Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tales of a Tibetan Cosmopolitan Traveler

The University of Chicago Press has released an English translation of Gendun Chopel’s Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler. Gendun Chopel, who was born in Tibet in 1903, was recognized as an incarnate lama as a boy. He traveled in India and translated a number of Sanskrit texts, including the Bhagavad-gita into Tibetan. His Grains of Gold sought to inform Tibetans of the state of India as he found it and as it had been. Of interest is his reference to Blavatsky in Chapter 17:

I think that she was some kind of incredible self-made yogini. In any case, she was someone who had attained magical powers. When she was a child, she was blessed in a dream by two Tibetan lamas named Mura [Morya] and Gutumé [Khoot Hoomi]. Then she began experiencing a kind of vision, until in the end she actually met them, like one person talking to another. They instructed her in everything, matters both subtle and coarse. When I carefully read her extensive stories about them, sometimes it reminds me of Guhyapati (Varjapāni) that appeared to Lekyi Dorjé.…As to making an unequivocal judgment about this, I have no idea.

The story of how the manuscript survived his death in 1951 as well as incidents in Gendun Chopel’s life is told by the translators, Thupten Jinpa and Donald S. Lopez Jr, in their Introduction. The book contains a number of surviving watercolours that the author had planned for the text.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blavatsky News

 *  Bucerius Kunst Forum in Hamburg has on view until May 11 the exhibition Mondrian. Color, which focuses on the painter’s use of colour and acknowledges the influence of Blavatsky on his theories. The exhibition includes 40 key works from the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. The German paper Weser Kurier in its review of the exhibition comments on Mondrian’s familiarity with Blavatsky:

Starken Einfluss übte auf ihn aber auch das 1888 erschienene Buch „Geheimlehre“ der deutsch-russischen Okkultistin und Gründerin der „Theosophischen Gesellschaft“, Helena Blavatsky, aus. Bilder wie das auratisch aufgeladene 1908 entstandene Mädchenporträt „Andacht“ in leuchtendem Orange huldigen der theosophischen Vorstellung eines im Universellen der Natur aufgehenden Individuums.

“Experiments with Theosophical Truth: Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History” by Michael Bergunder, in the January online issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, makes a claim that is not usually stressed:

There is strong textual evidence to suggest that M. K. Gandhi's notion of Hinduism, his specific view of Christianity, and his general belief that all religions refer to the same truth were shaped by esotericism, namely the Theosophical Society and the Esoteric Christian Union.…it is argued that the impact of esotericism on global religious history, from the nineteenth century to early twentieth, needs to be investigated with more academic rigor.

*  New Zealand film and theatre maker Julia Campbell, one of the people behind the production on Mme. Blavatsky at this year’s New Zealand Fringe Festival, has posted copies of the flyers for her show “Madame Blavatsky and the Astral Light,” which will be performed February 13 to 16, 2 PM and 7 PM. Discussing her choice of Blavatsky as the subject of her show, she says:

Madame Blavatsky is the founder of the Theosophical society and widely regarded as the bringing new age religion to America. This colourful Russian heiress ran away from marriage to a much older politician at age 19 to travel the world. A highly accomplished and talented young woman, she met her “Master” in London and consequently followed him to India and Tibet where she studied Mysticism. Here her biography gets hazy and nobody is sure where truth meets fiction but she came to New York in 1873 to start the theosophy society.…Such an strong, defiant polarising woman should make a great subject for a show.