Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel

Book Extracts

In 1924 when Tibet was closed to foreigners, Alexandra David-Neel gave the west a unique glimpse into a land shrouded in mystery.

Book cover for Magic and Mystery in Tibet


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In the preceding chapter I have already mentioned some incidents that may be classified as psychic phenomena. It may be useful to take up the subject again, for the fame which Tibet enjoys in foreign countries is largely due to the belief that prodigies happen here as plentifully as wild flowers grow in the fields.

Whatever certain people may think about the matter, strange events are far from being usual in Tibet, and it is good to bear in mind that the observations which I have condensed into a few pages are the result of researches which lasted more than ten years.

The fascination exercised by Tibet as an abode of sages and magicians dates from a time long back. Even before the Buddha, Indians turned with devout awe to the Himalayas, and many were the extraordinary stories about the mysterious, cloud-enshrouded northern country extending beyond their mighty snowy peaks.

The Chinese also seems to have been impressed by the strangeness of Tibetan wilds. Amongst others, the legend of her great mystic philosopher Laotze relates that, at the end of his long career, the master riding an ox started for the mysterious land, crossed its border, and never returned. The same thing is sometimes told about Bodhidharma and some of his Chinese disciples, followers of the Buddhist sect of meditation.

Even nowadays one may often meet Indian pilgrims on the paths that climb towards the passes through which one enters Tibet, dragging themselves along as in a dream; hypnotized, it seems, by an overpowering vision. When asked the motive of their journey most of them can only answer that they wish to die on Tibetan ground. And too often the cold climate, the high altitude, fatigue and starvation help them to realize their wish.

How can we explain this magnetic power in Tibet?

There is no doubt that the reputation enjoyed by the “Land of Snow” for being a country of wizards and magicians, a ground on which miracles daily occur, is the main cause of its attraction over the majority of its worshippers. But now one may ask for what reason Tibet has been credited with being the chosen land of occult lore and supernormal phenomena.

perhaps the most obvious cause is that already mentioned, the extreme remoteness of the country, enclosed between formidable mountain ranges and immense deserts.

Men compelled to abandon cherished ideals incompatible with their stern, prosaic surroundings, are eager to transplant them to a more favourable fairyland. As a last resource they build gardens in the heavens and super-terrestrial paradises to shelter their daydreams, but how much more readily will they seize upon the opportunity of lodging them in an earthly country. Tibet offers that opportunity. It has all the physical features of a true wonderland. I do not think it is exaggerated to say that its landscapes surpass, in all respects, those imagined by the fanciful architects of gods’ and demons’ worlds.

No description can convey the least idea of the solemn majesty, the serene beauty, the awe-inspiring wildness, the entrancing charm of the finest Tibetan scenes.

Often, when tramping across these solitary heights, one feels like an intruder. Unconsciously one slackens pace, lowers one’s voice, and words of apology for one’s unwarranted boldness come to the lips, ready to be uttered at the first sight of a legitimate superhuman master on whose ground one has trespassed.

(Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel, pub. Souvenir Press London 1967)

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