There is one last kind of mountain that we would like to mention in this quest for understanding mountains, the personal mountain.
On the purely personal level, one’s mountain of work refers to one’s body of achievement. This paper on mountains is a mere peak in my body of work. Normally if a book is referred to as a mountain of a book, it must have had a major impact in the field. Most frequently a mountain of work would refer to multiple creations, not just one, unless that one were supremely influential - Shakespeare’s mountain of work. Being a mountain of a person would be very good. A mountain of a person would be someone who had furthered civilization along its path, not someone who had made minor contributions. JS Bach is a mountain of classical music and is the main mountain of the Baroque era in music. Mountain when it is used with a human seems to mean that this person has made an enormous positive significant contribution to human culture. When mountain refers to someone’s work it refers to lots of significant pieces or one incredibly important piece. To be a mountain personally or to create mountains is excellent culturally. It means that one’s achievements stand above one’s local social milieu.
However to be confronted by a personal mountain is not so good. This means that there is a huge obstacle in the way of accomplishing one’s goals. The mountain is in the way of us fulfilling our desires, be they personal or global, material or spiritual. The mountain of money needed to purchase a home blocks the desire to become a homeowner. The mountains of practice necessary for mastery obstruct the desire to become a professional. Indeed the mountain of hours or mountain of tasks that are needed to achieve completion blocks the ability to accomplish a multitude of goals.
From this perspective one tackles the personal mountain the same way one would a physical mountain - with little steps, moving slowly up the side of the mountain – relentlessly - solving the small problems that arise on the way up to the top. This means putting in the necessary practice-time to achieve mastery - taking all the little necessary steps needed to erect something permanent. The progress is slow and steady, not quick.
To achieve even relative mastery a mountain of practice hours are needed. One must practice diligently for many minutes, over many hours, over many days, over many years, over decades. Getting to the top of a mountain does not happen suddenly. An insight might help solve a smaller problem along the way, but will never transport one to the peak. Insights and enlightenments are the natural result of practice, but should never be mistaken for the peak, which is illusionary anyway. Being on the path to mastery is the best that we can ever hope for, because mastery is also an illusory subjective state. One can be in a state of mastering, but can never be a master. One can be a potential master but mastering requires manifestation in order to transcend the state of potentiality.
If one’s hours of practice raise one to a level of proficiency, which is greater than those in the local environment, then one might be called a master locally. But this is only a relative term, because the criteria and evaluation of mastery are subjective. Even relative mastery must be constantly maintained. In the maintenance insights and refinements naturally occur, which increase one’s level of relative mastery. But the refinements of mastery never end; subtlety is infinite. Things cannot be infinitely large without taking up the whole universe; nor can they infinitely small without disappearing. However subtleties can be infinitely refined because the only limit is perception, whose potentials are like the bottomless well.
While even relative mastery takes hours of practice for any endeavor, being in a state of mastering takes only instants to achieve in any endeavor. As a novice the instant one begins practicing one enters the state of mastering. Similarly the instant the relative master ceases practicing he also ceases mastering. Practice is the state of mastering. In the state of not-practicing one may be a potential master. However actualization requires the state of mastering. (This is not to say that practice requires physical motion. Indeed practicing awareness requires absolute stillness. Again this absolute stillness might look physically active, for the stillness required is only mental. This is the state of wu-wei, or non-action in the midst of action.)
Note also that the state of mastering for the novice and the master is the same if practiced with the same diligence. Possibly the proficiency will yield more external satisfaction for those listening to the master, but the internal state of the master and novice is the same - in the sense that they are both concentrating all their energy upon the task at hand.
One of the advantages of the quest for mastery is that it is endless. One can never truly fulfill the desire for complete mastery. This is not true in the material realm, where desires are constantly fulfilled. While fulfilling material goal/desires is possible, this is not the end of desire, but instead the beginning of a new desire. Building a castle, painting a picture, playing a piece of music, taking a trip - all of these goals come to an end. They will, of course, need to be immediately replaced by a new goal. The fulfillment of desires is but the beginning of a new desire. The happiness from fulfilling desires is an addictive cycle. Its effects are brief and leave the user craving more. Feel the craving and know that you are alive. Experience craving from the perspective of Being, relishing the rush of its intensity. Wait a bit to fulfill the addiction, savoring the moments.
While some mountainous obstacles take time and patience to achieve, many of these personal mountains are imaginary. Some for instances: For the child, not getting the toy of their attention yields a public temper tantrum. For the teenager, missing an important event will ruin their social life forever. For the adult, perhaps making a corporate budget is linked with their career and thereby their personal happiness. In each case the individual focuses all their attention upon one single event extending it from the past into the distant future. This event becomes everything. Anything in the way, be it parents or circumstance beyond their control, turn into an insurmountable mountain. Because of narrow focus, the individual turns their molehill into a mountain.
