Bringing Wise Mind to “Mine-golia”

A new post from Shambhala SunSpace “Earth Dharma” blogger Jill S. Schneiderman.

How shall we bring the Buddhist “perfections of the heart,” such as generosity, patience, equanimity, truthfulness, renunciation, and wisdom, to the ways we interact with the earth? I sometimes find myself adopting what might be considered a generous stance of sharing equally what Earth offers. But then I realize that I’m reacting to a feeling of needing more than what I already have.

In “The Bodhisattva Path,” the eighth-century monk, scholar and poet Shantideva wrote:

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute.
May I turn into all things they could need,
And may these be placed close beside them….

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

I reflected on these verses, and having listened recently to Sylvia Boorstein’s talk “The Paramitas as the Path” and a four-part series on National Public Radio about resource development in the Central Asian nation of Mongolia, I wondered how we human beings might apply Wise Mind to the issue of extraction of Mongolian mineral resources.

As reported in the NPR series, the sparsely populated nation of Mongolia is in the midst of a mining boom that has the potential to reduce widespread poverty there. The country is rich in copper and gold, among other metals, particularly in the Gobi region where nomadic herders have traditionally depended on water for sustenance. But water will be used in vast quantities at the copper mega-mine being developed at Oyu Tolgoi (“Turquoise Hill”) about 50 miles north of the Chinese border. Mining operations will lower the water table and threaten the livelihood of herders who constitute as much as 40% of the population.

Humans have used copper for thousands of years. King Solomon mined it at Timna to help build the temple in Jerusalem. It’s a critical resource for most of humanity, but it is also easily recycled. According to the International Copper Association, 80% of the copper ever mined is in use today. So something doesn’t feel right about unearthing more copper to lift a portion of a nation’s people out of poverty while sacrificing compatriots who will suffer from groundwater depletion.

And yet, as Sylvia says (a phrase that is heard nearly every day in my household) when she teaches about the paramis (the fully cultivated mind and heart qualities of a fully awakened being), to practice generosity and equanimity is to be wise. That is, Sylvia teaches that wisdom is an anomalous parami because we can’t wake up in the morning and say “Today I am going to be wise.” Instead one can treat simply nine of the paramis as aspects of one: wisdom.

Is it generous to endorse the actions of Rio Tinto, a massive Australian mining company, so that the financial wealth that accrues from copper mining trickles down to the people of Mongolia? Or is that simply plundering the earth? Perhaps as Sylvia teaches, giving up destructive habits such as surface and underground mining on massive scales is truly the manifestation of generosity.

Sylvia also teaches that suffering is caused by the imperative in the mind that things be different. The truth of Mongolia is that it is a landlocked nation with little arable land. Does it make sense to struggle with this reality, to pry from the earth more of what we think we need? In my view, creation of a vast mine in a remote region for the extraction of a recyclable mineral resource seems to be the result of confused rather than clear, wise minds.


  1. Huanglong says

    Not bringing a single thing
    He can't lift it even using both arms
    A clear-eyed man like Zhaozhou is hard to find
    At a word, Yanyang realized his error
    If he stepped back, he'd fall into a deep pit
    In his heart was boundless joy
    Like that of a pauper finding a jewel
    Once the poison is forgotten, there's no
    Snakes and tigers became his intimate friends
    Different species, equally understood
    Over the lonely centuries,
    The Pure Wind has never stopped

  2. Aparna Pallavi says

    Will the copper mining really even lift some people out of poverty? Mining research in India indicates that actual benefits trickling down to local people are far fewer than projected. A few may land jobs, a few may benefit from the urbanisation brought on by a mining boom, but finally everyone will be impacted by things like pollution — air, water and soil, lowering of water table, and the impact of mining related activities — blasts and whatever, and finally also the evils that urbanisation brings in tow, which are very complex. Even the so called 'beneficiaries' will not be spared these impacts. And much of the environment impact may actually be unforeseen given the slipshod way impact assessments are done. The major profits will be siphoned off by the company, there are bound to be corruption and violence. Is it worth the trouble at all, whatever the projected benefits?

  3. says

    I appreciate your post for bringing attention to this issue. As a Canadian, I think it is important that I, along with my fellow citizens, are aware of what Canadian corporations are doing in the Global South that violates people's rights and creates more suffering. Even though we don't see these practices in our daily lives, its important to know what is happening to our sisters and brothers in other nations.
    – Andrea