One from the vaults: The Fantastic World of Lobsang Rampa – I
A version of this article first appeared in the first edition of Abraxas journal in 2009.
1956 saw the first British publication of a book called The Third Eye – described in glowing terms by the Times Literary Supplement as “becoming a near work of art” whilst The Observer called it “an extraordinary and exciting book.”
The Third Eye was the autobiography of one Tuesday Lobsang Rampa. He was the son of a leading member of the Dalai Lama’s government, and lived in a well-to-do home in Lhasa. At the age of seven, astrologers predicted the boy’s future – that he would enter a monastery, train as a priest-surgeon, suffer great hardships, leave Tibet, and live amongst strange peoples. Tuesday thus joined a lamasery, and in due course proved to be an exemplary student, and was selected to receive the most esoteric teachings. On the boy’s eighth birthday, priest-surgeons drilled a hole in his skull in order to create a “third eye” which would allow him to see auras. After recovering from the operation, Tuesday was interviewed by the Dalai Lama, who had investigated the boys past lives, and reminded him of the role he would soon play in preserving the wisdom of Tibet.
At the age of twelve, Tuesday took the examination to qualify as a medical priest. This involved being sealed inside a stone cubicle, into which was passed written questions, which required written responses. The tests lasted for fourteen hours a day, and lasted for six days. After passing the exams with flying colours, Tuesday accompanied his tutor, the great Lama Mingyar Dondup, on an expedition to collect medical plants and herbs. During this expedition, they visited a monastery where the monks build box kites that are large enough for a person to fly in. Tuesday made several flights and also made suggestions for the improvement of their design. On another expedition, Tuesday and his teacher encountered the Yeti and found a garden of Eden-like paradise in a lost valley. At the age of sixteen, he is examined once again, and achieved the rank of Lama.
The book closes with Tuesday receiving the rank of Abbot – undergoing “the Ceremony of the Little Death” – and departing Tibet for China, on the instructions of the Dalai Lama.
Publishing The Third Eye
The MS of The Third Eye was first given to several publishers, such as Robert Hale & Collins – who rejected it out of hand. The Publishers E. P. Dutton in New York, sent it to Hugh Richardson, a former officer-in-charge of the British Mission to Tibet, who had lived there for nine years. Richardson returned the MS with many corrections and offered the opinion that the book was a fake, using existing published works as a basis and “embellished by a fertile imagination”. Dutton rejected the book on Richardson’s recommendation.
The MS was then sent to Secker and Warburg. The story goes that the author met Frederick Warburg and impressed him by reading his palm and correctly divining his age and that he had been recently involved in a criminal case. Warburg obtained a copy of Richardson’s report on the ms and further, sent copies to a battery of authorities on Tibet, including the mountaineers Heinrich Harrer and Marco Pallis, and respected scholars such as David Snellgrove and Agehananda Bharati. All declared unequivocally that the book was fraudulent.
In the preface to the first edition of The Third Eye, the publishers acknowledged the reservations of the expert readers but noted that:
“On many points of his personal life he [the author] displayed a discretion that was sometimes disconcerting. … But Lobsang Rampa assures us that because Tibet is occupied by the Communists, he is obliged to maintain a certain discretion in order not to compromise the security of his family. … We might sometimes think that that he stretches the limits of occidental credulity, although our understanding in this field cannot be held to be definitive. The publishers are nonetheless persuaded that The Third Eye essentially constitutes an authentic document on the education and formation of a young Tibetan in the bosom of his family and in a Lamasery.”
The Third Eye quickly became a best-seller in twelve countries, selling some 300,000 copies in the first eighteen months of publication in the UK alone – and within two years, it had nine hardback printings. French and German editions also appeared.