How do we determine the difference between a mountain and a molehill? From our study of mountain criterion we have hopefully realized that perspective is everything. From the perspective of a giant many mountains are mere peaks on a block, while from the perspective of an ant a human might be a mountain. So what about our perspective creates mountains? They seem to be big and in the way. Having learned to examine assumptions from our historical experience with glaciers and continental drift, we must ask, “In the way of what?” These mountains are in the way of us fulfilling our desires whether they be material or spiritual.
Sinking a little deeper down into assumptions, we ask, “Whose desires are they?” They are certainly not the desires of our Being for Being merely is. Instead they are the desires of our Body-Mind complex – our Person.
Just as soon as the Body-Mind creates the desire, it simultaneously creates the obstacle. Without the desire, there is no obstacle to achieving the desire. Therefore no matter how big the obstacle, no matter if it is a mountain of obstacles, all personal mountains are created by the mind, simultaneous with the creation of the desire. Of course sometimes the mind-desire sees only small obstacles, when there are actually a mountain of obstacles.
(Mind in this context is the verbal mind, filled with verbal thoughts. It is not the unconscious mind. Also it is not the mind intent, i, of the Chinese martial arts. Nor is it the super mind related to conscious awareness sometimes referred to in the west. It is the conscious mind with its conscious thoughts and desires.)
Conversely because Being has no desires, it knows no obstacles. Being merely witnesses the actions of the Body-Mind. Indeed the Play of the Body-Mind is fascinating to Being. It is the best show going. Additionally the Body-Mind naturally services Being. Indeed the purpose of the Body-Mind is to service Being. They love each other very much. As a complex they are Life.
Being never mistakes itself for the Body-Mind because it just is. However the Body-Mind, in the midst of its whirling activity, frequently mistakes itself for Being. More accurately, dazzled by the Mind-Body show Awareness forgets Being. It as if the audience thinks themselves the show, living and dying with the actors rather than remembering that they are separate and are just there to enjoy the show. Indeed the audience might be truly afraid, sad, happy, or excited. If it is a good show the audience might even invest in the life of some character in the play - hoping against hope that Romeo will get the message in time - all the while knowing that he won’t - and not really wanting him to get the message because it would ruin the perfection of the play. Romeo and Juliet both die and it is so sad. You go home and hug your loved ones, happy that your life is not filled with such tragedy. But never, unless there is some kind of psychotic break, does the audience attempt to actually influence the events upon the stage or movie screen. Nor do the members of the audience go into a state of mourning because Romeo and Juliet have died. Nor can anyone in the audience really say that this experience of death has given them any real understanding of the actual experience of death.
Anyway, Awareness forgets Being, fascinated with the Play of Mind-Body. Suddenly Mind-Body forgets its duty towards Being and begins servicing its own Illusions instead. Of course, as is normal, the Illusions are based around desire and fear, specifically the fear that desires won’t be fulfilled. Going underground Being manifests as the Little Voice. Getting ever louder and more insistent with his dramatic desires and the mountain of obstacles that thwarts them, the Mind-Body, drowns out Being’s Little Voice. The Mind-Body thrives upon the drama of suffering. Hence he throws himself willingly into the throes of agony and misery, playing his role to its limit. However instead of just enjoying the drama and his part in it, the Body-Mind thinks that he is the Drama. Consequently Awareness experiences Life as an alternation of pain and pleasure, rather than just relishing the ecstasy of Being.
When Awareness that is reflected back upon Being, the Mind-Body returns to its proper role as servant of Being. Being loves the Play of Body-Mind - exulting in success, disappointed in failure, joyous in creation, grieving in death. But Being always knows that she is separate. In balance the Body-Mind directly manifests the Will of Being, which was previously the Little Voice. Being, just is, recognizes itself as everything. Instead of thinking itself a mountain on top of the earth, Being recognizes that it is one and the same with all Being. Hence Being wants the best for itself, which is all of Creation. Further Awareness, focused upon Being again, realizes the root of suffering is based in the forgetting of Being and the identity with Body-Mind. Being has great compassion for the rest of Being, including oneself. Thus Being attempts to help out by simply dispelling the illusion that the imaginary world created by the Body-Mind is real. Awareness must be constantly re-focused upon Being.
Let us return to our original question, mountains or molehill? The question itself leads us astray. It is based upon the underlying assumption that some goals are important and some are less important. The reality is that all goals and their relative importance are created by the mind. Hence the question, Mountain or molehill? can only be answered based upon the relative importance that is assigned by the mind to each goal. If the Goal/Desire is rated very important, then every obstacle to this very important Goal/Desire is rated mountainous by the Mind. Of course Minds love to judge other Mind/Goals. The adult Mind looking at the Child Mind, rates their Goal/Desires as trivial. In so doing they also turn the child’s mountain of obstacles into a mere molehill. Of course the obstacle to the child’s desires is still mountainous in the child’s Mind.
