This week I decided to tackle the topic of landscape and setting within The Life of Shabkar. The landscape seems to have an effect on Shabkar’s practice and is a major theme within the story. With the presentation of the photos and description of where Shabkar was from and traveled seen in lecture, it helped me understand the story and Shabkar’s experience a little more. While reading, I took note of the question discussed in class about how the setting shaped the form of religion described in The Life of Milarepa, and applied to Shabkar’s story.
The landscape itself offers opportunity for, and shapes, this practice, holding many solitary and propitious sites which cultivate both Dharmic development and the process of important dreams, which is a major factor in Shabkar’s experience.
The landscape affects Shabkar’s travels and activities. For example, the black magic cave he enters in chapter five, allows him to show resilience and overcome obstacle. Not only does the mountainous landscape allow meditation in caves, but also the story of Shabkar emphasizes the idea that certain locations hold special significance. Shabkar makes multiple remarks throughout the story linking practice to site. He stresses the importance of the “golden mountain” with great experience in chapter three. Within The Life of Shabkar, it seems like his practice requires less effort at favorable sites for meditation or practice.
As certain locations are stressed to have specific significance, pilgrimage is very important within the story. Shabkar performs it himself, as well as creates sites for future pilgrimage on his extraordinary journey.
Mountains are very important within the story. Shabkar talks about the golden mountain as stated above, but in chapter ten he also “heaven and earth interpenetrate on the mountain.” This seems to unify a spiritual aspect of practice, and the actual location of where it is being done.
I found that in many of Shabkar’s dreams, landscape played a role in the significance and meaning behind them. Shabkar dreamt of the crystal mountain, with steps of blue sapphire, the sun’s rays hit the mountain and shone light down into the valley. This dream highlights both the mountain but also explains the sunlight hitting the landscape. The crystal mountain symbolizes the teaching of Vajrayana, the sun represents his spiritual father, the steps symbolize his gradual ascent to the path and stages, and the light represents his compassion.
Shabkar’s story seemed to have multiple rainbows, as he had many visions in the sky. He would describe how the rainbows looked amongst the landscape. It seemed the rainbows linked the physical setting where the practice and visions were taking place with a more spiritual realm.
Another way in which landscape and setting is described or shown within the story is each interaction Shabkar has with nature. Shabkar talks to flowers and shares songs with a bee throughout his travels and practices. Shabkar is literally interacting with his surroundings and the nature around him.