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

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

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by Douglas Veenhof

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An amazing, often overlooked story of the man who brought Yoga and Tibetan culture to America. Theos Bernard’s colorful, enigmatic, and sometimes contradictory life captures an intersection of East and West that changed our world.
After years of forcibly stopping foreigners at the borders, the leaders of Tibet opened the doors to their…  See more details below


An amazing, often overlooked story of the man who brought Yoga and Tibetan culture to America. Theos Bernard’s colorful, enigmatic, and sometimes contradictory life captures an intersection of East and West that changed our world.
After years of forcibly stopping foreigners at the borders, the leaders of Tibet opened the doors to their kingdom in 1937 for Theos Bernard. He was the third American to set foot in Tibet and the first American ever initiated into Tantric practices by the highest lama in Tibet. When Bernard left that sacred land, he was sent home with fifty mule loads of priceless, essential Buddhist scriptures from government and monastery vaults. Bernard brought these writings to America, where he achieved celebrity as a spiritual master. Appearing four times on the cover of the largest-circulation magazine of the day, befriending some of the most famous figures of his era, including Charles Lindbergh, Lowell Thomas, Ganna Walska, and W. Y. 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 1947.

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 15 photographs shot in Tibet in 1937 by Theos Bernard, part of a collection that has been described as the best photographic record of Tibet in existence.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Douglas Veenhof’s biography of the first great American yogi is a rare combination of impeccable research, refreshing literacy, and deep spiritual insight … Highly recommended for anyone who does yoga; I literally couldn’t put it down.” –Geshe Michael Roach, author of The Diamond Cutter and How Yoga Works
“This richly researched book is the never before told story of Theos Bernard, the fearless adventurer who lived during a time (the first part of the 20th Century) when finding a yoga teacher was not as easy as it is today. Like Alexandra David-Neel who traveled through India and Tibet before him, Theos journeyed far, both geographically and psychologically to find the teachings of yoga, tantra and Buddhism and more importantly teachers who could give him a taste of the amrit: the fruit, which destroys death. Theos’s story will take the reader to India and Tibet and introduce them to some of the greatest mystics who have ever lived including Glen Bernard (his father), Pierre Bernard (his uncle) Blance DeVries (his aunt), Ora and Inayat Khan (his aunt & uncle), Pir Vilayat (cousin) the famous spy, Nor Khan (cousin), the Russian artist theosophist, Nicholas Roerich, aviator, Charles Lindbergh, Paramahansayogananda, Geshe Ngawang Wangyal and The 13th Dalai Lama, to name a few, and illuminate their influence to the yoga which is practiced in the west today.” –Sharon Gannon, founder Jivamukti Yoga method

“I thought that I had read my last yoga-mystical-magical-wonderous-cliffhanging-historic-pageturning-lifechanging-adventure years ago. Theos Bernard belonged to a very eccentric and amazing family and any American Yogi should know as much about them as they know about Krishnamacharya or the Dalai Lama. This book fills in one vital missing link in the passage of knowledge and wisdom from an ancient culture to modern times through the hands of a skilled yogi, diplomat, adventurer and historian of Yoga and Tantra.” –Co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, co-author of Living Liberated -Jivamukti Yoga and The Art of Yoga

“Meticulously researched and richly detailed, White Lama is a spiritual adventure story as compelling as a good novel. Theos Bernard's Himalayan odyssey in search of genuine yoga adepts and tantric masters in 1930s Tibet is a fascinating, long-forgotten chapter in the journey of Eastern spirituality to the West.” –Jack Forem, author of Transcendental Meditation: The Essential Teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

"Theos Bernard was an unsung hero. With this thoroughly researched and engaging biography, Douglas Veenhof makes a vital contribution to our knowledge of the great transmission of Eastern wisdom to the West." –Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda

Library Journal
Veenhof pens rich details about the intellectually curious and adventurous Theos Bernard (b. 1908) in this first major biography of the largely forgotten individual who helped introduce yogic practices to the West. Veenhof, a practitioner of Buddhism and yoga, covers Bernard's life from his childhood in Arizona, through his crucial experiences in India and Tibet (as one of the first Americans to enter Tibet) and his graduate education at Columbia University (leading to his book Hatha Yoga, which introduced the practice to Americans), to his return to India and Tibet and his disappearance and presumed death at the age of 38. Veenhof explores Bernard's deliberate deceptions about the true identity of his guru; his many intimate relationships with women (he was married three times); his journey into Tibetan culture; the influence of his uncle, Pierre Bernard, the subject of Robert Love's The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America; and his celebrity in the United States. VERDICT This book, using archival sources, will primarily appeal to students of yoga, Tantra, Buddhism, and Tibet, as well as those game for an offbeat adventure story.—Rukshana Singh, Torrance P.L., CA
Kirkus Reviews

Journalist and former mountain guide Veenhof offers a clearer understanding of the singular man who penetrated the mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism and disseminated the practices to the West.

