White Lama by Douglas Veenhof
Theos Bernard was an aspiring yogi in the 1930’s who’s enthusiasm and zeal for yoga lead him to seek out the yoga masters and tantric practitioners in India and Tibet. At that time, Tibet’s borders were closed off to foreigners but through the insistence, good fortune and wise planning of Bernard, he was not only allowed into Tibet, but was allowed access to monasteries, temples and secret shrines, many which had never been seen by a westerner before. The story of Bernard’s life and adventures is so amazing and well written that this book is hard to put down.
Veenhof’s meticulous research shines through in his richly detailed descriptions and excerpts of Bernard’s journals and correspondence to his wife, Viola. Bernard’s relationship to his wife slowly reveals a struggle between choosing householder approach to yoga and a renunciate path. This biography is a much needed piece in the history of early American yoga, as Bernard was the third American to set foot in Tibet and the first American ever initiated into Tantric practices by the highest lamas in Tibet. Bernard left Tibet with fifty mule loads of rare Buddhist scriptures and relics from government and monastery vaults. This story gives me both a humble perspective of one man’s search for the techniques and philosophies of yoga, and a deep appreciation for how accessible yoga has become in this modern time.