Divine mountain or the mountain of the divine?

The high Himalayan mountains have been known to the locals around them as the abodes of the divine. For example, Mt. Jumolhari and Mt. Tshering Khang (the two left peaks in the picture) are considered the abodes of Jumo Tashi Tsheringma, the longevity and prosperity deity revered in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Mountain dwellers, all over the Himalayas, especially those living in high altitudes such as the Sherpas in Nepal and the Layaps in Bhutan make daily offerings to either appease them or seek her blessing. Likewise, other high peaks and even lower mountains are the spiritual sanctuaries of a pantheon of Vajrayana Buddhist gods and deities making the region highly sacred.

In recent years, many Tibetologists and anthropologists working in the Himalayas are questioning this concept based on the local terminology and the related translation. Some argue that something has been lost in translation since the “mountain deity” does not appear in any scriptures in Tibetan Buddhism. Instead there are many references to “divine mountains” such as lhari (ལྷ་རི་). 

The question is: are some of the mountains deities themselves?

To cite an example, the three sacred mountains in the main Haa valley, in western #Bhutan, locally known as Meri Puensum (Three Divine Siblings) are revered as the embodiments of the three bodhisattvas of Jampelyang (Manjushri), Chana Dorje (Vajrapani), and Chenrizig (Avalokiteshvara).

Divine mountains and the mountains of the divine are, therefore, two different concepts altogether and proper understanding of this concept is key to understanding on how traditional communities in Bhutan and the Himalayan region make sense of the places. In fact the conventional wisdom of the local respect for nature, and living in harmony with environment is drawn from this belief, which if contested or discounted would have profound impact on the environment itself.

Coming back to translation, for instance, “Tsen” is translated as “mountain deity”. The translation does not hold when it is translated back to Dzongkha, which is necessary for a translation to hold water.

The Three Siblings Mountains of Haa (Photo: http://www.sangayphuntshog.com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s