The Mountain

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


There, on a summit more pointed than the finest needle,
He who fills all space resides unto himself.
On high in the most rarefied air
Where all freezes into stone,
The supreme and immutable crystal alone subsists.
Up there exposed to the full fire of the firmament,
Where all is consumed in flame,
Subsists the perpetual incandescence.
There at the centre of all creation,
Is he who sees each thing accomplished
In its beginning and its end.

René Daumal

 In awesome primeval sleep the mountain reposes. Raised up in a frozen mass above the broad plain of the world, it abides in lofty silence while life below babbles and scintillates for a moment only to fade away. An unmoving witness of vaster cycles than most men dream of, few can penetrate into its overbrooding mystery. Few the eyes that can bore within those sharp escarpments and layered folds to glimpse the granular essence of the mountain's heart. Few the souls who would dare to reach beyond those massive rocks to the remote summit, the austere heights wherein the gods dwell. Yet these treacherous slopes guard the sacred sanctuary of Olympian Zeus, of Zoroaster and of Shiva.

 On the mountain heights some of those few intrepid seekers, those seemingly obsessed mountaineers, disappear, never to be seen again. Some have fallen, crushed by roaring snows and sharpened stone. Others, it is whispered, have reached the lap of the Immortals, the majestic abode which Homer described when he spoke of Olympus "neither shaken by winds nor ever wet with rain, nor does the snow come near it, but clear weather spread cloudless about it, and a white radiance stretches above it". It is the celebrated mountain at the centre of the world: Sumeru, Tabor or Caf. It is the temple Mount of Borobudur, Meru the navel of the earth. Thither shaman, seer and visionary go to join the Wise Ones, if only for a while, knowing that at this lofty place resides the power and vision of the Gods. They surmise that the peak of the mountain is the point of contact between heaven and earth and the centre through which the world axis passes, binding together the three spheres of being. But such seekers are few and their convictions are derided by dwellers on the plain below, and so the sacred symbolic point has had to take refuge in totally mythical mountains.

 Because of its massive shape, the mountain expresses greatness and fullness of being, and despite its terrors for those who would dare to scale its crags, it is generous, feeding waters and soil to the plains below. It is like a divine king rising above all and showering his subjects with the bounty of his heavenly state. As the mountain gives and is even worn down over many millennia, so the dharma of the king is to let flow unfettered all his power and riches until the rocky slopes of his dynastic reign have been ground down into fine dust.

 All the rivers that water the earth flow because of the mountain's vertical mass. From its cold and glacial peak, the virgin streams flow rapidly, reducing rock to soil and giving birth to variegated vegetable and animal life. All the lush valleys owe their verdure to those snow-clothed and lonely peaks. In no other earthly form is there a more compelling natural symbol of the numinous relationship between God and man. For while the Enlightened Buddhas emanate endless streams of compassion, ordinary men live and bring forth the flower of true human nature at their feet. They evolve in mind and heart until the day comes when they can approach the incline of those formidable heights and earnestly and courageously seek to discover the way up.

Something hidden - go and find it;
Go and look behind the Ranges.
Something lost behind the Ranges;
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

Rudyard Kipling

 The upheaval of mountains is the result of tremendous vertical and horizontal stresses within the earth. Great folds protrude from the earth's surface or jagged faults break at dramatic angles. The compressed heat churning within the earth boils up in enormous domes or in volcanic explosions whose igneous material splays out upon the plains the buried substance of the inner globe. Mountains rise up and grow even as they slowly erode away, but the peaks are the highest part of the original crust and resist the workings of time and the elements. They witness the changes affecting rock structures of unequal hardness on their slopes. They overbrood, as it were, the moulding and carving of their multifaceted sides.

