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Lama Anagarika Govinda

Lama Anagarika Govinda

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Lama Anagarika Govinda born Ernst Lothar Hoffman was the founder of the order of the Arya Maitreya Mandala and an expositor of Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism is the body of Buddhist religious doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet and certain regions of the Himalayas, including northern Nepal, Bhutan, and India . It is the state religion of Bhutan...

, Abhidharma
Abhidharma or Abhidhamma are ancient Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic and scientific reworkings of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist Sutras, according to schematic classifications...

, Buddhist Meditation
Buddhist meditation
Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices associated with the religion and philosophy of Buddhism.Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of...

 as well as other aspects of Buddhism. He was also a painter and poet.

Life in Europe

He was born in Waldheim
Waldheim, Saxony
Waldheim is a town in the district of Mittelsachsen, in the Free State of Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the Zschopau River, 9 km southwest of Döbeln, and 28 km north of Chemnitz....

, Germany, the son of a German father and a Bolivian mother. His father was quite well to do and owned a cigar
A cigar is a tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco that is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Philippines, and the Eastern...

 factory. His mother died when he was three years old. While enrolled in the German army during World War I, he caught tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 in Italy and was discharged. He recovered at a sanatorium and then studied philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, psychology and archeology at Freiburg University. He did not finish his studies, but went to live in a German art colony
Art colony
right|300px|thumb|Artist houses in [[Montsalvat]] near [[Melbourne, Australia]].An art colony or artists' colony is a place where creative practitioners live and interact with one another. Artists are often invited or selected through a formal process, for a residency from a few weeks to over a year...

 on Capri
Capri is an Italian island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, in the Campania region of Southern Italy...

 in Italy, as a painter and poet. He studied at the Universities of Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 and Cagliari
Cagliari is the capital of the island of Sardinia, a region of Italy. Cagliari's Sardinian name Casteddu literally means castle. It has about 156,000 inhabitants, or about 480,000 including the outlying townships : Elmas, Assemini, Capoterra, Selargius, Sestu, Monserrato, Quartucciu, Quartu...

 and made archeological research journeys in North Africa. He lived on Capri from 1920 until 1928.
Already at the age of 16 he started to study philosophy and by way of Schopenhauer he encountered Buddhism. After having made a comparative study of the major religions, he became a convinced Buddhist at the age of 18. He joined the Bund für Budddhistischen Lebe (Union of Buddhist Living). At Capri he practiced meditation with an American Buddhist friend.

Sri Lanka

In December 1928 he moved from Capri to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and stayed as a celibate Buddhist layman (brahmacāri), and later as a celibate, homeless layman (anagarika
In Theravada Buddhism, an anagarika is a person who has given up most or all of his worldly possessions and responsibilities to commit fulltime to Buddhist practice. It is a midway status between monk and layperson where one takes on the Eight Precepts for the entire anagarika period, which could...

), for nine weeks at the Island Hermitage
Island Hermitage
Island Hermitage on Dodanduwa Island, Galle District, Sri Lanka is a famous Buddhist forest monastery founded by Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera in 1911. It has an excellent English and German library...

 with Nyanatiloka
Nyanatiloka Mahathera , born as Anton Gueth, was one of the earliest westerners in modern times to become a Bhikkhu, a fully ordained Buddhist monk.-Early life and education:...

 Thera, a teacher and scholar in the Theravada
Theravada ; literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching", is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India...

 tradition. He was instrumental in founding the International Buddhist Union (IBU) in 1929, of which he made Nyanatiloka the president. The aim of the IBU was to unite all Buddhists worldwide and to promote Buddhism through the virtuous and exemplary conduct of practising Buddhists. As secretary of the IBU, he travelled to Burma and Europe to raise support. Although he came to Sri Lanka with the aim of becoming a Buddhist monk, he was discouraged to do so by Anagarika Dhammapala on the grounds that it would be difficult to travel as a Buddhist monk. In 1930 he founded the Variyagoda Hermitage in a tea-estate in the mountains near Gampola, but he only lived there for one year with his German stepmother Anne Habermann who had come with him from Europe. At Variyagoda Govinda studied Abhidhamma and Pali
- External links :* *...