Similarly Being looks as a Parent upon the Mind/Goals of any creature: the dog barking for an inaccessible ball is the same level as an adult moaning for home ownership. The obstacles are mountainness for the creatures involved and trivial for those on the outside looking in. Dwelling in the Land of Being, these Mind-Goals are entertaining. But the achievement or non-achievement of these goals has no effect upon Being. Being only registers that the Body-Mind is happy or sad, but does not participate any more than does a Gameplayer in his Game. Thus just as the Mind creates the question, Mountain or molehill?, it also creates the answer. Being transcends the question and the answer to Mountain or molehill?.
As a sidelight, the desire and obstacles to the goal of spiritual enlightenment are also mental. Those on the spiritual quest, elevate this to the highest possible goal, just as those on the material quest rate home ownership as the highest possible goal. The concept of spiritual enlightenment is created and watered by the mind. Being doesn’t participate. It just is, transcending all mind constructs naturally without effort.
One last comment from mister blabbermouth. The quest for mastery comes from Being. Being realizes that the Mind-Body complex needs to be stimulated to operate properly. Therefore Being, loving the Body-Mind, sets the Mind on a quest for mastery, knowing that it is good for the Mind. Being, acting like a mother to the Body-Mind, tries to keep them busy for their own health and to keep them out of mischief. Being tries to arrange exercise for the Body and mental stimulation for the Mind. The endless quest for mastery is especially stimulating for the Mind.
Where Being manifests, the Mind smoke follows, always creating distractions. As soon as it can the Mind links the quest for mastery with the goals of fame and fortune. Being has just got the Mind/Body engaged in something constructive and the Mind begins spinning delusions of grandeur. These distractions many times disturb the all-important practice. Because the Mind thinks that it is practicing for fame and fortune, it will stop practicing when these goals are out of reach. “What’s the use in practicing, if I’m never going to be famous?” Further if someone is practicing to become a master, they might stop if they perceive that they will never become a master. “I’m no good. There is no reason for me to practice.”
Being gives the urge for stimulation, which the Mind kills with these illusory ideas. The state of mastering is the only state that anyone can achieve. Anyone can enter the state of mastering by just investing time. Talent has nothing to do with the fruits of practice. Talent only has to do with the observer, not the one who practices, the person who is mastering. Being manifests as the Little Voice. The loudness of the Mind attempts to drown out this tiny sound. Tame the Mind. Listen to the Little Voice and you will be able to answer the question of Mountain or molehill?.
Mountains also have a very spiritual context. Many times mountains are linked with the spiritual quest. Moses went into the mountains to receive the 10 commandments from God. Zeus and the Greek gods lived on the top of Mount Olympus. These are the two most common Western examples. The classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West, relates the story of a group of Chinese pilgrims going from China to the mountains of India to get the holy-scriptures from the Buddha. This journey to the mountaintops is a metaphor for the spiritual quest. (The context and underlying meanings of the Journey to the West is examined more thoroughly in other works by this same author, including the Tao of China, and Journey to the West, a Quest Metaphor.)
“… In the mythic tradition the Mountain is the bond between Earth and Sky. Its solitary summit reaches the sphere of eternity, and its base spreads out in manifold foothills into the world of mortals. It is the way man raises himself up to the divine and by which the divine can reveal itself to man.” Mount Analogue by René Daumal, page 5
Mountains, in this symbolic system, are the link between humans and the gods, between the mundane and the divine, between the sacred and the profane. The Chinese even prefer that the peak of the mountain be shrouded in clouds, or at most peeking out above them - indicating the separation between the Earth and Heaven, while connecting them simultaneously with the mighty mountain. Many cultures have the archetypal story of the leader going to the mountains to obtain the wisdom of the gods. The image is of the human obtaining wisdom from the gods residing in the Sky.
This is a normal sky-god religion distortion. The earth is forgotten in the transaction. In the nomadic sky god version, the man walks on the earth with his eyes on heaven. His body is of the earth while his spirit is divine. The inherent idea behind this type of myth is that the spirit needs to transcend the body in order to achieve heaven. What a mind distortion this is. It creates a polarity and invests it with reality, separating a unity into two parts. Looking at both sides of a coin and thinking that it is two. In the idea that wisdom is only found in the mountaintops close to the sky implies that the wisdom is outside to be obtained and brought back. It ignores the reality surrounding us - which is always with us wrapping us like a cocoon - hoping that we will emerge a butterfly rather than out chasing rainbows, i.e. these silly mental ideas that seem so beautiful. The mental imagination is so strong that it creates a myth to justify itself and its importance.