 Most of the mountains on this earth are concentrated in two enormous bands which swing along the eastern equatorial like a great ladle whose bowl includes the Himalayas, and encircle the Pacific Ocean like a ring of fire. The great cordillera of North and South America curves almost from pole to pole like an enormous reflex spine, shedding waters which cut hundreds of river valleys along the entire western coast. They carry the grains of those rocky heights, the mountain sediments, to the open sea. Deposited there, they consolidate and weigh down upon the crust, eventually causing a new upheaval in the vicinity. The Urals and Appalachians are old and worn smooth, but the Alps are relatively young and the Himalayan ranges are still developing. Their crests are the pillars of the House of Snows and Chomolunga (Everest) is its Goddess Mother. Rising over twenty-nine thousand feet, she is flanked by a mighty retinue of lofty attendants. The great Dapsang (K-2) and The Five Treasures of the Snow (Kanchenjunga) both exceed twenty-eight thousand feet in height and guard the western and eastern extremes of this lofty world. Between them, sentinels with magical names stand brooding over the subcontinent below. Dreadful Nanga Parbat, taker of so many lives, awesome Annapurna, the beauteous Nanda Devi, commune with the peaks of Lhotse, Makalu and Dhaulagiri. Their mystery and allure are matched only by the difficulty of their approach.

 Blake wrote that "great things are done when men and mountains meet", and for many ages individuals have intuited something of the potential challenge that lies in the relationship. The virtuoso, violinist Ole Bornemann Bull, looked to the mountains of Norway for his musical inspiration, and Byron said "high mountains are to me a feeling". The connection, however, is not merely affective; there are also remarkable cognitive analogies between man and the mountain even on the physical plane, and human acclimatization to mountainous living points to richer possibilities of transformation of consciousness.

 René Daumal in his moving book Mount Analogue speaks of the proportion and scale of man and the mountain. He suggests that there must be a matching ratio between the two before the mountain can be approached. Indeed, the changes in structure and numbers of the mountain dwellers help one to appreciate several levels at which the idea of ascent may be understood. At high altitudes man is affected by three controlling influences: terrain, climate and isolation. He must struggle in relative loneliness while the air pressure around him is inadequate to push a supply of oxygen through his lungs. So gradually his lungs change and become lined with small alveoli pockets which remain wide open to let the blood flow through the lung tissue and pick up the oxygen breathed in. He has twenty per cent more blood than the plains dweller and it is thicker, while it moves through a heart one-fifth larger than that of other men. At his extremities there are more direct passages between the arteries allowing for a quickening of circulation. His lungs are immense and he breathes great deep breaths in rhythm with a slower beating heart. Thus he moves across lofty crests and spurs and has been able to establish permanent centres of habitation at over fifteen thousand feet above the level of the sea.

 Mountain people shun the lower world and place their pride in the very hardships of their existence. Some say that they are free, and unconfined by the traps of comfort and fashion. Rather, they pit themselves against the elements and measure themselves against the mountain slopes. They are hard and brave and rocklike in their endurance. But there is something archaic about their mode which keeps them out of touch with the currents of growth that affect the rest of the world. They protect their way of life by remaining aloof and their freedom seems to imprison them. Perhaps these dwellers have met the mountain and adapted but have not seen within the overlapping folds to glimpse the mountain's heart. Perhaps even the plainsman can realize something of the inner mountain when he says, like Hopkins, "Oh the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall. Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed." In fact, the body of every man can be seen as having an axis or spine which travels from peak to earth and is analogous to the world-axis that runs from pole to pole and roots the sacred Meru. The great American cordillera stretches in a bowlike spine from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, its top at the place of the head, its end at the feet of clay. The navel, easily apparent in man, is hidden in the mountain and in the earth. But this navel attaches to an umbilicus which is an axis in itself, not to be understood in terms of the lifespan of one human body as most men know it, and the fluid that flows within its stalk is not unrelated in nature or function to that which flows within the spine. Both can be seen as vital axes connecting heaven and earth, spirit and matter; one through time and generations, the other through space.

