The Theosophical Forum – January 1936


In this Transition Age, we, who have the good fortune of being here to watch the new developments and to do our share in their unfoldment, are naturally interested in the progress of scientific discovery and the steady advance of the new science — a philosophic science — toward the Ancient Wisdom. But there is a still more important change taking place in the high intellectual regions of Western thought which likewise is directly traceable to the untiring work of the Theosophical Movement, outwardly started by H. P. Blavatsky in 1875, but originated and constantly energized by the Masters of Wisdom. This change is shown by the new attitude of Western scholarship to the philosophy and Yoga teachings of Tibet. Not many years ago the stories of mysteries and magic in Tibet were utterly ridiculed by serious scholars; it was not respectable to listen to them in academic good society, or perhaps anywhere. The deadly, stodgy opposition from which H. P. Blavatsky suffered so terribly, largely arose from the complete ignorance of such possibilities on the part of the Western cultivated classes, elated and enthusiastic over the triumphs of materialistic science. "There ain't no sich animal," as the farmer said, and when H. P. Blavatsky said there was and that she could prove it — well, the natural consequences followed.

When Col. Olcott, the then President of the Theosophical Society, interviewed the great Sanskrit authority, Max Müller, about fifty years ago, the latter pleaded with him to advise the scholars in the Theosophical Society to abandon their belief that there was anything more in the Hindu Scriptures than what appeared on the surface, or that there could be any basis for esoteric or occult interpretations of them, as claimed by the 'superstitious' Hindus.

Today, however, we find great Orientalists not only accepting as a matter of course the existence of yogis possessing some occult powers, but whole-heartedly speaking of esoteric interpretations of the Hindu Scriptures, and some, like Mme Alexandra David-Néel, even claiming personal, though limited, knowledge of the rationale of certain psycho-magical processes. Dr. Richard Wilhelm the great German Sinologist, Dr. Carl Jung the psychologist, Sir Wallis Budge, late Egyptologist to the British Museum, and others, have given open support to the fact of that Eastern occult knowledge which was regarded as the purest superstition before H. P. Blavatsky began "to break the molds of mind" in the West. Today we see an audience of eminent scientists in England seriously studying the 'impossible' Fire-Walk and finding it a fact, but also finding no physical explanation!

The latest revelation of Oriental psychology is Dr. Evans-Wentz's Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1) This is the third volume of a trilogy, the others being The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Tibet's Great Yogi, Milarepa, also published by the Oxford University Press. Thus, as Dr. Marett says in the Foreword, in regard to the collaboration between the author, or 'editor' as he modestly calls himself, and his Tibetan teacher, the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup, the translator:

Its fruit is the trilogy of substantial works, based on translations from the Tibetan, and accompanied by an interpretation from within such as demands something even rarer with Western scholars than the ordinary scholarly equipment, namely, a sympathetic insight transcending the prejudices which render the average man antipathetic to any type of unfamiliar experience.

This is hardly surprising in view of the fact that Dr. Evans-Wentz has been closely associated for many years with the teachings of Theosophy and the International Headquarters at Point Loma, and that he has also spent much time in India in the intensive study of the Yoga philosophy at first hand.

Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines consists of seven treatises translated from the Tibetan and "representing a more or less comprehensive and unified expression of the most important tenets of Mahayanic Buddhism," elucidated by a masterly Commentary and exhaustive explanatory footnotes by Dr. Evans-Wentz. The translation was made by the Lama Dawa-Samdup, assisted by the editor, and the difficulty of rendering subtil philosophical and technical Tibetan expressions into good English has been brilliantly overcome. The Lama was an initiate of the Kargyutpa School of Mahayana or Northern Buddhism and had profound practical knowledge of the Yoga philosophy and methods. He was, therefore, unusually qualified to help in the interpretation of Tibetan esoteric doctrines and secret lore hitherto hardly known, if at all, outside the precincts of Lamaism. They are not easy of comprehension by the Westerner, with the exception of a few students of Theosophy, or the like.

Dr. Evans-Wentz speaks very highly of his Tibetan guru's learning and marvelous interpretive ability, and of his splendid spirit of helpfulness and desire to serve by bequeathing these translations of the abstruse doctrines of "the master minds," so-called, of Tibetan Lamaism. Mme David-Néel was also associated with the Lama Dawa-Samdup, of whom she gives an account that shows he was a quaint and unique character. He ended his days as Professor of Tibetan at the University of Calcutta.

The Lama is a valuable witness in defense of H. P. Blavatsky against the absurd charges made in her lifetime that she invented the teachings of Theosophy. In his Tibetan Book of the Dead, Dr. Evans-Wentz says:

The late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup was of opinion that, despite the adverse criticisms directed against H. P. Blavatsky's works, there is adequate internal evidence in them of their author's intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings into which she claimed to have been initiated.

We venture to suggest that, while the Lama was right so far as he goes, H. P. Blavatsky belonged to a far higher Order, and a far nobler, than the term 'lamaistic' suggests.

The seven treatises are arranged in a definite order, though each can be profitably studied by itself, but they are not all of similar origin. The first four are from the Kargyutpa School of the Mahayana or 'Great Path,' and are decidedly interesting to students of Theosophy. Dr. Evans-Wentz says that the entire Seven, however, "represent a more or less comprehensive and unified expression of the most important tenets of Mahayanic Buddhism, some of which in the form herein presented are as yet unknown to the Occident save for a few fragmentary extracts."

