7 Chapter 7. The Mountain Taboo

Fear of the mountain

As we have just seen, on the mountain there have been many extraordinary experiences. The original mountain experience, however, seems to have been fear. From the earliest times, men have been afraid of mountains {and, to be complete, undoubtedly, of oceans and deserts as well}. An old Japanese record says,

I do not know why, but the mountain sometimes kills people in the summertime; in winter, people who go to the foot of the mountain are often frozen to death. (Starr, 1924, p. 13 — “from an old record of Myoho-ji, in Kodachi-mura“)

Image 1. Mount Ranier (= Takhoma = Tacoma), viewed from the northwest (the city of Tacoma, Washington, USA), Liberty Cap is the apparent summit with Mowich Face below. Photo by Lyn Topinka (USGS). (title amended by author)
Image 1. Mount Ranier (= Takhoma = Tacoma), viewed from the northwest (the city of Tacoma, Washington, USA), Liberty Cap is the apparent summit with Mowich Face below. Photo by Lyn Topinka (USGS). (title amended by author)

The hesitancy of primitive men to approach mountains can be seen in the warning of Sluiskin, a Yakima Indian, to Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump trying for the first climb of Tacoma (Mount Rainer) in 1870:

Your plan to climb Takhoma [Tacoma] is all foolishness. … At first the way is easy, the task seems light. The broad snowfields over which I have hunted the mountain goat offer an inviting path. But above them you will have to climb over steep rocks overhanging deep gorges. … And if you reach the great snowy dome, then a bitterly cold and furious tempest will sweep you off into space like a withered leaf. (Snow, 1986, p. 39)

There are many references to mountain dangers in biblical literature. In Judges 9:25 we are told that men of Shechem robbed passersby from the top of a mountain, and a Jewish legend says that Esau told his son to kill Jacob on the road to Mount Haran, “Slay him with thy sword in one of the mountains, and take all belonging unto him, and come back.” (Ginzberg, 1967?-1969, Vol. 1, p. 345)

These stories about mountain people do not only come out of the distant, mythical past. An eighty year old acquaintance of mine who was brought up on a mountain in the southern United States told me that once

somebody cut the tongue out of our dog. They must have been angry at my father or something. We had to kill the dog. He couldn’t drink; he had no tongue. He went mad. Mountain people can be mean. The mountain is far from the law. There’s no law up there. (my emphasis)

The taboo

But the fear of mountains is not an ordinary fear. There is also respect and the feeling of taboo: To walk on a mountain is to trespass on supernatural territory. This is fear of spirits and gods, not of men or animals. Now we would call this fear of the unconscious. The fear and fascination of mountains is captured in the Latin phrases of Rudolf Otto, the German theologian: mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans.

The Navajo Indian, Floyd Laughter, said that some of his people moved to Navajo Mountain when it

was discovered to be a good place. But they were told that Navajo Mountain itself was forbidden to humankind. Only certain animals were allowed to be there. And to make sure that this decree was followed, there was a powerful Wind on that mountain, especially at its very top. But still, these people made it to the top. And indeed, it was very windy. (Luckert, 1977, p. 68)

Image 2. Man confronting a Dragon, on or like the ones reported to be seen on the Alps, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, Zurich, Switzerland, 1723. Source: Summits of Modern Man Image Gallery, 2: http://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/summits-images/2/. (title by author)
Image 2. Man confronting a Dragon, like the ones reported to have been seen on the Alps, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, Zurich, Switzerland, 1723. Source: Summits of Modern Man Image Gallery, 2: http://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/summits-images/2/. (title by author)

We find similar stories regarding the Alps. Until at least the 18th century, Europeans traveled through the mountains “with the curtains of their carriages drawn” and mountain exploration carried the “taint of lunacy.” Dragons and “the spirits of the damned” were supposed to live above the snow line. Sir Gavin de Beer gives us details from Scheuchzer’s account of his fifth journey to the Alps in 1706.

After a description of a dragon-stone in the museum at Lucerne, which stone had miraculous healing properties, and had been dropped by a dragon flying from the Rigi to Pilatus, Scheuchzer proceeds to give a reasoned catalogue of Swiss dragons, arranged according to cantons.

In canton Zürich, Hans Tinner, an “honourable and trustworthy man,” saw a dragon which had the body of a snake and a head like that of a cat. Another example was seen by Hans Büeler, a member of the Consistorium, but it had four short legs and a comb like that of a cock. A specimen somewhat similar was observed by Caspar Gilg. In canton Lucerne, Christoph Schorer saw an object like a snake, but with the wings of a bat, leave a cavern high up on Pilatus, and fly across the sky emitting sparks as it went. But the best dragon of all was provided by the Grisons. “That land is so mountainous and well provided with caves, that it would be odd not to find dragons there.” Bartolome Alegro, who observed the champion, described it as two feet long, with a red hairy cat’s head, sparkling eyes, scaly legs, a tongue like a snake’s, and a long hairy bifid tail.

These descriptions are curious enough, but still more remarkable is the position which Scheuchzer takes up in regard to them, for although he admits that some dragons are pure fables, he “nevertheless holds from the accounts of Swiss dragons and their comparison with those of other lands, that it is clear that such animals really do exist.” (pictures accompanied the text)[1]

Image 3. Volcano Popocatépetl, south side, view from Paso de Cortez [Mexico]. Photo by Jakub Hejtmánek.
Image 3. Volcano Popocatépetl, south side, view from Paso de Cortez [Mexico]. Photo by Jakub Hejtmánek.

{It should be remembered that there is an apparently built in fear of most remote wilderness areas, and, as unknown territory, they are perfect grounds for the projection of fabulous creatures and monsters and gods. Now we project into outer space and fantasy the existence of creatures from other planets. The types of creatures differ depending on whether we are thinking of mountains, oceans, deserts, space, etc. And it will also be remembered that the same archetype can be projected onto different geographical features.}

When the Spaniards reached Mexico in 1500, they carried with them the European mountain taboo. The spirit of adventure was upon them, however, and they took more risks than their stay-at-home friends. Hernando Cortez sent ten men to climb up the smoking mountain, Popocatépetl. Two went to the top

that they might not be accounted cowards, leaving their fellowes behinde them, proceeding forwards. The Indians said, what meane these men for as yet never mortall man tooke such a journey in hand.