 Sensing some of these correlations as well as seeing in the summit height a symbol of his own rising soul, man is intuitively drawn to the mountain. He gathers himself, approaches its base and contemplates its awesome face. Most men feel their hearts swell and their souls reverberate while they gaze at its lofty crest, but then they go away and quickly forget while walking in the trenches of their commonplace lives. Some grasp the lesson of the mountain and slowly come to match its grandeur within their own hearts and minds, but there are others who become gripped by the mountain itself and would attempt to grasp its mystery by sheer physical force, risking all to scale its greatest peak. Out of these, many cannot match the mountain and some conquer only its external crust. But there are a few for whom its ascent becomes the spiritual highpoint of their lives which will provide the inspiration for many dangerous but important journeys to be made in future incarnations. Of all of these, the mountain takes its toll and initiates only those who approach with reverence, courage and discrimination. Their attempted ascents and their modes of climbing suggest instructive analogues to the secret science of spiritual mountaineering.

 In an extraordinary description of the trials involved in mountaineering, John Muir recorded the climbing of a Sierra peak which almost took his life. The analogies with the great inner ascent are vivid and richly suggestive. He recounts that when he approached the seemingly inaccessible summit of this mountain, having with him none of the usual paraphernalia, he hesitated and thought he would wait "till next summer" to attempt the climb. In the meantime, he inspected the mountain's flanks, ready to flee at the first storm cloud, but at the foot of a cliff he discovered a narrow avalanche gully. Drawn forward without thinking, he climbed until he reached a cleavage plane of metamorphic slate which provided a series of irregular steps. He did not turn back, although the ascent became very difficult due to a morass of crumbling spires glazed with thin ice. To descend at this point would have been extremely treacherous as it was so steep that a false step would have resulted in death. What he called his "instincts" became vitiated and actually began to lead him astray. Finally he came to a sheer precipice which blocked further progress. He tried less sheer walls but found them too smooth and was finally forced to tackle the obstructing rock. Half-way up it he reached a point where he could not move either upwards or downwards or to the side. He clung with his arms outstretched and his feet immobilized and the realization engulfed him that he would fall. His doom appeared fixed. He was about to die. This awareness shook his nerves and his mind was eclipsed with confusion only to be followed by a tremendous surge of life which "blazed forth again with preternatural clearness". He felt himself possessed of a new sense of self and "every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as though through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete."

 There is a great difference between the approach of George Leigh Mallory who, when asked why men climb mountains, responded with the famous statement, "Because they are there", and the humble pilgrim who crawls doggedly around the base of the sacred Mount Kailash. Mallory became obsessed with the desire to climb Everest, coming to call it "his mountain", until he finally perished on its unpredictable slopes. From a distance a mountain looks smooth and seems to float above the horizon like an ethereal promontory. The snowy flanks of the Himalayas themselves seem to rise like insubstantial ghosts into the rarefied air. But as one approaches closer, they reveal the alarming roughness, the vast cliffs and drops and unsurmountable ice walls. Like the pilgrim crawling around the mountain base, desiring only to worship at the throne of his god, the mountaineer stalks about the craggy spurs looking for an entrance to the slopes. If he understands the climb as an analogue to an inner ascent, he knows that somehow one begins at the base by discovering a visible door which leads, eventually, to an invisible summit. Daumal wrote of the preparation for such an ascent among the members of the party gathered at the base of Mount Analogue. He tells how they waited to enter a sort of space warp in which would rise the mountain, and while doing so they took an inventory of what they had to offer to the superior beings whom they believed to reside up along its slope and from whom they hoped to obtain profound wisdom. As they took stock, they began to feel like beggars, but they also realized some knowledge they already possessed would carry them along once they began the ascent. They knew that a steady rhythmic stride must accompany the art of climbing in such a way as to "face the greatest risks with the greatest prudence". Having faced these, they knew that they were then in a position to practise the art of "conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up".

 Inching up the walls, the seasoned mountaineer belays his rope to pitons or his axe to ensure the safety of the man below. In this way he becomes an anchor for those who follow him. He uses karabiners and skyhooks to give himself holding points on the sheer mountain face. He may employ a circuitous route or he may tackle the face direttissima, or in the most direct and vertical fashion. He must be alert for ice falls and chasms, avalanches, frost-bite, snow-blindness and oxygen deprivation. If he has studied the mountain, learned something about its moods and given himself enough time to adapt to its elemental atmosphere, he may succeed. But there is doubtless something of a more intuitive nature which enables the successful mountaineer to pick the right moment and choose the right path.