Much, if not all, of the Kargyutpa Treatises are fairly in harmony with the Theosophical teachings on inner development, but parts of the others deal with extremely perilous psychological exercises which cannot be attempted safely, if at all, without an adept teacher and without the previous attainment, after almost incredible labor, of a power of self-control hardly conceivable in the West. These parts treat of occult forces, and of powers that are said, perhaps with truth, to arise as by-products of deep insight into occult laws or of spiritual development, but we are compelled to state that high spiritual Teachers would never give the real facts outside the privacy of the asrama. Most of the Treatises which touch on these matters are derived from the primitive unreformed Bonpa sources. The Bon religion, as H. P. Blavatsky mentions it, is:

itself a degenerated remnant of the Chaldean mysteries of old, now a religion entirely based upon necromancy, sorcery and soothsaying. The introduction of Buddha's name into it means nothing. — The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky, III, 271

The Ritualistic Texts contain instructions for the development of occult knowledge little or not at all known in the West, such as immunity from fire, levitation, materializing of thought-forms, "transfer of consciousness," and the Tummo, or the control of bodily temperature. In the last case the yogi keeps warm and comfortable while sitting on the snow in a furious blizzard with the temperature far below zero! Mme David-Neel describes her observations of this feat, and even mentions her own application of the Tummo to a limited degree when caught without fuel in a Tibetan wilderness!

 The Fifth Treatise, which largely comes down from the pre-Buddhistic Bon faith, presents the Chod Rite of the 'short path' method, a desperate method of rapidly breaking the fetters of Maya and separateness by the mystical sacrifice of the body to the elementals, which sometimes brings insanity or death to the impatient venturer. Mme David-Neel gives a rather horrifying account of personal experiences in connexion with Chod in Magic and Mystery in Tibet. The ostensible aim of this grim Rite is to deliver the candidate from the necessity of rebirth, but it seems only too probable that it would be more often used to gain control of the elementals for personal power. Mme David-Neel frankly states that many so-called yogis enter the psychic training for selfish reasons such as revenge and vanity.

It is interesting, and should be of great significance to Western ill-informed and skeptical psychologists and other students for whom this work is written, to see in what a matter-of-fact way these occult and psychic matters are regarded by the yogi-authors of the Treatises. All such things are known to be strictly governed by natural laws, however obscure and 'miraculous' to the profane. Also, as we are told, they are treated by the most respected lamaistic teachers as being insignificant in comparison with the attainment of the Cosmic consciousness, the transcending of Maya, the Great Illusion in this and higher worlds.

It would be an error to condemn these Treatises as a whole, though some of the instructions, derived from Bonpa practices entirely at variance with the pure, impersonal, and beneficent Yoga of the Lord Buddha, are not at all consonant with the wholesome self-disciplinary methods advised by H. P. Blavatsky for her pupils. It seems a pity that the excellent precepts of the first Treatise on 'The Supreme Path of Discipleship' should have to be associated in the same series with certain phenomenalistic instructions, useless though the latter may be without the guiding and warning hand of a real teacher. Are not such texts, while perhaps informative for scholars as exhibiting the weaker side of lamaistic Buddhism, doubtfully suitable for wide publication to the Western world which is turning more and more toward the development of psychic powers for purely selfish purposes, or, at best, for the gratification of curiosity disguised under high-sounding names?

The Kargyutpa School, to which the Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup belonged, originated in a purifying reform under the famous Gurus Marpa and Milarepa in the 12th century when it separated from the Singmapa School, the "Red Caps" founded in 747 a.d. by the Hindu University Professor Padma Sambhava, who introduced the Tantrik element into Buddhism. The improvement brought about by the Kargyutpa reform was important, and its Tibetan Gurus followed Marpa (llth-12th cent.) in regular 'apostolic succession,' as Dr. Evans-Wentz mentions with approval. The word Kargyutpa means 'Followers of the Apostolic Succession,' and the line from which the Order was derived traditionally goes back for unknown centuries before the Christian Era. In this esoteric method each successor was obligated to hand on the teachings as received, and even Gautama-Buddha "is but One who handed on teachings which had existed since beginningless time." The author praises the followers of the reforming Gurus, Marpa and Milarepa, for "their insistence upon the Bodhisattvic ideal of world-renunciation and selfless aeon-long labor looking to the ultimate enlightenment of every sentient being."

 Dr. Evans-Wentz states that Tsongkhapa, the greatest and wisest Reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, was "an eminent apostle" of the Kargyutpa School, but he refers to him only very briefly. Tsongkhapa did not, however, utilize that School as the nucleus of his sweeping reform in the fourteenth century, but associated himself with the Khadampas, "Those bound by the Ordinances." This was the School which Atisha, another great Reformer, joined in the eleventh century. A good deal was written by H. P. Blavatsky about Tsongkhapa, but significantly she does not mention the names of the Kargyutpa Gurus. It was Tsongkhapa as Avatara of Buddha, she says, who established the Gelugpa, 'Yellow Caps,' the now Established Church, and also "the mystic Brotherhood connected with its chiefs." Tsongkhapa must have had good reasons for choosing the Khadampas rather than the Kargyutpas as the foundation of his new and completely reformed institution. Is it not possible that there was too much old Bonpa sorcery, or at least phenomenalism, in the Kargyutpa Order?

(To be concluded)

"The Esoteric Philosophy is alone calculated to withstand, in this age of crass and illogical materialism, the repeated attacks on all and everything man holds most dear and sacred, in his inner spiritual life." — H. P. Blavatsky (quoted in The Esoteric Tradition)


1. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, or Seven Books of Wisdom of the Great Path, according to the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English rendering. Arranged and Edited with Introductions and Annotations to serve as a Commentary by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Oxford University Press. $6.00. pp. 385. (return to text)

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