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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rocky Mountain Buddhist Hermit.

Growing up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, (Colorado) spending decades climbing their heights and summer's backpacking into remote, mountain lakes for a week's stay, has been monumental in helping my Dharma practice.

It is also why I am so attracted to the way of the Buddhist hermit who's monastery is the mountain-tops (or forests) and his sangha the wildlife. Nature teaches you patience, paying attention, doing more with less, appreciating what you have and expecting the unexpected. In short -- it teaches you how to live in the present moment.

In the high mountains, (10,000 ft above sea level and higher) circumstances can change faster than a blink of an eye. The altitude changes everything to where you have to be alert at all times to survive. It can be warm, short's weather down in town during the month of August when we go backpacking; yet you still have to pack winter gear. You can be hiking in shorts and sunshine one minute and the next minute find yourself in a driving snowstorm. I have spent more than one August, summer's day held up inside a tent at 11,000 ft. above sea level, gazing out of the tent at a snow storm settling in around the camp site.When backpacking you take a fold-out backpacking stove (seen above, with fuel canister) to cook freeze-dried food, which isn't gourmet but when eaten after hiking up an 11,000 foot mountain, it tastes better than what any five-star chef in Paris could whip up. That's because you appreciate it more after having busted your ass-off and spent all your energy on putting one foot in front of another, slowly, up and up the mountain. It is the best food you've had all year because it is literally the only food you have. You take care not to let one drop hit the ground because each bite is precious for needed calories. Yet, how much food do we waste at home? Each bite of food is savored mindfully like it was the first meal to cross your lips in ages--even the bowls and kettle are licked clean of sustenance. It teaches you to focus on simply eating and enjoying it.

Everything in the mountains must be done with great care and attention to detail, which, again is why it's a great place to practice and live the Dharma. For example, getting a drink of water entails an entire process of purification pumps and water storage bottle balancing. It's not like flipping on the tap at home; but that water is the best water you'll ever taste because of the attention you put into gathering it. And, you see it as a lot more precious than the water you pour out of the tap at home. You find yourself rationing it out throughout the day because if you guzzle it all at lunch, then you have to hike back up to the glacier to pump some more because you don't ever want to be caught out in the wild without water.

Then there is shelter, which takes on a whole other importance when backpacking. Carrying everything you need for a week on your back means you're near-homeless and that makes you cherish your flimsy tent as though it were a palace. It makes you thankful for a warm place to sleep with some cover over-head. And you begin to realize that you don't need a big house let alone a mansion. I guess I relate so much to these hermit monks because I have lived the last two decades preparing for just such a life. One day perhaps, when, (and if) I feel the time is right, I will disappear into the mountains and build my small hut to spend the rest of my days meditating in. Not out of searching for the, "enlightenment treasure chest" but out of letting go of it.

Not to become some fabled "mountain-top guru." In fact, if you try, and come looking for me to be my student, I will shoo you away because there are much better qualified teachers than this crazy-eyed Buddhist. It's about being an anonymous being living out the rest of his days in the natural world--our true home. A home that humans have nearly abandoned for the accouterments and attachments of city life. We need to reclaim that home. I don't think everyone can or should become a mountain hermit but for me, it's in my karma. I have known from a young age that my life would find me living a life of solitude in the mountains at some point.

I will no longer feel attached to the desires of city life; and the choice will be made for me. I'll leave that city life chaos to more capable hands. At that stage of spiritual life, the best place for me would be in nature, where life exists at it's most basic foundation. A good place to leave this world from when the moment arrives.

~Peace to all beings~

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Dean Crabb said...

Nice post James. I relate a lot to what you are saying and this simplicity of living like this. I went and meditated in a cave a few weeks back which was really special. I wrote a blog post about it which you might enjoy.

Dean 'Jagaro' Crabb

Bruce said...

Good article James. I enjoyed how you explained the things that take so much work and detail, and than you can savor them because you worked hard. Rocky Mountains are on my list of places to visit eventually. Love all your posts. Keep posting.
P.S. Check out the teachings of Hsu Yun, hes a great teacher.

Nakamuras on Saipan said...

Nice blog. I've listed it on my home page. Peace to you. Ganbatte.

russian woman said...

Wishing you Happy New Year, May u always keep in heart the special beauty and cheer of New Year.

Jaky Astik said...

So wonderful are your thoughts and thus is your blog. I wish I could read your blog for the rest of my lifetime :) every morning, in the Buddhist blessings.

They call him James Ure said...

@Dean...I bet you can. I will head over and read your post on the cave meditation; sounds fascinating.

@Bruce...Thanks, I really think there is a deep connection between spirituality and nature. You are too kind that you like all the posts on here. Hsu Yun is amazing but thanks for the reminder because I've been wanting to read more of his teachings.

@Nakamuras...Thank-you. I appreciate you sharing your compliments and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

@Russian Woman...Thank-you very much. And a Happy New Year to you too!!

@Jaky...Wow, such wonderful comments. I'm humbled. I hope to fulfill those wishes. I try to present interesting and thought-provoking posts. It's nice to know that readers are enjoying them an finding insights.

Robin said...

Hi James,

Well, you won't get any argument about the desirability of the hermit path from me, although my native habit is the coastal rainforest. Have you seen Amongst White Clouds? Great movie about mountain monks (hermits). There's a review of it on my blog.

We have other points of commonality: history degree, Thich Nhat Hanh (though my formal training is Sôtô), etc.

Glad to see you online!


Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit

y8 said...

Nice post James. I relate a lot to what you are saying and this simplicity of living like this. I went and meditated in a cave a few weeks back which was really special. I wrote a blog post about it which you might enjoy.

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