Alexandra David-Néel

French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, Taoist, anarchist and writer

Alexandra David-Néel (24 October 1868 – 8 September 1969) was a Belgian–French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, anarchist and writer. She wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels, including Magic and Mystery in Tibet which was published in 1929.

Alexandra David-Néel as a teenager, 1886
Alexandra David-Neels, 1933

Quotes edit

Magic And Mystery In Tibet edit

(Full text)

  • Probably he will vanish like a mirage, with his caparisoned little steed and his party of followers, dressed in all the colours of the rainbow. He is a part of the enchantment in which I have lived these last fifteen days. This new episode is of the stuff that dreams are made of. In a few minutes, I shall wake up in a real bed, in some country not haunted by geni nor by "incarnated Lamas" wrapped in shimmering silk. A country where men wear ugly dark coats and the horses do not carry silver inlaid saddles on golden-yellow cloths.
  • Orthodox Buddhism strictly forbids religious rites, and the learned lamas acknowledge that they cannot bestow spiritual enlightenment, which can only be acquired by personal intellectual effort. Yet the majority believe in the efficacy of certain ritualistic methods of the healing of the sick, securing material prosperity, the conquest of evil beings and the guidance of the spirits of the dead in the other world.
  • Gradually hostile forces seemed to gather around me. I seemed to be obsessed by invisible beings who incited me to leave the country, insinuating that I should be able to advance no farther, either in my study of Lamaism or upon the actual soil of Tibet. By a sort of clairvoyance at the same time, I saw these unknown enemies triumphant and rejoicing, after my departure, at having driven me away.
  • I, one day, asked him: What is the Supreme Deliverance? He answered: It is the absence of all views and all imagination, the cessation of that mental activity which creates illusions. Another day, he said: You should go to Tibet and be initiated by a master of the 'Short Path.' ...I foresee that you would be capable of grasping the secret teaching.
  • Nine hundred feet below my cave rhododendrons blossomed. I climbed barren mountain-tops. Long tramps led me to desolate valleys studded with translucent lakes... Solitude, solitude! ...Mind and senses develop their sensibility in this contemplative life made up of continual observations and reflections. Does one become a visionary or, rather, is it not that one has been blind until then?
  • Sadly, almost with terror, I often looked at the threadlike path which I saw, lower down, winding in the valleys and disappearing between the mountains. The day would come when it would lead me back to the sorrowful world that existed beyond the distant hill ranges, and so thinking, an indescribable suffering lay hold of me.
  • I go to Korea. Panya-an; the "monastery of wisdom" concealed in the heart of the forest opens its door to me. When I went there to beg temporary admittance, heavy rains had washed the path away. I found the Panya-an monks busy repairing it. The novice sent by his abbot to introduce me stopped before one of the workers as muddy as his companions, bowed respectfully and said a few words to him. The digger, leaning on his spade, looked at me intently for a while, then nodded his consent and began to work again, without taking any more notice of me. He is the head of the hermitage, my guide told me. He is willing to give you a room.
  • Silence was not compulsory as it is amongst the Trappist, but the monks seldom spoke. They did not feel the need of talking nor of spending their energy in outward manifestations. Their thoughts remained fixed on secret introspections and their eyes had the inward gaze of the Buddha's images.
  • There are a larger number than one would suppose who, when raising a small lamp in the gesture of an offering before the Buddha's image, ask for no more than spiritual insight. Though they may make but little practical effort to reach it, the mystic ideal of salvation through enlightenment remains alive amongst Tibetans.
  • Whatever may be the causes at work, telepathic transmissions, either conscious or unconscious, seem to occur rather frequently in Tibet. Regarding my own experience, I am certain that I did receive on several occasions telepathic messages from lamas under whom I had practiced mental or psychic training. It may even be that the number of these messages has been larger than I suspect. However, I have only retained a few cases in which the lama afterwards inquired if I had understood what he meant to tell at a given time.
  • Even the monks attached to morality acknowledge that a virtuous life and the monastic discipline, though of great value and advisable for the many, are but a mere preparation to a higher path. As for the adepts of the second system, they all believe in the beneficial results of a faithful adherence to the moral laws and the rules laid down for members of the religious Order.
  • Moreover, all are unanimous in declaring the first method the safer of the two. A pure life, the performance of good deeds, righteousness, compassion, detachment from worldly cares, selflessness and quietness of mind act – they say – as a cleansing process which gradually removes the impure dust that covers the mental eyes,
  • As for the method which mystics call the Short Path, the Direct Path, it is considered as most hazardous. It is – according to the masters who teach it – as if instead of following the road which goes round a mountain ascending gradually towards its summit, one attempted to reach it in straight line, climbing perpendicular rocks and crossing chasms on a rope. Only first rate equilibrists, exceptional athletes, completely free from giddiness, can hope to succeed in such a task. Even the fittest may fear sudden exhaustion or dizziness. And there inevitably follows a dreadful fall in which the too presumptuous alpinist breaks his bones.
  • That same day a little before dusk the young man appeared in the valley with his caravan. He wore the very same dress and the foreign sun hat which I had seen in my dream, and in the morning vision.

