Michael J. Sweet
Theos Bernard, the White Lama: Tibet, Yoga, and American Religious Lifeby Paul G. Hackett, Theos Bernard
In 1937, Theos Casimir Bernard (19081947), the self-proclaimed "White Lama," became the third American in history to reach Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Durgaing his stay, he amassed the largest collection of Tibetan texts, art, and artifacts in the Western hemisphere at that time. He also documented, in both still photography and 16mm film, the age-old… See more details below
In 1937, Theos Casimir Bernard (19081947), the self-proclaimed "White Lama," became the third American in history to reach Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Durgaing his stay, he amassed the largest collection of Tibetan texts, art, and artifacts in the Western hemisphere at that time. He also documented, in both still photography and 16mm film, the age-old civilization of Tibet on the eve of its destruction by Chinese Communists. Based on thousands of primary sources and rare archival materials, White Lama recounts the real story behind the purported adventures of this iconic figure and his role in America's religious counterculture.
Durgaing his brief span, Bernard met, associated, and corresponded with the major social, political, and cultural leaders of his day, from the Regent and high politicians of Tibet to the saints, scholars, and diplomats of British India, from Charles Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Gandhi and Nehru. Bernard also had his flaws. He was a traveler propelled by grandiose schemes, a handsome man who shamelessly used his looks to bounce from rich wife to rich wife in support of his activities, and a master manipulator who concocted his own interpretation of Eastern wisdom and eventually disappeared in India during the communal violence of the 1947 Partition. Through diaries, interviews, and previously unstudied documents, Paul G. Hackett shares Bernard's compelling story and his efforts to awaken America's religious counterculture to the unfolding events in India, the Himalayas, and Tibet. Hackett concludes with a detailed geographical and cultural trace of Bernard's Indian and Tibetan journeys, which shed light on the explorer's mysterious disappearance.
This narrative jumps off the page, and Paul G. Hackett is at his best as he tells this story, weaving his account of Theos Bernard's many encounters with exceptional men into the broader context of espionage, diplomatic maneuvering, and political upheaval in the 'Great Game.' The sketches he gives of, among other things, expatriate society in Kalimpong, the wrenching final days of the British Raj, the Chinese takeover of Tibet, and especially central characters in Bernard's adventures are remarkably well drawn. Yet it is always Bernard himself who steals the show.
Well-written and lively, integrating with apparent ease the alternative American religious scene in the first half of the twentieth century and the unfolding of events in the Indian subcontinent, the Himalayas, and Tibet.
Building on prodigious research, Paul G. Hackett has produced an utterly fascinating account of Theos Bernard, the spiritual adventurer who introduced the mysteries of Tibet to America and the world. This book, by a skilled historian and an engaging writer, significantly enhances our understanding of America's religious turn to the East in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Paul G. Hackett presents the compelling story of the early years of the American exploration of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist spirituality through the figure of one of its most colorful but forgotten adventurers -- a real-life 'Indiana Jones'! Early twentieth-century counterculture, Tibetan Buddhism, and the birth of yoga in the West makes for a rich field in which persons and stories abound, and Hackett masterfully paints a picture of that world in very human terms. Part mystic, part explorer, and part con man, Theos Bernard comes to life in a tale that is both captivating and enlightening. It is a must read for anyone interested in Eastern religions in America.
- Columbia University Press
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
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Meet the Author
Paul G. Hackett is an editor of the Tengyur Translation Initiative at Columbia University. He earned his Ph.D. in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism from Columbia University and has studied Tibetan language, religion, and culture in both traditional Tibetan and Western academic environments. He is the author of A Tibetan Verb Lexicon.
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