Tuesday, 30 April 2013

kora vs climber in MacFarlane's "Old Ways."

OK, that's it for the snippets and light relief stuff about death...

Back to the mindfulness.

In his "The Old Ways," Robert Macfarlane writes sometimes of things that relate to mindfulness, to being in the present moment. He writes about Minya Konka, one of those mountains sacred to Buddhists in the Central Asian range. 24, 760 feet. Buddhists walk a circuit of this mountain, clockwise, and this form of pilgrimage is called "kora." The most extreme form involves prostrations, kneeling, prayer, round 32 miles over the 18,000 foot Drölma pass.

After pointing out that it is exceptionally difficult to climb the mountain's "sharp and ice-fluted summit" - until 1999 more people had been killed climbing it than had reached its summit - he says this:

"These two kinds of mountain-worshippers stand in strong contrast to one another. There is a humility in the act of kora, which stands as a corrective to the self-exaltation of the mountaineer's hunger for an utmost point. Circuit and circuit, potentially endless, stand against the symbolic finality of the summit. The pilgrim on the kora contents himself always with looking up and inwards to mystery, where the mountaineer longs to look down and outwards onto knowledge."

I find this a resonant point. Seems to me something in here about acceptance versus striving, about being part of now rather than trying to know about it; mystery versus mastery. 

I always thought it was a pity the late great Sir Edmund Hilary had to say "we knocked the bugger off" when he came back down from the summit of Everest. I mean, they had - but it is a sacred mountain to the Buddhists living around it, it is a place of absolutes and extremes, it is a place of limitless wonder. 

(How I wish they hadn't totally screwed the word "awesome" for us over in the USA! Pizzas and film-stars' legs aren't awesome. Everest is.)

I'm sure we do, and need to do, both mystery and mastery, in our own lives. And I'm sure - indeed, I know - that a mountain summit can be an excellent place for a spot of mindful meditation. Though possibly not at nearly 28,000 feet. 

(Snowdon's about three and a half thousand feet...though the summit is too a pesteringly busy and be-caféd spot; you'll do better for contemplative moments on Cnicht, or even Siabod....)

BTW, despite his self-confessed tendency to over-write, MacFarlane's  book contains many wonders and marvels. I feel there's a good balance to be found in thinking through these two contrasting mountain journeys, kora and climb. 


  1. Lovely post GM and striking contrast between the reverence of the pilgrims and the boorishness of the western mountain bagger.
    It makes me want to believe Graves' story about George Mallory who died on Everest in 1924. Apparently Mallory used to celebrate every successful climb with a dance on the peak. Graves was convinced that Mallory had made it - but that the dance had done for him. A much better way to align yourself with the spirit of the great places.
    And, of course, there is the zen approach to mountains too - remember the koan 'when you reach the top of the mountain, keep climbing...'?
    I was given The Old Ways for my birthday. You've really whetted my appetite now. Thank you.

  2. Vale, I'm confident you will love this book.

    Pleased you liked the post; your thing, I think - making ourselves as one with the natural world.

  3. I used to run a lot -- round and round and round. 10,000 metres on the track means a lot of going round. But in the end there's a result - as there is with a kora. Related activities, perhaps?

  4. Surely, Charles - maybe especially if you weren't totally dedicated to being the record-breaking champ of champs?