Thinking Axis Mundi – Thinking Mountain Still Sitting

St. Mary’s Church, Outhgill, Mallerstang

This image of a pillar does not match the description in this article however I think it is meant to represent it.

Tonight I’d like to think the pillar we see here on the church kneeler symbolizes what we call mountain still sitting. For the next couple of weeks I will be publishing more photographs of kneelers from St. Mary’s church in the Mallerstang valley, Cumbria. There will be quotes about mountains, and pillars and stupas and the like. If you have a quote or poem you would like to offer into the pot, I’ll use what I can. Please send what you have via the contact form or directly if you have my email address.

In her writings my teacher Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett referred to the iron pillar which penetrates the universe (that might not be an exact quote), spoken of from her own experience of meditation. It was her way of talking about mountain still sitting written about by Zen Master Dogen. Let’s sit!

Read also Axis Mundi for wider understanding and appreciation.

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4 thoughts on “Thinking Axis Mundi – Thinking Mountain Still Sitting”

  1. What an interesting Wiki article. I’ve come across the ideas before but not the name of this archetype – Axis Mundi. For my own part whenever I see the same idea coming up in different ways or presentations I tend to think ‘ ah yes…’ some truth there. All ‘fingers pointing at the moon’ of course but good to get a glimpse of the finger and possibly the moon! And this point (of awareness) both cutting through all dualisms whilst recognizing them; the Cartesian geometry (up/down, front/back, left right) used to point to the whole, a place where inside and out and any direction merge. Stillness and silence right through all the motion and noise.

    Pillars of course often represent big egos and I recall some line about the demise of every great civilization being marked by fallen Doric column!

    Time for dinner now then a rest before some zazen, I wonder how much moon that might reveal.

  2. I’m ambivalent about Wikipedia. Its convenience as a first port of call – instant authoritativeness with [citations] – encourages trust. True, there are excellent articles, many no doubt, written by experts of academic standing for which “group-mind” or “crowd sourcing” is no substitute. But Axis Mundi starts from the premise of a believer: thus “The symbol originates in a natural and universal psychological perception: that the spot one occupies stands at ‘the center of the world.’ This space serves as a microcosm of order because it is known and settled. Outside the boundaries of the microcosm lie foreign realms that, because they are unfamiliar or not ordered, represent chaos, death or night.” (The citation is to Eliade). Well, maybe. Individually I might believe I stand at a privileged position at the ‘centre of the world’, but so does everyone else, and it’s a belief I think is false and at the root of many of our problems. To assert as fact “At this point travel and correspondence is made between higher and lower realms”, simply irritates me. Travel between realms? What does that mean? The thirty-four citations supporting Axis Mundi are primarily restricted to two authors, Mircea Eliade (almost half) and Judith Dupré. Most of the remaining references are to the “The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols”. So, maybe we’d be better off reading Eliade in the original rather than Wikipedia. At least we would have a context.

    You might guess that I have a problem in leaving my critical faculties at the door of the zendo. I’m still looking for the middle-way.

    In gassho

  3. Need people like you Walter to keep us on our toes, keep me on my toes. Yes of course it is important to exercise intellectual rigor. Wikipedia is easy but I don’t swallow what is there. I perhaps am unwise to quote it and would better leave people to do there own looking around. I will keep that in mind from now on. Bottom line I was just kinda interested to see what people believe, amazing what people can believe!

    Coming back to the post though, there IS something about formal meditation that is particular – the problems come when theories and beliefs are built on that, the encounter with that. That would be our very human and ever present urge to make sense of and explain, experience. I think, without much reflection, that the Axis mundi is simply an attempt at an explanation, to make sense of mystery. Perhaps.

    Please forgive me for my lack of intellectual rigor.

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