Yes it’s still only Monday (sigh) but today we look at Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, a Tibetan monk instrumental in the growth of New Age disciplines in the West, who credits his first name to a tradition by which children in his country are named after their day of birth. In 1956 Rampa published the autobiographical The Third Eye, detailing his life and calling as well as the titular gift which allowed him to discern auras.
OK, you probably know where I’m going with this, right? No? Perhaps a quote from the foreword will help, in which the publishers attest that they “believe that The Third Eye is in its essence an authentic account of the upbringing and training of a Tibetan boy in his family and in a lamasery”. Then there’s the author’s himself fretting that “Some of my statements, so I am told, may not be believed”. This is the author, by the way, whose cover photo reveals him (despite robes and attitude of contemplation) to look about as Tibetan as I do.
The book was a bestseller but there was suspicion as to the author’s identity. Maybe it was passages like this which raised alarm bells, an over-egged account of “Rampa’s” first encounter with a Westerner: “Then I looked at his feet. Very, very strange. He had some curious black things on them. Shiny things, shiny as if they were covered in ice.” Then in 1958 an investigative journalist discovered that “Rampa” was the less exotically named Cyril Henry Hoskin of Devon, who didn’t even have a passport much less any personal experience of Tibet.
And what have we learnt about such fabulists so far on Strange Flowers? When they’re busted they just keep lying. So when an editor tried to catch him out by speaking Tibetan, “Rampa” claimed he had blocked all knowledge of the language, traumatised by torture at the hands of the Japanese. Finally “Rampa” said that the spirit of a Tibetan monk had at some point entered his body. And who could disprove that?
What happened after the dust settled is probably the most amazing part of this story; lots of people believed him, and as he kept on writing books, they kept on buying them, until “Rampa” was accepted as a leading authority on Tibetan Buddhism. Clearly there was a significant section of the population hungry for non-Western spirituality, and by the time “Rampa” died in Canada on this day in 1981, the New Age movement in which he played a dubious if pioneering role was well and truly established. And adherents still believe “Rampa” really was born in Tibet, despite his own claims to the contrary.
There’s a sucker reincarnated every minute.