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date: 05 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

Theos Bernard was an early pioneer of yoga in the United States and only the third American to reach the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, but the first to do so as a religious pilgrim. Although born in Los Angeles, California, Bernard was raised and educated in Tombstone, Arizona. In the late 1930s, Bernard embarked upon a journey to India and Tibet and, while there, explored the yogic traditions of India and participated in some of the highest religious rituals in Tibet, all while documenting his experiences on paper, in photographs, and on film.

Upon returning to New York in 1937, Bernard wrote and published several books purporting to chronicle his experiences in India and Tibet and setting forth the fundamental principles of Indian and Tibetan philosophies as he understood them. During the years that followed, Bernard attempted to establish a Tibetan research center in Santa Barbara, California, together with the Tibetan monk and scholar Gendün Chöpel. His efforts having been thwarted by the events of World War II, in 1942, Bernard instead entered Columbia University to pursue a PhD in philosophy. Completed less than a year later, his dissertation, “Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience,” was an ethnographic report of his studies in India that was subsequently published, and which served to introduce the practices of yoga to a new American generation. Bernard went on to found the short-lived Tibetan Text Society in Santa Barbara, California, prior to returning to the Indian subcontinent in 1946 in search of additional resources. Finding his entry to Tibet blocked by the British government in India, he bided his time until Indian independence. In August 1947, he launched a different expedition into the western Himalayas—to Spiti, Lahoul, and Ladakh—five days after the Partition of India. He was never seen again.

Keywords: biographies and works, Buddhism, yoga, tantra, Tibet, religion in America

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