…  When with good tokens they were returned where they left their fellowes, the other Indians kissed their garments as an honour due unto gods. They presented unto them such things as they had, and wondred much at their fact [sic?]. (Spectorsky, 1955, pp. 16-17 — from Antiquities Gathered out of the History of Friar Lopez de Gomara in Hakluytes Posthumous or Purchas His Pilgrimes in 1625)

In other words, two of the ten Europeans overcame the natural taboo to which the Indians, as well as an apparent majority of their brothers who remained in Europe, still adhered. Climbing the mountain amounted to being a god.

Image 4. French Caption: Dieu donne sa Loi sur la Montagne de Sinai. (English translation, "The Lord gives the Law on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19, by the Mennonite mystic, Jan Luyken (1649-1712). Copperplate engraving, Plate 22, from Histoire les plus remarqables de l'ancien et du Nouveau Testament ..., the French edition of 1732 by Johannes Covens and Cornelis Mortier. Scan by author.
Image 4. French Caption: Dieu donne sa Loi sur la Montagne de Sinai. (English translation, “The Lord gives the Law on Mount Sinai.” Exodus 19, by the Mennonite mystic, Jan Luyken (1649-1712). Copperplate engraving, Plate 22, from Histoire les plus remarqables de l’ancien et du Nouveau Testament …, the French edition of 1732 by Johannes Covens and Cornelis Mortier. Scan by author.

I already mentioned the taboo in Exodus 19 where Moses goes up Mount Sinai, and the Lord says,

Go down, warn the people not to break through to the Lord to gaze, lest many of them perish. The priests also, who come near the Lord, must stay pure, lest the Lord break out against them. (Exodus 19:21-2)

Image 5. Baxter Peak and the Knife Edge Trail on Maine's Mount Katahdin [= Ktaadn] [USA]. Photo by Greg Neault.
Image 5. Baxter Peak and the Knife Edge Trail on Maine’s Mount Katahdin [= Ktaadn] [USA]. Photo by Greg Neault.

Ooba says that climbing of sacred mountains in Japan was prohibited in ancient Japan (Earhart, 1970, p. 29). Thoreau writes that, to the Indians, climbing the tallest mountain in Maine, Ktaadn (Katahdin) drew the anger of the bird spirit, Pomola (Pamola) who lived on it.[2]

When the Taita tribe approached Mount Kilimanjaro to make the mountain their home there was thunder, and they decided that the god was angry and that they had gone far enough (Stuart-Watt, n.d., p. 21).

In some places we even find that the mountains are considered out and out evil or, at least, connected with evil. In Bundahis VIII, regarding the creation of the earth: “As the evil spirit rushed in, the earth shook, and the substance of mountains was created in the earth” (West, 1880, p. 29). In a Jewish legend, “The earth, which originally consisted of a level surface, became mountainous as a punishment for having received Abel’s blood” (Ginzberg, Vol. 5, p. 142).

At least some of these feelings carry over into modern men, and there is no question that respect and fear of mountains is rational.

Prince Charles of England, wrote a departure statement regarding the death of his friend by avalanche while they were skiing on a Swiss mountain. He was almost killed too. “[We were skiing] at our risk and we all accepted … that mountains have to be treated with the greatest respect” (L.A. Times, 1988, Part 1, p. 3).

Image 6. Mount Everest [= Chomolungma] as seen from an aircraft from airline company Drukair in Bhutan. The aircraft is south of the mountains, facing North. Photo by shrimpo1967.
Image 6. Mount Everest [= Chomolungma] as seen from an aircraft from airline company Drukair in Bhutan. The aircraft is south of the mountains, facing North. Photo by shrimpo1967.

And N. E. Odell wrote of his thoughts in searching for Mallory and Irvine in 1924 over 28,000 feet on the Himalayas.

What right had we to venture thus far into the holy presence of the supreme Goddess, or, much more, sling at her our blasphemous challenges to “sting her very nose-tip”? If it was indeed the sacred ground of Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the Mountain snows, had we violated it — was I now violating it? Had we approached her with due reverence and singleness of heart and purpose?

But he described the need to break the taboo and, “oblivious of all obstacles, seek to reach that most sacred and highest place of all.” (quoted in Snelling, 1983, p. 10)

Mountain climbing

Image 7. View of Mont Ventoux from Mirabel-aux-Baronnies [France]. Photo by en:User:Diniz, August 2004. (title edited by author)
Image 7. View of Mont Ventoux from Mirabel-aux-Baronnies [France]. Photo by en:User:Diniz, August 2004. (title edited by author)

It is not surprising, therefore, that mountain climbing as a sport or an art or a competition only developed recently. Though Petrarch is supposed to have climbed Mount Ventoux in 1335, thereby ushering in the Renaissance, the first carefully documented European climb was not until 1492, the year Columbus came to America and eight years before two men of Cortez scurried up Popocatépetl. In that year, the mountain which had been called inaccessible was climbed by Dompjulian de Beaupré, Captain of Montélimar, and seven retainers. In his letter to the parliament from the summit he wrote:

I send you my hearty greetings, when I left the king he charged me to cause an attempt to be made to see whether it was possible to climb the mountain which was said to be inaccessible. (Spectorsky, pp. 4-5 — from The Ascent of Eguille-Fort, 1492)

Image 8. Matterhorn from north side, in the clouds [Switzerland]. Photo by Zermatt photos.
Image 8. Matterhorn from north side, in the clouds [Switzerland]. Photo by Zermatt photos.

Many might find it surprising that the Matterhorn was not climbed until 1861, but it must be remembered that it was believed that there was a city of spirits at the top and the natives “warned one against rash approach, lest the infuriate demons from their impregnable heights might hurl down vengeance for one’s derision” (Whymper).

Many of the most experienced climbers of the day believed that it would never be climbed. Most of the local guides shuddered at the thought. “There seemed to be a cordon drawn round it, up to which one might go, but no farther,” wrote Edward Whymper. “Within that invisible line gins and effreets were supposed to exist — the Wandering Jew and the spirits of the damned.” (Clark, 1976, pp. 57-58)

Image 9. Mount Fuji [with a Shinkansen (a high speed railway) and cherry blossoms in the foreground, Japan]. Photo by Swolib.
Image 9. Mount Fuji [with a Shinkansen (a high speed railway) and cherry blossoms in the foreground, Japan]. Photo by Swolib.

Strangely we find the same time frame regarding a famous Japanese mountain.

