Dennis Bradford

389 Posts



The purpose of this post is to encourage you to wonder about mountains (alps).

Why? Aren’t alps merely huge, dead objects that just sit there?

Actually, no, which is why they are worth wondering about.

Wondering about anything requires stopping the mind from automatically conceptualizing it.  It is only by peeling away layers of deadening concepts that the freshness and vitality of wondering becomes possible.

As an aid to beginning that process, please consider what alps are made of.

Here’s a lovely, short poem about that by the great Japanese master Dogen that is one of my favorite poems. It’s entitled “Snow” [from Moon in a Dewdrop:  Writings of Zen Master Dogen]:

“All my life false and real, right and wrong tangled.  /  Playing with the moon, ridiculing wind, listening to birds . . .  /  Many years wasted seeing the mountain covered with snow.  / This winter I suddenly realize snow makes a mountain.”

What? How could that be? Alps are snow? What kind of an identity (two-in-one) judgment is that?

Actually, it’s a very interesting one. Dogen, though, pushes it much farther. [The remaining direct quotations from Dogen here are all from Zen Sourcebook.]

Alps are actualizations of the ancient Buddha way. To use the terminology I prefer, they are manifestations or forms of Being, which is formless.

Since the True Self is Being, they are the self: Alps ” have been the self since before form arose.”

They are “emancipation-realization.” This phrase denotes awakening (enlightenment, satori, kensho), which Dogen identifies with practicing (doing zazen meditation).

For those of us ordinary humans who are still dreaming, our lives do not flow; by way of contrast, the lives of sages and those who are wise flow.

So it must be that, since alps are us and since we must engage in emancipation-realization or practice-enlightenment in order for our lives to flow, alps must practice-enlightenment.

What is an alp’s practice? It is their flow, the flow of the alps. What is that?

It is the alps’ walking and traveling on water: “Green mountains master walking and eastern mountains master traveling on water. Accordingly, these activities are a mountain’s practice.”


Exactly. Since alps do not lack the qualities of alps, they “always abide in ease and always walk.”

This seems senseless! Dogen’s talking about their walking must be a strange metaphor. No: “Mountains’ walking is just like human walking.”

If you are confused, stuck to your own conceptual framework, “You should study the green mountains, using numerous worlds as your standards. You should clearly examine . . . [their] walking and your own walking.”

To study anything in depth is to study your True Self in depth. Here’s another hint: Alps ” are neither sentient nor insentient. You are neither sentient nor insentient.”

If you think in reaction, “Of course I am sentient,” you have missed the point. You do not yet understand your own nature.

“You should reflect and consider the meaning of this. If you do not learn to be free from your superficial views, you will not be free from the body and mind of an ordinary person.”

To become wise is to become free, which requires letting go of attachments to all conceptualizations (thoughts).

Do you really want freedom from the body and mind of an ordinary person or not? If so, stop limiting yourself to conceptualizations.

“Wise people and sages all have mountains as their inner chamber, as their body and mind.”

Their reality has nothing to do with whether or not alps walk or move. Their reality has nothing to do with the phenomenal world. Their reality has nothing to do with past, present, or future. “Do not view mountains from the scale of human thought.”

Detach from incessantly thinking (conceptualizing, “thoughting”). Just be thoughtlessly aware of your True Nature.

When you are, you will realize that alps “are fond of wise people and sages.” Sages are at home in them and they are at home in sages.

Alps are sages. Sages are alps.

“[E]ven though all things are liberated and not tied to anything, they abide in their own phenomenal expression.” If we only experience the phenomenal expression of alps, that’s because we are experiencing them only from within Becoming because we have not yet detached from thinking and embraced thoughtless awareness. (This doesn’t mean that thinking becomes impossible; it just means that it is not necessary always to be thinking, i.e., we become free to think or not to think.)

When we experience their noumenal expression, we are experiencing their phenomenal expression from Being.

Like all phenomena, they can be experienced as ordinary humans experience them, namely, from within Becoming, or they can be experienced as sages experience them, namely, from Being.

Ordinary humans are stuck to limited understandings, whereas sages are free from limited understandings.

Because alps have practice-realization of alps, they speak of themselves. Their freedom depends only on them. Alps are not just, as Dogen said of water, “earth, water, fire, wind, space, or consciousness . . . not forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, or mind-objects.” They are not just black, white, or colored.

Alps realize themselves through earth, water, fire, wind, space, consciousness, colors, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, and mind-objects.

Though ordinary humans never do, sages, too, realize themselves in exactly the same way. Since Being is empty (no-thing-ness), sages realize themselves through earth, water, fire, wind, space, consciousness, colors, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, and mind-objects.

“Accordingly, all mountains ride on clouds and walk in the sky.”


As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please pass it along.

Related posts:  many posts in the spiritual well-being category related to practicing.

Recommended resource:  Zen Sourcebook:  Traditional Documents from China, Korea, and Japan, ed. by Stephen Addiss (Indianapolis:  Hackett, 2008).


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