Spiritual Ascent And Mountaineering


Spiritual Ascent and Mountaineering
Sohan Singh, England

I have worked as a temporary instructor at Outward-bound Mountain School in Kenya. I also have a deep interest in Gurbani and disseminating the wisdom therein with the whole humanity.

So let us have a look at mountaineering, and endeavour to compare and contrast it with spiritual ascent or ascent of the mind.

The progression through the 5 spiritual realms (khands) in Jap ji can be likened to climbing Mt. Everest up to a certain extent.

I have not attempted Mt Everest, but I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain (19,364 ft.) twice, Mt. Kenya (17057 ft.) twice, and Hemkunt (approx. 15,000 ft.) in the Himalayas twice.

Interest in climbing a mountain is aroused when you see a mountain or hear stories about mountaineers climbing the mountains. Once your interest in mountains is piqued, you want to attempt the feat.

It is somewhat similar when a person starts asking: Why am I here on this planet?  The reflection or the effort to answer the aforementioned question leads to more existential questions.

If possible, you attend an outward mountain School and learn more about climbing mountains. You perform exercises/activities to toughen up your mind and body.

One of the activities all the students had to do at the mountain school was jump into a swimming pool at 6.00am. It was mandatory. The water would be freezing, but no excuses were accepted.

In other words, you make an effort to go up your intended mountain.

Some Guidelines
My colleague and adviser, Dr Jaswant Singh, who is also a major driving force behind AWAT Team has asked me to write some guidelines or steps that a person should take before attempting a mountain, especially the higher ones.

Perhaps, he wants the esteemed readers of Gurbani Word of The Day to take some interest in mountaineering!

The preparation would vary, depending on the mountain you are attempting. However, five most essential steps would be:

  1. Know the mountain you want to attempt. Read as much about it as possible.
  2. Try to be as physically fit as possible. (Maybe one day, we shall share some articles on fitness).
  3. Get used to carrying a heavy rucksack. When visiting Hemkunt Sahib, you don’t need to carry anything. However, it takes five days to go up Mt. Kilimanjaro – three to climb and two to descend, and you have to carry all the food you need on the mountain, clothes, and a sleeping bag in your backpack.
  4. If possible, before attempting a very high mountain, practise on low mountains.
  5. Remember what Sir Edmund Hillary – who was the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest with Tenzing Norgay, in 1953 said: “It is not a mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”     

Lessons from Mountaineering:
You have toughened your mind and body and are physically ready to do the mountain. However, a wise mountain climber will also acknowledge that it is not enough. You can fall anytime and sustain injuries, or you may not be able to survive at high altitude.

I have seen many very fit people giving up in such circumstances. It must be acknowledged that yours truly got hurt twice, once on Mt. Kilimanjaro and the second time on Mt. Kenya, but with God’s grace managed to carry on.

Whatever the setbacks, you keep high morale (stay in charrdee kalaa) by being resilient and gritty. You keep your resolve to go up the peak of the mountain. 

In the same vein, in our spiritual endeavour, we can also slip sometimes, but we should take that as a temporary setback only and not something as catastrophic and give up the effort.

You accept the mistake, take responsibility for it and learn lessons from it. If you have hurt somebody physically, mentally or psychologically, make amends and ask for forgiveness.

asee khatae bahut kamaavadae ant na paaraavaar.
hari kirapaa kar kaae bakhas laaehu hau paapee vadd gunehagaar.

We, humans, make so many mistakes; there is no end or limit to them.
O Divine, please be merciful and forgive us; we are transgressors, great offenders. -GGS: 1416

However, one big difference is that after reaching a mountain, you feel a sense of pride and exultation. It is a temporary feeling, as after five minutes or so on the peak of the mountain, you start thinking of returning back to the base or the ground level.

In the spiritual realm, however, when you attain a higher state akin to the realm of truth (sach khand) in Jap ji, there is no descending.

It might be interesting here to have a look at the five khands (five spiritual realms) in Jap Ji.

