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Oct 17
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Human Drala


Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

By Russell Rodgers

Sometimes one encounters people or places that cut through one’s habitual chain of thoughts. The Tibetan word for that is “drala”, which means “above the enemy”. In this case the enemy is our cocoon of gossipy thoughts that keeps us separated from the beauty of the world. Practitioners who are familiar with the term drala often associate it with places that have power for us: they provoke a sense of primal vastness and spaciousness. Perhaps they provoke awe, or a sense of beauty. Size is not the issue here—it could be a mountain top, a mossy forest, or a drop of dew. Whatever it is, one feels that it is basically good.

Do you have human dralas in your life? Did they melt your discursiveness? Did they transmit basic goodness in their being? Perhaps this transmission took the form of warmth and compassion. Or perhaps it was wakeful awareness, a sense of big mind. Maybe it took the form of active intelligence, curiosity and engagement with the world. How did you recognize that transmission? How did you sense that it was important? What did it awaken in you?

Such people have a certain power: they awaken basic goodness and arouse respect. They become examples and social reference points. Abraham Lincoln is an American example. When his name is mentioned, people who know his story experience images of sensitivity, kindness, clear seeing and confidence in basic goodness. The drala quality of Abraham Lincoln is his ability to bring an experience of basic goodness, or at least images of it, into our minds. Abraham Lincoln and the qualities that he evokes are powerful reference points for how Americans feel about their society.

Winston Churchill is a British example of human drala. He possessed the self-knowledge not to waver in difficult circumstances. At the mention of his name, we have a momentary flash of courage and calm.

People of a given society often feel deep reverence for their founding fathers or mothers. Perhaps some historian will find that some of them were really fakes–operating from ulterior motives that were remote from basic goodness. In a sense, that doesn’t matter. Their drala quality is in the communication of basic goodness to us:  their present ability to cut through our discursiveness and touch our own latent basic goodness. This kind of transmission always happens in the now. Perhaps it is really the generic dralas of basic goodness speaking, and we identify them as ancestral figures.

For me, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is a drala. At the thought of him, I experience for a moment the tremendous spaciousness and wakefulness of his mind. Maybe it is the Chogyam Trungpa of my own mind that I’m experiencing, or maybe it’s a universal guru principle that’s beyond the purely personal. In any case, the memory of him awakens the experience of spacious awareness on the spot.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, mentions four ancestral sovereigns that serve as dralas for their respective countries. Each tuned into a different aspect of basic goodness. In ancient India, around 250 BC, the emperor Ashoka came to power in violent circumstances. Filled with regret, he established an empire based on kindness.  He erected many pillars that are still standing, bearing his edicts. Many of these are about kindness and respect in one form or another. His emblem adorns the Indian flag today. For Indians, his name evokes compassion and enlightened statesmanship.

In Japan, around  600 AD,  Prince Shotoku outlined principles of government that recognized that everyone had buddha nature. He said that officials in government had a duty to serve the people first and themselves second. He took the mahayana notion that buddha nature resides in everyone, regardless of social class, and combined that idea with the Confucian ideal of harmony, respect and good governance. This combination became the basis for his seventeen article “constitution”, which had a profound influence on Japanese society. He is known as the “Father of Japan”.

In China, during the Ming Dynasty,  around 1400 AD,  the Yung-lo Emperor developed the aspect of basic goodness aspect that involves curiosity, exploration and learning. He created a library containing all the knowledge that existed at the time. He  encouraged the arts for which that dynasty is famous. He sent an armada of huge wooden ships, many times the size of the European ships that discovered the New World, on peaceful voyages throughout Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India and Africa. These voyages stemmed not from desire to conquer, but from a genuine quest for knowledge and contact with other cultures. He built the Forbidden City, which contains Tienamin Square. This remains an emblem for how Chinese people feel about their culture.

In Tibet, probably sometime around the eleventh century, king Gesar went to war against the corrupting influences that were bringing a dark age to his part of Tibet. He is depicted as riding the energy of nowness or lungta, as symbolized by his magical horse. You can find his image today many prayer flags. If you Google “Gesar” you will find many examples on YouTube of his epic still being performed in modern Tibet. For most Tibetans, Gesar is a drala. When a Tibetan or a Shambhalian needs to raise lungta or life energy, they can invoke him and tap into his energy.

In my own case, my father was a scientist. He wasn’t particularly spiritual. He believed in the power of thought and concept, and he went to a lot of effort to live in that world. If it couldn’t be proved scientifically and objectively, its existence was doubtful. But underlying that was a basic intelligence and curiosity about how the world worked. I have a picture of him in his pajamas after he had succumbed to dementia. He is in a wheel chair on the back lawn, gazing raptly at something in the trees. His curiosity and wonder are completely open and engaged in that moment. That was the drala aspect of him that was part of my own formation as a son. It lives on for me, and I thank him for that.

All of us have human dralas in our lives, or we wouldn’t be on a spiritual path to rediscover the basic goodness that they introduced us to. If you think about it, you are also drala, in so far as you are in touch with your own basic goodness and can transmit that to your family and friends.  The effect of meeting drala is that the cocoon of thought subsides, allowing others to touch in with present awareness and the unadorned experience of nowness and basic goodness. You might even ask, “after I die, which of my drala elements will live on?”


Russell Rodgers lives in Nelson, a town of 10,000 in the mountains of British Columbia. It is a place of many dralas. He has practiced there since 1975 with a sangha that owns its own building and has about 50 members.


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6 responses to “ Human Drala ”
  1. Thank you very much. I’ve read, and re-read, many of your articles. They (you) are brilliantly clear, concise and kind. I wonder if you’ve considered compiling your articles into a book. If not, I hope you do.

  2. Jaynine Nelson
    Oct 18, 2019

    Thank you for your simple and wonderful explanation of drala. With Aloha, Jaynine

  3. Enjoyed your article on Drala and your mention of Gesar. I recently published a retelling of the first three volumes of the Gesar Epic and would be happy to send you a copy of Gesar of Ling: A Bardic Tale from the Snow Land of Tibet if you send me your mailing address. Thanks for the article.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, and the idea presented of human drala. Thank you so much!

  5. Susie Cook
    Oct 18, 2019

    Thank you Russell. Your words are music in these eyes.

  6. Jan Watson
    Oct 18, 2019

    Thank you Russell, excellent article :-)

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