Angkor Wat

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Here are the images that inspired me to write the reflection I presented at the Canberra Unitarian Universalist fellowship, this Sunday just (followed by a copy of the reflection).

Be United in the Reverence of Mountains
By: Krystal Collins
I have always been intrigued by concepts which unite cultures, concepts which abound language and geographic gaps, concepts regarding philosophy, religion, social structure, even everyday life activities such as cooking, building, or medicinal techniques. I believe the feeling of reverence in the presence of mountains is another such culturally uniting concept. And so, inspired by our previous service, in the spirit of Fredrick Henry Hedge, transcendentalism and unity, I would like to explore how as communities and individuals we revere mountains. Just quickly before we begin, I would like to define reverence. In this context, I liked what Wikapedia had to say; a subjective response to something excellent in a personal way. An alternative definition is; a feeling of deep respect and awe.

One story that I want to share today transpired long ago, in a place far away with a culture very nearly forgotten. In the Pacific Northwest, there is a mountain in the state of Washington called Mountain St. Helens though, to the Chinook people of the Columbia River Gorge, it was known as Louwala-Clough (or smoking mountain). I can imagine that to a Native American thousands of years ago, the site of a steaming mountain was something excellent, that begged a creation story…. And so the legend of Loowit was born.

Loowit was a beautiful young girl who held the power of fire and the leaders of two neighbouring tribes separated by the Columbia River Gorge fought over her, the Klickitat to the North and the Wala Wala to the South. Over time, Sahalie, the father of the two rival leaders became so frustrated with the violence; he turned all three parties into Mountains. Klickitat, known as Mt Adams to the North, Wy-east, known as Mt. Hood to the South, and Loowit known as Mt. St. Helens between them. Today remnants of the molten lava and rocks the two rivals have continued to hurl at each other can be seen all over the landscape. Even as a mountain, Loowit still holds fire, continually releasing smoke as a symbol for peace.

I am intrigued by this story and the many other tales and rituals held by cultures across the globe to express reverence for mountains.

At the end of August I had the opportunity to visit the world heritage site: Angkor Wat outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia or as the Khmer people pronounce it, Camboja. As the furthest and most developed city on the spice trade route to India, Angkor reached its prime in the 13thcentury. Looking at Angkor Wat, which means “Temple Mountain” in Khmer, the most central temple in the complex, one can see the elegant lotus structures ascending the columns of the outer gate, the main complex, and the central temple. What I learned from a guide book was that the decorative lotus signified something much greater.

These structures were meant to capture the geometry of a mountain, gradually gaining elevation, the tallest lotus, atop the main temple. The concept of “Temple Mountain” or reproducing a mountain in temple architecture, is a Hindu tradition meant to emulate the layout of the mythical Mount Meru. Residing on one central continent, Mount Meru is where all the gods live including the guardians of each cardinal direction. To access Mount Meru, one must climb each of the surrounding seven mountain chains and with each summit comes a higher level of enlightenment.

To reproduce this kind of imagery in the building most central to their religious practice, the Khumer people display such reverence. Feeling reverence, feeling excellence, in the presence of mountains has been a central theme in my life since childhood. Even in the most immediate sense, I adore Black Mountain, Canberra’s favourite land mark. On my daily bike ride to and from the Dinosaur Museum I often think how blessed I am to view the iconic radio tower from multiple vantage points around Lake Ginnendera. To demonstrate my appreciation for this mountain, I even climbed it in July in the pouring rain.

Soon after I arrived in Canberra, I needed to get a mountain fix and had heard Black Mountain was the one to see. I must have forgotten what season I was in (this is a common syndrome with Americans and can only be attributed to a northern hemisphere with drawl symptom) because as soon as I got to the Botanic Gardens at the base of the climb in began to rain, and it was freezing, I am not sure in Celsius but it couldn’t have been any warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In any even, I found my way up a steep paved trail which was in the earliest stages of decay, being torn up by enormous iron bark and ribbon gum tree roots. The rocks were deeply weathered and I wondered how many millions of years their atoms had been arranged before mine. I heard Magpies teasing each other with their mimicking calls. I smelled the freshness only rain can bring and I felt each drop like a tap on the shoulder from a familiar friend reminding me to enjoy the experience. Although the ambiance was ominous in the fog that enveloped all the vegetation and the tower ahead, my reverence was palpable. It was excellent.

What is it that draws us to mountains? Let’s explore this. If you are willing, close your eyes….

Remember a time when you experienced a mountain. Maybe you climbed or drove to the top. Maybe you saw the most amazing view and your perspective was for miles and miles. Perhaps you were joined by a loved one. Perhaps you were alone and enjoyed the experience in solitude. Maybe you saw a mountain from the valley floor and looked up at it. Remember what it felt like to be small compared to something big. Remember what it felt like to wonder how the mountain came to be? Touch the reverence you had in that moment. Feel the excellence. Recapture the awe. Be inspired.
In closing, I would like to extend an invitation to you:

Invite yourself to be united in the reverence captured by mountains, and other such natural things.

Know that there is a country you might not have ever been to with people you may never meet that feels the same reverence in the presence of mountains as you do. Allow yourself to take that reverence into the world with you. Be inspired by the Khmer and their ability to create a physical manifestation of their reverence: Temple Mountain. Ask yourself: What can I create in the world with my reverence?

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