Tibetan Cosmology of Climate Change

Salick, Jan - Missouri Botanical Garden
Anja Byg - University of Copenhagen
Robbie Hart - Missouri Botanical Garden


Climate Change is basic to Tibetan cosmology in that four major changes have and will take place: 1. massive earthquakes shook and split the earth at the time humans (or life) first occurred, 2. a great flood covered the earth in the past, 3. in the future, fire will consume Mt. Shumi, the center of our material world, and finally 4. a colossal wind storm will extinguish the universe. Weather resides both in the emotional and material worlds. Dragons control the weather: Dro is a flying, sky dragon whose voice is thunder. Lu is a water spirit that lives in high alpine, often sacred lakes, in water creatures, and sometimes under old trees (dragon trees). Offerings and prayers are ceremonially presented to Lu in order to control weather (especially rain) and disease. Tibetan Buddhism, however, differs from these beliefs, offering a parallel, potentially compatible pathway: good deeds, thoughts, and prayers will lead to good weather, health, and livelihoods, as well as release from material suffering. The Tibetan Calendar predicts the weather and agricultural cycles based on a combination of Tibetan astrology and pragmatic consultations with experienced farmers subscribing to traditional knowledge and observation. Many Tibetan stories and saying refer to weather events, the most common akin to a similar western saying: a red sky at night forecasts fine weather, while a red sky in the morning foretells storms. Common explanations for temperature warming include: too little faith and prayer, too many trees cut, too many people (especially non-Tibetan unbelievers), and water pollution. Pollution, both spiritual and material, will bring on hardships of climate and weather, as well as of other aspects in our tenuous existence. Finally, it is apparent that Tibetans envision climate change as an integration of the moral, spiritual, emotional, and material universe, far more profound than our climate scientists or popular activists consider.