Journey to the Summit
Green Mountain by Li Po translated by A S Kline
You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain
I smile and make no reply for my head is free of care
As the peach-blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.
People around the world seek wisdom and holiness on mountain tops. In Exodus, Moses comes down from the mountain (church steeples look like steep mountains) with the Ten Commandments. In China, immortals learned immortality in the mountains. Mountains are seen as mystical abodes in Japan. The ancient Greeks believed that their gods lived on Mount Olympus. Egypt and the Americas there was the construction of mountain-shaped pyramids. Khmer temples represent Mount Sumeru, the center of the Buddhist universe. The pyramidal Hindu ones represent Mount Kailash, Shiva’s abode, or Mount Meru, the home of the gods.
A mountain is a universal, spiritual symbol, just like light. It implies many aspects of existence. The visual of an unshakable mountain, the rock of ages, intuitively signifies stability and security in the midst of constant change. Reaching the high and distant summit, not always visible or clear, requires a great deal of faith with the self. The pilgrim makes an often hard and harsh climb from earth to heaven that demands discipline, fortitude, and unwavering persistence. It is a potent symbol of both aspiration and inspiration.
A mountain may also be used as a metaphor for living. At the base there is earth-bound life. The routine of daily life can keep us tethered, circling around repetitively around the base. To climb up, what is bound to the earth must be left behind. Going up, there is increasingly less human activity, fewer forms and objects. Even the air is less dense. We tend to reflect our surroundings. Climbing up we can begin to identify less with objects and daily life of activity. There is greater perception of nature and its tremendous force as well as our own vulnerability. That chips away pride. The tiny, frail body is literally and figuratively surrounded by infinite, unobstructed space. We climb out of ourselves, the confines of body-mind and the small ego-bound I.
The higher the climb, the more arduous is the way to the summit, and the more we are compelled to shed and discard. There can be no other thought than being alert and attentive to every step, every breath. At the top there is larger, clearer physical and spiritual perspective as we view existence from a higher altitude.
Even though we may get uplifted from the numbness of daily existence, numerous fears and doubts arise and have to be cleared. The process of getting up there is transformational. It can also be called meditation. In yoga, Mount Kailash is Mount Meru within, the spinal cord within the body. We climb from the base of the spine, the earth-bound center of mooladhara chakra, to the summit, the heaven-bound center of ajna chakra, the guru center, with its trigger at the eyebrow center. Ajna is also known as the point of intuition and inner perception. We climb to the summit to get an experience of “Who am I?” So this is a meditation on faith, inner strength, and inner guidance.
In this meditation there is contemplation on some of the conditioned habitual thinking. What excess baggage is weighing us down, preventing us from getting where we need to go. What do we need to let go, discard. I have found this story helpful.
Two monks were silently walking through the forest on their way to a mountain village. Along the trail, they came upon a lovely young woman lying on the ground with a twisted ankle. She could not walk and was all alone in the middle of the forest. The elder monk carried her and started walking. The young monk was outraged as he cried out that they were not allowed to touch women. This was breaking morals and rules and the woman should be put down immediately. The old monk ignored him and continued in silence. At the next village, he dropped the woman off and the two monks continued now following a mountain trail toward the village they needed to reach. As it started getting steeper, the young monk was stumbling and falling behind. He then suddenly stopped and shouted at the old monk—I cannot go on! How could you do what you did? You had no right to carry that woman? And the old monk replied, “I dropped the person a long time ago. You are still carrying her.” Let us see what we carry and what we shed as we journey to the top.
The visualization of climbing to the summit, top of the mountain, and the inner guide part is based on a Yoga Nidra done 35 years ago during a course in Mumbai with Swami Buddhananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga. Over the course of the years, like an evolving recipe, my interpretation and wording of it has evolved.
May the blessings of the practice bring the presence of the inner guide within and peace.
You may hear the audio track: Up to the Summit.