Now we are going to learn being from a mountain. We are going to learn what it is ‘to just be’. This reverses the metaphor. Instead of going to the mountain to learn from the Sky gods, we go to the mountain to learn from the Earth. Let us speak about what it is to be a mountain.
Being a mountain
Mountains are just there.
Their very presence changes the world.
However, they do not go out to proselytize or educate.
They seek no disciples, nor do they attempt to attract fame.
Nor can they hide.
Their awesome presence is inescapable,
A mountain goes on no vacations.
It always stays put.
Never moving, proud and erect.
Never exhibiting fearfulness.
Always holding their ground;
Even when glaciers chew them up
Or water wears them down.
Mountains nourish whole worlds and universes
Of plant and animal creatures with her soil.
Mountains are quiet. Mountains are still.
Although the surface changes,
The base remains motionless,
Rooted to the earth.
While mountains are huge in relation to humans,
They still rest upon the earth.
They never leave the ground.
They are the ground,
A giant protrusion,
Mountains are the erection of the earth,
Seeking out the sky,
Towards this abstract limit.
Able to see the Sky and yet never able to reach it.
Stretching ever upwards towards the Heavens.
Right in front of your face.
Many Mountains move continuously upward,
Squeezed skywards naturally from all sides.
Jumping sometimes towards the heavens
In earthquake like leaps.
Tectonic forces moving their enormous mass effortlessly.
Mountains just are.
They don’t do anything.
They are just themselves,
Endlessly watching the parade of life forms
Using her surface as a stage.
In terms of the stillness and quietness of the Mountain, it has also been used as a symbol of meditation. In the I Ching, the first Chinese Classic, the yin-yang theory is laid out. Primary to the theory are the 8 trigrams, made up of all the combination of three lines, which can be either yin or yang. One of these 8 trigrams is called Kźn, which means Mountain or Keeping Still. It is represented by two broken yin lines on the bottom and one unbroken yang line on top. The yang line has risen to the top where it wants to be, while the yin lines support it, where they are supposed to be. Therefore everything is quiet, still, hence the name. When this is doubled it yields the hexagram #52, which naturally enough is called Kźn, i.e. Mountain. This hexagram embodies directions for the practice of meditation or stillness, quietude. An example: ‘Keeping his back still so that he no longer feels his body.’
The whole purpose of meditation is to focus Awareness upon Being. Residing in the state of Being neutralizes the Mind, with the many illusory games. Also quietude allows the Little Voice to emerge from Being. In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, the Little Voice is drowned out by the Mind games created by self and others. Turn your gaze inwards to align yourself with Being and hear its tiny voice direct you to the mountain.
Now that we have explored mountains in so many different ways, let us return to the topic of the paper. What is a Mountain anyway?
We should be able to easily answer this question with all of our expertise. We’ve experienced so many mountains. From our explorations we’ve found that mountains can be sedimentary, solid granite, a melange, or personal. They can be eroded by running water, moving ice, or mental insight. “What the mind builds up, it must also tear down.” They can be created underground, a subduction zone scraping, a compression of sedimentary material by tectonic pressures, or by the tricks of the mind. They can be 3000, 8000, 24,000 feet, underwater, or imaginary. They can have traveled from around the globe. They could have always been there or could have been created instantly by the mind. There may be no mountains in a mountain range or there may be many. There are mountains on top of mountain ranges, and even a range, which is a continent. Standing so high and still this mountain range has been a major player in world history. In terms of personal mountains, we’ve talked about a mountain of achievement, obstacles which are perceived as mountains, spiritual mountains and just being a mountain. With this many similarities between mountains it seems obvious what they are. Right?
Wrong. Because of ocean floor spreading, hot spots, continental drift, faults, earthquakes, Ice ages, glaciers, and mental gymnastics, the diversity of mountains surpasses explanation. The only thing they have in common is that they stand high above their surroundings.
May we all become our own mountains,
Standing high above our cultural surroundings,
Viewing the mind-body game as a simple drama
Played out upon our surface.
While investing nothing.
Although Being seems to rise above the surroundings,
Being includes the surroundings.
We mistake our mountainness
As something separate from the Earth,
While we are only an upward extension of the Earth.
As mountain we take neither credit nor blame.
We have moved to our heights naturally, effortlessly.
We deserve no awards or rewards
The only work is that created
By the illusions created by the body-mind.
The only real work is in staying out of the way
Of natural growth,
Which does require constant and vigilant attention -
More inaction, than action.
I have studied mountains from all sides now -
From inside and out and the discovery of how -
Summits and peaks, passes and valleys,
To plate tectonics, ice ages, & glacial alleys -
And I realize that I don’t really know mountains at all,
It is only mountain’s illusions that I recall.