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"MAGIC AND MYSTERY IN TIBET" by Alexandra David-Neel

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BOOK REVIEW: Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel (Dover Publications) 1971/1929

One of the most remarkable women of the 20th century is a woman whose name is not mentioned often enough – Madame Alexandra David-Neel of France.

A noted “seeker, adventurer, pilgrim and scholar,” David-Neel ventured to Tibet (she would spend 14 years in Tibet, all told – the first Western woman to do so), high in the Himalayas between China and India to learn more about occult practices and the more deeply esoteric side of Tibetan Buddhism from the lamas, sorcerers, mystics and magicians who populated Tibet at that time, when the country was still viewed as a remote and mysterious Shangri-La.

In a review from May 2015, Red Dirt Report featured a piece on David-Neel’s earlier book about her time in Tibet – My Journey to Lhasa. That book and Magic and Mystery in Tibet compliment one another quite pleasingly.

What is key to this book is that David-Neel approaches her subjects (she was in disguise during her journey into Tibet and believed her to be a man) with openness but also with a healthy skepticism.

She learns the languages in Tibet. Studies Sanskrit. Notes how the roots of Tibetan Buddhism are linked to Hindu Tantric practices and Shamanistic beliefs. She is a quite confident and learned woman who would live to the age of 100, dying in 1969 after a decidedly full life.

Probably the most remarkable chapter addresses the creation of thoughtforms and phantasms known as tulpas. These entities are created through intense concentration and certain rites by those who have “reached a high mental and spiritual degree of enlightenment” and one familiar with the “psychic forces at work in the process.”

David-Neel said the process of creating tulpas is “fraught with danger” and that she did an experiment where she created a “a most insignificant character: a monk, short and fat, of an innocent and jolly type.”

It took a few months for the Frenchwoman to create her tulpa. He soon materialized like a real person, yet was still a bit of a puppet to David-Neel. Visitors took the tulpa – which went from a rotund appearance to a more lean, malicious look - for a real lama.

It would take David-Neel “six months of hard struggle” to rid herself of this tulpa.

Writes David-Neel: “In spite of the clever efforts made by the Tibetans to find rational explanations for all prodigies, a number remain unexplained, perhaps because they are pure inventions, or perhaps for other reasons.”

David-Neel takes the reader through other experiences with psychic and supernatural phenomena, superhuman abilities the Tibetan adepts seem to be able to acquire, from traveling great distances on foot while in a trance, or produce tummo, or an “inner fire” in Tibetan Buddhism, which allows a person to produce an inner heat while finding oneself in extremely cold conditions, like high elevations in the snowy Himalayas.

There are a number of pictures of various Tibetan people and sites. All the while, David-Neel comes across as a spiritual anthropologist having fun tramping around the Tibetan countryside. Reading her book, you almost sense she is smiling as she writes each word. There is a sense of joy and wonderment in her words and observations, even when faced with some rather alarming and sinister phenomena. An inspiring human being!

A highly-recommended book for all seeking knowledge and enlightenment.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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