world can only support a billion people – is an IMF standard talking point. It is complete rubbish and essentially a life-denying, wicked thing to say. Of course there are scientists who will support this statement. There are always scientists one can find to support anything. In any case, it is irrelevant. The Elephant, again, is the Ogre of Centralisation. Even within Shambhala International, the organisation, we have to be very careful lest we worship overmuch at the Shrine of Centralisation, a trap which any Monarchical system can fall prey to. Does this mean there is no good role for Hierarchy, including centralisation of authority and so on? Of course not. But it is very tricky.

    I should probably spend several hours pruning this down to a few well ordered sentences. But if I did that, this post would never see the light of day, so here it is. Please consider the importance of the underlying point/objection here: the crucial fault line in contemporary politics is the centralisation/localisation axis. The local dynamic is getting lost and yet that is where ordinary wisdom is gathered on the experiential level. If we fail to protect this part of the inevitable polarity, we will fail to protect Ground or Earth or Sanity, the ‘Sa’ in Sawang and Sakyong.

    This is a very big topic. But the technological aspects are only a very small aspect thereto.

  2. Dear Judy,
    Your comments are a misguided commentary on our energy supply. Fracking, which is one of the most damaging and invasive methods of extracting fossil fuel from the earth requires huge amounts of water, cause water and air pollution and continue to plunder the earth.. This is the last thing we need to be pursuing at this critical point in time what with global climate change. Infomred people are protesting this discraceful method of extraction. I would suggest you do some additional thinking about this and educate yourself. The 6 billion dollars to bring this down the pike would creat a whole lot of solar panels and wind turbons. We can’t wait. Time is running out. Continuing going down the fossil fuel road is a serious dead end. I could go on about tis but trust that you will reconsider your points about wealth slant by educting yourself further on this very serious issue. Fracking is a very bad process and should not be equated with Shambhala in any way.

  3. I agree with Petra, and I have to say that the global situation is rather further along and further gone than Judy suggests in her analysis. Renewable energy is completely viable now – today -, and Germany has become a world leader in solar technology even without a naturally sunny climate.

    In the U.S. the taxpayer subsidies granted to the fossil fuel industries tip the costs in favor of dirty coal and oil. Nuclear could not be built if not for government subsidy – no free market would ever embrace it. Calculations show that if we removed the subsidies (I don’t have the figures to hand, but they’re in the many tens and perhaps even the hundreds of billions of dollars) renewables today cost about the same. And renewable technologies have only just begun their period of innovation, so we can expect many magnificent inventions and development as we adopt the energy that exists in abundance on the surface of the planet.

    Water is one of our greatest danger points right now, and everyone should consider the dangers of fracking – have you not seen the film of the water faucet lit on fire because the drinking water has become so polluted? We will die from lack of water and we are in critical times all over the world. The Tibetan glacial system supplies half the world with water and this is being lost. The Himalayan ice is retreating, Bhutan is moving into deep crisis from global warming. Everything on the planet that can melt is melting, and rapidly.

    Furthermore we are in an Extinction Event. Billions of sentient beings are dying because of the damage the human species has visited upon this Earth. I do not have the wisdom or knowledge to comprehend the collective karma involved in these crimes.

    While we are also pouring a myriad of other poisons in to the life streams of the planet, carbon itself is causing the major cataclysm of climate change, and all fossil fuel use produces carbon. We are in serious times and we must demand rigor in our analyses of our energy, food, water and health conditions for human and all remaining species.

    To think that we can harvest oil shales without the obscenities of land stripping or without the large investment in carbon-wasting energies required even to extract the oil is a misunderstanding made clear by the travesty happening with Canada’s arboreal forest – greater than the Amazon as a natural carbon sink and atmosphere freshener – which is the site of the notorious Tar Sands exploitation. Look at just one aerial photograph of the Tar Sands and one’s inherent wisdom will immediately react in horror at the wrongness of it. Study just a few more of the facts and understand the vastness of the crimes against indigenous peoples and a multitude of life forms being committed in the name of fossil fuels as the only viable energy system.

    This is why people today are being arrested in front of the White House, in the Tar Sands action to stop the Keystone pipeline from being built across the United States. If the Tar Sands are exploited to their full potential, our greatest climatologist James Hansen of NASA has said that we will stand no chance whatsoever of restoring the world climate. If this happen we will probably all die, and calculations predict at least one thousand years for the temperatures to go back down to support human life.

    Other calculations suggest that in one hour enough sunlight falls upon the Earth to supply the entire planet’s energy needs for one year. This is natural abundance. We must open our minds to all of these calculations, and turn our efforts to changing this world’s energy patterns, very quickly – innocent lives are at stake including our own but especially all the beings who are helpless before our selfish path of “progress.”

    And we should not ponder too long. Action is required. Warriors are desperately needed. We must inform ourselves, commit ourselves, and act to save this world as if its hair were on fire.

  4. Petra Mudie
    Sep 1, 2011

    Surely renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are the only viable alternative to meet our future needs for electricity, heat and transport? Fracking rocks for hydrocarbons stored underground millions of years ago is a sad excuse for scraping the bottom of the conventional petroleum industry barrel until it is entirely empty because it is a finite resource of carbon-energy. If instead, the multi-billions currently spent on fracking experiments were used to promote truly renewable energy use from the infinite resources of sun, wind and water, we might then create a safer, saner, healthier society.

    “Namo! Earth, water, fire and all the elements …the trees and the greenery and so on, all partake of the nature of self-existing equanimity which is ….what the Great Wrathful One is” (Chogyam Trungpa, Sadhana of Mahamudra)

  5. Thanks very much, Judy, for a well-informed and articulate message that skillfully weaves together our Shambhala traditions and teachings with contemporary science and ecology. This is a terrific exposition of a clear look at these important issues!

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