Sunday, July 25, 2010


Ward Reilly, Vietnam era veteran, supporter of IVAW from Bill Scheffel on Vimeo.

In this video you can hear Vietnam era veteran Ward Reilly tell his version of the "handmade life" as he speaks in a Warrior Writers workshop, a group of Iraq veteran writers and artists (more below).

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I was a culture assassin for the United States government. That’s what I was trained to do in the Special Forces. You go into a simple and indigenous society and train them to fight or train them to do something for the U.S. Government and then try to replace their system of government with our system of government.
                                                            Jacob George

Jacob George is the Afghanistan war veteran who appeared in the videos I featured in last week's posting and who started the bicycle project, A Ride to the End. In the second video Jacob discloses, "I was a cultural assassin for the United States government." When I heard that I realized I'd encountered the narrative, a synchronous connection between victory over war, the IVAW Convention and the drala principle. 

The United States in its role as one of the world's latest empires (since 1991 the only empire) has unleashed drone strikes, depleted uranium bullets and death squads in the name of democracy upon third-world countries for decades. In these nearly continuous wars (many covert and unreported at the time, such as the carpet-bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970s) the worst of the violence typically hits the countryside, rural areas where collateral damage goes particularly unnoticed or uncared about, places were life is still "indigenous and simple."  

The United-States-as-Empire is not alone among countries in profiting as a delivery system for violence, nor can the historical complexity of conflict zones  be reduced to a slogan or single explanation. The tactics of extrication from violence are not simple, obvious or easily done (Obama's dilemma), but Jacob's statement raises a crucial question: To what degree is modern war a war on the drala principle?


Today a friend showed me a recent interview with Maladoma Somé. Born into the Dagara people of Burkina Faso, Maladoma was forced at the age of four into a Jesuit boarding school. Eventually he was able to return to his village and receive the initiations of his own tradition, a process he called "unlearning." A person trained in both indigenous and modern culture, Maladoma has become one of our most articulate advocates and teachers of the drala principle.He has come to believe that,
"the intellect, as it is programmed by modernity, may not be equipped to comprehend certain kinds of reality. The modern mind has alienated itself from indigenous cognition in order to obtain a kind of control over the world." Maladoma Somé July 2010 issue of The Sun.
This "control over the world" Maladoma Somé speaks of is the war on the drala principle - and it has brought us to the brink of environmental catastrophe. The roots of war as a war on the drala principle has much to do with the rise of modernity and with it, a sharply increased disassociation between the human body and the earth. In the dynamic of this disassociation, the understanding that we must cooperate with nature often loses out to an urge to control it. 
When human beings lose their connection to nature, to heaven and earth, then they do not know how to nurture their environment or how to rule their world - which is saying the same thing. Human beings destroy their ecology at the same time they destroy one another. - Chögyam Trungpa
In 1939, Chögyam Trungpa-Lord Mukpo was born into the medieval world of Tibet, which was also a simple and indigenous world. Among the great Tibetan Buddhist teachers of his generation, he was alone in speaking about our disassociation from nature as the destruction of the drala principle (of course by the late 1970s, countless environmental writers, historians and and scholars had written on this subject; more on this next week). It is these very teachings that has galvanized the creation of this blog. The drala principle is a way (a universal principle active among countless teachings today) to reprogram the modern mind to reconnect with and inhabit the indigenous mind, a mind that has not been lost forever (after all, indigenous means inborn, innate).

Demeter, Rome.

Fundamental aspects of our humanity - our dream life, our poetic mind, what we refer to as shamanic experiences, and our relationship to the spirit world (whether one consider "spirits" as nature itself or as specific living but invisible beings, such as angels) - are denied by modernity. Some are simply neglected or left to die by the roadside (poetry); others became taboos, objects to shame under the broad heading of "superstition" and for continuous centuries were suppressed or destroyed by imperialism/colonialism, a kind of mono-theistic need to destroy what others believe (and what monotheism once "believed" itself; the angels and archangels are spirits after all).