The regularity and gentle slopes of Mount Fuji make it a mountain of easy ascent; probably no other mountain of equal height is so easy. For a long time, however, it seems not to have been ascended by Japanese. There are indeed traditions of ascent by Shotoku Taishi and other famous men of ancient time; but ascents were not common until the fifteenth or sixteenth century. (Starr, 1924, p. 3)

Image 10. Iván Ernesto Gómez Carrasco alza la bandera Dominicana en la cima del Everest [English translation: Iván Ernesto Gómez Carrasco raises the flag of the Dominican Republic at the summit of Mount Everest {wearing an oxygen mask}]. Photo by Igomezc.
Image 10. Iván Ernesto Gómez Carrasco alza la bandera Dominicana en la cima del Everest [English translation: Iván Ernesto Gómez Carrasco raises the flag of the Dominican Republic at the summit of Mount Everest {wearing an oxygen mask}]. Photo by Igomezc.

It is worthy of remembering that what is currently considered to be the highest mountain on earth, Mount Everest, was not climbed until 1951. Now it has become almost routine.

Image 11. View to the northern side of Mt Kailash (Gang Rinpoche) from the Dirapuk Monastery (Tibet Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China). Photo by Ondřej Žváček.
Image 11. View to the northern side of Mount Kailash (Gang Rinpoche) from the Dirapuk Monastery (Tibet Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China). Photo by Ondřej Žváček.

{An article in Wikipedia says that, in 2001, the Chinese government gave a Spanish team permission to climb Mount Kailish in Tibet (a report denied by the Chinese government). Apparently there was an international outcry and the “Chinese decided to ban all attempts to climb the mountain” (“China to Ban Expeditions on Mt Kailash,” tew.org, retrieved 21 January 2011). In the same article we are told that, in the mid-1980’s, Reinhold Messner, a well-known Italian mountaineer, was given permission by the Chinese to climb the mountain but he declined. “Referring to the Spanish plans, [he] said, ‘If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in people’s souls … I would suggest they go and climb something a little harder. Kailash is not so high and not so hard.'”[3]}

The ambivalent demons

The fact that people are afraid of the “demons” that live on the mountain does not mean that these demons are completely antithetical to the welfare of people.

For example, Jewish legends tell of a “mountain of darkness” on which the fallen angelsAzza and ‘Azzael “lie chained with iron fetters — on a spot which no one, not even a bird may visit.” However Solomon was lifted to this taboo place by an eagle, and ‘Azza and ‘Azzael were forced to reveal the “heavenly mysteries” and to help Solomon build the temple — the very house in which god lived. (Ginzberg, Vol. 4, pp. 149-152) The psychological implication is that achieving the higher perspective and bringing it down into daily life is impossible without the knowledge gained from the lower aspects of ourselves.

Another story puts this paradoxical point even more precisely. It is said in this story that the “king of demons,” Asmodeus lived on a mountain from where he went to heaven “every day, to take part in the discussions in the heavenly academy.” It turned out that not only did Asmodeus go to heaven every day but he also knew the whereabouts of the shamir, the tool needed to properly cut the stones for the temple. Solomon sent his chief man, Benaiah, to capture Asmodeus, which he was able to do. On the way back Asmodeus acted peculiarly. He helped a blind man and a drunkard; he wept at a passing wedding party, laughed at a man who asked his shoemaker for shoes that would last seven years, and at a magician who was showing off his skills in public (and so on). When Solomon questioned him about his behavior,

Asmodeus answered that he judged persons and things according to their real character, and not according to their appearance in the eyes of human beings. He cried when he saw the wedding company, because he knew the bridegroom had not a month to live, and he laughed at him who wanted shoes to last seven years, because the man would not own them for seven days, also at the magician who pretended to disclose secrets, because he did not know that a buried treasure lay under his very feet; the blind man whom he set in the right path was one of the “perfect pious,” and he wanted to be kind to him; on the other hand, the drunkard to whom he did a similar kindness was known in heaven as a very wicked man, but he happened to have done a good deed once, and he was rewarded accordingly. (Ginzberg, Vol. 4, pp. 165-8) (my bold)

In reality, going to the mountain was, itself, a somewhat demonic exercise. To make the journey, a man would have to leave society behind. In a sense, he had to become a social isolate and could have been seen as a threat to society.[4]

The knowledge he would gain on the mountain would not be ordinary knowledge, and, if knowledge really is power, this man would have acquired some power over society. This might be something as simple as a perspective on people’s possible futures (not necessarily an absolute knowledge of them). This perspective, as can be seen in the above story (as well as Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”) leads to different emotional reactions to situations than the normal one that looks only at the surface. This may give the man with the “mountain perspective” a heartless appearance and associates him with the “king of demons,” Asmodeus.

But this knowledge in itself, does not make the mountain man a threat to anyone. In fact, as we have seen over and over, what is learned on the mountain, whether how to cure illnesses or the Ten Commandments, can be of great use to everyone.

The man from the mountains can go wrong in three ways, and then he can become a true threat. First of all he can feel so superior to others that he feels he has the right to manipulate them for his own advantage. Then, though not a charlatan, he becomes an outlaw. Second, he can feel that his knowledge gives him the right to force others to go along with him, for their own good. This is the root of religious warfare that may very well have caused just as much damage in the history of the world as the original message was intended to do good. And finally, the men who went to the mountains in early times may have been somewhat unstable to start off with. True they may have learned something valid and even useful on the mountains, but in many cases, the whole expedition may have been a compensation for feelings of inferiority. In this case, even if the knowledge was never misused and never imposed on anyone, even verbally, still the person, would, on his return to society, be just as alienated as he was before he left, possibly even more so. In this case, even if the person is not evil, still he could be considered “weird” or, at best, overly introverted.

Again it seems to me that one of the differences between the past and present mountain process is that, more and more, the conflict between the view points has to be resolved without the loss of either. The question of Asmodeus’ character revolves on from which perspective he is being viewed. From our ordinary point of view, embedded in our ordinary lives, he is evil. To Solomon (and God) he was necessary for his “higher” goals. Asmodeus himself apparently felt misunderstood. As I have been arguing, the victory of any of these views over the others, if possible at all, would be disastrous. All three are legitimate and even necessary. The “strange” and “evil” point of view of Asmodeus is, in part, a more objective point of view, and yet the one who holds the deeper truth must pass through all the ordinary initiations into mundane, society, or else he can become more of a menace to society than the blind, petty, greedy, materialistic citizens, who, in spite of their bad qualities, are, because of their initiation into society, often less blind, less petty, less greedy, and less materialistic, not to mention more humble, than the great “master” from the mountain who has seen the bigger truth.

