Mystic. Occult

Alexandra David-Neel - Mystic and Explorer 
Part 1 |
Part 2 

The Creation of a Tulpa

At Kum Bum David Neel apparently managed to create a 'tulpa', a psychic phantom produced by intense concentration of thought and the repetition of relevant mystical rites over a period of months. She created a stout, phantom monk, whose form gradually became less ghost like and more life like. Before long the phantasm was accompanying her on her travels and behaving almost like a normal human being. However, he gradually began to change from a fat, jolly monk into a leaner more sinister character, and started to escape from her control. The tulpa was seen by others in her travelling party, proving it to have an objective existence outside of Alexandra's own mind, but, to avoid serious problems with her creation, Alexandra decided to 'dissolve' it. But this proved extremely difficult as the phantom clung desperately on to his life; she only succeeded in getting rid of him after six months of hard mental concentration. 

The Strange Journey to Lhasa

Soon after this, in February 1921, Alexandra and Yongden left all their belongings and, disguised as beggars, set off on their journey to forbidden Tibet, and the holy city of Lhasa. The journey was to last an epic three years, and the details are recounted in Alexandra's book My Journey to Lhasa, first published in English in 1927. The route, as the crow flies, was 3,900 miles, but Alexandra's expedition was a different matter. She was twice intercepted and often had to change her plans. 

At one stage, in early 1923, she went as far north as the Gobi Desert, from where she returned via Kanchow and Lanchow, south through China, and westwards into southern Tibet. Altogether her journey covered around 8,000 miles on horse, sedan chair and foot. Along the way bandits were a menace, as were tigers and leopards. 

On the journey they met a strange phenomenon known as a 'lung-gom' runner. First seen as a distant moving black spot, this rapidly changed into a man running towards them at an incredible speed. Alexandra was warned not to stop the speeding lama or it would kill him. When she looked closely at him she could see that he his expression was extremely relaxed and staring fixedly at an imaginary far away object. His steps were as regular as a pendulum, though he didn't seem to run but progressed by great leaps like a bouncing rubber ball. He held a magic dagger in his right hand which he seemed to be using as a staff, though it was high off the ground. Apparently, such runners would carry on this amazing feat for days without stopping for food or water. Alexandra was told that years of meditation were required before undertaking this feat. 

In February 1924, Alexandra and Yongden eventually arrived unobtrusively in the territory of Lhasa, where they remained for two months visiting the holy city and the surrounding monasteries. While at Lhasa Alexandra would go down to the river every morning to wash, something unusual enough to be noticed and reported to the governor of the city. Since the couple were in Tibet illegally this could have resulted in serious trouble, but luckily the governor did not act immediately on the tip and Alexandra and Yongden were long gone when the alarm was raised.

Alexandra Returns to France

Alexandra David Neel's house at Digne

Alexandra returned home to France in 1925, and was a huge success in Paris. After separating from Philip she settled in Digne, Provence, in 1928, and built 'Samten-Dzong', which she called her 'fortress of meditation'. She published many books about her travels from here and also went on lecture tours throughout Europe.

In 1937, at the age of 70, Alexandra set off for China, accompanied by Yongden, via the Trans-Siberian railway. Unfortunately they arrived there during the violent war with Japan, when famine and disease were rife, though she wrote and studied despite the conditions and went on to India in 1946.

She returned to France and settled once again at Digne. In 1955 Yongden, 30 years younger than Alexandra, died whilst staying at Samten-Dzong. Alexandra worked constantly and had her passport renewed at the age of 100, much to the surprise of the officials at the passport office. She was awarded a gold medal by the Geographical society of Paris and in 1969 was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. In addition, in Tibet, she was granted the rank of lama. She died on 8th September, 1969.

On the 28th February 1973, the ashes of Alexandra David-Neel, the first western woman to enter Tibet, along with those of her adopted son, Lama Yongden, were scattered over the waters of the Ganges at the holy city of Benares. On 15 October, 1982, and from May 21 to 26, 1986, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) paid her tribute by coming to Digne to visit her house. Samten-Dzong now contains a museum and is the head office of The Alexandra David-N?el Cultural Centre. Visitors to the museum can see Alexandra?s arm chair, cane, a necklace of gold coins from Prince Sidkeong of Sikkim, and meditation beads from the Gomchen of Lachen.

David-N?el?s 30 or so books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her exotic and eventful travels have been a major influence on a number of writers. These include English philosopher and writer Alan Wilson Watts (1915 ?  1973) and modern radical thinkers like beat writers Jack Kerouac (1922 ? 1969) and Allen Ginsberg (1926 ? 1997). In fact Ginsberg credited Alexandra David-N?el with converting him to Buddhism.

Sources and Further Reading

Foster, Barbara and Michael. The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel. New York, The Overlook Press, 1998. 

David-Neel, Alexandra.  Magic and Mystery in Tibet. New York, Dover Publications Inc.,1971 (1932).

Gordon, S.  The Paranormal. An Illustrated Encyclopedia. London, Headline, 1992, pp 162-3.

Copyright 2003 / 2007 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved. 

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