Mountain, No Mountain, Mountain

This phrase comes from the Buddhist tradition, a tradition I only know through my spiritual father, Raymond Gawronski, SJ.  So, I guess we could say that it comes from Father Ray.  “Mountain, No Mountain, Mountain”  Cosa vuol dire?–as I am learning to say a lot in Italian–What does that mean?

As I understand it, there is an everyday way of relating to people, to places, and to things.  We can go through life at the level of “mountain”: things happen, people come and go, I have “experiences”, but I do not grasp their deeper meaning, what ties everything together.

Then comes the experience of “no mountain”, the moment of enlightenment in  Buddhism, when I realize that the mountain is effervescent, that it is in reality nothing, or in the words of today’s Scriptures: “Vanity of vanity, all things are vanity”; “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

After the experience of “no mountain”, everything is different.  I still see “mountain”, but I see it in a whole new way, because I have realized that it is really nothing, that it is an illusion, that everything fades away in the end.  Somehow, I treat “mountain” differently because of the experience of “no mountain”.

That’s all well and good, but is there no difference between a Catholic/Christian and  a Buddhist?  I wrestled with this question today as I heard the First Reading from Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth.  I continued to wrestle with it as I listened to a homily in Italian that I sort of tuned out–because my Italian is not the best!  It happens to all of us, huh?

But then I looked up and saw the Cross, this Cross at this Church (San Domenico, the church where you can find St. Catherine’s head) to be precise…



And looking at the Cross, I could understand what was so unsettling about “mountain, no mountain, mountain”.  If there was ever a mountain that could be called “no mountain”, it would be the mountain of Calvary, where Christ was crucified–taking upon Himself the nothingness of sin, of death, of separation from God.

But the “no mountain” of Calvary is not only a place of death; in the place of death, Life has conquered, because Jesus rose from the dead.  And so, there is a world before Christ: “mountain”; there is Christ’s Passion and Death: “no mountain”; but there is also the Risen life of Jesus: “mountain”.

Between the first mountain and the second mountain, there is a world of difference.  It is not, as in the Buddhist tradition, the difference between reality and illusion, but the difference between death and life.  This “difference” happened for us in Baptism. “Christ’s encounter with our life, in which He began to be a real event for us, His impact with our life, in which He moved towards us and…set off an ‘invasion’ of our existence, is called Baptism.” (Father Luigi Giussani)

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with God in Christ. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.”

There is such a thing as a Christian “contemptus mundi”, contempt of the world, but it is not the same thing as the Buddhist “mountain, no mountain, mountain”.  The Christian can leave the world behind because he has found something better, not because the world is an illusion.  The Christian can gladly enter Christ’s “death”, in the many ways He asks us to die everyday and at the end of our days, because there is a promise of Risen Life, because everyday is the promise of Him.

We beg that we may continue to encounter this Christ, so that the “mountain” of our world may truly be the place where we see His victory over death happen again and again.


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