Lama Govinda


 

 

"Meditation is not what you think." – Lama Govinda



Lama Govinda
San Francisco, 1968
Photo by V. Panasenko

My Guru: The Lama

The Lama, that is, Ernst Hoffman, aka Lama Anagorika Govinda, (Anangavajra Khamsung Wangchuk), was born in Saxony in 1898, of a German father and a Bolivian mother. He was invalided out of the military and went on to study architecture and philosophy at University. Hoffman spent time study painting at Capri with many fellow expatriots. In 1928 Hoffman went to Ceylon where he became a Theravadin Buddhist under Nyonatiloka Thera. In 1931 Hoffman, now Anagarika Govinda, went to Darjeeling and ended up converting to Tibetan Buddhism under Tomo Geshe' Rinpoche. Govinda's account, in his book The Way of the White Clouds, stresses the significance of sacred power.

According to Ken Winkler, Govinda spent the next thirty years in India and Tibet, studying, exploring, writing and painting.. Govinda founded the Arya Maitreya Mandala in Darjeeling in 1933 (Festscraft). There is no indication that any Tibetan Lama or tulku ever recognized the Order. According to Andrew Rawlinson, this is a very striking fact about Govinda's career as a Tibetan Buddhist in India that he "was never part of any community or sangha, although there wasn't one he could have joined anyway, of course. (Enlightened Masters).

In 1947 India became independent and Govinda took citizenship. He also married the Indian painter and photographer Li Gotami. They studied and were initiated into the Kagy lineage by Ajo Rinpoche. Together with his wife, Govinda made his second pilgrimage to Tibet in order to study the art and architecture of monasteries of Rinchen Zangpo in Western Tibet. They spent some time on Mt. Kailash. Govinda relates a meeting with an old lama in a small temple:

Govinda spent the next thirty years in India and Tibet, studying, exploring, writing and painting. Govinda founded the Arya Maitreya Mandala in Darjeeling in 1933, according to Festscraft. In 1947 India became independent and Govinda immediate took citizenship. He also married the Indian painter and photographer Li Gotami. They studied and were initiated into the Kagyupta lineage by Ajo Rinpoche. Together with his wife, Govinda made his second pilgrimage to Tibet in order to study the art and architecture of monasteries of Rinchen Zangpo in Western Tibet. They spent some time on Mt. Kailash.

On their way back to India, near the border with Tibet, Lama Govinda and Li Gotami were initiated by a Nyingma lama "in the most advanced methods of Tantric Sadhana and Yoga practices" during which "all the psychic centres (cakras) were employed and activated." Govinda expressly states that these initiations and experiences are the basis of his magnum opus, The Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism as related in his book 'The Way of the White Clouds.

The Lama's book 'Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism' appeared in 1957, and English and French translations followed very shortly. It was this work that effectively established Govinda's reputation as an authority on Tibetan Buddhism. 'Foundations' is an amazing book, and produced a steady stream of young Western seekers who came to the Indian ashram for satsang. He would give a discourse but when they asked for advanced instructions in tantra, he often advised them to start with the basics of meditation. He also lectured all over the world. He went to Europe in 1960 when he was 62 (the first time he had been to the West since he left it in 1920; and to America in 1965.

Festcraft says: "Lama Govinda was a part of a spiritual tradition that is essentially independent of established forms. So, although he may know Tibetan and be recognized as a lama by a 'real' Tibetan lama, he is in reality a siddha. His disciples, in fact, go further. They refer to him as a householder Bodhisattva. And they also say: "Working through the dimensions of consciousness, step by step-unfolding the potential powers of creative thought, feeling and intuition as an artist, scientist and explorer, painter and poet, mystic and initiate, as student and teacher - he has become for us the master, the guru, the lama."

According to Rawlinson, "It may well be that the Lamas spiritual path is rather like one of those off-shoots that are so common on charts of the evolution of species: an experiment. But there is nothing to be ashamed of in that; without such experiments, there wouldn't be any spiritual life life at all." There is a very good description of Lama Govinda in 'Prisoners of Shangri-la', by Donal S. Lopez.

Works cited:

'A Thousand Journeys: The Biography of Lama Anagarika Govinda'
by Ken Winkler
Element Books, 1990

'Festscraft'
Kaser Devi Ashram Pub., 1973
p. 20

'The Way of the White Clouds'
by Lama Govinda
p. 269

'Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism'
by Lama Govinda
p. 272

Index

Vajrabodhi