An account of the dwellers upon high mountains would be incomplete without some reference to a widespread belief prevailing in Hindustan in regard to authorities and others, who are said to dwell in inaccessible places, and who are now and then seen by natives. It is true that all over India are to be found Fakirs of much or little sanctity, and of greater or less accumulation of dirt, but the natives all tell of Fakirs, as many of us would call them, who dwell alone in places remote from the habitation of man, and who are regarded with a feeling of veneration very different from that which is accorded to the ordinary traveling devotee.
The Hindu has an intense religious nature and says that devotion to religious contemplation is one of the highest walks in life. He therefore looks upon the traveling ascetic as one who by means of renunciation has gained a great degree of advancement toward final bliss, and he says that there are other men who are farther advanced in this line of practice. These others finding the magnetism or exhalations from ordinary people and from places where persons congregate to be inimical to further progress, have retired to spots difficult to find even when sought for, and not at all likely to be stumbled upon by accident. For that reason they select high mountains, because the paths worn by man in going from place to place on earth are always by that route which is the shortest or most easy of travel, just as electricity by a law of its being will always follow the line of least resistance and quickest access.
And so English and French travelers tell of meeting from time to time with natives who repeat local traditions and lore relating to some very holy man who lives alone upon some neighboring mountain, where he devotes his time in contemplating the universe as a whole, and in trying to reach, if he may, final emancipation.
The name given to these men is “mahatma,” meaning, in English, “great souls,” because it is claimed that they could not renounce the world and its pleasures unless they possessed souls more noble and of greater dynamic force than the souls of the mere ordinary man, who is content to live on through ages of reincarnations round the great wheel of the universe, awaiting a happy chanceful deliverance from the bond of matter some day.
That great traveler, the Abbe Huc, who went over a large part of Thibet and put his wonderful experiences, as a Catholic missionary there, into an interesting book of travels, refers often to these men with a different name. But he establishes the fact beyond dispute that they are believed to live as related, and to possess extraordinary power over the forces of nature, or as the learned and pious Abbe would say, an intimate and personal combination with the devil himself, who in return does great and miraculous works for them.
The French traveler Jacolliot also attests to the wide extent of the belief in these extraordinary men of whose lesser disciples he claims to have seen and have had perform for him extraordinary and hair raising feats of magic, which they said to him they were enabled to do by the power transmitted to them from their guru or teacher, one of the Mahatmas, a dweller on some high mountain.
It seems they assert that the air circulating around the tops of mountains of great altitude is very pure and untainted with the emanations from animals or man and that, therefore, the Mahatmas can see spiritually better and do more to advance their control over nature by living in such pure surroundings. There is indeed much to be said in favor of the sanitary virtue of such a residence. Upon a raw, moist day, down upon the level of our cities, one can easily see, made heavily and oppressively visible, the steamy exhalation from both human beings and quadrupeds. The fact that upon a fine day we do not see this is not proof that on those days the emanations are stopped. Science declares that they go on all the time, and are simply made palpable by their natural process of the settling of moisture upon cold and damp days.
Among Europeans in India all stories respecting the dwellers upon high mountains to whom we are referring are received in two ways. One is that which simply permits it to be asserted that such men exist, receiving the proposition with a shrug of either indifference or lack of faith. The other, that one which admits the truth of the proposition while wondering how it is to be proved. Many officers of the English army have testified to a belief in these traditions and many to not only belief, but also to have had ocular demonstrations of their wonderful powers. While the other side is simply represented by those who are unable to say that they ever had any proof at all.
The Hindu says that his ancient sages have always lived in these high places, safe from contamination and near the infinite. It is related that the pilgrims who annually do the round of pilgrimage through the sacred places of India, sometimes penetrate as far as a certain little temple on the sides of the sky-reaching Himalayas, and that in this is a brass tablet of great age stating that that is the highest point to which it is safe to go; and, that from there one can now and then see looking down at you from the cold and distant cliff still higher up, men of grave and venerable aspect. These are said by some to be the Mahatmas or great souls, dwelling up there alone and unsought. In Thibet the story can be heard any time of the Sacred Mountain where the great souls of the earth meet for converse and communion.