Mountain worship in early times

It seems as if the earliest worship of the mountain was from a distance and not on it. In Japan, the earliest datable mountain ritual was agricultural and, according to Ooba, took place at the foot of mountains.

The priests of mountain shrines like to think that the original shrine was the mountain-top shrine, and the lower shrines were built so that the people would not have to climb the mountain to worship.

But, Ooba argues, it was not until the mid-6th century and Buddhism that value was placed on climbing up a mountain and building shrines on it. (Earhart, p. 10)

Yanagita Kunio says that before the shrine was built on the mountain, there were temporary shrines at the foot of the mountains, and, before that, the whole mountain was the shrine.[5]

Kishimoto Hideo too argues that it was Buddhism that “transformed the practice of worshipping the sacred mountain from a distance, to the practice of climbing the mountain” (Earhart, p. 15).

The practice of circumambulating, (that is, walking around) the mountain seems to have been fairly widespread and also points to an ambivalence toward the mountain — an attraction to it but a fear of climbing it. It is enough to walk around its base performing various rituals. At the same time, it can be considered a way of getting to know the mountain from every angle.

Image 12. A pilgrim, a Tibetan woman, circumambulating [= Kora] Mt. Kailash by performing full body prostrations [Tibet]. Photo by Doug Elton.
Image 12. A pilgrim, a Tibetan woman, circumambulating [= Kora] Mt. Kailash by performing full body prostrations [Tibet]. Photo by Doug Elton.

Circumambulation was (and presumably still is) an established practice on Mount Kailash in Tibet (Snelling, pp. 23-24) and on Arunachala Hill in India. Around Mount Arunachala is the Pradakshinam Road (Pradakshinam means going round a sacred person or object). Some even “stop and bow to or fall prostrate before God (Arunachala Siva [Shiva]) as symbolized by the hill at short intervals” (Narasimha, 1968, Chapter 23).

Image 13. Anye Machin, (Amne Machin) the second sacred mountain for Tibetans after Mount Kailash, 6.282 m. Qinghai, China. Photo by Mario Biondi. (text amended by author)
Image 13. Anye Machin, (Amne Machin) the second sacred mountain for Tibetans after Mount Kailash, 6.282 m. Qinghai, China. Photo by Mario Biondi. (text amended by author)

The photographer, Galen Rowell (1986), tells about a hilltop shrine he stopped at on the grasslands under Anye Machin in northeastern Tibet. Circumambulations were to be made around the shrine as well as around the whole mountain.

Each circumambulation of the shrine sends a prayer to the deities of the earth, sky, moon, and stars that are represented by heaps of mani stones a little apart from the main wall. The Golok  patron saint, Machin Bomra, owner of the earth, lord of the mountains, has the highest stone heap of all: Anye Machin itself. (p. 141)

The circumambulation of Anye Machin was accomplished on a one hundred twenty mile trail by 10,000 Goloks a year before the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Summing up, what the Yuma Indian medicine man said about Avikwame could be generalized for all mankind: “[at first I was able only to approach the bottom of the mountain, but] later I became able to approach even the top of the mountain” (Kroeber, 1925/1976, pp. 783-784).

The wise man on the mountain

In spite of the taboos, some walked up — to worship, to pray, to be alone.

One example stands out in our culture: Jesus was always going to the mountains. In an unusually personal story in Matthew 14, Jesus hears about the death of John the Baptist and goes by boat to seek a “quiet,” “lonely,” “deserted” place (depending on the translation: Williams, N.A.S., or Beck, The Four Translation New Testament, 1971), presumably to gather himself together, but he is followed by the people and feels pity for them and heals and feeds them. He then sends the disciples on ahead and “dismiss[es]” the people. Now he is free to do what he had set out to do in the first place: “After sending [the people] away, He went up the mountain to be alone and pray. And after the evening came on, He was there alone” (this is a combination of K.J.V., N.A.S., Williams, and Beck of Matthew 14:23).

Image 14. Mount of Olives [Jerusalem, Israel] as it was on 10 August 2011. Photo by Nemo.
Image 14. Mount of Olives [Jerusalem, Israel] as it was on 10 August 2011. Photo by Nemo.

This going off to the mountains alone, at night was not a single episode: “During the day he would teach in the temple, but at night He would go out to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, and stay there for the night” (Luke 21:37).

So Jesus was another of those who sought and apparently found something alone up in the mountains. He prayed, that is, he talked to a god, and, presumably, as with our other examples, the god talked with him. The point in this chapter, however, is that certain religiously brave ones break the taboo and find something in the mountains, and then they either come down and teach it to others, or others come up and learn it from them on the mountains.

Image 15. Xuan Yuan inquires of the Dao [= Tao = The Way], scroll, color on silk, 32 x 152 cm. Located at the National Palace Museum, Taibei (Taipei, Taiwan). Xuan Yuan is the given name of the Yellow Emperor. This painting is based on the story that the Yellow Emperor went out to the Kongtong Mountains to meet with the famous Daoist [= Taoist] sage Guangchengzi [Guangcheng]. Photographer not given.
Image 15. Xuan Yuan inquires of the Dao [= Tao = The Way], scroll, color on silk, 32 x 152 cm. Located at the National Palace Museum, Taibei (Taipei, Taiwan). Xuan Yuan is the given name of the Yellow Emperor. This painting is based on the story that the Yellow Emperor went out to the Kongtong Mountains to meet with the famous Daoist [= Taoist] sage Guangchengzi [Guangcheng]. Photographer not given.

Even rulers humbly seek wisdom from these mountain sages.

You should know it as a fact that mountains are fond of wise people and sages. Many rulers have visited mountains to pay homage to wise people or to ask for instructions from great sages. These have been important events in the past and present. At such times these rulers treat the sages as teachers, disregarding the protocol of the usual world [that is, of the Secular world]. The imperial power has no authority over the wise people in the mountains. Mountains are apart from the human world. At the time the Yellow Emperor visited Mt. Kongdong to pay homage to Guangcheng [Guangchengzi], he walked on his knees, touched his forehead to the ground, and asked for instruction.[6]

We also know of the many men, often of fame and high station, who visited Sri Ramana Maharshi on Mount Arunachala where he lived after his “big” experience. (See, for example, Narasimha (1968), which contains descriptions of many such encounters.

