David-Neel - Mystic and Explorer
Part 1 | Part
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
The Strange Journey to
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 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.
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.