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

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Columbia University Press, Mar 27, 2012 - Religion - 592 pages
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In 1937, Theos Casimir Bernard (1908–1947), the self-proclaimed “White Lama,” became the third American in history to reach Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. During 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.

During 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.

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About the author (2012)

Paul G. Hackett is an editor for the American Institute of Buddhist Studies and teaches Classical Tibetan at Columbia University. He is also the author of A Tibetan Verb Lexicon and numerous articles on Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy. He is the author of A Tibetan Verb Lexicon and numerous articles on Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy.

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