Image 16. The Sermon on the Mount: "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him" (Matthew 5:1). Copperplate engraving after: Martin de Vos, engraved by Jacobus de Bye, published by Johannes Galle (d.1676), second half of the Seventeenth century, in a series called "Vita, Passio, et Resurrectio Jesu Christi". Scan by author.
Image 16. The Sermon on the Mount: “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him” (Matthew 5:1). Copperplate engraving after Martin de Vos, engraved by Jacobus de Bye, published by Johannes Galle (d.1676), second half of the 17th century, from a series called “Vita, Passio, et Resurrectio Jesu Christi.” Scan by author.

Jesus had a “habit” of going up the mountain of Olives to be by himself, but at times his disciples would come up and ask him questions (Matthew 24:3 and 26:30). At one point he gives private instructions to his disciples to pray not to be tempted (as Ahura Mazda instructed Zarathustra) (Luke 22:39-54; see also Mark 13:3,14:26). He gave at least one public talk from a mountain that we can read today as the Sermon on the Mountain (Matthew 5:1). Also the disciples were appointed on the mountain, and they were “sent out by Him to preach and have power to drive out devils” (Mark 3:13-15 and Luke 6:12-13). We may also recall that the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; Luke 9:31-36) took place on a “high mountain” where the face of Jesusshone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light” in the eyes of four of his students.

Image 17. Plain of Arafat on the Day of Hajj [with Jabal ar-Rahmah = Jabal al-Ramah = Mount 'Arafat in the background), Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Ali.
Image 17. Plain of Arafat on the Day of Hajj [with Jabal ar-Rahmah = Jabal al-Ramah = Mount ‘Arafat in the background], Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Ali.

In Islam, too, people come to a hill to hear a sermon. This is the critically important sermon from the Jabal al-Ramah on the last day of the Hajj, the Great Pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajjis gather around the hill and listen to two khutbahs (sermons) delivered from the platform on top. Apparently this is a major moment in the life of every Moslem where instructions are received on how one has to live his or her life. (Long, 1979, p. 19)

The example of Hakuin

Image 18. This Japanese scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma reads “直指人心,見性成佛”(from up to low, left to right) “Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”. It was created by Hakuin Ekaku (1685 to 1768). Photographer not given.
Image 18. This Japanese scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma reads “直指人心,見性成佛” (from up to low, left to right) “Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”. It was created by Hakuin Ekaku (1685 to 1768). Photographer not given.

It is easy to list more examples, but one detailed example may be enough to give the inner meaning of the pilgrimage to talk with the wise man on the mountain. The journey took place in Japan by a man who needs no introduction to students of Zen Buddhism or of Japanese ink painting and calligraphy. The man is Hakuin Ekaku, the 18th century Zen monk and painter (January 19, 1686 – January 18, 1768), posthumously called National Teacher of the Right Religion by the emperor of Japan.

Image 19. Crossed hawk feathers and eggplants and Fujiyama which are three symbols of revenge which, when appearing in a dream, indicate good luck. The calligraphy on a similar painting asks Fujiyama to take off her "robe of haze" so the poet can see her "skin of snow." By Hakuin Ekayaku. Photographer not given.
Image 19. Crossed hawk feathers and eggplants and Fujiyama are three symbols of revenge which, when appearing in a dream, indicate good luck. The calligraphy on a similar painting asks Fujiyama to take off her “robe of haze” so the poet can see her “skin of snow.” By Hakuin Ekayaku. Photographer not given. (title by author)

In his autobiographical writings Hakuin says that he first went into the mountains to practice meditation, and, though he had an “enlightening experience,” he exhausted himself so much with reflection on this experience that he found himself in a suicidal depression: “My spirit was distressed and weary, and whether sleeping or waking I used continually to see all sorts of imaginary things” (Hakuin/Shaw, ca. 1748/1963, p. 13). At the point where he gave up hope of finding a cure, he heard about a man living on the cliffs of a mountain who people called Teacher and who was supposed to be two hundred forty years old. He lived “eight or nine miles from the nearest habitation of men.” He was told that the man did not like seeing people and ran away if anyone came close to his dwelling. Some thought he was a wise man while others thought he was a fool.

Hakuin made up his mind to visit this man. After a difficult climb he reached the six feet square cave in which the man lived. After looking him over and assessing the illness, the man said,

Shall I tell you a little of what I learnt long ago? I learnt the mysterious key to the knowledge of preserving life. It is something which but few men know. Providing one is not remiss in carrying out this system, wonderful results will certainly be obtained. (p. 36)

Hakuin stayed to hear the system and eventually left though he felt bitter with himself for not being able to follow his teacher “to the very end of the world.” Still, he began to practice the method he was shown, and, within three years, he was completely cured, and

all those things which are difficult to understand or enter into or penetrate and which until then I had not been able to grasp … — these things I now penetrated intuitively, right to their roots and down to their depths.

Previously, even though I put on two or three pairs of socks, the soles of my feet were always cold as if frozen in snow or ice. Now though three extremely cold winters have passed over me, I have worn no socks at all, nor have I gone near a fire, and though my years have passed beyond the usual span of man’s life there is not even half a pint of sickness in me to which I can point. And I put all this down to the instruction given me in this heavenly art. (p. 46)

There are others who had similar experiences. In an autobiography made famous by W. B. Yeats’ introduction, Bhagwān Hamsa relates an incredible Himalayan odyssey in which, at one point, he clawed his way to a cave to visit a rumored of Mahatma. He met him and was well satisfied with the instruction he received. (Hamsa, n.d.)

The way up is made easier

So the pattern is clear: Certain religiously brave (or, perhaps, foolhardy) men climb the mountain, into the territory where God is supposed to live. They talk with the God and learn something, usually about how to live properly. Some return down and teach. If they stay up, their reputation for good and bad grows, and a few troubled men seek them out and ask for their secret. Gradually the teachings filter down the mountain and into the minds of many below. The words of the god, the insights, are passed on from mouth to mouth. At some point they may be written down and may even survive for us to read today.

The mountain was always the place of the brave man and his disciples, forbidden through taboo to most. At some point, however, it seems as if the way up to the mountains was made easier and easier until the peaks became accessible to literally everyone. The heroic aspect of the climb, the spiritual risk, was taken out, and the god inspired route of the “lonely ones” became a man-made road with formalized stopping stations.

