A great mass
of black rock soaring to over 22,000
feet, Mt. Kailash has the unique distinction
of being the world's most venerated
holy place at the same time that it
is the least visited. The supremely
sacred site of four religions and billions
of people, Kailash is seen by no more
than a few thousand pilgrims each year.
This curious fact is explained by the
mountain's remote location in far western
Tibet. No planes, trains or buses journey
anywhere near the region and even with
rugged over-land vehicles the journey
still requires weeks of difficult, often
dangerous travel. The weather, always
cold, can be unexpectedly treacherous
and pilgrims must carry all the supplies
they will need for the entire journey.
long have people been coming to this sacred mountain? The answers are
lost in antiquity, before the dawn of Hinduism, Jainism or Buddhism.
The cosmologies and origin myths of each of these religions speak of
Kailash as the mythical Mt. Meru, the Axis Mundi, the center and birth
place of the entire world. The mountain was already legendary before
the great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were written.
Indeed, Kailash is so deeply embedded in the myths of ancient Asia that
it was perhaps a sacred place of another era, another civilization, now
long gone and forgotten.
Hindus believe Mt.Kailash to be the
abode of Lord Shiva. Like many of the Hindu gods, Shiva is a character
of apparent contradictions. He at once the Lord of Yoga and therefore
the ultimate renunciate ascetic, yet he is also the divine master of
Tantra, the esoteric science that regards sexual union as the most
perfect path to spiritual enlightenment. According to legend, immortal
Shiva lives atop Kailash where he spends his time practicing yogic
austerities, making joyous love with his divine consort, Parvati, and
smoking ganja, the sacred herb known in the west as marijuana, Hindus
do not interpret Shiva's behaviors as contradictory however, but rather
see in him a deity who has wisely integrated the extremes of human
nature and thus transcended attachment to any particular, and limited,
way of being. For a Hindu, to make the arduous pilgrimage to Kailash
and have the darshan (divine view) of Shiva's abode is to attain
release from the clutches of ignorance and delusion.
sacred to other religions as well. The Jains call the mountain Astapada
and believe it to be the place where Rishaba, the first of the
twenty-four Tirthankaras attained liberation. Followers of Bon, Tibet's
pre-Buddhist, shamanistic religion, call the mountain Tise and believe
it to be the seat of the Sky Goddess Sipaimen. Additionally, Bon myths
regard Tise as the sight of a legendary 12th century battle
of sorcery between the Buddhist sage Milarepa and the Bon shaman Naro
Bon-chung. Milarepa's defeat of the shaman displaced Bon as the primary
religion of Tibet, firmly establishing Buddhism in its place. While the
Buddha is believed to have magically visited Kailash in the 5th century BC, the religion of Buddhism only entered Tibet, via Nepal and India, in the 7thcentury AD. Tibetan Buddhists call the mountain Kang Rimpoche, the
'Precious One of Glacial Snow', and regard it as the dwelling place of
Demchog (also known as Chakrasamvara) and his consort, Dorje Phagmo.
Three hills rising near Kang Rimpoche are believed to be the homes of
the the Bodhisatvas Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Avalokiteshvara.