Grandpa Kewl

Book Review – Tibetan Journey, Alexandra David-Neel

Some time back, I encountered references to “Geser of Ling” as one of the great heroes of Tibet. It some serious digging but I finally obtained a copy of the book  “The Superhuman Life of Gesar of Ling”, written by Alexandra David-Neel, published in French and then English in the 1930s. The epic is a review for another time but suffice it to say that I found it to be one of the most wonderful, enchanting and inspiring stories I have encountered. That led me to purchase “Tibetan Journey”, simply because it was available and by the same author. A bit of background related to the author, shamelessly stolen from a variety of web sites:

From the wikipedia:


Alexandra David-Néel born Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David (born in Saint-Mandé on 24 October 1868, and died in Digne-les-Bains, on 8 September 1969) was a Belgian-French explorer, anarchist, spiritualist, Buddhist and writer, most known for her visit to Lhasa, Tibet, in 1924, when it was forbidden to foreigners. David-Néel wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels.Born in Paris, she moved to Elsene at the age of six. During her childhood she had a very strong desire for freedom and spirituality. At the age of 18, she had already visited England, Switzerland and Spain on her own, and she was studying in Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society.

In 1890 and 1891, she traveled through India, returning only when running out of money. In Tunis she met the railroad engineer Philippe Néel, whom she married in 1904. In 1911 Alexandra traveled for the second time to India, to further her study of Buddhism. She was invited to the royal monastery of Sikkim, where she met Maharaj Kumar (crown prince) Sidkeon Tulku. She became Sidkeong’s “confidante and spiritual sister” (according to Ruth Middleton), perhaps his lover (Foster & Foster). She also met the 13th Dalai Lama twice in 1912, and had the opportunity to ask him many questions about Buddhism—a feat unprecedented for a European woman at that time.

In the period 1914-1916 she lived in a cave in Sikkim, near the Tibetan border, learning spirituality, together with the young Sikkimese monk Aphur Yongden, who became her lifelong traveling companion, and whom she would adopt later. From there they trespassed into Tibetan territory, meeting the Panchen Lama in Shigatse (August 1916). When the British authorities learned about this—Sikkim was then a British protectorate—Alexandra and Yongden had to leave the country, and, unable to return to Europe in the middle of World War I, they traveled to Japan.

There Alexandra met Ekai Kawaguchi, who had visited Lhasa in 1901 disguised as a Chinese doctor, and this inspired her to visit Lhasa disguised as pilgrims. After traversing China from east to west, they reached Lhasa in 1924, and spent 2 months there.

In 1937, Yongden and Alexandra through Soviet Union went to China, traveling there during the second World War. They eventually ended up in Tachienlu, where Mme. David-Neel continued her investigations of Tibetan sacred literature.

There are extraordinary events related to this woman and I invite the reader to query her name and the names “tulpa” and “lung-gom” for examples.

This book is the journal of the 1923-1924 journey thru China and Tibet. It is a quite engrossing story told in a plain and very readable style. The insight it provides into Tibet at the time is priceless and unique. This is before the Chinese took over Tibet and set out to destroy the land, its culture and its people. There is s special place in hell for the Chinese who have done this….and for the rest of the world which has allowed it to happen.

Some things I noted while reading:

“Each evening, it was necessary to go a-begging for permission to pass the night under a peasants’ roof.”

“In them, it took the form of a sort of universal benevolence, slightly pitying, slightly ironical, and essentially detached…”

“To be kind to others, to cause no pain, is the best rule of conduct.”

“Calmness of mind, the deep insight that discerns what the vulgar cannot percieve, this is what must be acquired.”

“Death is an inexhaustible subject of meditation in all religions; but that which the Tibetan mystics see through this dismal display of images is not death itself, but its unreality.”

“Certainly the best moral rule for us poor mortals to follow is to give one another the benefit of a generous pity.”

“All beings, all things, enev those things that appear to be inanimate, emit sounds.”

This is a marvelous book and I was quite grateful that it fell into my hands…..

A few pictures I swiped from locations on the internet…


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