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Peaks and Lamas

Peaks and Lamas, by Marco Pallis. 8 vo.; 423 pages, with illustrations and maps. London: Cassell & Co., 1939. Price 18s.

Subjectively the account of two Himalayan expeditions in 1933 and 1936, including the ascent of Riwo Pargyul (22,210 ft.) and Central Satopant’h Peak (20,060 ft.), N. E. of Simla and an attempt on Simvu (22,360 ft.) near Siniolchu, and extensive journeys over the divide beyond Simla, Darjeeling, and in Kashmir; the greater part of the book deals with the intimate contact of the writer with the lamas of several of the Buddhist monasteries visited, a contact made possible by the writer’s command of Tibetan. In almost every account of expeditions to the Himalayas, passing reference ismade to these monasteries met en route, and while the expeditions are sometimes entertained by these lamas, the reader generally derives the impression that they are difficult to approach, ignorant and dirty, and at best are to be jotted down in the diary as curiosities that were endured rather than enjoyed.

But here is a book that has enough climbing description, and certainly enough excellent illustrations, to appeal to any member of the Club but, far beyond that, the book portrays these lamas as deep thinking, unbigoted men, genuinely following a religion that has much in common with Christianity, whose tradition is, if anything, more sincere and centuries older. The insight into the fundamentals of this great Buddhist religion, centering on knowledge and compassion, and the open-mindedness with which its lamas welcome comparing its traditions with Christianity, is a most interesting subject to anyone, and particularly to our members, now that two American expeditions have recently followed part of the very route which is covered by one of Pallis’ journeys. Living descriptions of many aspects of the countryside and its inhabitants abound; while the expressions by which the author translates into English the abstract doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism are sometimes a bit difficult to grasp immediately—The Wheel of Existence, Action ; Anger, Desire—Attachment, Ignorance; Suffering; Cause of Suffering; Cessation of Suffering; Truth and Enlightenment; Knowledge and Just Views; Compassion; Liberation—such headings cannot fail to suggest to anyone philosophically inclined that there is a great deal more that can be studied and recorded on a Himalayas expedition than the classic Xenophonic “Thence we marked five parasangs.”

J. E. F.