Why are mountains still sacred?


Mountains are among the most challenging environments on Earth. Within both the physical and emotional challenges of mountain landscapes, there are a host of beguiling paradoxes.

Mountains have an overwhelming physical immanence, as well as a powerful transcendence, which is reflected in the literature they inspire. Often, that literature draws from ancient mystical traditions. The epic Sanskrit poem, Kumārasambhava by Kālidāsa, tells us that the Himalayan mountains are “a source of endless jewels which snow does nothing to diminish.” The Tang Dynasty poet Li Po also captures this paradox of mountains being both a physical reality as well as a transcendent realm:

“Why, you ask, do I live up in these blue mountains?
I smile and do not reply. Leave me in peace.
Peach blossoms drift on waves of flowing water,
There is another sky, another earth, beyond the world of men.”

Alongside the paradox of immanence and transcendence is a second paradox: that mountains inspire both fear and fascination. Whether it is from avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural terrors, mountains are undeniably landscapes of fear. And yet, who can resist mountain travel, whether it is to walk, ski, climb or explore? The Taoist sage Ko Hung captures this paradox brilliantly in his P’ao-p’u tzu nei-p’ien 17.1a …

Read the complete article in Volume 2, Issue 3




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  1. Avatar Dawn Holden : March 5, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Thank you to Heartfulness for publishing this brilliant and beautiful meditation on the sacredness of mountains. Adrian Cooper presents us with a wide ranging discussion which identifies precisely why mountains get under our skin, and fill us with awe and wonder, but in a frequently perplexing way. Dr Cooper is right to argue that mountains confound us, as well as comfort us. They are intensely hard places to understand – always remaining illusive, mysterious, mystical and therefore sacred. I would like to see more work from Adrian Cooper if he can bring this passion for mountains to individual regions eg Chinese sacred mountains. Thank you!

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