Life and travels in India and Tibet before WWII

In April 1931 Govinda went to All-India Buddhist Conference in Darjeeling as the representative of the IBU, to propagate the “pure Buddhist teaching as preserved in Ceylon, in a country where it had degenerated into a system of demon worship and fantastic forms of belief.” However, in nearby Sikkim
Sikkim is a landlocked Indian state nestled in the Himalayan mountains...

 he met the Tibetan Gelugpa meditation teacher Tomo Geshe Rimpoche alias Lama Ngawang Kalzang (1866–1936), who greatly impressed him and completely changed his views about Tibetan Buddhism. From then on he embraced Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism is the body of Buddhist religious doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet and certain regions of the Himalayas, including northern Nepal, Bhutan, and India . It is the state religion of Bhutan...

, although he never abandoned his Theravada roots and stayed in contact with Nyanatiloka and later with Nyanaponika. Lama Ngawang Kalzang taught meditation to Govinda, who remained in contact with him until his death. During their 1947–1948 expeditions to Tibet, Govinda and Li Gotami met Ajo Repa Rinpoche, who, according to Govinda, initiated them into the Kagyüpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The scholar Donald Lopez questions whether the 'initiations' that Govinda received are to be understood in the traditional Tibetan way of the term, i.e., as an empowerment by a Lama to carry out Tantric rituals or meditations. When he first met Lama Ngawang Kalzang, Govinda spoke no Tibetan and his description of the initiation is vague. According to Lopez, no initiation into the Kagyu order or any other Tibetan order exists, and it is unclear what was the nature of the initiation ceremony and the teachings that Govinda and his wife received from Ajo Repa Rinpoche. Govinda himself wrote in Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism that he understood 'initiates' to mean 'individuals who, in virtue of their own sensitiveness, respond to the subtle vibrations of symbols which are presented to them either by tradition or intuition.' And in The Way of White Clouds, he wrote: “A real Guru's initiation is beyond the divisions of sects and creeds: it is the awakening to our own inner reality which, once glimpsed, determines our further course of development and our actions in life without the enforcement of outer rules.”

Govinda stayed on in India, teaching German and French at Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore is the name of a prominent Bengali family of intellectuals, writers and artists, generally known as the Tagore family.People - Jorasanko branch of the Tagore family...

's Vishva Bharati university in Santinekan. He lost interest in the IBU, which caused it to collapse. In 1932 Govinda briefly visited Tibet from Sikkim (visiting Mount Kailash), and in 1933 from Ladakh. The summer months of 1932 and 1934 he and his stepmother, who had followed him to India, stayed at his hermitage at Variyagoda, where a German Buddhist nun, Uppalavaṇṇā (Else Buchholz), and a German monk, Vappo, were then also living. Uppalavaṇṇā acquired the property from Govinda in 1945 and stayed there until the 1970s. In a letter dated 1.9.1934 Govinda wrote that he had come to Sri Lanka accompanied by Rabindranath Tagore and had given a series of lectures on Tibetan Buddhism in various places in Sri Lanka, trying to raise support for the planned Buddhist university at Sarnath. The reception in Sri Lanka was poor and Govinda, who had run out of funds, was quite disappointed.

On orders of Tomo Geshe Rimpoche Govinda founded his order, The Buddhist Order Arya Maitreya Mandala, on 14.10.1933. Fourteen people were then ordained. Govinda received the name Anangavajra Khamsung Wangchuk. In 1934, in Calcutta, he had the first exhibition of his paintings. From 1935 to 1945 he was the general secretary of the International Buddhist University Association (IBUA), for which he held lectures on Buddhist philosophy, history, archeology, etc, at the Buddhist academy at Sarnath. In 1936 he got a teaching position at the University of Patna, from where he gave guest lectures at the universities of Allahabad, Lucknow and Benares. His lectures on Buddhist psychology at the University of Patna were published in 1939 as The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy, and his lectures at Shantinekan as Psycho-Cosmic Symbolism of the Buddhist Stupa in 1940. In 1938, after two failed attempts and on recommendation of the prime minister of Uttar Pradesh, he managed to become a full British citizen. In 1947 he became a citizen of India. From 1937 to 1940 he lived with his stepmother in a house in Darjeeling.