 If climbing becomes his life's pursuit, he may become a guide and join the ranks of those who are scattered throughout the world but form a distinct class. As one who has made the journey before, the mountain guide knows all the markers and signs. He ropes to himself his client, and thus they become linked as one in their ascent. They will succeed or perish together. The guide does not climb for himself, for he has been there before. He climbs for his client and throws open for him "the gates of his mountain as a gardener opens the gates of his garden".

 The Wise Ones, the Immortals who know the mysteries of the inner summit, teach in parables or through pure thought, and some of those who reach the mountain's physical summit are temporarily flooded with a glimpse of their eternal vision. Thus inspired, Herbert Tichy described the world around him which "showed a kindly benevolence such as I had never before experienced . . . Snow, sky, the wind, and myself were an indivisible whole". In a desperate push to the top of Annapurna, Maurice Herzog, suffering from severe oxygen deprivation, achieved the goal but at the expense of freezing all his fingers after the loss of his gloves. Though a terrible price to pay, he later described the experience without regret in these words:

 Could we be there? Yes! A fierce and savage wind tore at us. We were on top of Annapurna (26,493'). Our hearts overflowed with an unspeakable happiness. 'If only the others could know . . ." If only everyone could know!

 The sense of a separate self was abandoned somewhere down along the mountainside, and the view from Annapurna became a deeply moving analogue to the sublime vision of Oneness spoken of by those Blessed Ones who have, in some life, reached the inner mountain's crest.

 The Goddess Mountain Nanda Devi is the seat of Parvathi, daughter of Himavat. How appropriate that she became the consort of Shiva, who is the Mountain Dweller. That such Holy Ones find their homes in this greatest of all ranges lends an additional depth of meaning to the Vedic scriptures which tell of the Golden Lotus that Vishnu first caused to rise from the void. It had the peaks of the Himalayas for its petals, while from its heart ran the sacred river Ganges. Elsewhere it is taught that the Demiurge lies asleep or entrapped within a mountain. In manifestation, this Creative Logos has to perceive the ideal forms which lie buried in Eternal Ideation, just as the immaculate petals of the future lotus (peaks of the Himalayas) lie concealed within the seed of the plant. Hidden from the view of the physical eye, these petals perhaps symbolize invisible peaks of which the visible pinnacles are but tangible representations. The lotus-leafed mountains imprison that which must be released by knowledge, by great effort and by the fiery heat of tapas. Thus was Ganga brought down to earth to water the great Gangetic plain from the lofty lotus heart.

 The lotus is the emblem of the productive power of nature, through the agency of fire and water (spirit and matter). It is also the symbol of Mount Meru which is the sishta for the future seed of humanity. It is fructified by the spirit of fire (heat) and develops into concrete form everything which is born of water or drawn up from below. Thus the spiritual mountaineer attempts to climb, in effect, the lotus stalk or its umbilical spine in order to reach the petalled heart which opens above the water. He moves along the world-axis within himself which stretches from Patala at the bottom of the spine to the North Pole of Meru, where the fire of lightning can strike and release the sacred fluid of life. Just as the two poles of the earth correspond with the upper and lower poles of that sacred mountain and are the storehouses of cosmic and terrestrial electricity, so it is with man who must reach the summit storehouse of his higher active powers and use them to control the lower passive forces. On the physical globe, the inner spine is represented by the American cordillera, and the navel residing in Himavat conceals its hidden counterpart which connects with the inner spine and forms the roots of Meru, whose sacred peak is at the North Pole. The inner global spine, as it extends downward to Patala (the South Pole and place of the demons), is the axis of the inverted mountain which forms a triangle whose base is equatorial and matches that of its upward thrusting counterpart. This occult isostasy is perfectly reflected in physical mountains whose visibly upthrusting peaks are matched by a similar mass projecting downward into the earth, and in man whose higher Triad is interlaced with the inverted triangular shadow.

