This wake-up call from Rene Daumal’s unfinished book, Mount Analogue, shocks us out of our habitual tracks, make us question again where we are going and what matters most. It also reminds us that questions are more important than answers —because they lead us to better questions.
This extraordinary little book about the search for a mysterious mountain that connects earth with heaven may no longer be on spiritual seekers’ reading list, but in my youth we were all reading it, talking about it, marveling at its powerful central idea — that there is another world, another dimension both incredible and plausible, if we can find our way to it.
This Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing (the secondary title) tells the story of a search for an island dominated by an enormous mountain whose “summit must be inaccessible, but its base accessible to human beings as nature made them.” While no sailors who may have found it have ever written home about it, or even returned from such a voyage, “The door to the invisible must be visible,” according to Daumal. As his story develops we learn that, because of the curvature of space, Mount Analogue can only be found at sunrise and sunset, at the precise moment the sun’s rays touch earth at a particular angle. As the expedition leader, Father Sogol (a play of words on logos), explains, “the ‘shell of curvature’ which surrounds the island is not absolutely impenetrable —that is, not always, not everywhere, and not for everyone.”
An important element in the success of this journey is a strong sense of the need to get there, a resounding truth. We need to care a whole lot and give time and space to this search. As for Sogol and his crew of seekers, after an interminable journey full of self-questioning and small-self doubt, arrive at a moment of giving up all they think they know: “It reached the point where we were just eight beggars, possessing nothing, who each night watched the sun sink toward the horizon.” To their amazement, one evening as the sun went down, the explorers suddenly felt their sailboat, The Impossible, sucked as if from a giant magnet, into the harbor of an unknown port town.
Their next surprise was that they were met as if they had been expected, even given a little local currency and a house to stay in while they prepared for the climb up Mount Analogue. Caught up for some days exploring the town and giving vent to their overwhelming curiosity, they finally remembered why they had come. But how to pay the mountain guides to take them up Mount Analogue? A very special form of currency was needed, called a peradam — a curved crystal harder than diamond, “having some secret and profound connection to the original nature of man.” Not very easy to find these hidden gems because you have to discover them for yourself, and “the clarity of this stone is so great and its index of refraction so close to that of air that, despite the crystal’s great density, the unaccustomed eye hardly perceives it. But to anyone who seeks it with sincere desire and true need, it reveals itself by its sudden sparkle, like that of dewdrops.”
Daumal himself was in search of peradams all his short but extraordinary life, in continual experiment until he met someone he could call his teacher, Alexandre de Salzmann, and, through him, the work of G. I. Gurdjieff. And in this last, unfinished book, he shared what he had learned.
You’ll find many significant messages in this book, such as “The path to our highest desires often lies through the undesirable.” Or mountaineering advice: “There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up. When you can no longer see, you can at least still know. . .”
And we are advised never to forget that “the demands of daily work, in which each of us had his vital role, reminded us that we had come aboard of our own free will, that we were indispensable to one another, and that we were on a ship, that is to say in a temporary habitation, destined to transport us somewhere else.”
Finally, in one of his last letters, he writes to his English translator, Roger Shattuck, “This is how I sum up for myself what I wish to convey to those who work here with me:
I am dead because I lack desire;
I lack desire because I think I possess;
I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;
Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing;
Seeing you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to be.