Image 20. 中文(简体)‎: 泰山南天门十八盘岩层陡立,倾角70-80°,在1千米的距离内升高了400米。English: Stone staircase up Tai'shan—Mount Tai, in Shandong Province, eastern China. With stone gate at the top. Photo by Charlie Fong.
Image 20. 中文(简体)‎: 泰山南天门十八盘岩层陡立,倾角70-80°,在1千米的距离内升高了400米。English: Stone staircase up Tai’shanMount Tai, in Shandong Province, eastern China. With stone gate at the top. Photo by Charlie Fong.

For example, there are now seven thousand wide steps, cut from the rock, going up Tài Shān (5000 feet), a Chinese sacred mountain. This is the P’an-lu, the “broad road.” On the sides of this road and going up there are “small stone houses and inns for pilgrims.” Going up, one walks under a gatewayto heaven.” At the very top there is a fifteen foot high stone with God inscribed in Chinese. (Mullikin & Hotchkiss, 1973, pp. 9-12)

Can the reader imagine Moses, Zarathustra, or Jesus getting up there, staying in an inn, going through the gateway to heaven, and seeing this rock with the word “God“? Would this have satisfied their quests? Would it have satisfied Hakuin, or the disciples of Jesus who saw him shining like a light?

Image 21. "The Elephant Bathing Pool high on Emei Shan [= Emei Mountain]. It was a serene spot and a nice place for a break after miles of sleep [sic] stone stairs winding up the mountain. You can stay in the monastery here, but I don't know what it is like; we just passed through" [Sichuan Province, China]. Photo by McKay Savage from London, UK. Quote by photographer.
Image 21. The Elephant Bathing Pool high on Emei Shan [= Emei Mountain]. It was a serene spot and a nice place for a break after miles of sleep [sic] stone stairs winding up the mountain. You can stay in the monastery here, but I don’t know what it is like; we just passed through” [Sichuan Province, China]. Photo by McKay Savage from London, UK. (quote by photographer)

Emei Shan, (Omei) another sacred Chinese mountain, also became well accommodated for the religious traveler. To give one account, Hart (1888) says that the weary pilgrims walk up through a stone archway to an hotel where they “sit at square tables and drink tea” (p. 201).

Even ancient men made it easier on themselves to go up to their “magic” spots. For example, in Quāng-tri, Annam, in South-East Asia, the people made their way up through the forest below, to a terrace at the top of a basaltic outcrop, by way of a stone stairway bordered by a wall (Wales, 1953, pp. 98-99 — he says he takes his facts from the work of Mlle M. Colani).

Not only were the paths themselves laid out but also the timing and what one is supposed to do on the way up.

Image 22. Sunrise on Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka, 2002. Photo assumed to be by Krankman.
Image 22. Sunrise on Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka, 2002. Photo assumed to be by Krankman.

For example, with Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), the ideal time to begin one’s quest is on a full-moon night in March or April. One should reach the summit before sunrise and ring the brass bell once for each time you have made the climb. Then you should wait for the sun to rise.

Image 23. Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka, one of the "easy" ways up. Photo by Astronomyinertia. (title amended by author)
Image 23. Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka, one of the “easy” ways up. Photo by Astronomyinertia. (title amended by author)

Even the relative difficulty of the journey is laid out in advance. On Adam’s Peak you can choose the dangerous or one of the safe paths. The dangerous one is up an iron link chain ladder.[7] If you choose this one you know in advance that Alexander the Great was supposed to have placed it there. If you choose “the safest and most used path” you know in advance that it has “like incarnate existence itself, thousands of steps.” (Evans-Wentz, p. 71)

In other words, the contents of your inner experience (as well as outer experience) are laid out before you take your first step. Since Alexander never was in Sri Lanka, the story is a myth that sprung from the psyche of someone in the past. And the idea of the thousands of steps also occurred to someone in the past. The contemporary climber is given somebody else’s old experience, ready made. The chances of having ones own talk with a god is, I think, not increased, as the gods seem to have their own reasons and timing for appearing to humans.

Image 24. Snowdon Mountain Railway — approaching the summit. Photo by Porius1.
Image 24. Snowdon Mountain Railway — approaching the summit. Photo by Porius1.

It is possible, on the sacred Mount Snowdon in Wales to take a tram to the top.

The mountain becomes a place of pilgrimage

The long and the short of it is that the mountain eventually became, by whatever process, a place of mass pilgrimage, a pilgrimage often required for every person at least once in his or her life. In fact, the term for pilgrimage in old Chinese was journeying to a mountain and offering incense (Snelling, p. 212).

This was true of Fujiyama in Japan. All people of the old religion were required to visit it at least once. The point that I want to emphasize, however, is that though it became a popular place of pilgrimage for emperors, empresses and officials, few ever climbed it. Most viewed it from a distance, and many never went there at all for it was allowable to send a proxy. If the facts are right here, then to the purist, this is the ultimate in watered down mountain religion.[8]

Image 25. Still many steps left [Mount Tai = Tai Shan, Shandong Province, eastern China]. Photo by Charlie fong. (quote from photographer)
Image 25. Still many steps left [Mount Tai = Tai Shan, Shandong Province, eastern China]. Photo by Charlie fong. (quote is from the photographer)

10,000 pilgrims climbed, Tài Shān, at peak season, every day! This included the old and the young, men and women, the rich and the poor. The poor climbed up on foot, but, though it may be hard to believe, many of the rich were carried up in sedan chairs. (Mullikin & Hotchkis, pp. 3-4)

The following description of the thousands of pilgrims who climbed Mount Emei (and have done so for hundreds of years, “including emperors, empresses, kings, and feudal princes”) by Hart is very vivid and worth presenting in detail.

…  Of the pilgrims fully one half were women, and they, as a rule, were above forty years of age; some were quite young and in care of chaperones. I also observed a curious custom they have of travelling in companies of seven. …

The rich and the poor walk together, and kneel in the same circles around the altars of their honored gods. But how differently they dress! Here comes a queenly dowager, with staff and a retinue of servants, her head adorned with gold and pearls, and heavy gold rings in her ears. An ornamented head-dress of satin folds tightly about her glossy black hair; gold bracelets of enormous size are upon her wrists; her dress, which descends nearly to her lily-flowered shoes, is of brocaded silk or satin, with a thin jacket of rich material. She has her fur and wadded garments well packed and borne by a servant, ready for use when the elevation is reached.

