Friday, November 6, 2009

Grandpa Rampa

I've just finished reading Donald Lopez's Prisoners of Shangri La, an interesting and informative account of Tibet as it exists in the Western imagination. One whole chapter is devoted to Lobsang Rampa; in fact it's the fullest account I have found of old Lobsang's strange life. Now he and I go back a long way. The first book I ever read on Buddhism was John Walters' The Mind Unshaken which I found in our local public library. It appealed to me straight away and when I went back the next week to return the book and get another on the same subject I found only one, The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa. Wow! What a book! What a story! But as sometimes happens, disillusionment was not long in coming. A second and third Rampa book convinced me that he was a crank and a fraud, and of course I was right. I gave up on Lobsang Rampa and refocused on 'real' Buddhism. But Lobsang Rampa was not just a fraud, he was an amazingly successful one. He made several million dollars from his books and they can still be found in the 'Buddhism' or the 'Spirituality' section of most bookshops even today. Donald Lopez points out that Western adherents of Tibetan Buddhism today, scoff at and deride Lobsang Rampa’s books as inauthentic and fantastic nonsense. But then he makes what I think is a rather interesting point. What fakes like Lobsang Rampa claim about Tibet is bizarre in the extreme. But is it any more bizarre and unbelievable than what some genuine Tibetan monks teach and claim to be able to do? I'm thinking of rimpoches taking rebirth in two or more bodies, state oracles, prophetic visions and dreams, fierce protectors, 'rainbow bodies', miraculous relics, lung-gom, nasty old Dorje Shugden, etc. Interesting point!


Unknown said...


I wonder how much of this does have a root in Theravadin Buddhism. Granted popular Buddhism isn't formal Buddhism, but there are relics that transform into precious stones in Thailand. And don't forget, the Buddha himself could see with the "divine eye" and was quite chummy with some of the Gods, though one was his mother...

How much has it's root in early Buddhism? When I studied with a Tibetan Lama, I couldn't get him to answer questions about how Vajrayana related to the repugnant Hinayana teachings, as they must follow having been taken both from the Buddha.

Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

Sometimes things exist at the same level of absurdity. It is just that one side has more history to back up its absurdity.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Sheridan,
Theravada (i.e. that interpretation of the Pali Tipitaka praveling in Burma, Thailand, etc) has, as you point out,its fair share of the bizarre. The Buddha’s teachings as recorded in the Pali Tipitaka is another matter. I think the difference between Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism is that in the first the bizarre is for the most part confined to the commentaries and to popular practice. In the latter it's‘official’.

Dear Zendirtzendust,
And sometimes some claims and assertions have more evidence to back them up.

Abigail said...


Just before Lobsang Rampa's death he performed diksha on me. I practice tapas of pranayama and meditation for several hours each day. I have constant yoga nidras, and he is my Guru Deva, forever. This is my forum that I host in his honor.

When I saw, 'Grandpa Rampa' written it reminded me of a poem my brother said when we were kids. "Lobsang Rampa is somebodys grampa". I told H.H. Rampa that in dream yoga, he of course, said "that isn't true". I said, "oh! I just meant in a spiritual sense"! Years ago he told me to change my name legally to 'Abigail'. I found out later it meant "fathers joy". He is and was everything he claimed to be.