Here are some of things Lord Mukpo said in 1979 about the war on the drala principle. (This is from a lightly edited transcript, truer to the speech of his talks than the more heavily edited books in print.). 
Christendom abandoned any sort of drala principle a long time ago. Whatever drala principles remained were regarded as superstition. The Christian empire of early medieval times desecrated the drala principle. 
Here, Lord Mukpo criticised Christendom, the conquering forces of a merged church and state, and not Christianity, which he did not condemn, to say the least. He befriended Thomas Merton, visited monasteries and abbeys when he lived in England and hosted annual Buddhist Christian conferences at Naropo University in the early 1980s. He was sincerely interested in the contemplative traditions of Christianity and supporting their revival. In the above quote he is talking about a Christianity far removed from its founder's intent, the kind Constantine was the first to propagate (an emperor who murdered his own son and wife), the man who set a precedent for the next 2000 years: Christianity as an intolerant empire (see Eduardo Galeano trilogy Memory of Fire for a chronicle of the disaster Christian Spain and other European countries visited on the indigenous world of Latin America).
Nowadays we make fun of the Greek gods or the Roman gods. We think they're funny; we think they're just a story. Because we have been indoctrinated by the Christian tradition, we never pay any attention to the ancient traditions... I feel our attitudes toward those ancient civilizations are not very justified. There were numerous traditions that understood how things worked. But nobody knows the sacred rites on any one of those traditions (any more)...
A key statement here is that these local-indigenous drala traditions "understood how things work." What Lord Mukpo means is that drala traditions, by definition, are elemental, they are linked, without exception, not just to the representatives of fire, water, wind and earth as deities, but to the function of fire, water, wind and earth; when to plant, how to harvest, the behavior of the landscape and needs of that watershed .
You can go to Rome, you can go to Paris, you can go to Athens and you can see the statues. They were the ancient gods. But what has become of those gods?... Suppose you were a Hellenistic practitioner, and you related with those gods, those dralas. How would you feel? Those people were bound to have incantations intended to provoke and invoke all sorts of drala principles.... But we have ignored all that. We think: "Ha. Ha. They had those sculptures and those things happening (referring to the way a typical tourists view the sight of antiquity)." So now a great tradition has become a tourist piece. It's very sad."

Statue, Rome.

We have to think back to those days. We have to think back. To some people it might be very shocking to reignite paganism altogether... The influence of one particular religion has harmed the indigenous traditions of Western Europe altogether. There are lot of gods in the Western tradition. The Greek and Roman deities are not the only ones... There is one Scandinavian deity who is referred to as the all knowing. He has four faces... What happened to all those gods? Even their shrines have been dismantled. Ladies and gentlemen, there were lots of drala figures within the European tradition. The drala principle exists everywhere - always, everywhere. But with the invasion of Christendom, when one God was announced, many of the other gods - the other dralas, we could say - were completely undermined; they were forgotten. People weren't even allowed to mention them.
I sat listening to the talk these excerpts are from over thirty years ago. Of all the talks I heard Lord Mukpo give on any subject, this was the perhaps the most interesting, the most galvanizing, the most unusual (to consider it brings tears to my eyes, always). His passion for the subject was so great he talked for what seemed like for hours; this is arguably the longest talk he ever gave - which could be an argument for how important he considered the subject of the drala principle to be! 

Again, Lord Mukpo was not condemning the religion and faith of Christianity and, in fact, he's not really talking about Christianity. He is talking, I believe, about a kind of paranoia that arises in the human psyche. When this paranoia is mixed with ideology and greed it unleashes a "one god" principle; zealous, aggressive, in need of ideology and with little empathy for other. I studied the legacy of this in Cambodia, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge declared the country would go back to "year zero," a fatal experiment in an extremely single-sided Maoism (atheism is also a form of one-god.)

