floating mountains

DHPbackPOSTCARD #173: Dhammapala Monastery, Switzerland: I cannot seem to get a good photograph of it – as the sun appears over the mountain and lights up our small valley. Maybe a better photographer than me can try; there is a strange illusion on walks around the monastery. Mountains appear to be travelling through the landscape like great ships. Looking from a position high up on a steep incline, with tree tops near enough so you can follow their trunks down to the forest floor below, then looking up at the mountain top that appears above the tree line, which is still in the same frame of vision – and suddenly it looks like the mountain behind the trees has disconnected itself from the earth below, drifted away from its moorings; a gigantic gravity-free mass of rocky earth and vegetation suspended in the sky. I’m reminded of the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the Avatar movie; based on the Huang Shan mountains in China.

There’s a simple light-headedness about it, seeing these massive mountains drifting around in the air, I have that gravity-free feeling about everything I was formerly attached to in the mind. This is how it is; maybe all beings tend to be in a permanent state of ‘on hold’ because we’re earth-bound creatures attached by gravity to a spinning planet. Born with the received, deeply built-in default mindset that there is this holding-on thing we have to live with; it cannot be explained, it cannot be questioned – we can’t let go whatever happens. But today this usual uneasiness about letting go has vanished for me… just slipped away, the heavy pull of gravity is absent, missing, I feel released from a tremendous pressure; stepping easily over the snowy mountains of the mind. Leaping over the precipices, this freedom has always been here; I just didn’t notice it before. The mountains are liberated from their roots, groundlessness… it’s like this because everything we see, feel, smell, touch taste and hear is a perception, saññā . Things feel solid and appear to be real but they’re not ‘real’, there’s nothing to prove that there’s anything out there at all.

I came here once and spoke with a man who was experienced in hill walking and had been climbing for some years. He went into these mountains alone and started running and jumping over dangerous ravines to small footholds and making all kinds of joyful leaps but taking crazy risks and he got lost for most of the day. When he found his way back to the monastery he had a major epiphany about it all – realized he’d lost all normal sense of control. Gravity had gone from him for a while. I wondered how many mountain climbers really have a tendency to want to fly that they have to be rational about…

IMG_2441Normally we human beings assume the world ‘out there’ exists just as we perceive it (by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and physical contact) but if we consider these sense organs, it must become apparent to us that the world ‘out there’ is really dependent on our particular modes of perception. For instance, the human eye limits conditions, by its very structure, the objects we see. It is well known that a bee can see, as a colour, ultraviolet but we have no idea what such a colour looks like nor, of course, can we find any words to describe it. It follows therefore that our sense organs being differently constructed from that of a bee (or any other non-human being), our world “out there” is not necessarily the world as it really is.’ [Phra Khantipalo, ‘Buddhism Explained’ 1965]


Lower photo showing the sun leaving the valley. In the middle of winter there is sunshine on the monastery for only a few hours per day

8 thoughts on “floating mountains

  1. The first time I saw floating mountains it was the mighty Himalayas as I approached Dharamsala. I never even suspected it was possible. I figured Hanuman must have been carrying them.

    There’s a Jack Kerouac passage (probably from Dharma Bums, but I don’t really remember) in which he finally overcomes his fear enough to scale The Matterhorn (in California, not the Swiss one). When he reaches the top he becomes ecstatically weightless, bounding all the way back down yelling “You can’t fall off a mountain!”.

    • Great Hanuman picture! This is it, we can’t prove they’re not floating. I like the Jack Kerouac image. I’ve seen one of the monks here running down a very steep slope of loose stones and rubble at an amazing speed.

  2. Looks like a stunning location for a visit, Tiramit. Your story reminded me of the book the Way of the White Clouds that I read once. The narrator sort of loosened his hold with gravity at one point and began skipping or bounding from one rock to the next, almost effortlessly crossing many meters in one bound. I remember it being such a beautiful visualization when I read it… It reminded me of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and how some of the characters would leap great distances. Our minds are always on the precipice of flight, clinging to the near shore, but nonetheless so very curious… 🙂


    • It is and of course you can visit by looking at their website. The lower photo was taken from the second floor of the monastery, the upper photo was too, now that I think about it. I think the gravity-free feeling and urge to fly may come from constantly adjusting the vanishing point in perspective from the normal horizontal to the vertical plane or looking downwards from the cable car (or if you’re a climber on a sheer vertical face) and it feels like the vertical is the horizontal and the floor of the valley is the vertical plane. Kinda challenging geometrically speaking, thanks for dropping in Michael…

      • I think the gravity-free feeling and urge to fly may come from constantly adjusting the vanishing point in persepective from the normal horizontal to the vertical plane or looking downwards from the cable car

        Or it could just be that the oxygen is a bit thin up there. 😉

      • Yes, of course. I wonder how they perceived that phenomenon in premodern times – an altered state, nearer to the gods, death by falling off cliffs…

    • Maybe the elevation has got something to do with it, the nearest town Kandersteg, is 1174m altitude, and there’s a curious stillness about the snow. At the moment the monks are having a silent week. The alertness you mention is interesting…

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