The next time a community runs low on water, it might hope that monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in southern India are in the area. Consider recent events at Esalen Institute, the Big Sur, California human-potential laboratory where Alan Watts and other visionaries held forth in the Sixties. Esalen has been rebuilding its famed clothing-optional, spring-fed baths, which were destroyed in a 1998 mudslide. While digging the foundation of the new $2.5 million facility, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, workers dislodged a large snake. They hit another snag while attempting to connect the hot springs to the new structure. Geologists, hydrologists, and geothermal engineers were consulted. Perhaps the construction was causing disharmony in the environment, one of the builders ventured.

Fortuitously, the Gaden Shartse monks were visiting nearby, while on a U.S. tour. At the bathhouse site they performed a Ten Tru Yul Tru, or purification ceremony, dedicated to the Naga serpent deities, collectively acknowledged as protectors of springs and other power places. (In Tibetan Buddhist lore, the Naga were entrusted with safeguarding the jewel of the teachings, the Prajna Paramita, until Nagarjuna was permitted to bring it to light.)

Leaving nothing to chance, Esalen enlisted both scientific and spiritual support for the restoration project, including a second ceremony by the monks to bring harmony to the site.

The full effect of the Buddhist invocations remains unclear. But Esalen claims that after the first time the monks chanted to the Naga, their water flow increased substantially. ▼

For the latest update on the Esalen baths rebuilding project, see

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