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Richard Power(Ed.).

The Lost Teachings of Lama Govinda : Living Wisdom from a Modern Tibetan Master
(Wheaton, IL : Quest Books, 2007, 155pp.)

This is a good book with a misleading title. These are unp ublished lectures by Lama
Govinda given at the Human Dimensions Institute in upstate New York to a largely Western
audience but not published. The lectures were hardly “lost” but are a welcome addition to his
published books such as the well-known The Way of the White Cloud and his more technical
writings such as Psychological Attitudes of Early Buddhist Philosophy and Foundations of
Tibetan Mysticism. Secondly, Lama Govinda is not a Tibetan Master but a German scholar of
Buddhism, born as Ernst Lothar Hoffman. He studied first the Thervada school of Buddhism
in Sri Lanka, the Tibetan school of Mahayana Buddhism, often called Vajrayana. He later
became interested in the Chinese school –Ch’an – better known in the West in its Japanese
style, Zen. He was also a student of the pre-Buddhist Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching.
As the study of Buddhism requires not only learning the philosophy but also practicing
meditation, he practiced the forms of meditation associated with each of these schools,
without, however without becoming a Sri Lankan, a Tibetan or a Chinese.

The longest lecture is devoted to meditation with a short related lecture warning
against the use of psychedelic drugs as an approach to enlightenment as some in the US, such
as Timothy Leary, were proposing. All three Buddhist schools recognized the depth of his
understanding, and Tibetans were pleased to call him a lama (which means that one has
knowledge, not that he is a monk or a member of one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.)
Lama Govinda was not a monk having married one of his students whom he had met when he
was teaching at the school in Bengal created by Rabindranath Tagore. She took the pen name
of Li Gotami and collaborated in Govinda’s research and travels.

Meditation, he says “is the means to reconnect the individual with the whole, that is, to
make the individual conscious of the connection. It is the only positive way to overcome the
ego complex, the illusion of separateness, which no amount of pious preaching and
exhortation will achieve. To give up the smaller for the bigger is not a sacrifice, but a joyous
release from oppression and narrowness…The special function of meditation is to reunite the
inner and the outer world, instead of renouncing the one for the sake of the other. Meditation
is not an escape from the world, but a means to look deeper into it, unhampered by prejudices
or by the familiarity of habit, which blinds us to the wonders and the profound mysteries that
surround us.”

“Pathways East and West” would have been a more accurate title. As Lama Surya
Das writes in the Foreword, Lama Govinda was a “genuine ‘gnostic intermediary’ — a term
C.G. Jung coined to describe those extraordinary individuals throughout history who bring
spiritual fire into the world by translating, transforming, and helping to make timeless
mystical truths relevant to contempory life.”

As Lama Govinda wrote “The East discovered the eternal recurrence of the same
conditions and similar events. The West discovered the value of the uniqueness of each event
or existential condition. The East kept its gaze fixed upon the cosmic background, the West
on the individual foreground. The complete picture, however, combines foreground and
background, integrating them into a higher unity…Only those who, while recognizing and
understanding their Western inheritance, penetrate and absorb the heritage of the East can
gain the highest values of both worlds and do justice to both.

Two important chapters deal with other ‘gnostic intermediaries ‘ — Robert Assagioli,
father of the psychosyntheis school of transpersonal psychology and Pierre Teilhard de
Chardin, the French Jesuit, who spent most of his working life in China. Govinda’s close,
‘Germanic’ reading of Assagioli’s The Act of Will and Teilhard’s Hymn of the Universe bring
out well the richness of the synthesis of Eastern and Western approaches to knowledge,
serious scholarship fused with deeply personal, experiential commitment and a cross-cultural

As the Editor, Richard Power, writes in his long introduction to Lama Govinda’s life
“Something new, something planetary, is coming into being and consciousness, and men and
women like Govinda and Li Gotami served as bridges — not one-way bridges either — to
that twenty-first century mysticism.”

Rene Wadlow