Saturday, January 28, 2012

The White Lama

We have published notice of Theos Bernard in the past (here and here). His story is quite remarkable, and deserves to be better known -- even celebrated -- because, if not for him, the devastation wrought by Red China upon Tibet would be even more irrecoverable.

This past year saw the publication of an important new book entitled White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet's Lost Emissary to the New World, by Douglas Veenhof (New York: Harmony Books, 2011). Mr. Veenhof is a Buddhist practitioner, who states he was inspired to take up the work by Geshe Michael Roach. This coming May, we will see Paul G. Hackett's similarly titled work, White Lama: Theos Bernard, Tibet and Yoga in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

What occasions this interest is the discovery, in 1998, of 119 boxes and 18 large trunks, and packing crates, in four self-storage units in Upland, California. Described by Veenhof as a "time capsule of Tibetan culture at its zenith," these containers proved to be Theos Bernard's lost legacy -- thousands of photographs, and miles of 16mm motion picture film exposed during his visit to Tibet, along with letters, manuscripts, journals, and Bernard's personal library of 3,000 books on Tibet, Buddhism, and Yoga, all dating prior to 1947. The trunks housed Bernard's artifacts collection:
"Those included 22 bronze images of Buddhist deities, 40 thangka paintings, 23 Tibetan rugs, 25 large painted mandalas, more than 100 large cloth wood-block prints of historical figures and deities, 79 volumes of Tibetan texts, and a large number of Tibetan textiles, religious robes, hats, ritual implements, and household items."
The University of California at Berkeley became the repository of this material in April 2000, where it is now the Theos C. Bernard - G. Eleanore Murray Collection and Archive, generally administered by the Bancroft Library. You can consult their online entry by clicking here, and download the finding aid by clicking here.

Veenhof writes:
"The fifty mule loads of Buddhist scriptures and art objects that Tibetans sent home in 1937 with Theos Bernard, their emissary to the West, are artifacts of Tibet's medieval culture in full bloom and in one of its final summers before Mao's revolution flooded across the border."
The books acquired by Bancroft Library in 2000, were in fact not the first of the books Bernard brought back to be housed in Berkeley. I have previously mentioned the first books, and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's generous 2006 gift. These first books -- I found them in a large, unopened trunk in a broom closet in the Durant Library in 1968 -- were evidence of Bernard's dream -- his Tibetan Text Society -- an effort to translate the Tengyur, which is still ongoing to the present day. This screen shot from the California Secretary of State shows the date of incorporation:

To accomplish his goal, Bernard acquired a lovely estate in Montecito, California, and named it "Tibetland." His idea was to house his Tibetan Text Society at the estate, which would also accommodate visiting Tibetan lamas he hoped to bring to the United States. Control of the property passed to his wife at the time, who renamed it Lotusland, and if you are ever in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, you can visit this beautiful place. The few Tibetan books that did manage to find their way to the property are, to the best of my understanding, the books that I found in the broom closet at Berkeley.

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4 reader comments:

Tenzin Sonam said...

How wonderfully auspicious this post is. I was thinking of this very book last night for some reason. I was trying to remember the name of the 'White Lama'.

Thank you!

MMG said...

OMG, I'm so happy you are back!!!
After you disappeared last year, I kept on checking your blog for months if there was anything new, but sadly there was not.
Finally, I became sure that you were dead. It made me sad to think that you were gone in the year of the rabbit, which you seemed to anticipate so joyously... and of course I missed your posts.
I hope you are in good health and in good spirits and wish well!
No I go and catch up on your posts!
:)

MMG said...

OMG, I'm so happy you are back!!!
After you disappeared last year, I kept on checking your blog for months if there was anything new, but sadly there was not.
Finally, I became sure that you were dead. It made me sad to think that you were gone in the year of the rabbit, which you seemed to anticipate so joyously... and of course I missed your posts.
I hope you are in good health and in good spirits and wish you well!
Now, I go and catch up on your posts!
:)

Palden Dorje said...

I've just finished reading it. Imagine Gendun Chophel would have come to the States!
There are some efforts to make his heritage available to the public. Do you know if anyone in the US is doing something in that field?