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Fictitious Tibet (article)

Oct 08, 1996 08:23 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

Forwarded to me by email, and of some interest to this list.  I
have cut the last half which refers entirely to Rampa.

> Agehananada Bharati,
> "Fictitious Tibet: The Origin and Persistence of Rampaism",
> Tibet Society Bulletin, Vol. 7, 1974
>      Let me first of all stake my claim and explain some terms in the
> title: an apparently unexterminable tradition of sheer fiction taken as holy
> fact originated in Europe and America slightly before the turn of the
> century -- the brainchild of some fertile writers and orators, a number of
> core tales about inaccessible Tibetan and Himalayan mystics took shape
> in contrivedly esoteric writings which gained steady momentum until its
> culmination in Lama Lobsang Rampa's, alias Mr. Hoskins', fantastically
> fraudulent output beginning with The Third Eye and its sequels. I call this
> whole phony tradition "Rampaism" after its phony consummator, Rampa-
> Hoskins, and his all-too-numerous followers in North America and
> Europe. This depressing crowd of partly well-meaning, totally
> uninformed, and seemingly uninformable votaries holds something like
> this as its modal view: that there is, somewhere hidden in the Himalayas
> (invariably mis-stressed on the penultimate 'a'), a powerful, mystical,
> initiate brotherhood of lamas or similar guru adepts, who not only know
> all the mysteries of the world and the superworld, who not only
> incorporate and transcend the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, and
> Christianity, but who also master all the occult arts -- they fly through the
> air at enormous speeds, they run 400 miles at a stretch without break,
> they appear here and there, and they are arch-and-core advisors to the
> wise and the great who hide these ultimate links to supreme wisdom and
> control. In addition, they know all their previous incarnations, and can tell
> everyone what his incarnations were and are going to be. Geographically,
> the area where these supergurus reside is nebulously defined as "Tibet,"
> "Himalaya," and it often includes the Ganges and India. This, very
> briefly, is the somewhat autoerotic creed of a large, and unfortunately still
> growing, crowd of wide eyed believers in the mysterious East, apropos
> which my colleague Professor Hurvitz at the University of British
> Columbia sagaciously remarked that "for these people, the East must be
> mysterious, otherwise life has no meaning." To put this somewhat less
> succinctly and more technically, the enormous, pervasive alienation of
> Euro-America from the religious themes of the Western world, matched
> with the general disgruntlement, with the superciliously religious in the
> established churches, the surfeit with scientific models which seem to
> generate war and destruction, and most recently the proliferating
> fascination with the exotic for its own sake -- about which later in greater
> detail -- all these contribute to the desperate quest for ideas, rituals, and
> promises that are different from those of the West, that are distant from
> the West, and that are easily accessible, without any intellectual effort,
> without any discursive input.
>      Let me now present an historical sketch of the increasing ingress
> of pseudo-Orientalia, and specifically of pseudo-Buddhica and pseudo-
> Tibetica into Europe and America. During my research into ideological
> change in the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka in 1971, I marveled at a
> painting in a temple in the southernmost part of the island. In a long
> subterranean corridor, some two hundred vignettes depicting the phases
> of the dharma from its inception under the Bodhi-tree in Buddhagaya to
> the foundation of the particular temple, the last one showed a white
> woman kneeling and bowing down before the image of the Tathagata and
> two monks administering sil (the five precepts of Thervada Buddhism) to
> her; behind her, several white men in tropical hats and western suits, one
> of them bearded. These, so the monk who showed me around informed
> me, were Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott embracing Buddhism. This
> is historically quite correct. The well-meaning American Colonel Olcott
> and the Russian-born Mme. Blavatsky, founders of the Theosophical
> Society, did indeed undergo that ceremony of initiation in that shrine in
> Sri Lanka. Annie Besant became a convert to Mme. Blavatsky, rather than
> to Buddhism, about a decade later. Leadbetter and other founding
> members formed the incipient caucus of the Society which still survives,
> albeit in highly modified and in a largely reduced form when compared
> to the initial thrust into the religious ideological world of the early 20th
> century. Now we must distinguish between the genuine and  the spurious
> elements in the movement as it relates to Buddhism. Annie Besant was no
> doubt a sincere woman; one of the British Empire's most powerful
> orators, cofounder of the Indian National Congress, and a fine mind,
> genuinely annoyed at the inanities perpetrated by and constituted in the
> missionary scene. Col. Olcott was a genuine person, too, concerned with
