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Record Type: Review   ID: 216

Sacred Mountains of the World

Bernbaum, Edwin

Many people have recorded EEs and EHEs associated with seeing, being among, and climbing mountains. Additionally, certain mountains throughout the world are traditionally considered to be sacred places. Bernbaum has written the definitive work on sacred mountains. In fact, in writing about what one might call "the exceptional mountain experience," Bernbaum depicts how mountain climbing can take the climber inside the Experiential Paradigm. "When we climb to the summit of a mountain, we feel ourselves at the center of the world....In experiencing ourselves at its center, we become aware of the boundless nature of the universe" (p. 255, p. 256). He adds that this experience gives us the knowledge "of the world and ourselves as greater and more mysterious than we had ever imagined." This experience of vastness allows us to realize that it is "too vast to possess or control," which in turn gives way to "a humility that frees us from the petty demands" of the ego (pp. 255-256). Moreover, "this sense of vastness allows us to find the center within ourselves, we become aware of it in all people and things....Seeing the center everywhere awakens a sense of the sacred in everyone and everything....We feel a spontaneous love and respect for people and things just as they are" (p. 256). The pictures alone are an inspiration. Bernbaum himself provides an excellent summary of the book in the preface, from which an extract follows.

"Because of the broad appeal and fascination of the subject, I wrote this book for a general audience as well as for specialists..The Introduction prepares the reader for the journey that follows. Drawing on experiences of people in both traditional and modern societies, it examines the physical and spiritual qualities that give mountains their extraordinary power to awaken a sense of the sacred. Part I explores the rich, diverse significance of sacred mountains in cultures throughout the world. Each chapter introduces the mountains in a particular region and their meaning to those who revere them, then focuses on a few representative peaks. Some of these peaks—Olympus, Fuji, Sinai, and Kailas—are well known. Others such as Kaata in Bolivia and Muztagh Ata in western China are less famous and have been chosen for a variety of reasons: religious and historical importance, geographic balance, illustration of themes, mountaineering significance, bearing on environmental issues, and idiosyncratic personal interest....Part II, The Power and Mystery of Mountains, begins with a chapter identifying the major themes found in traditional views of sacred mountains—themes such as mountain as center of the cosmos, abode of the gods, and place of revelation—and establishes an approach to understanding how their symbolism awakens a sense of the sacred. The next chapter draws on this approach to take a fresh look at well-known works of literature and art to see how they use mountain imagery to transform our perceptions of reality. The following chapter explores the spiritual dimensions of mountaineering. The final chapter examines the ways in which the contemplation of sacred mountains can help us to appreciate the value of wilderness, treat the environment with care and respect, and live deeper, more meaningful loves."

Publisher Information:Berkeley: University of California Press. With a new Preface. (Original work published 1990 by Sierra Club), 1997. xxiii + 291p. Chapnotes: 259-273; Ind: 278-291p. 1 map; 127 photos; Sel. Bibl: 274-277
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