 Beneath the crust of the earth, from the mantle to the inner core, the intensity of heat increases many-fold. While physical scientists believe that the earth was probably formed cold, out of a gathering of interstellar dust, the apparent great heat at its centre is evidently due to great pressures, great 'elemental stirrings' which well up and create mountain-building stresses. This can be seen as a faithful reenactment of the cosmic process of the churning of the great sea of milk. The great serpent-spine of the universe, the globe and man, uncoils and the immense process of raising up the lower energy-fluids causes enormous vertical and lateral stress resulting In an intensification of heat. Just as these great stresses produce mountain chains on the earth's surface, so also the archetypal stirrings within the hidden serpent-spine of the globe affects the great potential energy field at the northern polar apex of Mount Meru. As man strives to draw up the churning currents within his individual being, he begins to affect positively the globular currents which are intimately linked with the collective spiritual condition of the whole human race. Mountains however, rising up as intermediaries in this many-levelled process, are constant reminders to man of the correlation that exists between himself and the whole globe and ultimately the God that rises above it.

 Life is drawn from below, and from above the source renews itself.

The Zohar

 The lower forces led by Vasuki, the king of serpents living in Patala, churn the ocean by command of the higher powers of Meru. In man this is an electro-spiritual process by which is produced the brain fluid or soma juice, "the Power which shall rise into the sixth, the middle region, the place between thine eyes". The ultimate seat of this activity is the pineal gland whose symbolic correlate is suggested in the Vedic legend which speaks of soma, the nectar which is the seed of immortality and which resides in its luminous subtle form within the mountain. Thus the lotus-leafed mountain whose heart pours forth the Ganges can be related in man to the pineal gland which the ancients called Meru. The development of the inner vision connected with this seat is symbolized by the many stories describing the world-mountain rising out of the cosmic sea. Atop the world-mountain is a pine tree with its 'pineal' cone grasped, according to Algonquian legend, by the great Restorer Manabush, who thus provides the seeds to renew the world. In the Hindu tradition the rising mountain bears the form of a lotus or padma growing from Vishnu's navel as he slumbers upon the aquatic Serpent of Infinity. Thus did lovely Shri (Padma) spring out of the waves at creation, symbolizing the emanation of the objective out of the subjective, or "divine ideation passing from abstract into concrete or visible form".

 Soma is born in the mountain and his drops, when purified in that 'strainer', pour down as sedimentary seeds upon the earth. These are formed in the pineal realm of 'uncreate light' and burst downward like a fire. Soma, King of Rivers, whose nectar is the seeds of immortality, dispels the darkness below and comes to dwell in the waters like a bright moon. This is beautifully described in various metaphoric tales wherein an eagle, symbolizing lightning, finds the soma plant high upon the mountain summit and brings it down to the earth. The animal nature is this earth, and the soma fire (river) is the fruit of knowledge hard won through the alchemical churning process which sublimates and ifies the lower astral potencies, like Shiva containing the serpent's poison within his throat. It makes of man an initiate after he is reborn and begins to live in his permanent astral (the visible form of divine ideation, the lotus-mountain rising out of the astral sea). It is the 'moon-fluid' (the moon itself representing the brain) of immortality which is controlled and illuminated by the uncreate light of the invisible sun. Its lightning-fire releases the milky streams of the imprisoned seeds whose incandescent plunge is compassionately broken by the matted locks of Shiva's hair.

 We are told that the sea of soma, the pineal gland or lotus-mountain of the brain, is the sishta or seed-place filled with the grains of both material life and the spiritual plasm or "fluid that contains the five lower principles of the six-principled Dhyanis". This seat is related to the vision of the Third Eye which is archetypally symbolized by Shiva as he sits atop his mountain abode locked in meditation. Man's loss of vision was recorded in a statement to be found in the Book of Ezekiel where the Lord said, "I will cast thee out of the mountain of God", which is equivalent to saying "out of the realm of the pineal gland". Having lost his effortless spiritual vision, man functions largely on the physical plane and finds the lack of moisture at the mountain top productive of extreme cold, and any exposure to the faster vibration of ultra-violet rays is fraught with grave danger. It is these intense solar rays which have a profound effect upon the chemical action within the physical pineal gland. The man who seeks the external mountain top without knowledge of the dangers and without taking proper precautions against them courts sickness, disease and death. The man who attempts to live on a spiritual plane and who seeks the inner sacred mountain must move with equal care, for Shiva's locks do not casually break the electrifying rays.