Lord Mukpo's Tibet - and all its dralas - came under Chinese occupation in 1950; the ongoing decimation of Tibetan culture was particularly acute during the Cultural Revolution, the zenith of the one-god principle of Mao. But Tibet was not free of this either. Internecine campaigns of suppression - including war - by the dominant schools, such as the Gelukpo, against the "lessor" sects were long part of Tibet's history. The Rime movement, which Lord Mukpo embraced and taught from, was founded by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the 19th Century. Rime means "lack of bias" and was founded not to synthesize the various traditions and sects of Tibetan Buddhism but to respect their differences and preserve each as a distinct lineage (the opposite of the one-god principle and a model for tolerance and respect for diversity so many people now embrace).

In our current time, when the Soviet Union collapsed, collectively we went from two one-gods - Communism and the Free World or The West (terms of great irony)- to a single one-god; the free market capitalism of The West. The drala principle has not fared well under any of these systems. In 1931 Stalin, out of spite and whim but for no practical necessity, razed The Temple of Christ the Savior (considered as an "eighth" wonder of the world) and replaced it with a Soviet office building (one-god eating another one-god!). Far more significantly, and as an illustration of modernity as war on the indigenous, we can see the one-god epitome of the Soviet centrally planned state as environmental disaster almost beyond comprehension (but not widely known) in the destruction of the Aral Sea.This plight of the Aral Sea is brought to light in the following 10-minute documentary, a devastating work of great beauty.

A 10-minute documentary on the Arel Sea.

Lord Mukpo believed that reestablishing a sane and effective culture required combining the wisdom of the past (the indigenous, the drala-principle) with the reality of the present, including our technology. Like Gurdjieff and C.G. Jung, Lord Mukpo could see that contemporary humanity was ill equipped to handle its own inventions. To combine the wisdom of the past with our current technology would be to reestablish a morality (which he called sacred view) toward our environment in which we would refrain from consumerism and the culture of convenience, not to mention such blatant insanities as mountain-top removal or pumping dry our aquifers.


This has been a long digression since citing Jacob George's quote or reporting directly on the Iraq Veterans Against the War Convention, but the accidental narrative has returned here, in the theme of the handmade life, which is the theme of Jacob's bicycle ride for peace [as well as (with a couple of caveats) the phenomena of blogging].

I first heard the term "the handmade life" from Clarissa Pinkola Estes' telling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairly tale The Red Shoes. In brief, the red shoes represent the glamor of the careerism, consumerism, acquisition and ambition. The wearer of the red shoes, though beginning with good intentions, is eventually "worn" by the shoes, swept into a life of speed one cannot control. Taking up the handmade life means taking off the shoes - an initially uncomfortable, disarming, confusing, lonely and very vulnerable process. It means saying "no" to a lot of things and saying "yes" to... slowness. Perhaps the foundation of recovering our connection to the "indigenous mind" is slowness.

We often ask what we can do in the face of war, environmental catastrophe, personal depression or even simple stress. The handmade life is always available to us as remedy and creative opportunity. The handmade life ranges from taking a mindful breath to fulfilling a vision (for instance Allen Ginsberg's vision of Blake when he lived in Harlem). The handmade life is the principle of creativity and of the drala principle. The handmade life came front and center to me at the IVAW Convention, in particular though the book depicted below and meeting some of those who contributed to it:

Warrior Writers: Remaking Sense is an anthology of poems and prose from Iraq veterans (as well as the name of their website), some of whom I met in a writing workshop held during the conference. The subtitle of the book, Remaking Sense, echoes the theme of slowness and the handmade life; once we slow down we can begin to deconstruct our experience, identify what is toxic and what is healthy, what to refrain from and what to cultivate. For these young Iraq veterans, healing from war and recovering from PTSD are matters of life and death. More than one veteran told me writing had saved her life.

Here is a video I made as a guest in the Warrior Writers writing workshop. In this sequence, participants are talking about the role of art in their lives.

More on the handmade life in the next posting.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for this fine post Bill_its a profound subject and the understanding of it may actually resolve a few of this world's crazy problems.