> human affairs, and strongly cognizant of religious options other than those
> of Christianity. But I think Mme. Blavatsky and Leadbetter were frauds,
> pure and simple. My definition of a fraud or phony does not quite
> coincide with the usual dictionary meanings of these terms. A phony does
> not necessarily doubt the theses he or she propounds -- in fact they can be
> full believers themselves. But what makes them phonies is their basic
> attitude of refusal of matching their tenets with those of a genuine
> tradition, and of imitating lifestyles which are alien to them, by doing
> things that superficially look part of the lifestyle they imitate, or of
> imitational lifestyles which simply do not exist in any cultural body,
> except as idiosyncrasies. Leadbetter wrote about the kundalini, the secret
> serpent power, and a melee of things exoteric and other which he had
> picked up from Indian sources in early translations. He never learned any
> of the primary languages -- Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan; neither did Besant,
> Olcott, and Blavatsky. Leadbetter was an aggressive homosexual, and
> there is no doubt in my mind that he used his esoteric homiletic to seduce
> young men -- some of them very famous indeed in later days. Now I don't
> object to homosexuality -- I think the Gay Freedom movement is well
> taken and should succeed. But I do object to utilizing bits of theological
> or other religious doctrinal material to support one's own aesthetical and
> sensuous predilections. Hindu Buddhist Tantric texts do indeed use sexual
> models and analogues in their esoteric tracts, so it is quite in  order if
> scholars and practitioners use these texts in support of their sexual
> behavior, because the support is objectively there. But no Tantric text
> implies any but heterosexual relations in its corpus. The most recent
> authentic presentation of the place of sexuality in Tibetan Tantrism (1)
> should suffice as a document for the rejection of the esoteric innuendos in
> Leadbetter's writings. H.V. Guenther, of course, is a valid empire of
> Buddhist Tibetan studies in and of himself, and it may not be even
> necessary to quote so exalted a source as his prolific writings in order to
> dismantle the Blavatsky-to-Rampa type fraudulence; a very average
> familiarity with Buddhism would do the job.
>      Mme. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, a multivolume work, is such
> a melee of horrendous hogwash and of fertile inventions of inane
> esoterica, that any Buddhist and Tibetan scholar is justified to avoid
> mentioning it in any context. But it is precisely because serious scholars
> haven't mentioned this opus that it should be dealt with in a serious
> publication and in one whose readers are deeply concerned with the true
> representation of Tibetan lore. In other words, since Blavatsky's work has
> had signal importance in the genesis and perpetuation of a widespread,
> weird, fake, and fakish pseudo-Tibetica and pseudo-Buddhica, and since
> no Tibetologist or Buddhologist would touch her writings with a long pole
> (no pun intended, Blavatsky is a Russian name, the Polish spelling would
> be Blavatski), it behooves an anthropologist who works in the Buddhist
> and Tibetan field to do this job. I don't think that more than five per cent,
> if that many, of the readers of Lobsang Rampa-Hoskins' work have ever
> heard about Blavatsky, but Lobsang Rampa-Hoskins must have read them,
> cover to cover or in excerpts -- his whole work reeks of Blavatskyisms;
> and of course, he doesn't quote sources -- fakes never do. Long before
> Rampa, the whole range of quasi-mathematical spheres, diagrammatic
> arrangements, levels of existence of consciousness, master-and-
> disciplehood, hoisted on a style of self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing
> rhetoric, was more or less created by Blavatsky. Medieval Christian
> writers, the Hermetics and a large number of kindred thinkers and their
> products had indeed presented a wide vista of quasi-mathematical,
> impressionistic imaginary structures; earlier, of course, Jewish mysticism
> with kabbalistic, Talmudic, and earlier medieval Rabbinical moorings
> might have set the example for the medieval Christian writings of this
> kind, unless the Christian writers were -- or were also -- inspired by
> whatever filtered through to them from the Greek and Hellenic
> esotericists, the Pythagoreans and a large number of neo-Pythagorean
> writings spread through the Hellenic world. Medieval Christian scholars
> did not read Greek, and whatever they did know about these esoteric
> systems they obtained through Latin translations. Nobody knows to what
> degree Blavatsky was familiar with any of this. As an anthropologist, I
> believe in the perennial possibility of independent invention -- people get
> similar ideas without any necessary mutual communication or diffusion.
> Be that as it may, Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine and all the subsequent
> writings of the Esoteric section of the Theosophical Society, later on
> rechristened "Eastern" to forestall criticisms of mystery-mongering and the
> pervasive tendency to identify the esoteric with the erotic, rested heavily
> on such quasi-structural schemes.