As the author recounts in this dogged, workmanlike biography, Theos Bernard (1908–1947) learned much of his early study of Tantric Yoga from his father and uncle, Glen and Pierre Bernard, respectively, who had in turn apprenticed under their Lincoln, Neb., neighbor, Sylvais Hamati, an East Indian Vedic guru. While Pierre went on to great fame and riches in the 1920s and '30s with his Nyack, N.Y., yoga center for the stars—a wild trajectory recently chronicled in Robert Love's excellentThe Great Oom (2010)—Glen traveled to India to study Tantric philosophy, leaving his former wife and son to their own devices in Arizona. A near-death from scarlet fever as an adolescent goaded Theo into mastering yoga practices for health and strength, and after law school he finally met his father and found in him his guru—though Theo never acknowledged him as such. Eventually, Bernard made his way to his uncle's place Nyack. He began studies in philosophy and anthropology at Columbia University, under Franz Boas, whose "participant observation methodology" Bernard hoped to adapt among the Buddhists in Tibet. Very few Westerners had penetrated Lhasa and its monasteries, and Veenhof, a Buddhist, dwells at great length on Bernard's extensive 1937 trip, the marvels of which he later publicized in magazine articles, lectures and books such asPenthouse of the Gods (1939). Two visionary institutions organized by him were just getting off the ground in California when he disappeared on a Himalayan trip in 1947. Veenhof does a yeoman's job of bringing this exalted life back into focus.

A useful study, especially considering the enormous growth in interest in Tibetan Buddhism.

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White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet's Lost Emissary to the New World 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He comes in forging white lava. He adds some white lava to the staff and a very small waterproof microchip stud and sticks that in a chaft only he can open. That stud is capable of letting a live person breath under any liquid even lava. Without desinigrating. If anyone holds white lava they r granted that power as long as they hold it. "Finally! My new staff white lava is complete. I forgot 1 thing though." He adds an unbreakable shell to it and it id complete. "This is my great staff. White lava!" He then ads some power and he can shoot lightning through the tip. •|~T@€~|•
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jan-new-mexico More than 1 year ago
This is an eye opener. You must read this book, if you at all care about the future of spiritual practice on this planet. Theos Bernard was a treasure, as well as a terma owner, and we should all be grateful for his work to bring Tibetan Buddhism and Hatha Yoga to the West.
DFG More than 1 year ago
Douglas Veenhof's "White Lama" is a book that succeeds on many levels. To all those who are curious about the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism and Yoga to the west, this is a seminal volume. For all of those who have happened upon the amazing and curious life of Theos Bernard, this is the most complete record of his life. Wrought out of what must have been years of research, the book forms a complete picture of Theos Bernard, of his profound work and influence, and his extraordinary life - all the way from his early roots in Arizona to his mysterious finish. All these things aside, Douglas Veenhof is one of the most fantastic writers I have read in a long time. His deft turn of phrase, his keen observation and his rich prose, married with his simple yet poetic ability to express something, makes me think of him as a deep and powerful master writer in company with the likes of a Pasternak or a Hemingway, a Melville or McCarthy. Where these authors bring their awesome powers of writing to the world of fiction, Veenhof brings it to non-fiction, making for an account that is both amazing in content (truth is stranger than fiction) and in the sheer craftsmanship of word. I cannot think of anyone who would not get something from this book - biography nuts, scholars, historians, yogis and Buddhists (especially those in the west) and all lovers of extremely good and well-written books to those just looking for a great summer read. Lastly, on a personal note, as a practitioner of Buddhism and yoga this book gave me a connection, a link, as to how these teachings and practices got into our western world to begin with. I felt myself tremendously moved by Theos' bravery and persistence in bringing these teachings out of a remote land and to us in the west, where they have benefited so many; and to Douglas Veenhof I felt tremendously grateful for the sharing of such a profound tale written with such gripping exactitude. The book was profound, insightful, interesting and fun, perhaps destined to be a classic as it feels like the telling of a missing link in the extraordinary saga that is Buddhism's introduction to the west. Big recommend.