Dharam Khand (The Realm of Recognising the Spiritual Duty)
Ratee rutee thitee vaar…

The Divine created nights, days, seasons and occasions. He created, wind, water, fire and nether lands. He placed living beings of different colours and habits. Thus, He established the earth as a place to practise righteousness. -GGS: 7

The question that a human being asks, “Why have I come to this earth?” is answered in these verses – that he or she has taken human form to perform virtuous acts and to transform themselves into better human beings  This stage is termed as dharam khand.

The person then starts making an effort to move to the next stage, to obtain divine knowledge.

Giaan Khand (The Realm of Knowledge)
Kaeteeaa surtee saevak kaetae…

Countless are people of higher consciousness, countless devoted to service. There is no limit to God’s bounds. Divine light shines in the realm of knowledge. In it, there is the joy of higher spiritual flavours. GGS: 7

This is the second stage in the journey towards spiritual advancement. When the mortal’s mind or heart begins to detach itself from trivial worldly pursuits, it thinks of spiritual matters.

This stage represents a marked widening of the individual’s understanding, chiefly due to a developing appreciation of the manifold qualities of the creation and of the significance of great figures that have preceded them.
One gets pleasure in seeing the unlimited nature and creation of the Creator. Some commentators believe that such an understanding promotes a weakening of the individual’s self-centered nature. 

Saram Khand (The Realm of Spiritual Effort)
Saram khand kee baanee roop…

The keynote of the spiritual endeavour is the beauty. The most exquisite forms are fashioned there. None can describe them fully. Were one to try they would rue the attempt because the person is not capable of describing it. Their inner consciousness, intellect, and understanding are refashioned. -GGS: 8

The devotee or seeker tries to understand Gurbani and put the teachings into practice. One moulds one’s life and mind on lines of Naam – the conscious awareness of the Divine and cultivating moral qualities.

The devotee gets up at the ambrosial hour to recite Gurbani before dawn. This is the stage when one discards one’s own egoistical intellect and favours the wisdom contained in Gurbani. Spiritual efforts infuse divine realisation.

All this gives a divine beauty to one. The mind and intellect are purified, which leads to a new type of spiritual understanding. When a devotee embarks on this journey of spiritual effort, one has reached the state of saram khand.

As the mind is subjugated, there is a developing sense of joy and peace. One’s mind remains absorbed in putting into practice the guidance contained in Gurbani.
In short, the spiritual journey starts with recognising one’s spiritual duties, with questioning oneself as to why we are on this planet, which arouses the quest for divine knowledge. The divine knowledge contained in Gurbani leads to the effort to develop spiritually. This could lead to the realm of grace.

Karam Khand (The Realm of Grace)
Karam khand kee bani jore…

In the realm of grace, spiritual power reigns supreme. That is, with the Almighty’s grace, the individual becomes so powerful that evil passions or vices lose their influence over one. In this domain dwell the brave and mighty that are endowed with the spirit of the all-pervading Divine. -GGS: 8

In the fourth stage, the devotees or seekers are detached from material possessions and the worldly play (Maya) and are absorbed in remembering the Divine all the time and first imbibing and then cultivating the godly qualities.

With the Almighty’s grace, the individual is ready to ascend to the final stage. The emphasis is on recognising the ‘givens’ by Nature and working in tune with Nature to receive divine grace.

Karam khand is the state of the mind where it attributes everything to the Creator. The Divine grace enables it to enter the abode of the eternal truth or to attain sach khand.

Sach Khand (The Realm of Truth)
Sach khand vasaae Nirankaar…

In the Realm of Truth dwells the Formless One who watches over His creation and blesses all with His gracious glance. -GGS: 8

Sach khand is the fifth and final stage of spiritual ascent, or the ultimate goal and the purpose of human existence. It is the stage where you begin to experience the existence of the Almighty within you, and not as some distant and external Being.

So are you ready for mountaineering or willing to ascend the higher spiritual realms?




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