Lama Anagarika Govinda:


Lama Anagarika Govinda was born Ernst Lothar Hoffman in Waldheim, Germany (old kingdom of Saxony) in 1898, the son of a German father and a Bolivian mother.


After two years in the German army during World War I he was invalided out of because of tuberculosis. From 1920-1928, possibly for health reasons, but most likely for the art colony, he lived on the island of Capri in Italy and became increasingly interested in Buddhism, including the practice of meditation.


In 1928 he moved to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where he studied under the German monk Nyanatiloka Thera. Govinda took vows and found time in his monastic schedule, after mastering Pali, to make a close study of the Abhidharma, leading to the publication of another work under the name Brahmachari Govinda.

In 1931 Govinda attended a Buddhist conference in Darjeeling, intending to affirm the purity of the Theravadin tradition against the Mahayana, which in his view, had degenerated into "a system of demon-worship and weird beliefs." He little realized that the trip was to alter his life. There he met his Tibetan guru, Tomo Geshe Rinpoche, under whose influence he "converted" and by whom he was initiated into the Gelug-pa sect.


He spent the next thirty years in northern India primarily in and around the hill station town of Almora. In those days Almora attracted quite a number of Westerners, most of whom lived along what came to be called Crank's Ridge. W.Y. Evans-Wentz had a house there that he let Govinda live in when he was gone, which was often. Among others living in Almora at the time was the "natural born mystic" Alfred Sorensen known as Shunyata. Almora, reportedly is the new stompping grounds for the recently resurfaced Aziz Kristof, a Non-traditional Advaita Zen Master.


Govinda made several visits to Tibet, most notably in the very early 1930s, followed again after the war in 1948-49, and was initiated into the Karg-yu and Nying-ma lineages. He was interned as a German national by the British during World War II, and following his release, in 1947 married British-educated Farsi photographer Li Gotami. Among others within the milieu of his early Tibetan travels, especially in the area around Rishikesh, was the Sanskrit scholar Mircea Eliade, who later gained some renown in his studies in Shamanism and the Occult.


Govinda's Tibetan experiences are recounted in his luminous The Way of the White Clouds which includes elements from several genre-spiritual journals, adventure narratives, anthropological field reports, and philosophical commentarys. It is one the century's classic spiritual autobiographies.


In 1933 Govinda founded the Order of the Arya Maitreya Mandala, dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of the Tibetan religious heritage, and by the fifties had accumulated a small circle of Western "disciples".


The German branch of the Order (still in existence) enjoys the distinction of opening the first centre in the West devoted entirely to the study and propagation of Tibetan Buddhism.


In recent decades Govinda's Order has been somewhat overtaken by the presence in the West of significant numbers of Tibetan teachers of whom Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Tarthang Tulku, Namkhai Norbu, Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa, Sogyal Rinpoche, and the Dalai Lama himself have been amongst the most influential.




Lama Govinda's credentials as an expositor of Tibetan Buddhism and a spokesman for Tibetan culture been queried by Donald Lopez in Prisoners of Shangri-La. Lopez makes a great deal of several apparently damaging "facts" about Govinda's "career" as a spokesman for Tibetan Buddhism.


He is sceptical about Govinda's various initiations, emphasizes his reliance on secondary Western sources, and charges Govinda with "psychologizing" various Tibetan texts and doctrines.


He also derides Govinda's "extravagant commentary" in Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism. These "criticisms" certainly carry some weight. On the other hand, very little is made in Lopez's account of the fact that Govinda spent seventy years immersed in the intensive study and sincere practice of Buddhism, that those who knew the Lama personally, such as the mysterious western intellectual, Wei Wu Wei, were almost invariably impressed by his scholarship, his integrity, his commitment to the Dharma and his wisdom.


His works have been applauded by all manner of commentators, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, as providing deep spiritual and intellectual sustenance. He was described by another Western Buddhist, John Blofeld, as "that golden eagle amongst adepts", one "who possesses that rare and indescribable quality by which a man of transcendent spiritual attainment is instantly recognized".

In 1960 he began the first of his large lecture journeys: 1960 and 1965 Europe, 1968/69 the United States and Japan, 1971/72 Malaysia, the Philippines, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Europe, South Africa, 1974/75 Southeast Asia, the United States including Hawaii, 1977 Germany and the United States.



Lama Govinda's final years were spent in California living in the San Francisco Bay area on Alan Watts' houseboat, then in Mill Valley. In San Francisco he established an American branch of the Arya Maitreya Mandala, called "Home of Dhyan", under the directorship of Neville Pemchekov-Warwick, aka Vajrabodhi. In Mill Valley the Lama founded "Garden of Dhyan", a contemplative community. In doing so, with both branches, Govinda established the first school of Buddhist Yogacara in the western world.


There are TWO individuals considered to be perhaps the most influential in their efforts for introducing Tibetan Buddhism to the west. One, of course, is Lama Govinda, the other is Freda Houlston Bedi (1911-1977), wife of Baba Bedi, and known as Sister Palmo (Karma Tsultrim Khechog Palmo), the FIRST Western woman ever to formally enter the Tibetan sangha. Lama Anagarika Govinda died in 1985.


As well as the works already mentioned Govinda also published Psycho-Cosmic Symbolism of the Buddhist Stupa (1940), The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy (1969), Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness (1976) and The Inner Structure of the I Ching, the Book of Transformation (1981). Some of his lectures and talks were collected by his students in two posthumous anthologies, A Living Buddhism for the West (1990) and Insights of a Himalayan Pilgrim (1991).