There are as many types of rich as of the towns and countries from which they come. The poor wear homespun clothes of cotton, red, green, or blue. Their clothes are shorter and more convenient. (pp. 201-202)

Regarding Chiu-hua-shan, Nine Flower Mountain, in Anhwei Province, China,

Its patron saint is Ti-tsang Pusa …, the Chinese for Kshitigarbha Buddhisattva, a chthonian king of the underworld. Here in the months of September, October and November pilgrims flock in thousands to implore Ti-tsang to set free their beloved from their earthly prison, Ti-yü. (Mullikin & Hotchkis, p. 105)

Image 26. Mount Arafat [near Mecca, Arabia]. Photo by Md iet (talk).
Image 26. Mount Arafat [near Mecca, Arabia]. Photo by Md iet (talk).

The famous Hajj of Islam, the pilgrimage required of each Moslem once in his or her life culminates on a hill on the plain of Arafat. Roughly 1,500,000 people make the Great Pilgrimage every year. According to Ibn al-Kalbi, the vigil at Arafat existed in pre-Islamic times. (Long, pp. 3-4)

The eighth day … is the traditional day for departing for `Arafat — a wide, barren, gravelly plain some twelve miles east of Makkah. Rising up from the plain on its eastern side is a low hill or rock outcropping about 150 to 299 feet high. Called Jabal al-Ramah (the Mount of Mercy), or sometimes Jabal `Arafat (Mount `Arafat), it is the holiest spot on the plain. …

The ninth day … is the grand climax of the entire Hajj. On this day, … each Hajji must be in attendance at sunset on the plain of `Arafat or the whole Hajj is forfeited. … As noon approaches, the thousands of Hajjis gather at Jabal al-Rahmah, or as close to it as they can get, to begin their vigil.

This is when the two sermons mentioned earlier are read.

In the cryptic phrase of tradition, [this vigil] is the Hajj — the supreme hours. Kamal has attempted to capture the extreme spiritual fervor of the ceremony.

The soul-shaken pilgrim … knows a humility and an exaltation which are but a prologue for `Arafat. Here by the mountain, the pilgrim will pass what should be, spiritually and intellectually, the noblest hours of life. The tents of the faithful will cover the undulating valley as far as the eye can see. This immense congregation with the sacred mountain at its center is the heart of Islam. This is the day of true brotherhood, the day when God is revealed to his servants. (Long, pp. 19-20)

Image 27. The Snowdon group seen from the east, Glider Fawr; left: Y Lliwedd; centre: Crib Goch; right: Yr Wyddfa and Garnedd Ugain [Snowdonia National Park, Gwynedd, UK]. Photo by Chris Dixon.
Image 27. The Snowdon group seen from the east, Glider Fawr; left: Y Lliwedd; centre: Crib Goch; right: Yr Wyddfa and Garnedd Ugain [Snowdonia National Park, Gwynedd, UK]. Photo by Chris Dixon.

Apparently pilgrimages are still made by Christians to the Hill of Tara in Ireland and to the “summit of sacred Mount Snowdon” in Wales (Evans-Wentz, pp. 40-41). And we know that 4,000,000 pilgrims a year visit the Oratory of St. Joseph on the hill of Montreal (the Royal Mountain) in Canada to be healed.

As a last example there is the yearly pilgrimage to Glastonbury, England. It is a popular belief that Christianity came first to Glastonbury, and so it would be the head-springs of Christianity in the British Isles. (Treharne, 1967, pp. 4-5, 30-31) It is believed that St. Joseph of Arimathea came here between 40 and 60 CE and planted his staff at the foot of the tor. When it budded it became clear that here was Journey’s End, and it was at the foot of the tor that he buried the Chalice. From here Joseph taught the Word to Arviragus, the heathen king of the Britons, and it is said that St. Patrick died and was buried here after having spent his last years in charge of the hermitage. Many visions were reported here often of the Virgin, but it is even said that Christ came here in person. This belief inspired William Blake’s hymn “Jerusalem.” According to Treharne,

the “mountains green” on which “those feet in ancient times” walked, were the hills around Glastonbury, and “England’s pleasant pasture’ on which “the holy Lamb of God was seen” were the level meadow which now surround the little town. (pp. 4-5)[9]

The commercialization of the mountains

This “popularization” of the mountain led to a commercialization. For example on Fujiyama, many good luck charms are sold. Just how and if this led to the current secularization of the mountain with its ski resorts — ski lodges, ski lifts, and sportsmen — is not clear, but now many mountains have become places of challenge, showing off, fun, and relaxation and have all but lost their wilderness quality that made them so open to psychological projection. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is hard to access; for sentimentalists it is sad.

Image 28. The Ofuda issued by a Shinto shrine. Photo by MOTOI Kenkichi. (title edited and photo cropped by author).
Image 28. The Ofuda issued by a Shinto shrine. Photo by MOTOI Kenkichi. (title edited and photo cropped by author)

On Fujiyama scrolls and seals as well as [0]fuda are for sale in the shrines.

At all the shrines, perhaps, fuda … are for sale. … Fuda are inscribed papers, given out from shrines and temples, and carrying a blessing. They may be a simple strip with printed matter and the seal, or such a strip enclosed in a wrapper. Fuda may be pasted up outside the door or kept on the god-shelf, or guarded in a receptacle. The Sengen shrine at Yoshida sells a fuda with a picture of a tortoise which is a charm against fire. At Tainai, a fuda is sold to assure abundant milk for nursing mothers. At the Tainai of the fifth station on Subashiri trail, fuda for easy-birth are sold. There are, of course, many others at the different shrines upon the mountain. (Starr, pp. 151-154)

A symbol of the conflict between the old way of the taboo mountain on which the gods dwell and the new secularization is the attempt of developers to build a ski resort on one of the sacred mountains of the Navajo, the San Francisco Peaks.

{But more dramatic developments have occurred since the initial writing of this book. From the news of June 7, 2014 on the website of Discovery we read “Over the past few years, China has been carrying out a startling plan to flatten 700 mountains and shovel the debris into valleys, in order to create 155 square miles of land where brand-new cities can be built.”[10] And it wouldn’t hurt to mention that, according to a Wikipedia article on Fujiyama, roughly 300,000 climbed it in 2009.[11] We guess that not all of them are climbing from religious motives.}

The eventual taming of the mountain seems to be inevitable. The effect on the psyche is yet to be seen.

All of this is a long way from the atmosphere of Moses, Jesus, Zarathustra, Hakuin.

