On this day in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay Sherpa made the first recorded ascent of Mount Everest. After hours of trudging through the snow and gasping in the thin air, it must have been an extraordinary experience to find themselves at the highest point on the planet.
Nevertheless, the two men would have made the climb with very different mindsets. The highest mountain in the world was named ‘Mount Everest’ in 1865 after the British Surveyor General of India, Sir George Everest, and for Hillary as a New Zealander it represented an immense physical challenge to be conquered. The synchronicity with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II seemed perfect.
In contrast, Tenzin Norgay grew up in the shadow of the same mountain knowing it by its Tibetan name Chomolungma, which means ‘holy mother’. This suggests a totally different relationship: not one of conquest, but of nurturing and love, respect and mutual dependence. No wonder the Sherpas are so dismayed to see the mother of all mountains now being treated as an extreme sport, its slopes covered with the litter of wealthy climbing parties.
The Buddha put great stress on the significance of names. We have a natural tendency to assume that the name we use is the only name – not to mention the right name – and as soon as we mentally label something good or bad, or friend or foe, we often blind ourselves to any other possibility. The more we can take off our mental straightjackets, and be open to other points of view, the more there is to learn, discover and enjoy.
Let’s pray that each of us today can find an opportunity to look at something or somebody with fresh eyes, in a way that will bring more respect and understanding into the world.