A few words about Lobsang Rampa

A few words about Lobsang Rampa

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If you’re under forty years of age, chances are the name Tuesday Lobsang Rampa won’t mean anything to you.  But for some of us, in the second half of our lives, his name is redolent with powerful associations – positive and otherwise.

By way of a refresher, or for those of you who haven’t heard of him, here are a couple of excerpts from the Wikipedia entry for Lobsang Rampa:

Lobsang Rampa is the pen name of an author who wrote books with paranormal and occult themes. His best known work is The Third Eye, published in Britain in 1956.

Following the publication of the book, newspapers reported that Rampa was Cyril Henry Hoskin (8 April 1910 – 25 January 1981), a plumber from Plympton in Devon who claimed that his body hosted the spirit of a Tibetan lama going by the name of Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, who is purported to have authored the books. The name Tuesday relates to a claim in The Third Eye that Tibetans are named after the day of the week on which they were born.

Later, the Wikipedia entry says:

Lobsang Rampa went on to write another 18 books containing a mixture of religious and occult material. One of the books, Living with the Lama, was described as being dictated to Rampa by his pet Siamese cat, Mrs Fifi Greywhiskers. Faced with repeated accusations from the British press that he was a charlatan and a con artist, Rampa went to live in Canada in the 1960s. He and his wife, San Ra’ab, became Canadian citizens in 1973, along with Sheelagh Rouse (Buttercup) who was his secretary and regarded by Rampa as his adopted daughter.

Lobsang Rampa died in Calgary on 25 January 1981, at the age of 70.

What made Lobsang Rampa exceptional was the fact that he was one of very few Westerners writing popular books about Tibetan Buddhism – or his version of it at least – in the 1950s.  There were other accounts of life in Tibet from adventurers such as Heinrich Harrer, whose Seven Years in Tibet, published in 1952, has sold well over 3 million copies.  But Lobsang Rampa’s focus on personal spirituality, from a perspective that many Westerners had never come across, was absolutely riveting.  This was why the books kept being reprinted through the sixties and seventies.

I remember encountering The Third Eye as a teenager – to me it was utterly absorbing.  I hadn’t come across such mind-blowing ideas ever before!  All I remember of the book now is that ‘opening’ the third eye, which Lobsang Rampa equated with achieving clairvoyance, involved a surgical procedure at the front of the skull.  This idea is laughable now, but I remember being intrigued at the time.  There was much that was magical and mystical, and in those pre-internet times, when hardly any Tibetan lamas had visited the West, it was a lot harder to find out if any of this stuff was actually true.

Quite recently I was in a library where I noticed a book by Lobsang Rampa.  Taking it from the shelf, I sat down to read it for a while – my first encounter with the author since sitting at the feet of real Tibetan lamas.  It was immediately apparent to me that the author didn’t embody the key teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.  Not only did he relate stories that were simply unbelievable.  As important was what he missed out, with no reference to some of the main teachings of the Dharma, such as the cultivation of bodhichitta.  Who wants to read boring stuff about the importance of generosity, ethics and patience when you can go astral travelling instead?!

The curious thing is how much of a positive impact Lobsang Rampa made, despite the inauthenticity of his books.  At a meditation retreat I went on earlier this year, a group of about half a dozen of us were having a ‘Milo Party’ at the end of the day.  Sitting in subdued lighting in the evening, after another day of 7 hours on the cushion, someone asked the question, “What got you interested in Tibetan Buddhism in the first place?”

Each of us had our own story.  But a very interesting point of consistency was: “Of course, I read some of those books by Lobsang Rampa which had made me curious …”

One by one, I discovered that each of my fellow meditators, just like me, had somehow found their way to his books, and had been just as engrossed by them as I had.  It’s a curious and quite delightful paradox: whoever Lobsang Rampa was – and he was certainly no lama – and whatever his motivations, his books helped awaken many to a spiritual path which has become inexpressibly precious to us.

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