 Meru - the true abode of the Gods - is said to ascend and descend periodically just as the zodiacal gods pass from the North Pole of heaven to the South Pole of earth. W.Q. Judge wrote that every truth or symbol assumes a different appearance as it relates to the cosmic, astronomical, physiological or spiritual planes of the One Life. Sveta Dwipa or Mount Meru is the land of the Gods who, under their chiefs, are the 'Spirits' of this planet. It is called the Imperishable Sacred Land which is the only one of the seven continents (mountains) whose destiny it is to endure throughout each Round within the Manvantara. It is the "cradle of the first man and the dwelling of the last divine mortal". It is the sishta for the future seed of humanity. Of the six other mountains (continents), each provides the cradle of one of the seven great Races, while Meru itself is represented by a solitary mountain during the period in which each Race comes to flower. In the Fourth Race it was represented by Mount Atlas.

 What remote peak might bear the potent soma plant upon its flanks in this age? Is there any in the world that holds this fiery power? Every archetypal idea has its representation in the world and thus all the forms and multitudinous expressions of growth and power that surround us are part of a vast complexity of natural symbols that reveal a reflected picture of what endures on a much vaster scale in the realm of pure idea. It is said that magical plants of great medicinal power do grow on certain mountains but that they can be found only by those who can 'see' them. Hanuman brought back the entire mountain said to bear the Sanjivani plant whose potency alone could save King Rama's brother Laxmana. So great was his heart and his love for the brothers that for them Hanuman performed the most marvellous feats, yet he did not have the knowledge that would enable him to select out the correct plant from the array of species growing on the mountain.

 A mountaineer who would climb the precipitous inner path to that summit where the enlightening fluid is to be found, must develop the ability to 'see', to discriminate, and, in turn, to wed these powers to a great Hanuman-Iike devotion which floods the heart and cleanses one of all concern for self. He has to come to match the mountain, observe it, explore it and slowly come to know its lower slopes, its changes and dangers. Only then can he attempt to assault the summit, to knock on heaven's door and to push his way up into the realm of eternal light, those "heights that are trodden by no sinful foot". By slowly moving up the great precipice, such a mountaineer can test each handhold and each careful placement of his foot. One by one he can overcome the obstructions and penetrate within the folds of the mountain's heart. As he steadily rises he adapts to the rarefied air and learns to avoid the dangers of a single-winged flight, of a loss of balance along the narrow edge of the precipice.

 Approaching the lotus-summit, the weary climber struggles. He has taken the direttissima route straight up the rugged face. With all his knowledge and power he has inched his way along. His rope has been like a serpent-spine up which he has laboured, his pitons like seed-thoughts to which he has clung. He has avoided all the terrible ice falls and crushing avalanches, the crumbling rocks and yawning chasms. He breathes slowly in rhythm with the mountain and his heart expands mightily with each step upward. The place of the sacred fire is nigh, the soma nectar will flow. The seed place he doth enter is the place between his eyes. Before him the lotus-summit opens and a glorious head emerges from its flower exclaiming, "I am the pure lotus, emerging from the Luminous One. . . . I carry the message of Horus." He enters the place of the seed and, lo, the waters of that divine light flood his being. He sees in all directions. The world lies at his feet. He has entered the flame. He is illumined.

Let me ever worship at thy lotus feet.
Let me never forget thy lotus feet.
The lotus feet, like petals of the mountain tops,
Unfurl and reveal the emerging God.
Up there between mine eyes.
Up there in the lofty mountain peaks.
Let me worship thy Divine Light, O Lord.