>      I do not doubt that in her earlier years, Blavatsky must have been
> a highly eclectic, voracious reader. But as with all nonscholars in the field
> of religious systems, she did not unmix the genuine from the phony; she
> obviously regarded all sources as equally valid. Not knowing any of the
> primary languages of the Buddhist-Hindu tradition, she had to rely on
> whatever had been translated. And, as an epiphenomenon to the
> awakening interest in oriental studies, a large number of unscholarly
> writings emerged, produced by people who thought, or pretended, that
> they could get at the meat of the newly discovered wisdom of the East by
> speculating about it in their own way rather than by being guided by its
> sources, or by seeking guidance from authentic teachers in those eastern
> lands.
>      Blavatsky, Besant, and the other founders of the Theosophical
> movement were of course familiar with other translations then available.
> The I Ching had just about then been translated into French for the first
> time, though Richard Wilhelm's classical translation into English was
> published after the Secret Doctrine. This whole quasi-mathematical, highly
> self-indulgent speculation, of course, was part of the emotional packet of
> the Renaissance and the late Middle Ages in general. There is no doubt
> that esotericism was, always is, a reaction against the official ecclesiastical
> hierarchy and against the official doctrines. In India and Tibet,
> esotericization never took to this kind of pseudo-geometrical-mathematical
> model, since those models were already part of the official, scholarly
> traditions available. In these two countries, esotericization used what I call
> psycho-experimentation models, including the erotic, as instruments of
> opposition and criticism of the official religious establishments. It is quite
> obvious that Mme. Blavatsky very much identified with this European
> tradition of opposing the occidental religious belief system by esoteric, i.e.
> quasi-mathematical, pseudo-scientific speculations and by writings that
> encompassed diagrammatic representations of a secret universe. The
> Secret Doctrine and much of the older "Esoteric" (later "Eastern")
> sections of the Theosophical Society generated a welter of phantasmagoria
> of a spherical, cyclical, graphic overlay type; the vague acquaintance with
> mandala paintings in India added zest to these creations.
>      I am just not sure whether Mme. Blavatsky read the serious Hindu
> and Buddhist literature in translation and commentary available in her
> days, particularly the Sacred Books of the East, created by Max Mueller
> in the 80's of the last century. If she did, little of it showed in her
> writings. One of the most annoying features in the "M Letters" (M for
> Master) is her use of semi-fictitious names, like "H Master K" (Koot
> Humi). There is, of course, no such name in an Indian language or in
> Tibetan. But in the Upanishads, there is a minor rishi mentioned by the
> obviously non-Indo-European name Kuthumi. Just where she picked it up
> I don't know but I suspect she might have seen R.E. Hume's Twelve
> Principal Upanishads which was first published by Oxford University
> Press in the late '80s of the 19th century. The silly spelling "Koot Hoomi"
> was probably due to the occidental mystery peddlers' desire to make
> words sound more interesting by splitting them into a quasi-Chinesse
> series of letters. The Master Letters signed "K" are quite clearly
> Blavatsky's own invention; no Indian or Tibetan recluse talks or writes
> like the European feuilleton writer of the early 20th century. In a passage,
> "K" (for Koot Hoomi) criticizes a writer for saying that "the sacred man
> wants the gods to be properly worshipped, a healthy life lived, and women
> loved." "K" comments "the sacred man wants no such thing, unless he is
> a Frenchman." The inane stupidity that must have gone into the early
> converts actually believing that an Indian or Tibetan guru would use these
> European stereogibes is puzzling. Yet again mundus vult decipi, and if the
> average Western alien feels she or he can get to the esoteric goods, she
> or he tends to lower the level of skepticism to a virtual zero.
>      The works of Swami Vivekananda appeared at about the same time
> as the Secret Doctrine. Vivekananda knew of, and heartily detested, the
> esotericism of the Theosophical Society; he pronounced his disdain at the
> Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1892 -- at which convention the
> Theosophists were well represented. But while the followers of the
> Ramakrishna Vivekananda movements as well as the followers of most
> other neo-Hindu and neo-Buddhist movements officially decried the
> esoteric, they and other groups marginal to them either blurred that
> relatively parochial rejection of the esoteric, or much more commonly,
> they blended both the esoteric of the Blavatsky type and the Hindu-
> Buddhist reformist of the Vivekananda-Anagarika Dharmapala types into
> the kind of broth which is now solidly ensconced in the wisdom-seeking
> kitchens of the Western world.
>      Let me now proceed to the arch-paradigm of esoteric phoniness of
> the latter days.
CUT-- rest of article about Lobsang Rampa fraud.

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