World War II

Although Govinda was now a British citizen, he was nevertheless interned by the British during WWII due to his associations with “persons of anti-British sympathies,” i.e. the Nehru family. First he was interned at Ahmednagar. Because he made no secret of being against Fascism, the Nazis in the prison camp bullied him, just as they did with other anti-fascists. This bullying compelled British to open a special camp for anti-fascists at Dehra Dun, to where he was transferred in 1942. Nyanatiloka and other German Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka were also interned at Dehra Dun. In the camp Govinda stayed with the German monk Nyanaponika, with whom he studied languages, and formed a close friendship that lasted till the end of his life.

Life in Kasar Devi after WWII and Travels to Tibet

In 1947 he married the Parsi
Parsi or Parsee refers to a member of the larger of the two Zoroastrian communities in South Asia, the other being the Irani community....

 artist Li Gotami (original name Ratti Petit, 22.4.1906 - 18.8.1988) from Bombay, who, as a painter, had been his student at Santinekan in 1934. Govinda and Li Gotami wore Tibetan styles robes and were initiates in the Drugpa Kagyu lineage. The couple lived in a house rented from the writer Walter Evans-Wentz
Walter Evans-Wentz
Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz was an anthropologist and writer who was a pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhism.-Biography:...

 at Kasar Devi, near Almora
Almora is a municipal board, a cantonment town in the Almora district in the state of Uttarakhand, India. Almora was founded in 1568.It is a town bustling with activity and a rich cultural heritage and history. It is considered the cultural heart of the Kumaon region of...

 in northern India. Kasar Devi, in hippie circles known as 'Crank's Ridge
Crank's Ridge
Just outside the village of Kasar Devi is Crank’s Ridge, sometimes called Hippie Hill by children. It is a pine-covered ridge area located on the way to Kasar Devi temple, above the town of Almora, Uttarakhand, India, the ancient capital of Kumaon....

', was a bohemian colony home to artists, writers and spiritual seekers such as Earl Brewster
Earl Brewster
Earl Henry Brewster was an American painter, writer, and scholar, best known today for his close friendship with D.H. Lawrence, and for his compilation of the life of the Buddha, first published in 1926 and still in print. He was married to Achsah Barlow Brewster, also an artist.Brewster was born...

, Alfred Sorensen
Alfred Sorensen
Alfred Julius Emmanuel Sorensen , also known as Sunyata, Shunya, or Sunyabhai, was a Danish mystic, horticulturalist and writer who lived in Europe, India and America.- Early life :...

 and John Blofield. Many spiritual seekers, including the Beat Poets Allan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder is an American poet , as well as an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist . Snyder is a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry...

, the LSD Gurus Timothy Leary
Timothy Leary
Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs. During a time when drugs like LSD and psilocybin were legal, Leary conducted experiments at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, resulting in the Concord Prison...

 and Ralph Metzner
Ralph Metzner
Ralph Metzner Ph.D. , is an American psychologist, writer and researcher, who participated in psychedelic research at Harvard University in the early 1960s with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert . Dr...

, the psychiatrist R.D. Laing, and Tibetologist Robert Thurman
Robert Thurman
Robert Alexander Farrar Thurman is an influential and prolific American Buddhist writer and academic who has authored, edited or translated several books on Tibetan Buddhism. He is the Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, holding the first endowed chair...

 came to visit Govinda at his ashram. The number of visitors became so great that the couple eventually put signs to keep unwanted visitors away.

