Nepal Earthquake Disaster Avoidable, Says Buddhist Leader


Family stands besides house demolished in 2015 Nepal earthquake (Photo on Flickr)

“It’s an earthquake. Run!”

This was the panicked realization of Education Officer at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Rachel Hay, who was travelling in Nepal when the devastating 7.8 earthquake and aftershocks hit the country April 25, 2015. Most first hand accounts of the day express fear and anxiety. Tashi Sherpa, a tour guide, said, “The quake seemed to last forever, and when the earth stopped buckling, panic quickly set in. People were petrified.”

In a country that was the birth place of the Buddha, it is not surprising that many Nepalese people suffering from the physical, mental, and emotional injuries of the earthquake and its ramifications, are looking to Buddhism for answers. And Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order and “Guardian of the Himalayas” provided needed guidance last Friday on World Environment Day.

“Disasters such as the recent earthquake in Nepal and the cloudburst in the Himalayas (Leh in Jammu and Kashmir) in 2010 are due to humans’ increased interferences in nature,” the Drukpa said. “Natural disasters are a wake-up call. If we understand this, we also realize that we have a genuine opportunity here to reverse some of these disasters before they happen again.”

After the earthquake and aftershocks devestated Nepal, mudslides and avalanches caused even more deaths, injuries, and loss. Slopes weakened by the shaking could not support the added burden of rain and snow as the summer monsoon season began. In the valley outside Kathmandu, the country’s capital, whole villages were wiped out by mudslides.

But this could have been avoided had there been more trees, said the Drukpa. “The trees save lives by preventing and slowing down mudslides and avalanches. They slow global climate change. We can shift towards environment-friendly technologies. In doing this, we can have a respectful relationship with our Earth and it will last us many more generations to come.”

In 2010, a cloudburst over the Leh district triggered torrential rains, mudslides, and flash floods. The picturesque landscape was destroyed, homes were demolished, and over 500 were injured. In response, the Drukpa planted 50,033 willow saplings in 33 minutes and 25 seconds near the famed Hemis Monastery. Two years later, he led 9,814 people in planting 99,033 trees in less than one hour.

On World Environment Day this year he addressed those looking for answers after the devastating natural disasters.

“In the last few decades, so many of our so-called ‘natural disasters’ have actually been a result of the damage that we, as humans, have done. It has really been like a nightmare for many of us who live in these areas affected by the disasters,” said the Drukpa. “If we understand this, we also realize that we have a genuine opportunity here to reverse some of these disasters before they happen again. If we all work together proactively, and with wisdom and compassion, there are so many things we can do as humans to honor our Earth.”

The Drukpa is internationally acclaimed for creating awareness about environmental consciousness. In September 2010, the United Nations honored him with the Millennium Development Goals Award for his efforts to “create compassion into action.” The Gyalwang Drukpa was also named “The Guardian of the Himalayas” by the Waterkeeper Alliance during the UN Week in September 2013. And the Legislative Assembly in Mexico City recognized the Buddhist leader as an honorary member of its body last July.

In November, he started his seventh “Eco Padvatra” walk from Varanasi to Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, and was joined by 1,000 people including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

“We often talk about going into nature in order to heal ourselves. Now is our turn to try and heal nature, after the damage we have caused in the last few decades,” he said.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .