The Sacred Mountain

Excerpt from Seeing Red:

"By now, the nightly pee ritual had become habit. Close to the shore of the holy Lake Manasarovar, a little ways from our tent, I squatted down. Full and ripe, the moon bathed the earth in a dark, gentle light, lending a luminous silkiness to everything. And there, right in front of me, the sacred mountain, Illuminated, Sublime. Penetrating a dark, craggy foundation, Kailas sat like a diamond in the rough, its surface russet, its shape elegant. I could see why the Tibetans called it “Jewel of the Snow” It seemed at once supernatural and deliberately sculptured. In envy of its perfection men have often compared it to stupas, pyramids, cathedrals and other antediluvian structures. Perfect, indeed. The subtle moods of a mountain never ceased to captivate me. Like the initial stages of a love affair, where every little detail about your lover, the way he walks, talks, eats, smells and touches you, seemed interesting, surprising even, and was taken in, treasured and tasted, before added to the puzzle, a puzzle that you’d never quite complete. Mountains made me wonder and want to penetrate their mystery, perhaps in some vague notion that by doing so my own mystery might reveal itself. To think that my mystery compared to such beauty, such spiritual significance, made me bow down my head, part in shame, part in recognition." (Seeing Red, Lone Mørch)

What can a Sacred Mountain teach us?

 

My memoir Seeing Red revolves around the Sacred Mount Kailas in Tibet. At first the mountain called me, later on it haunted me, enough to write my story. I think it's fair to say, that several times over I've circumabulated and climbed that (inner) mountain to finally learn its lessons, some of which I share in my book. For those of you interested in Mount Kailas let me give you the majestic backdrop for Seeing Red

 

Erase Sins, Release Karma

Situated on the farwestern Tibetan plateau, the sacred Mount Kailas rises like a diamond in the rough. For millennia Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Bonpo pilgrims have made the long journey to this far corner of Tibet to pay homage to the mountain and complete the Kora, a ritual circumambulation of 33 miles said to erase the sins of a lifetime. Mount Kailas is seen as the center of the universe, where heaven meets earth and myth merges with reality. An auspicious place where our very humanity crosses path with our divinity

To Hindus Kailas is associate with the mythical Mount Meru, around which the sun and moon orbit and all life flows. The great god Shiva is said to reside on this mountain with his consort, Parvati, daughter of the mountains and one of Kali's expressions. To Buddhists it is associated with the Tibetan meditation deity Demchog and the guru-poet Milarepa, who claimed the mountain from the Bonpo practitioner Naro Bonchung in a series of magical competitions. To Jains it is the place where the first of their founding saints, Rishabha, achieved enlightenment, and to Bonpos it is where the founder of their faith, Tonpa Shenrab, came down to earth.

One Name, Many Meanings

A dear child has many names, we say in Denmark, and so with Kailas. The word Kailāśā means "crystal" in Sanskrit. The Tibetan name for the mountain is Gangs Rin-po-che, which can be translated "precious jewel of snows."  The Bon tradition have called it "Water's Flower, Mountain of Sea Water, Nine Stacked Swastika Mountain." Another local name for the mountain is Tisé mountain, which derives from ti tse in the Zhang-Zhung language meaning "water peak" or "river peak." It refers to the mountain's status as the source of the mythical Lion, Horse, Peacock and Elephant Rivers, and perhaps it comes as no surprise that the four major rivers, Indus, Brahmaputra, Karnali and Sutlej (tributary of the Ganges) all begin in this sacred region.

The Abode of the Gods

The surrounding landscape is known as the abode of the Gods and strewn with legends and symbolism that makes the geography of my homeland Denmark pale in comparison and seem strangely striped of significance. The holy Lake Manasarowar and Rakshas Tal are situated on each side of the base of the mountain, enhancing the symbolic mysticism of the sacred landscape. The higher lake, Manasarovar, is round like the sun, and a lower lake, Rakastal is the shape of the crescent moon. The two lakes represent the solar and the lunar forces respectively. The inner consciousness of man (the solar force) is often compared to the Manasarovar lake. When the thoughts of the mind are stilled, the reflection of the higher mind and awareness is seen. Manas means Mind in Sanskrit. The crescent lake, Rakastal partakes of the lunar or dark forces and this is reflected in the name which comes from Rakshasas or demons; beings who are totally under the sway of the lower desires and impulses (ie lunar forces). The gods are believed to bathe every morning in the holy Lake Manasarowar between 3 am and 5 am and this time is called 'Brahmamuhurta'. Who knew the gods kept time?

At the northern end of the Kora around Mount Kailas, the Dolma (Devi) Pass and the lake Gauri Kund (Thuki Zingbu) are seen as the holiest spots. Guru Rinpoche (the great Indian Master Padmasambhava who introduced Buddhism) and Saint Milerapa are greatly revered here by pilgrims.

View a Google terrain map of Mount Kailas, Tibet

The Kora

Every year, thousands of pilgrims make the long journey to Kailas, by foot or these days aided by trucks, to do the Kora around the mountain. Some pilgrims perform full-length prostrations around the mountain, basically covering the entire trail with their bodies. They bend down, kneel, prostrate full-length, make a mark with their fingers, rise to knees, pray, then crawl forward to the mark made, stand up and do the same thing all over. It requires up to four weeks of physical endurance to prostrate the entire circumambulation. Not a commitment for the weak at heart. Buddhists strongly believe that pilgrimage to this place liberates them to Nirvana. Thirteen Koras are said to give access to the inner Kora, the trails of which is higher and much closer to the actual mountain. One hundred and eight Koras brings you straight to Nirvana. The peregrination is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus and Buddhists. Followers of the Jain and Bonpo religions circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction. The path around Mount Kailas is 52 km (32 mi) long.  Still very few Westerners have been able to make the arduous journey. There have been no recorded attempts to climb Mount Kailas; it is considered off limits to climbers in deference to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. It is the most significant peak in the world that has not seen any known climbing attempts. The largest and most important rock-cut temple, Kailas Temple at Ellora, Maharashtra in India is named after Mount Kailas.

 

In The Way of the White Clouds Lama Anagarika Govinda wrote:

"There are mountains which are just mountains and there are mountains with personality. The personality of a mountain is more than merely a strange shape that makes it different from others. Personality consists in the ability to influence others, and this power is due to consistency, harmony, and one-pointedness of character. If these qualities are present in an individual in their highest perfection, then this individual is a fit leader of humanity either as a ruler, thinker or a saint, and we recognise him as a vessel of divine power. If these qualities are present in a mountain we recognise it as a vehicle of cosmic power and we call it a sacred mountain. To see the greatness of a mountain one must keep ones distance; to understand its form one must move around it; to experience its moods one must see it at sunrise and at sunset. Mount Kailash has become a symbol of the ultimate quest for perfection and ultimate realisation, signposts that point beyond worldly existence. "

Perhaps Kailas is exactly the place, where ideal and real meet and mingle? 

Follow our journey to Mount Kailas in Seeing Red and learn its lessons along with me