Meditations on the Himalayas

At my return from a trek in the Indian Himalayas, I have started to read Julius Evola’s Meditations on the Peaks. The book is a collection of articles about his experience of mountain climbing. I was struck again by the combination of genuine insights with more or less ideological distortions of traditional symbols. It is not however the place to return to the political wanderings of a man whose trajectory partially overlaps with the one of Martin Heidegger. One finds nevertheless, some beautiful passages in Evola’s Mediations on the Peaks that I would like to share:

“The notion of the divinity of the mountains is found equally in both Eastern and Western traditions … This notion is expressed in the form of myths and legends concerning either the mountain of the gods or of the heroes— which is allegedly the dwelling place of those who have been “taken up there”— or places inhabited by mysterious forces of glory and immortality. The general foundation for the symbolism of the mountain is simple: since the earth has been associated with everything human (the etymology of the word human is from humus, “soil”), the earth’s peaks, which reach to the sky and which are transfigured by perennial snow, were spontaneously regarded as the most apt material to express, through allegories, transcendental states of consciousness, inner spiritual realizations, and apparitions of extranormal modes of being, often portrayed figuratively as gods and supernatural beings.
(…) According to the Hindus, the most divine mountain chain is the Himalayan, a name that means in Sanskrit, “the seat of the snows.” More specifically, Mount Meru is the sacred mountain and is believed to be located in the Himalayas. It is important to note two things. First, Mount Meru is conceived to be the place in which Shiva, the great ascetic, performed his meditations. Second, it is from here that Shiva incinerated Kama, the Hindu god of love, when the latter tried to expose his heart to passion. In the Hindu tradition, the idea of absolute asceticism and stringent purification of nature is associated with the highest mountain peak. This idea is inaccessible to anything coming from lust and desire and is therefore stable in a transcendent sense. Hence, in the ancient Vedic formulas for the consecration of kings, we find the image of the mountain symbolizing the stability of the power and of the imperium the king will assume . Moreover, in the Mahabarata we see Arjuna go to the Himalayas in order to practice asceticism because it is written that “only on the high mountains could he have achieved the divine vision.” Likewise, the emperor Yudhisthira traveled to the Himalayas to achieve his apotheosis by climbing onto the “chariot” of the “king of the gods.” It is also notable that the Sanskrit word paradesha means “elevated site,” or “high region,” and therefore, in a specific material sense, mountain peak. But paradesha may be etymologically associated with the Chaldean word pardes; hence the term paradise, which has been turned into a dogmatic theological concept by the later Judeo-Christian faith.
(…) At this point I must mention the Hellenic legends of those mythic characters who have been transported to a mountain. .. . Immortality, besides the Olympian gods’, was the privilege of the heroes, or, in other words, was the exceptional achievement of a few superior beings. In the oldest Hellenic traditions we find that the heroes’ achievement of immortality was often portrayed since in this disappearing we must see the material symbol of a spiritual transfiguration. The expressions “to disappear,” “to become invisible,” and “to be taken up into the peaks,” should not be taken literally, but essentially mean to be virtually introduced to the world beyond the senses, in which there is no death, and removed from the visible world of physical bodies, which is that of common human experience.

It is well known that Shankara himself also “disappeared” in the Himalayas. In his writings, Evola expresses a concern about the desacralization of mountains under the pressure of consumerism and the religion of sport. Each time, I have visited the Himalayas, I have witnessed not only an increase in the number of tourists and touristic infrastructures, and a degradation of the local ecosystem but an acceleration of the military build-up at the frontier between India and China. When the conflicts between men reach the land of the gods, what refuge is left to the gods?

Konchenzonga

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