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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 69 As both these books indicate, Ber- nard’s influence lay more in his example and ambitions than in what he managed to accomplish during his thirty-nine years. His yoga writings continue to be read, and Penthouse of the Gods pointed the way to India and the Himalayas for many later American pilgrims, including Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass. Bernard did have a prophetic gift; he clearly saw the imminent doom of traditional Tibet, and his plans to bring Tibetan teachers to America to translate texts and promulgate Tibetan Buddhism have been fulfilled by others who fol- lowed him. Geshe Wangyal, whom he had intended to bring to America, did arrive in 1955 and was a major force in the development of Tibetan Buddhist studies. To use a familiar Buddhist meta- phor, Bernard planted the karmic seeds for Tibetan dharma to grow and flourish on American soil. The two biographies cover much the same ground, although in differ- ent ways. Veenhof’s account is a breezy journalistic read that’s ideal for the general reader. Hackett had a different objective: not only to recount Bernard’s life and milieu but to trace the natural- ization of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism in American culture. His writing is fluid and at times witty, and the density of the book’s detail calls for a close read- ing. Bernard met many figures of greater importance than himself, and Hackett rightly devotes long passages to Gergen Tharchin, Geshe Wangyal, Dasang Dam- drul Tsarong (Bernard’s host in Lhasa, a heroic general and leader of the failed movement to modernize Tibet), Gendun Chopel, and Reting Rinpoche (regent- ruler of Tibet during this period). Hackett’s expertise in Tibetan lan- guage and culture and his fieldwork in India have greatly enriched his narra- tive. Despite his occasional over-ideal- izations of Tibetan history and culture, he has written a lively and significant study that deserves the attention of any- one interested in the history of Asian religion in America. Reviews lecture tours (appearing in Tibetan monastic robes), wrote books about his travels, yoga, tantra, and Tibetan grammar, got his Ph.D. (based on his hatha yoga experiences), and eventu- ally opened a yoga studio in New York City catering to wealthy, mostly female, students. After one of them suffered a mental breakdown and was hospital- ized, her husband sued him, and the court case and its scandal left him in relative poverty. He then declared his love for one of his former students, Madame Ganna Walska, whose five divorces had made her very rich. Walska, a histrionic would- be opera singer who lacked talent, fell passionately in love with the charismatic and much younger Bernard. He per- suaded her to secretly marry him and to buy two large estates in California near Santa Barbara, one (“Tibetland”) to be the site of his translation institute, and the other (“Penthouse of the Gods”) for his private meditation retreat. He strenu- ously attempted to get Gendun Chopel a visa to head the institute, but it was 1940 and war in Asia rendered the plan impossible. Bernard spent little time with Walska, who eventually found out about his involvement with other women and divorced him. In 1947, Bernard returned to India with his new partner, Helen Park, set- tling again in Kalimpong and studying with Geshe Wangyal, who pointed out Bernard’s ignorance about the basics of Buddhism. Bernard then began studying Buddhism and literary Tibetan in ear- nest, but he tragically did not follow his teacher’s advice to cancel a planned trip with Park to Kashmir. This was imme- diately before the partition of India and Pakistan, and widespread violence had already erupted across the north. Bernard was murdered while return- ing from a visit to a monastery in Spiti, either by anti-Muslim thugs or bandits. Veenhof opts for the former story, while Hackett, based on his fieldwork in India, states that robbery was the motive and that the killers were known. SubScriber ServiceS Subscribe • Renew Pay an invoice • Give a Gift Purchase back issues Change your address Inquire about a subscription Replace a missing issue Online easy, quick, and secure Visit Subscriber Services at www.shambhalasun.com or www.thebuddhadharma.com Call toll-fRee 11:30 am – 8 pm et weekdays 1-877-786-1950 overseas: 01-760-317-2362 fax: 1-760-738-4805 email: firstname.lastname@example.org or thebuddhadharma.com Mail: Po Box 469095, escondido, Ca 92046–9095 Privacy notice: Subscribers may receive offers from organizations we believe may be of interest to our readers. Contact us if you wish to be excluded from such mailings. Shambhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly.