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T. Lobsang Rampa
Tuesday Lobsang Rampa is the spirit of a dead Tibetan lama (monk) who allegedly took over the body of Cyril Hoskin (1910-1981), a British-born son of a plumber who lived in Ireland in the mid-1950s and moved to Canada in the 1960s. He died in Calgary in 1981. Hoskin submitted a manuscript to the publishing firm of Secker & Warburg entitled The Third Eye, allegedly authored by Lama Lobsang Rampa. The publisher sent a copy for review to several people knowledgeable in Buddhism and Tibetan culture, including Agehananda Bharati who has published an account of the ensuing affair:
I was suspicious before I opened the wrapper: the "third eye" smacked of Blavatskyan and post-Blavatskyan hogwash. The first two pages convinced me the writer was not a Tibetan, the next ten that he had never been either in Tibet or India, and that he knew absolutely nothing about Buddhism of any form, Tibetan or other. The cat was out of the bag very soon, when the "Lama", reflecting on some cataclysmic situation in his invented past, mused, "for we know there is a God [sic]." A Buddhist makes many statements of a puzzling order at times, and he may utter many contradictions; but this statement he will not make, unless perhaps — I am trying hard to find a possible exception — he is a nominal Nisei Buddhist in Seattle, Washington, who somehow gets into Sunday school at age eleven and doesn't really know what he is talking about. (Bharati 1974)
There is no god in Buddhism, but the "lama" apparently hadn't got that far in his library studies. Bharati found many other problems with the claims made by the alleged Tibetan monk.
Every page bespeaks the utter ignorance of the author of anything that has to do with Buddhism as practiced and Buddhism as a belief system in Tibet or elsewhere. But the book also shows a shrewd intuition into what millions of people want to hear. Monks and neophytes flying through the mysterious breeze on enormous kites; golden images in hidden cells, representing earlier incarnations of the man who views them; arcane surgery in the skull to open up the eye of wisdom; tales about the dangers of mystical training and initiation — in a Western world so desperately seeking for the mysterious....
Rampa claims he met the Abominable Snowman and came upon a mummy that was himself in an earlier incarnation. He's initiated into esoteric doctrines, including one that explains how our planet collided with another planet, causing the Himalayas to form. Bharati told the publisher that the manuscript was a fraud and the lama a fake. He advised that it not be published. He claims that other Tibetologists concurred and gave the publisher the same advice, including "Hugh Richardson, the last British and the last Indian Government Resident in Lhasa; Marco Pallis, the British scholar-traveler; and Heinrich Harrer of Seven Years in Tibet fame, whom Mr. Richardson had once put under arrest in Lhasa."
However, publishers are not the harbingers of authenticity, but businessmen. They published the book in spite of the negative reports, anticipating its sales potential. And they were right. I understand the six British editions sold close to eighty thousand copies. The German translation, wouldn't you know it, sold close to a hundred thousand, and comparable numbers of copies were sold in other European languages.
The Third Eye - Autobiography of a Tibetan Lama came out in 1956 but, according to Wikipedia, the manuscript had been turned down by several British publishers before being published by Secker and Warburg.
Hoskin was traced and found living in Ireland. He told the press that he'd been knocked out when he had fallen out of a tree in Surrey and when he came to the Tibetan monk took over his body. Incredibly, this story did nothing to diminish the popularity of Rampa, who went on to publish several more books and establish an ashram in Toronto.
Mr. Bharati was disturbed by the fact that many people who knew who Rampa was didn't seem to care that he might be a fake or, even more disturbing, were willing to accept his cockamamie story. He writes that two Canadians called him long distance from Toronto one night and said: "Sir, you are a wicked person. You say Lama Lobsang is an Irish plumber; well he may be in the body of an Irish plumber, but the soul of a Tibetan Lama lives in him." Writes Bharati:
People simply cannot stand the idea that there is no abominable snowman, that there is no white brotherhood somewhere in the Himalayas, and that people do not fly through the air except in planes; least of all can they suffer the idea that religious specialists in Tibet are scholars, tough theologians, and down-to-earth monastic leaders, with lots of hard political know-how, and with the measure of cruelty and strategy that seems to be common to all ecclesiastic leaders who also have secular powers; and this, of course, was very much the case in Tibet before the Chinese takeover.
Bharati naively speculates that if only these scholarly works were available in libraries or in inexpensive volumes then the "intellectually inert, but good-willed seekers after the mysterious East" would read them and accept the genuine over the pseudo once they recognized their superior quality. He asks: Who would want Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation or Paramahansa Yogananda or Madame Blavatsky or Hare Krishna or Don Juan or Lobsang Rampa if they could have the genuine article? Apparently there are millions of people who prefer the pseudo or fake spirituality. A reviewer of The Third Eye on Amazon.com writes that he doesn't care if the book is a hoax. "It made me a more spiritual person, made me respect the souls of others more, and continues to stay with me many years later." I can only guess at the spiritual depth of such a person, but it probably approximates that of the hopping TMers who believe they are on their way to levitation. The popularity of these faux mysteries from the east is not due to the difficulty in getting access to the scholarly works. It is due to the attractiveness of fantasy and the ease with which fantasy can be understood and appear to be profound. It is due to the desire to be special and to have knowledge of the mysteries of life without having to study or think very hard. It is due to the attractiveness of seemingly sincere, authoritative, and attractive enemies of materialism such as Deepak Chopra who offer fortune cookie wisdom as commonsense spiritual enlightenment.
We should not assume that just because Mr. Hoskin was a fraud that he did not sometimes have good advice. After all, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Here is "Dr. Rampa" on divorce:
If two business partners cannot get on together, then they part. It is the only sensible thing to do, and marriage nowadays really IS a business! My personal opinion is that people should never separate; they should divorce and part definitely, deliberately, and irrevocably. After all, if you have an aching tooth you don't go to a dentist and have it half pulled, do you, you have the thing yanked straight out so that you can forget all about it. Well, if you've got wife trouble or husband trouble and you can't seem to make any sense of it, then don't waste any more time - get divorced, never mind what the stupid clod of a priest says, he is not going through it - he is not suffering - you are. [From his 1975 masterpiece: Twilight, in which he also informs us that gypsies came from the hollow Earth.]
Lobsang Rampa continues to gain followers, thanks to the folks who run the LobsangRampa.net website, which "is dedicated to spreading the knowledge and practice of spiritual values which will help us as individuals and humanity as a whole, to progress - to improve ourselves and our world."
We should not forget that even a madman can give good advice and that even though claiming to channel a spirit author is a cheap trick, it is often effective--Hoskin got 19 books published--and, at times, beneficial. In this case, however, the consequences have been mixed. On the one hand, Hoskin provides succor and solace for some souls seeking enlightenment, souls ignorant of Tibetan Buddhism and dissatisfied with Western religions. On the other hand, he heaped more lies and half-truths on the pile of false history and romantic nonsense about the spiritual superiority and grandeur of Tibet, adding to the mythology about that country that continues to flourish in the West and shows little sign of diminishing.
Lopez Jr, Donald S. 1999. Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, University of Chicago Press. (Chapter three gives a thorough account of Mr. Hoskin in the context of Western fascination with and romanticization of Tibet and all things Tibeten, true and false.)