From Kasar Devi, Govinda and Li Gotami undertook journeys to Tibet in the late 1940s, making a large number of paintings, drawings and photographs. These travels are described in Govinda's book The Way of the White Clouds. While on the expedition to Tsaparang
Tsaparang was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Guge in the Garuda Valley, through which the upper Sutlej River flows, in Ngari Prefecture near the border of Ladakh. It is 278 km south-southwest of Ali and 26 km west of the 11th century monastery at Thöling, and not far west of Mount Kailash...

 and Tholing in Western Tibet in 1948-49, sponsored by the Illustrated Weekly of India, Govinda received initiations in the Nyingma
The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism . "Nyingma" literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as Nga'gyur or the "old school" because it is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan, in the eighth century...

 and Sakyapa lineages. Pictures of the Tsaparang frescoes taken by Li Gotami, then, before the Cultural Revolution, still intact appear in Govinda's The Way of the White Clouds Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism and Tibet in Pictures (co-authored with Li Gotami).
In The Way of the White Clouds Govinda writes that he was a reincarnation of the poet Novalis
Novalis was the pseudonym of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg , an author and philosopher of early German Romanticism.-Biography:...


World Tours 1960s and 1970s

The German Hans-Ulrich Rieker, who was ordained in the Arya Maitreya Mandala Order in 1952, was ordered by Govinda to set up a Western wing of the Order. The founding took place simultaneously in Berlin by Rieker, and in Sanchi by Govinda, on 30.11.1952. In 1960 Govinda went to Europe as a representative of Tibetan Buddhism at an international religious conference in Venice. Subsequently he went to England, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands. In 1965 he went on a lecturing tour through Germany, France, and Switzerland. In 1968-69 through the USA and Japan. In 1972-73, and 1974-76 he went on world tours. In 1977 he last visited Germany.

On his journeys to the West Govinda made friends with the Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser
Jean Gebser
Jean Gebser was a philosopher who described the structures of human consciousness, a linguist, and a poet.-Biography:...

, the Zen and Taoist teacher Alan Watts
Alan Watts
Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York...

, the pioneer of transcendental psychotherapy Roberto Assagioli
Roberto Assagioli
Roberto Assagioli was an Italian psychiatrist and pioneer in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. Assagioli founded the psychological movement known as psychosynthesis, which is still being developed today by therapists, and psychologists, who practice his technique...

 and the author Luise Rinser
Luise Rinser
Luise Rinser was a German writer.-Early life and education:...


Last Years

For health reasons Govinda finally settled in the San Francisco Bay area
San Francisco Bay Area
The San Francisco Bay Area, commonly known as the Bay Area, is a populated region that surrounds the San Francisco and San Pablo estuaries in Northern California. The region encompasses metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, along with smaller urban and rural areas...

, where he and his wife were taken care of by Alan Watts
Alan Watts
Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York...

 and Suzuki Roshi's San Francisco Zen Centre. In San Francisco he established a branch of his order, called “Home of Dhyan”. In 1980 he visited India for a last time and gave up his house in Almora. He remained mentally agile despite suffering from several strokes from 1975 onwards. During an evening discussion on 14.1.1985, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his neck that traveled downwards. He lied down on his right side and passed away laughing.

His ashes were contained in the Nirvana-Stupa, which was erected in 1997 on the premises of Samten Choeling Monastery in Darjeeling.


Govinda wrote several books on a wide variety of Buddhist topics. His most well known books are The Way of the White Clouds and Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, which were translated in many languages. Some of his works such as Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism were written in German and were subsequently translated in English. His articles were published in many Buddhist journals such as the Maha Bodhi, and the German journal Der Kreis published by his Buddhist Order Arya Maitreya Mandala.
Govinda considered The Inner Structure of the I Ching, the Book of Transformation as his most important book.