Image 29. [Skyway to the hotel at Highlands Hotel of the ] Genting Highland [Resort,] Malaysia. Photo by Shahnoor Habib Munmun.
Image 29. [Skyway to the Highlands Hotel of the] Genting Highland [Resort,] Malaysia. Photo by Shahnoor Habib Munmun.

{It is probably worth emphasizing how modern technology has made it easy to get to the top of mountains.

Image 30. Ropeway car over Gangtok, Sikkim, India. Photo by kalyan3.
Image 30. Ropeway car over Gangtok [Sikkim, India]. Photo by kalyan3.

The mountaintop city of Gangtok in Sikkim has an interesting history. It was a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the 19th century, a center of trade in the 20th, and it is now a center of the tourist industry of Sikkim (as well as an ongoing center of Tibetan Buddhist culture).[12]

However we judge the development of mountains such as those we have been discussing, we may understand how the part of us that worships mountains can be, if not saddened, at least confused.

In my own introspection on mountaineer’s attempts to conquer mountains I find a marked ambivalence: On the one hand I find myself rooting for the mountains and against the mountaineers. It feels wrong for the mountaineers to try. I feel fear at what will happen if there is success. After hearing about a first ascent I feel, “They shouldn’t have done it! It was wrong!” And so on. On the other hand, I notice I am rooting for the mountaineers to push on and to succeed in their brave attempts. It is a true ambivalence. I have not done any research to see if this ambivalence exists in anyone else.}

The author’s case

My own mountain experience, though powerful to me and affecting my life down to this very day, was not the journey of a man who, by himself, climbed to the top of an isolated mountain and meets his god. Far from it. I stayed in the well-built home of my friend which had all the amenities, albeit the toilet was outside, and the roads were dirt. In many ways the accommodations were more comfortable than those in the city.

Further, my friend’s house was part of a larger community of like-minded people, each with a well-ordered twenty five or fifty acres, with house, fence, well, road, and even telephone. I was certainly not a pioneer, and I could not even classify myself as one of the few disciples of a pioneer. No, I was one of many who, though unconsciously and not as part of a formal Hajj, pilgrimed up to the wilderness community. What percentage of those who made this trip had some kind of experience, I cannot say. I can say that mine was important in my life, in spite of it being a journey up a well-travelled trail. It was still one of a kind — for me.


  1. de Beer (1966, pp. 89-90). There are many other monsters that the imagination fixes in the mountains. Humbaba was the giant of the mountain in the Gilgamesh epic. The yeti, that is the Abominable Snowman, lives in the Himalayas, and many young American boys, including myself, exercised their imaginations over him. A race of giants was supposed, by missionaries, to have lived in Lower California, and Mr. Paxton Hayes said he found a lost city, at 7,000 feet in Sonora, Mexico, containing eight to nine foot tall mummies somehow connected with the Maya (Evans-Wentz, 1981, pp. 25-26n). The Indians of New Mexico also told of a family of giants who lived in a cave in the Black Mesa (Evans-Wentz, p. 25n). In Greek mythology Zeus fought the monster Typhon on Mount Casios. In the Semitic tradition, the monster Behemoth is referred to in Psalm 50:10 as "Behemoth upon a thousand hills" (though the JPS translation says that the meaning of this passage is unclear). The most psychologically revealing mountain monster I have found is the "man of the mountain," Adne Sadeh, that is, Adam.
    His form is exactly that of a human being, but he is fastened to the ground by means of a navel-string, upon which his life depends.
    He is tethered there and eats around the radius. Nothing can come close, or he kills it. To kill him you must sever the chord from a distance with a dart (Tan. Introduction 125, story given in Ginzberg, Vol. 1, p. 31).
  2. The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there. Simple races, as savages, do not climb mountains — their tops are sacred and mysterious tracts never visited by them. Pomola is always angry with those who climb to the summit of Ktaadn. (Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, quoted in Spectorsky, p. 437)
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Kailash. This article quotes Peter Ellingsen's "Scaling a Mountain to Destroy The Holy Soul of Tibetans," tew.org, retrieved 21 January 2011.
  4. As long as I was living in the village They said I was the finest man around,/ But yesterday I went to the city/ And even the dogs eyed me askance. Some people jeered at my skimpy trousers,/ Others said my jacket was too long. ... (Han-Shan, 1962, p. 20)
  5. Earhart, p. 11:
    The late dean of Japanese folklorists, Yanagita Kunio, proved that the so-called mountain-shrine mentioned in many shrine traditions was not necessarily a shrine structure on the mountain-top. ... Yanagita used the written documents of shrine traditions to show that in early Japan the yama-miya [mountain-shrines] were holy places around mountains visited periodically by shrine priests. ... In recent times there are mountain-top shrine buildings called yama-miya, but Yanagita concludes that such instances are innovations due to the influence of Buddhist ascetic practices in the mountains.
  6. Dōgen, ca. 1235/1985, pp. 105-106. In Muryōju-kyŌ Sutra (earlier than 200 CE) we are told that Buddha gave a talk on Vulture's Peak in response to questions from his disciple Ānanda. Buddha sent a ray of light from the palm of his hand for Ānanda to see (Okazaki, 1977, pp. 13-15).
  7. To get to the North Peak Monastery on Hua-shan, China, one must climb "The Streamer of a Thousand Steps ..., cut out of solid rock; iron chains [are] hung on either side to help the pilgrim to pull himself up or let himself down" (Mullikin & Hotchkis, p. 56).
  8. Starr (pp. 142-143). See also Kitagawa (1967) in which the author says that the belief was prevalent among the 11th and 12th century aristocrats that
    pilgrimage to sacred mountains, especially those of Kumano and Yoshino, would enable them to experience while on earth a foretaste of the Pure Land. (p. 157)
    These aristocratic pilgrims were guided by mountain ascetics. In the late 19th century, it was estimated that there were seventeen thousand of these "senior guides" (p. 158). The journey was considered to be an initiatory ceremony for boys who were entering the age of adult life, because it was so difficult (as on Cuchama). The starting point of the pilgrimage was Mount Nachi which was believed to be "the model of Kannon's Pure Land on earth" (13th century) (p. 159).
  9. In popular belief Glastonbury is also the Isle of Avalon.
  10. http://news.discovery.com/earth/china-flattens-hundreds-of-mountains-for-new-cities-140607.htm, retrieved November 27, 2015
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Fuji, retrieved November 27, 2015
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gangtok, retrieved November 28, 2015

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The Mountain Archetype Copyright © 1988 by Thomas R. Hersh. All Rights Reserved.

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