The Scholars Fight back
The popularity of The Third Eye drew an outraged response from the scholars who had given their testimony to the publishers. David Snellgrove described the book as “shameless”. Marco Pallis stated that it was “a wild fabrication and a libel on both Tibet and its religion. Heinrich Harrer’s review was so scathing that The Third Eye’s German publisher threatened him with a libel suit. Hugh Richardson published a critical review of The Third Eye in the Daily Telegraph and the Morning Post in November 1956, declaring that “anyone who has lived in Tibet will feel after reading a few pages of “The Third Eye” that its author, T. Lobsang Rama, is certainly not a Tibetan…”
In 1958, Marco Pallis, acting on behalf of a group of European scholars of Tibet, engaged the services of Clifford Burgess, a private detective, to discover the “true identity” of the author of The Third Eye. After a month of investigation, Burgess revealed that the author was one Cyril Henry Hoskin, born in Plympton, Devonshire in 1910. His father was a plumber, and he was considered by those who knew him as “an odd child”. He later worked for a surgical goods manufacturing company and as a clerk for a London company who offered education via correspondence courses. Burgess reported that during this period, Hoskin became increasingly “peculiar” – calling himself Kuan-Suo, shaving the hair from his head, and taking his cat out on a lead for walks. He then appeared in Bayswater in 1954, calling himself Dr. Kuan-Suo. Burgess stated that until he moved to Dublin 1 there was no evidence that Hoskin had ever left the UK.
Exposure and response
In February 1958, the Scottish Daily Mail broke the story with “Third Eye Lama Exposed as a Fake”. The Daily Express followed with “The Full Truth about the Bogus Lama” along with an article by Frederick Warburg, who reported that he had had a Tibetologist phoeneticize the phrase “Did you have a nice journey, Mr. Rampa?” which he read out to the author. When he did not reply, Warburg informed him that it was Tibetan. The author promptly fell to the floor in an apparent fit, and explained to Warburg that he had been tortured by the Japanese, and had hypnotically blocked his knowledge of Tibetan to the extent that he had never recovered his native tongue. Even hearing Tibetan caused him pain, and he had warned Warburg not to press him further.
In February 1958, Time magazine featured the story, “Private vs. Third Eye”. Hoskin did not meet with reporters, it was claimed, because of his health, but his wife attested that her husband had written the book on behalf of a real Dr. Ku’an, whose family were in hiding from the Chinese communists. She later stated that these comments were a fabrication by the press.
When The Third Eye was reprinted, it contained a statement from the author which began: “In the East it is commonly acknowledged that a stronger mind can take possession of another body…”. He went on to explain that, late in 1947, Cyril Hoskin began to experience an irresistible compulsion to adopt eastern ways of living. He changed his name to Carl Ku’an, left his job, and moved to a “remote location” where he experienced hallucinations and his own memories were gradually supplanted by those of an “eastern entity”. In 1949 he sustained a concussion falling out of a tree, and after this had no memory of his own early life, but gained the full memory – from babyhood – as a Tibetan. He claimed that he had papers which proved his identity, but that he had sent them away again so that they would not be “sullied” by those who doubted him. In response to the opinions of the “experts” he responded that no two of them had been able to agree on any particular fault, and in any case, none of them had lived in Tibet as a lama – or entered a monastery at the age of seven “as I have done”. In closing, he states that there is a great deal of Theosophical literature on the subject of possession and that his publishers have a letter from a swami in India stating that possession is quite common in the East.
Hoskin’s statement is reinforced by one from his wife, testifying that since 1949 “his whole manner and make-up have been those of an easterner,” and that “his general make-up and colouring have also shown a marked change.” The book also contains a statement from Hoskin that British and German newspapers had been conducting a campaign against him – and that he could not defend himself because of a heart condition. He states once again that all his claims are absolutely true and that he did not copy from other books.
But that was not the end of the story. Undettered by the critics, two other books quickly followed The Third Eye. Doctor from Lhasa, published in 1959, picks up the story of Lobsang Rampa in China, beginning in 1927. His many adventures include being recruited into a special corps of medical airmen in the army of Chiang Kai-shek; flying an air ambulance during China’s war with Japan; being caught by the Japanese (twice!) and tortured – although his training as a Lama allows him to resist this. He also enrols in a medical college where he astounds his instructors by sketching a magnetic field, as seen through his third eye. He hopes, by combining his knowledge of Chinese and Occidental medicine, to reproduce a machine he once saw in the ruins of a prehistoric city in a hidden valley in the Chang Thang – a device for reading auras and predicting the onset of disease or mental problems.
