Theos Bernard, the White Lama: Tibet, Yoga, and American Religious Life

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Evans-Wentz, and working with legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, the charismatic and controversial White Lama introduced a new vision of life and spiritual path to American culture before mysteriously disappearing in the Himalayas in Biography, travel and adventure, a history of Tibet s opening to the West, and the story of Buddhism and Yoga s arrival in America, "White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet s Lost Emissary to the West" is the first work to tell his groundbreaking story in full and is a narrative that thrills from beginning to end.

Includes 15photographsshot in Tibet in by Theos Bernard, part of a collection thathas beendescribed as the best photographic record of Tibet in existence.

The author relies on the archives. Hackett , Hardcover Be the first to write a review About this product An amazing, often overlooked story of the man who brought Yoga and Tibetan culture to America. Encyclopaedia of Track and Field.

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White Lama : The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet's Lost Emissary to the New World

Viola soon returned to her medical studies in America, while Theos stayed on in India to pursue his interest in esoteric studies. He planned to write his academic thesis on the relationship between the ancient Hindu Tantric practices and their incorporation into Buddhist practice, and his theory was to personally test the use of yoga to achieve a form of Buddhist liberation.

However, when he discovered that Tantric Buddhism was no longer actively studied and practiced in India, and that the only region that retained these teachings was Tibet, he began the 1,mile journey into what was at the time a very isolated and closed country. In preparation for the trip Theos had started studying Tibetan in and was already a highly accomplished yoga master, but he needed help in both his application to visit Tibet and his journey there.

This announcement, as translated and quoted by biographer Paul Hackett, read:. An American Sahib named Mr. From the depths [of such aspiration, he] ransomed a Kangyur, and with this established foundation, once [he] has also acquired a Tengyur, he has indicated that he definitely plans on founding a large temple in America.

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This is the news in brief. Hackett , — Nine days later, Bernard left Kalimpong for Gangtok Sikkim and then traveled over the Himalaya to Gyantse, where he waited for final permission to enter Lhasa. The Tibetan government strictly controlled permission for entry into Tibet; indeed, those who tried to venture in without permission were dealt with harshly. In addition, Tibetans caught assisting travelers who lacked the proper paperwork could be, and at times were, put to death. It is important also to remember that during this time, in the late s, both the world and this tiny Himalayan nation were in a precarious state.

After much lobbying and letter writing, Bernard received final permission from Reting Rinpoche to travel onward and set out from Gyantse for Lhasa on June 18, His success in obtaining permission can be attributed in large part to his innate charm and proven ability to befriend people in positions of power. While in Kalimpong, Theos had introduced himself to the most important and influential Westerners and Tibetans in town.

He set a rigorous schedule of study for himself, attempting to master the difficult Tibetan language while at the same time participating in as many parties and opportunities to socialize as was humanly possible. He met teachers who could open doors for him intellectually, like the monk Geshe Wangyal. Theos maintained a close relationship with Geshe Wangyal, meeting with him frequently during his stay in Kalimpong. In Kalimpong, Theos began in earnest to woo the aristocratic Tibetans who would eventually come to his aid and make his journey and his stay in Tibet a truly magical experience.

He quickly learned the arts of gift giving, socializing with the community, and ingratiating himself into the small but elite group of Tibetan ministers, both active and retired, whom he met in this Indian border town. Theos followed a traditional route across the Himalayan range, through Sikkim, and over the Yarlung Pass into Yadong. Most of his journey was on horseback.

At each stopping-off point he presented his documents, and the community provided him with lodging and meals of varying quality. Most importantly, the documents he possessed required the community to provide him with fresh horses to continue his trip to the holy city of Lhasa.

From his photographs from this time, we can discern that Theos favored typical Tibetan dress over Western apparel.

Paul G Hackett | Columbia University -

While waiting for permission to go forward to Lhasa, Theos spent some time in the town of Gyantse, where he made every effort to impress on his hosts his sincerity in wanting to study Tibetan Buddhism and culture. He tried to dress the part, and he spent many hours with elite Tibetans. He did not seem to get along particularly well with the British officials in the area; while he maintained contact with them, he tried, quite successfully, to remain separate, relying instead on the generosity of the Tibetans for his lodging and transport.

Throughout this time he corresponded daily with his wife, Viola, writing late into the night on a typewriter that he carried throughout his travels. Theos clearly understood the extraordinary nature of his journey and documented it in a highly personal way. From his writings, we gather that he believed the notoriety he gained would only aid him in attracting followers to his Tantric and yoga practice.

He basically adopted Theos, gave him a lovely place to live, and introduced him to more people than even Theos could have imagined.

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During his time there, Theos met with heads of government and the head lama of the Sakya lineage, who sent him home with letters for President Franklin D. Unfortunately, those documents remained undelivered.

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As his journey progressed, Theos became determined to acquire the important religious texts, artwork, and examples of ritual artifacts that would permit him to continue his studies of this complex language and culture at home and to serve as what he viewed as a legitimate promoter of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.

As a result of his charm, good looks, and convincing commitment to yoga, he met many Tibetan leaders, and he pledged to them that he would establish a center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States when he returned. His message was well received, and he gradually bought or was given texts that added up to a tremendous library, along with many fine works of art. Most of these are black-and-white images, but there are also some silent color film sequences.

He shot many rolls of black-and-white mm film documenting the sites and people he encountered on his journey, resulting in a remarkably rich resource on historical Tibet. Upon his departure, Theos is reported to have brought out fifty mule loads of these images, as well as the Tibetan scriptures and ritual art he had collected during his brief stay.

Theos Bernard, the White Lama

In the years after he returned from Tibet, Theos embarked on lecture tours and wrote articles describing his travels, attempting both to popularize yoga and Buddhism and to promote himself. He also boasted that the Tibetans recognized him as an incarnation of Padmasambhava, the eighth-century teacher whose image is venerated throughout the Himalayas a claim first stated in print in Bernard , Although there is no definitive evidence, what is known for sure is that he disappeared without a trace.

One of the most significant aspects of the Bernard collection of Tibetan art is its provenance. We are fairly certain that Bernard assembled the bulk of the collection in Tibet in the late s, which sets it apart from other Tibetan collections in America that have been assembled more recently and from varied sources.

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  8. Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, was one of the earliest teachers to bring Buddhism from India to Tibet in the eighth century. At the top of the painting is an image of Amitabha the Transcendent Buddha of the West or the Buddha of Infinite Light Padmasambhava is said to be an emanation of this deity. The images on the thangka suggest that Padmasambhava is believed to be a manifestation of a deity but is generally regarded and depicted as a historical person. In the upper left-hand corner of the painting is Buddha Shakyamuni, and in the upper right-hand corner is the Karmapa Rangjung Dorje — historical personage.

    The inclusion of the latter enables us to pretty clearly date this painting to after Below Amitabha deity is Avalokiteshvara deity. The three figures across the bottom, from left to right, are Vaishravana a heavenly king , the goddess Paldem Lhamo a protector deity in union with Mahakala, and a protector deity subdued by Padmasambhava.