Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Via Ferrata

There is a term of art among climbers, from the Italian: via ferrata, which literally means "iron road." There is a certain philosophical beauty to this term, which is taken to mean a protected mountain route, pre-established by fixed cables, steps, and assists. Someone experienced has been there before us, placing help where help is needed most. We rely on this person to correctly drill the rock, carefully place the anchors, and properly establish a route we can safely follow. The concept is precisely that of Thangtong Gyalpo, who built via ferrate in the mountains of Tibet. His link bridges were in many cases made of meteorite iron, and some of them stand even to the present day.

Nobody told him where to put them. Nobody told him how. Nobody had ever gone that way before.

So... via ferrata... someone has cared enough about us to go before us -- into terra incognito -- to make our way safe. Think of this for just a moment: someone has willingly accepted risk in order to protect us along our journey. We do not know what hardships this person may have faced to accomplish that which we now take for granted. We speculate, maybe we even project something of ourselves, or we swap speculation and projections with others, but we really cannot know.


From the crags and canyons of feverish concepts of fictitious harm and fictitious benefit to fictitious beings, I hear the hollow moaning of an empty sorrow: one that relies upon artifice and misdirection to conceal itself. To the confused beings without compass, who like children hide their faces in their hands and peek between their fingers, I offer these passing thoughts -- directed from me to myself -- to use as playthings.


Why place blame on others, when clearly, we are the authors of our own confusion? When it pleases us to see a jewel we see a jewel. When we believe in imposters, then we see imposters. Our minds are constantly changing, bouncing like echoes, because of our attachment and aversion. What absurd proofs and measures we use in order to cling to the source of our bewilderment. What is the origin of this notion of enemies and friends?


All our effort, and agitated planning -- devoted to what? Thinking backward, thinking forward, while shallow vows turn to ashes in the present, burned on the pyre of our malfunctioning emotions. These experiences we claim to have... to whom do they belong?


We have so many ambitions -- to overcome this, to triumph at that, to reach a goal -- but why hinder what naturally occurs by the limits of our own machinations? There is no intrigue left you have not considered, but never any progress. Better you should clearly reveal yourself to yourself, than reveal twisted reflections of yourself to others. Do you still continue to seek some sort of pyrrhic competition? If so, who do you imagine might benefit from your dance?


To seize and hold a city, we think is something; to grasp up a town as a toy, then toss it aside, we think is another. How much greater than the conquest of a city is the conquest of carelessness, contradictions, mistakes, and transgressions. There is no better art of rule or confidence than to smash your make-believe throne and return to your natural state.


Holding on to this place or rejecting that place, saying this one is hot or that one is cold, we miss the great wonder of fields that fill immediate needs by the perfection of diversity. You cannot build the via ferrata that you, yourself have not already traveled, so why have opinions about places you have never been?


A mountain bird does not scream like a mountain cat. A mountain cat does not sing like a mountain bird. These seem to be individual natures, yet Buddha's speech is pleasing to all. If you truly understand indivisibility, how can mere words flatter or offend you? When you bestow tokens of affection for that which flatters, and plot elaborate revenge for that which offends, you are under the summons of hearer and heard.


If you do not embody fully awakened bodhicitta, your aspirations for all sentient beings, with which you begin and end your prayers, become like a knife with which you cut and proportion mercy. If compassion consists of many portions -- this one large, this one small -- then what part of your aspiration determines measure? When your aspirations ripen, I am concerned they may require effort. The knife in the hand of others is not as close to your heart as the knife you hold in your own hand.


To dally and hint with small graciousness, then expect great reward is the art of the courtesan; to quickly come and go for best offers is the scheme of a prostitute. Whores can always attract soldiers. The lowest price you set upon yourself is too high for those who do not want you; the highest price a trifle for those who do. Either way, of what are you queen when you, like a marketplace, still believe in bought and sold?


Along the via ferrata, there are no tolls, and no accomplishments. There are only travelers; their journeys step to step. This being the case, of what use whatsoever is any opinion? I am only concerned lest you fall, but if I am mistaken, and you are thoroughly experienced -- proceeding sure-footed and unselfishly, from noble intention -- then I trust as someone with such a generous heart and expansive view, you will not become upset by the clacking of a hammer upon a stubborn stone.

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3 reader comments:

Heimana said...


Thanks for sharing this with us, I'm quite found of Thangtong Gyelpo, the bridges he built and the wandering theatre he'd performed in the places he went with his disciples...
And also that you choosed a picture of the Verdon Canyon, in South France, where I spent the biggest part of my youth!
There's no hazard in this universe!
Thanks and take care!

Anonymous said...

There is the power of truth in every word.

Anonymous said...

This was written by a fully realized master.