13 May 2007 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 2 Comments.
I first heard Lama Govindaв’ name in 1969 when I was in college in the late Sixties, from either Baba Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, or Gary Snyder, all of whom had already met him in India. I immediately went out and bought his autobiographical The Way of the White Clouds a spiritual book chronicling his 1930s and 40s Tibetan pilgrimage journeys, which helped set me on a journey similar to what Govinda lovingly called “The Land of the Thousand Buddhas.”
I was amazed to find out that the learned and accomplished Lama Anagarika Govinda — whom was the first Occidental Lama and I mentally put in a class with the famously reclusive Trappist monk Thomas Merton, author of the classic autobiography The Seven Story Mountain — was actually a German guy who had fought in Italy during World War I, had been a monk in Ceylon, and was married to a slightly flamboyant, upper-class Indian Farsi artist. I remember reading his marvelous tales of Tibet during winter nights in my college dorm in snowy Buffalo, New York, and dreaming of likewise meditating at the feet of the old enlightened Tibetan masters, saints, and sages while imbibing their secret teachings.
Devouring with my eyes the strikingly beautiful and mysterious Buddha images and sacred temple architecture in the photos the Govindas had taken along their way, I too wanted to become a Buddhist and eventual Buddha, in order to help edify, enlighten, and make peace in the world. I recall struggling with my Brooklyn-bred mouth to actually pronounce the Sanskrit and Tibetanized mantras I first read in that early book, and asking my calculus teacher from India for help. The White Clouds led me to Evans-Wentz’ Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, Herman Hesseвs Siddhartha, and Rene Daumalвs Mount Analogue, as well as the significant works of Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Herbert V. Guenther and D. T Suzuki books on Zen…and the young seeker was off and running.
It was two years later that I graduated from college and found my way overland to India, and met my first lamas — Thubten Yeshe — on a hilltop overlooking Nepalвs Katmandu Valley and Kalu Rinpoche in Darjeeling near where Lama Govinda had met his own root guru Tomo Geshe. In the library above Katmandu, I first studied Govindaвs seminal The Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, learning for the first time in fascinating detail about the outer and inner meanings of my guruвs favorite mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. I also heard that the author lived in the foothills of Northwest India at the old British hill station of Almora on the famous Crankвs Ridge (known for its eccentric ex-patriots), and resolved to try to visit him there should I have the opportunity. But this story will have to wait for another time.