The Hindu early saw that his conquerors, the Dutch and English, were unable as well as incapable of appreciating his views of devotion and devotees, and therefore maintained a rather exasperating silence and claim of ignorance on such matters. But here and there when a listener, who was not also a scoffer, was found, he unbosomed himself, and it is now generally admitted by all well informed Anglo-Indians and Indian scholars that there is a universal belief in these Mahatmas, or dwellers upon high mountains, extending from one end of India to the other throughout every caste.
For the Christian it ought to be significant here, that when Jehovah commanded Moses to attend him for instruction and to receive the law, he did not set the place of meeting in the plain, but designated Mount Sinai, a high place of awful ruggedness, and more or less inaccessible. Then in that high mountain he hid Moses in the cleft of the rock while he passed by; and from that high mountain, now roll and reverberate through Christendom the thunders of the Judaic law. All through the Semitic book, this peculiar connection of great events and men with high mountains is noticeable. Abraham, when he was ordered to sacrifice Isaac, received command to proceed to Mount Moriah. Sadly enough he set forth, not acquainting either the human victim or his family with his determination, and traveled some weary days to reach the appointed spot.
The thoughtful man will see the indicia of a unity of plan and action in nearly all these occurrences. The sacrifice of Isaac could with great ease and perfect propriety have been offered on the plain, but Abraham is made to go a long distance in order to reach the summit of a high mountain. And when he reached it, made his preparations, and piously lifted the fatal blade; he was restrained, and his son restored to him.
Passing rapidly through long centuries from the great patriarch down to Jesus of Nazareth, we find him preaching his most celebrated sermon not in the synagogue or at the corners of the streets, but from the mount, and from there also he distributes to the hungry multitude the loaves and fishes. Again, he is transfigured, but not in the city nor outside in view of all the people, but with two disciples he returns to the summit of a high mountain, and there the wonderful glory sat upon him. Or we watch him in the wilderness, only to see him again on a high mountain, where he resists the Arch temptation. And then, when the appointed hour for the veiling from human gaze of his earthly life is come, we have to follow him up the steep sides of the Mount Golgotha, where, in agony of body and woe of soul, with words of appealing anguish, his spirit flies to the Father.
The story of Mohammed, that world-famed descendant of Ishmael, is closely associated with high mountains. He often sought the quiet and solitude of the hills to restore his health and increase his faith. It was while he was in the wilds of Mount Hira that the Angel Gabriel appeared to him, and told him he was Mohammed, the prophet of God, and to fear not. In his youth Mohammed had wandered much upon the sides and along the summits of high ranges of mountains. There the mighty trees waved their arms at him in appeal, while the sad long traveling wind sighed pityingly through their branches, and the trembling leaves added to the force of the mighty cry of nature. Upon those mountains he was not oppressed by care or by the adverse influences of his fellows, such as kept him down when he was one merely of a lot of camel drivers. So, then, when he returned to the mountain’s clear and wide expansive view, his spiritual eyes and ears heard more than the simple moaning of the wind and saw greater meaning than unconscious motion in the beckoning of the trees. There he saw the vision of the different heavens, peopled by lovely houris, garlanded with flowers, and musical with the majestic tones of the universe; and then, too, he saw handed to him the sword with which he was to compel all people to bow to Allah and his prophet.
The countries of all the earth are full of similar traditions. In South America, Humboldt heard the story of the wonderful people who are said to dwell unfound among the inaccessible Cordilleras and stern traveler though he was, he set out to find some trace of them. He went so far as to leave after him a fragment of testimony of his belief that somewhere in those awful wilds a people could easily live, and perhaps did.
It was from a high mountain where he had long lived, that Peter the Hermit rushed down upon Europe with his hordes of Crusaders, men, women and children, to wrest the holy land from the profaning hand of the Saracen; and the force and fury of the feelings that inspired William Tell were drawn in upon the tops of his native high mountain, to whom upon his return, he cried:
Ye crags and peaks,
I am with you once again.
Japan, the highly civilized country of Islands so long buried from European sight, and Korea, which has only just partly opened a door of communication, have always venerated a high mountain. This is called Fujiyama. They say that it can be seen from any part of the world and they regard it as extremely sacred. Its top is cold and covered with snow, while round its base the corn waves to the touch of the zephyr and the flowers bloom.
The love for this mountain is so great that it is pictured on their china, in their paintings, and reproduced wherever possible, whether in mural decoration or elabings. Its sacredness is due to its being the residence, as they claim, of holy persons. And they also believe that thorated carvere is, too, a spiritual Fujiyama, whose base is on earth and top in heaven.