The Rampa Story (1960) opens in 1960, in Tibet, where the High Lamas have discovered, through astral exploration, a secret network of caves, which they are using to prevent their most sacred artifacts from falling into the hands of the communists. The Abbots, having known of the impeding Chinese invasion through their clairvoyant powers, have been secretly preparing this for years. By now, Rampa himself is living in Canada. The Lamas contact him telepathically and give him the task of writing a book explaining how one person can take over the body of another – with the latter person’s full consent. The book recounts that Rampa, after drifting across the Sea of Japan (which was where Doctor from Lhasa ended), found himself in Russia. He is drafted into the Russian army but later arrested by the security police and tortured in Lubianka prison. He is released and is deported to Poland, but on the way the truck he is travelling in crashes and Rampa is badly injured. Whilst in hospital, he travels to the “world of golden light” in his astral body, where he meets his former teacher, who has been murdered by the communists, and Sha-lu, a talking cat. The thirteenth Dalai Lama meets him also and urges him to return to earth and continue his work. The problem is that Rampa’s body is in no fit state. The Dalai Lama tells Rampa that a body has been located for him in England, and that the present owner’s aura has the same “harmonic” as Rampa’s. He is warned however, that if he returns to Earth, he will face disbelief, hatred and hardship, which is due to the force of evil which tries to prevent human evolution.
Further adventures take Rampa across Europe to America, and then to India, where with the help of an old Lama he makes an astral journey to the Akashic Records in order to investigate the past of lives of the man whose body he is to inhabit. He meets this man on the astral plane, and he agrees to allow Rampa to inhabit his body. A month later, Rampa visits the man astrally again, and instructing him to fall out of a tree, Rampa and three fellow Lama’s sever the silver cord attaching the man to his body and attach Rampa’s silver cord to the body. He does a variety of jobs in England, and eventually writes The Third Eye. After the completion of the book he has a heart attack and moves to Ireland – an island which was once part of Atlantis. His old teacher contacts him again once more, and directs him to move to “the land of the Red Indians” where he has a final task to accomplish. The Rampa Story ends with the prediction of a Chinese nuclear attack launched from Lhasa.
Sixteen other books followed this initial trilogy, including Living with the Lama, which was written by (Mrs.) Fifi Greywhiskers, one of the Lama’s cats. It has been estimated that overall sales of the Lobsang Rampa series have topped four million copies worldwide by the time of Rampa’s death in 1981. 2 The Lobsang Rampa books remain in print to this day and there are several websites and internet forums devoted to the discussion and circulation of his ideas.
In the next part of this essay I will discuss Rampa as both a ‘mystifier’ of Tibet and a ‘demystifier’ of the occult.
Books by Lobsang Rampa:
The Third Eye (1956) Doctor from Lhasa (1959) The Rampa Story (1960) Cave of the Ancients (1965) The Saffron Robe (1966) Chapters of Life (1967) Beyond the Tenth (1969) Feeding the Flame (1971) The Hermit (1971) The Thirteenth Candle (1972) Candlelight (1973) Twilight (1975) As It Was! (1976) I Believe (1976) Three Lives (1977) Tibetan Sage (1980).
Peter Bishop, Dreams of Power: Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Imagination (Athlone Press, 1993)
Dodin, T & Rather, H (eds) Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections and Fantasies (Wisdom Publications, 2001)
Christopher Evans, Cults of Unreason (Farrar, Straus & Girard, 1974)
Christopher Lindner, The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader (Manchester University Press, 2003)
Donald Lopez Prisoners of Shangri La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
Sheelagh Rouse, Twenty-five Years with T. Lobsang Rampa (Lulu.com, 2006)
Agehananda Bharati Fictitious Tibet: The Origin and Persistence of Rampaism
Sarah Penicka Lobsang Rampa: The Lama of Suburbia (PDF, Sydney Studies in Religion)
Lobsang Rampa’s books can be downloaded as pdfs from Dr T Lobsang Rampa Books