Is the Sherpa a Superhuman?

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

Science cannot explain away the power possessed by the physiology of a Sherpa. Rasmus Nielsen, a biology professor at the University of California; Berkeley, who has studied the Sherpas' genealogy, have found that they produce fewer oxygen-carrying red blood cells at high altitudes. In contrast, most other people make more of these cells at high altitudes. Sherpas also have super-human strength. An article written by National Public Radio reports on a scientific study by Norman Heglund, a muscle physiologist of Belgium's University de Louvain, who cannot find a logical reason why sherpas can carry weights up to 125 per cent of their body weight. If science cannot explain the extraordinary Sherpa, could there be a more esoteric explanation? Perhaps, the answer lies in their spiritual beliefs and not their physical form.

Often Sherpas act as guides for travellers to reach the mountain peaks of the Himalayan ranges. Along the way, the Sherpa, who are commonly more spiritual than not, would encourage travellers to mark their journey and pray for safe passage by stacking rocks one on top of another at various point along the track. In my painting, you will notice that I have painted a stack of rocks on the lower right-hand corner of the artwork. Starting with a large stone, as the base and increasingly getting smaller, the rocks are precariously balanced but if done right, tend to stay steady unless it is physically pushed over or nature decides to extend her force.

I wonder, why does the Sherpa still to this day follow this tradition of stacking stones? These small rock sculptures look, to me, like a miniature mountain. To see them against the backdrop of the gigantic Himalayan mountainscape, I am reminded of the saying "As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul…" by Hermes Trismegistus. Perhaps the Sherpas are also wise to this truth knowing, and the piles of stacked stone serve as a reminder to them!

Mountaineering, of course, has many risks, and safe return home for the Sherpa is never a guarantee. The branch on the lower left of the image and the 'freeze frame' of a falling down bird nest from a birds-eye perspective, symbolizes the fragility and the impermanent nature of life. According to Outsider Magazine, statistics have shown that Sherpa guides are more likely to die while on the job than miners or those in the military. I have to guess that the income they make is not the only motivating factor for the mountaineering Sherpa, as the risk of death is so high. Perhaps there is a providence or an inner calling which galvanize their will.

In my painting, you may have noticed the etheric white orbs or wondered about the serene and illuminated face of the Sherpa as well as the swirling colours which surround him. Did you see that the background looks similar to contour lines of a topographic map? That is because the artwork depicts Mount Kailash, Lake Mansarovar and Lake Rakshastal from a birds-eye perspective.

Overview of Lake Mansarovar, Lake Rakshastal and Mount Kailash

The face of the Sherpa represents the incomparable Mount Kailash, a profoundly spiritual place for Hindus, Buddhists and many other Eastern religions. The Sherpas face also resembles that of Lord Shiva who is said to abode on the mountain with his wife and children. Kailash is a stunning mountain which has four distinct sides, making it looks like a dome of a temple or even a pyramid. Fortunately, the Chinese government has forbidden mountaineers from scaling the mountain, just as well because none of the persons who had previously attempted to scale Mount Kailash had ever returned to tell the story.

Lord Shiva

You may also notice, South West of the face, there is a shape which is a blue waterbody that is Mansarovar. At 4, 600 metres, Mansarovar is the world highest freshwater lake. Sadhguru, a renown contemporary mystic, regularly lead a lucky group of pilgrims to this Lake. I have watched a Youtube video of the mystic at the Lake and observed in amazement, as his party experience mysterious occurrences beside the Lake. To me, the white orbs in the artwork represent pure beings, the 'devas' or 'water angels' that is said to preside over the Lake. By contrast, Lake Rakshastal, drawn as a crescent-shaped waterbody on the lower right of the Sherpa's face, is said to be possessed by a demon in mythical tales from the East. Even the aspect of this Lake is dark, cold and extremely windy compared to Mansarovar. Perhaps, for the Sherpas their faith in these powerful mountains and the spiritual energy that they derive from it gives them wings that we cannot see or even fathom unless of course we have experienced something similar ourselves.

I hope that you enjoy this painting and knowing the meaning has enhanced your experience.