At the very best, this is a gateway book to reliable writing about Buddhism and Tibet
Whilst I understand that the book was a genre classic back in the day and a childhood/ teenage favourite to many, there are socio-political repercussions of Rampa's writing which make it blatantly disrespectful at the very least and potentially dangerously misinforming. Getting the Facts Straight
Read this in the course of my research for an anthropology dissertation on the cultural history of the pineal gland and third eye. Though the third eye is a prominent feature in Hindu iconography and occasionally features in the Tibetan Buddhist representations of enlightened beings such as Vajrayogini and Vajrabhairava, what most people assume to be a third eye in Buddha images is a dot symbolizing the urna, a curl of white hair which appears on the foreheads of great beings and distinguishes them as such. Rampa's take on the third eye smacks of Blavatsky, and in the light of the entire chapter she dedicated to it in her Secret Doctrine
, it is not much of a mystery from where he gets his interrelations between an open third eye, aura perception and clairvoyance. Why be bothered?
We all incorporate fiction in our narratives to make them more colorful and exciting, and usually there is no harm involved. Rampa makes his stories more colorful on account of the culture of a people who live under an occupational regime, many of whom are forced to flee to foreign lands with no permit to return to their place of origin. It is important that we afford our attention to the narratives of the people who live through this suffering and not to frauds who seek personal gain out of fictitious accounts. Tibet has for long been an exotic placeholder for Western projections of spirituality, and this book conveniently affirms them: "We had no desire for the "progress" of the outside world. We wanted only to be able to meditate and to overcome the limitations of the flesh." In the course of this writing, Trampa also sneaks in ableist bias ( describing a ritual of dipping newborn babies in freezing water to see if they can survive "for better that a few babies die than that they should be incurable invalids in a country where there is scant medical attention") and the casual sexist remark: "Women are all right for dusting, talking, and, of course, for a few other things." Which somehow should be representative of the Buddhist outlook, as he claims that he is no mere monk but an adept at the highest and most secret levels of initiation. Which brings us to the most profound problem of this book, namely, that This is not Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhist gravitates around compassion. Ideally, all of one's actions should be based on helping sentient beings break through the suffering which drags us in a cycle of rebirths eon after eon. But Rampa will have none of that. When he's not flying around on a kite, encountering yetis or reading the auras of foreign delegates for the Dalai Lama, he is generally in a self-referential state of contemplating his hunger, past biography or potential future. Being seen as a child of extreme promise and even recognized as an incarnated master, Rampa (who refuses to use his monastic name, a highly unlikely move in any Buddhist context) contends that his training was one based on "Lamaist belief" and not "orthodox Buddhism." Interestingly enough, Blavatsky, too, used to claim access to the ancient wisdom of the Book of Dzian
written in Senzar, a proto-Sanskrit language so secret that even some of the highest ranking Tibetan lamas were ignorant of it.
All of this is blatant cultural misappropriation at an extent elevated enough to claim that outsiders to the tradition have better grasp of it than its natives. Even worse, Rampa hijacks a position of highest authority, that of an incarnated master, who is superior even to the Dalai Lama in terms of psychic ability. Within the context of Buddhism, where ignorance is seen as one of the main obstructions to breaking out of samsara, believing any of the pseudo-Buddhist statements made in The Third Eye
would be a hindrance to one's progress towards realization.
What we get en lieu of Dharma is New Age. Consider the following quotes:
"To us the body was a mere shell activated by the greater self, the Overself, that takes over when one is asleep, or leaves this life. We believe that Man is placed in the infirm physical body so that he can learn lessons and progress. During sleep man returns to a different plane of existence. He lays down to rest, and the spirit disengages itself from the physical body and floats off when sleep comes. The spirit is kept in contact with the physical body by a "silver cord" which is there until the moment of death."
"The aura which surrounds the body, and which anyone can be taught to see under suitable conditions, is merely a reflection of the Life Force burning within."
In Buddhism, there is no concept of a soul, and the self is not something to be strengthened into a super-ego Overself, but an assemblage of restricting tendencies, which must be seen for its constructed nature. Take as an example this quote from the commentary of the classical text The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas
: "The false view of the transitory collection as a real "I" and "mine" is compared to a net in which we're ensnared. We can move around a little inside it but cannot escape. This constricting net of conceptions is our prison."
Whereas I cannot make judgments on the lived experience of Cyril Henry Hoskin, who later changed his name legally to Tuesday Lobsang Rampa and claimed that "Everything I have written in my books is true", I can assure you that his is not a truth shared by Tibetans and tibetologists. Reply