Works in English Language

  • Art and Meditation, (an introduction and 12 abstract paintings), Allahabad 1936.
  • The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy, Allahabad 1937; New Delhi (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers), 1992: ISBN 81-208-0941-6, 1998 edition: ISBN 81-208-0952-1
  • Psycho-Cosmic Symbolism of the Buddhist Stupa, Emeryville 1976 ( Dharma Publishing): ISBN 0-913546-36-4. First shorter edition published as Some Aspects of Stupa Symbolism, Allahabad 1936.
  • Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, London 1957, 1959, 1969 edition, ISBN 0-87728-064-9
  • The Way of the White Clouds, London 1966; Fourth reprint, 1972. 1988 edition: ISBN 0-87773-462-3, reprint: ISBN 0-87773-007-5, Hardcover: ISBN 1-58567-465-6, Paperback: ISBN 1-58567-785-X, Ebury: ISBN 0-7126-5543-3.
  • Tibet in Pictures: A Journey into the Past, coauthored with Li Gotami, 1979, 2004, Dharma Publishing. ISBN 9780898003451
  • Drugs or Meditation? Consciousness Expansion and Disintegration versus Concentration and Spiritual Regeneration, Kandy 1973, Buddhist Publication Society, Bodhi Leaves Series No. 62.http://www.bps.lk/olib/bl/bl062-p.html
  • Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness, London 1976, Allen and Unwin.
  • Pictures of India and Tibet, Haldenwang and Santa Cruz 1978. (Perhaps identical with Tibet in Pictures: A Journey into the Past?)
  • The Inner Structure of the I Ching, the Book of Transformation, San Francisco 1981 (Wheelwright Press). Reprinted: Art Media Resources, ISBN 0-8348-0165-5
  • A Living Buddhism for the West, Boston 1990, (Shambhala), translated by Maurice Walshe, ISBN 0-87773-509-3

Compilations and Biographies

  • Buddhist Reflections, New Delhi 1994, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-1169-0 (Collected essays.)
  • Ken Winkler, 1000 Journeys: The Biography of Lama Anagarika Govinda, Oakland 1990, Dharma Press; reprinted: Element Books, ISBN 1-85230-149-X
  • Insights of a Himalayan Pilgrim, Oakland 1991, Dharma Press. ISBN 0898002044. (Thirteen later essays on Buddhism, art, and the spirituality that appeared in American, British, German Buddhist magazines.)
  • The Lost Teachings of Lama Govinda: Living Wisdom from a Modern Tibetan Master, Wheaton, IL, 2008, Quest Books. Ed. Richard Power, Foreword by Lama Surya Das. ISBN 978-0835608541 (Collection of essays and dialogues. Includes a comprehensive introduction to Govinda’s life and work by R. Power.)


  • Hellmuth Hecker, Lebensbilder Deutscher Buddhisten Band I: Die Gründer. Konstanz, 1990, 2. verb. Aufl. Verlag Beyerlein-Steinschulte, Stammbach, ISBN 978-3-931095-57-4. (A whole chapter is on pp.84-115 is on Govinda. Includes an extensive bibliography.)
  • Bhikkhu Nyanatusita and Hellmuth Hecker, The Life of Nyanatiloka: The Biography of a Western Buddhist Pioneer, Kandy, 2009, ISBN 978-955-24-0290-6. Book
  • Hellmuth Hecker, Der Erste Deutsche Bhikkhu: Das bewegte Leben des Ehrwürdigen Nyanatiloka (1878 - 1957) und seiner Schüler. Konstanz 1995 (University of Konstanz; reprinted by Verlag Beyerlein - Steinschulte) ISBN 978-3-931095-67-3. (A whole chapter, pp.155–176, is on Govinda and includes his correspondence with Nyanatiloka from 1931 to 1939.)
  • Donald S. Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, Chicago 1998.http://books.google.lk/books?id=mjUHF7kQfVAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • Birgit Zotz
    Birgit Zotz
    Birgit Zotz is an Austrian writer, cultural anthropologist and an expert on the subject of hospitality management studies.- Life :...

    , 'Tibetische Mystik: nach Lama Anagarika Govinda Lama Anagarika Govinda' http://www.komyoji.at/content/lamagovinda.htm

External links