Mountain landscapes have instilled awe and inspired the literature of poets and priests.
Milarepa, Tibetan yogi
The following material is presented as an interdisciplinary unit for teachers of earth science and creative writing.
Objective: To provide an opportunity for middle school students to view images of world mountains identified as sacred, research a mountain of choice, then write poetry and/or prose inspired by their selected mountain.
Directions: In class, read selected poetry and prose written about sacred mountains. (to view sample writing, scroll to bottom of page) Students will use the photo gallery to select an image of choice, then compose a poem or descriptive writing composition inspired by the image. As a follow up activity, students may conduct further research about their mountain.
To get started, visit:
Browse the sacred mountains link in the photo gallery:
Photo Gallery - Sacred Mountains of the World
Sacred Mountains - Questions to ponder...
1. What do all sacred mountains have in common?
2. Why are some people compelled to climb to the top of mountains? What is the appeal?
(reverence vs. conquest)
Glacier, Ecuador, Andes Mountains
Mount Everest, Tibet
3. Why are some mountains considered sacred and others not?
Mount Zion as seen from Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
4. What kinds of religious practices and rituals are associated with sacred mountains?
Pilgrimage: prostration, circumambulation, Mount Kailash, Tibet
5. In what ways have people superimposed human qualities on natural surroundings?
Mount Meru, Mandala
Mount Kailash, Tibet
6. Mount Kailash in Tibet is considered by some to represent the axis mundi of mythical Mount Sumeru. This axis mundi symbolizes the central axis, or backbone of the universe. How might the statements, "as above, so below" and "stairway to heaven" reflect the human propensity to connect heaven and earth?
Mount Kailash, Tibet
Stupa (chorten), Tibet
Jain Temple, Mount Abu, ceiling mandala
7. Why are mountains a source of inspiration to artists, poets, hikers and yogis?
Hiker, Mount Fuji, Japan
Painting, Mount Fuji, Japan
8. Identify a place in nature that has special meaning to you? Why is it special?
Mountain Poetry and Prose
(excerpts from E. Bernbaum, Sacred Mountains of the World, Sierra Club, 1990)
Mountain, thou art always the refuge of the good who practice the law of righteousness, the hermits of holy deeds, who seek out the road that leads to above. It is by thy grace, Mountain, that priests, warriors, and commoners attain to above and devoid of pain walk with the gods. King of mountains, great peak, refuge of hermits, treasury of sacred places, I must go, farewell.
The prophecy of Buddha says most truly,
That this snow mountain is the navel of the world,
A place where the snow leopards dance.
The mountain top, the crystal-like pagoda,
Is the white and glistening palace of Demchog...
This is the great place of accomplished yogis;
Here one attains transcendent accomplishments,
There is no place more wonderful than this,
There is no place more marvelous than here.
In the mountains all is pure, all is calm;
All complication is cut off.
Rare are they who know to listen;
Happy are they who possess wisdom.
Lo! There towers the lofty peak of Fuji,
From between Kai and wave-washed Suruga,
The clouds of heaven dare not cross it,
Nor the birds of the air soar above it,
The snows quench the burning fires,
The fires consume the falling snow.
It baffles the tongue, it cannot be named,
It is mysterious.
Let the mountains bear peace to the people,
The little hills, through righteousness.
I shall lift up mine eyes unto the mountains.
And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.
Ti-ts'ang asked Fa-yen, "Where are you going?
Fa-yen said, "Around on pilgrimage."
Ti-ts'ang said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"
Fa-yen said, "I don't know."
Ti-ts'ang said, "Not knowing is nearest."
- A Zen Mondo
The birds have vanished down the sky;
Now the last cloud drains away,
We sit together, the mountain and me;
Until only the mountain remains.
- Li Po
The winds are hushed, the stars are pale,
The mournful moon puts on her veil,
Out of the bottomless abyss of Mount Hekla,
Rise a miserable cry and wail.
"Something hidden. Go and find it.
Go and look behind the Ranges -
Something lost behind the Ranges.
Lost and waiting for you. Go!"
The Explorer - Rudyard Kipling, 1898
Atlas was all at once a mountain, beard
And hair were forests and his arms and shoulders
Were mountain ridges; what had been his head
Was the peak of a mountain, and his bones were
As I looked I could see great mountains with rocks and forests on them. I could see all colors of light flashing toward the four quarters. From the top of a high mountain, in sorrow I am sending a voice, O six powers of the earth, hear me in sorrow. With tears I am sending a voice. May you behold me and hear me that my people may live again. -Black Elk
Knock-kneed eater of land,
O Pele, god Pele!
O Pele, god Pele!
Burst forth now! Burst forth!
Launch a bolt from the sky!
Let thy lightnings fly!
It was cold. Space, the air we breathed, the yellow rocks were deadly cold. There was something ultimate, passionless, and eternal in this cold. It came to us as a single constant note from the depths of space; we stood on the very boundary of life and death.
Up high all the birds have flown away,
A single cloud drifts off across the sky.
We settle down together, never tiring of each other,
Only the two of us, the mountain and I.
Now, write your own poem...
Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan
Huang Shan, China
Denali Sunrise, Alaska
Mount Shasta, California
Offering to Pele, Hawaii
Glastonbury Tor, Isle of Avalon, England
Aborigine meditation, Ayers Rock, Australia
Kilamanjaro, Kenya, Africa
Machu Picchu, Andes, Peru
Tsunami, Mount Fuji, Japan
Prayer flags for Khumbila, Tibet
Glacier Meditation, Chomolungma (Mount Everest)