The Secret Oral Teachings in the Tibetan Buddhist Sects (1964) edit

by Alexandra David Neel and Lama Yongden (Full text)

  • To discuss this legitimacy is not always easy. The Buddha insisted strongly on the necessity of examining the propositions put forward by Him, and of understanding them personally before accepting them as true. The ancient texts leave no doubt on this point:
    Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honour for many generations and in many places; do not believe anything because many people speak of it; do not believe on the strength of sages of old times; do not believe that which you have yourselves imagined, thinking that a god has inspired you. Believe nothing which depends only on the authority of your masters or of priests. After investigation. believe that which you have yourselves tested and found reasonable, and which is for your good and that of others. p. 9
  • It is evident that the great majority of those who call themselves Buddhists have not been able to rise to the mental level of the Teaching of the Buddha. Most of them have built up for their own use various kinds of Buddhism which are anything but Buddhist and, in their ignorance, they uphold, often with bitterness, their belief and their absurd practices as the expression of the purest orthodoxy. p. 9
  • The object of these teachings is not to amuse the simple-minded, those charitably called in the Tibetan Scriptures the "children", it is meant for the strong to make them stronger, for the intelligent to make them more intelligent, for the shrewd to develop their shrewdness and to lead them to the possession of transcendent insight (lhag thong) which constitutes the real enlightenment. p. 11
  • The attainment of transcendent insight is the real object of the training advocated in the traditional Oral Teachings, which do not consist, as so many imagine, in teaching certain things to the pupil, in revealing to him certain secrets, but rather in showing him the means to learn them and discover them for himself. p. 13
  • The Masters of the secret teachings say that the truth learned from another is of no value, and that the only truth which is living and effective, which is of value, is the truth which we ourselves discover. p. 13
  • Literally, lhag thong, means to see more, to see beyond, to see extremely, supremely. Thus, not only to see more than that which is seen by the mass of mankind who are crassly ignorant, but to see beyond the bounds limiting the vision of cultivated minds, to bring into being the third eye of Knowledge which the adepts of tantric sects place in the center of the forehead of their symbolic Gods. p. 14
  • The faith commended to their faithful by all religions, and considered by them as a virtue essential for him who hopes for eternal salvation, is nowise approved in the Secret Teachings. Based on the advice given by the Buddha to His disciples, the primary recommendation that the Masters give to neophytes is: Doubt! Doubt is an incitement to research, and research is the Way which leads to Knowledge. p. 15

Quotes about David-Néel edit

  • For several years I have referred to this, hitherto, rare and inaccessible work as the I-told-you-so-book, because it has often been implied that I have invented my explanations of Buddhism out of thin air, thus falsifying its authentic teachings.... Yet, despite the occultist flavor of its title, The Secret Oral Teachings in the Tibetan Buddhist Sects is the most direct, no-nonsense, and down-to-earth explanation of Mahayana Buddhism which has thus far been written.
    • Alan Watts, in his Foreward to:The Secret Oral Teachings in the Tibetan Buddhist Sects (1964)], by Alexandra David-Néel|Alexandra David Nee and Lama Yongden
  • 1889 also marks the first of Alexandra’s so-called neurasthenic crises... Alexandra... attempted to emancipate herself from what she deemed unworthy passions and habits. She claimed to have seen the banality of most human pleasures... To her diary... she confided that she could not believe in romantic love, which would only lead to infidelity, betrayal, and a broken heart.
  • She predicted, wrongly, that she would die young... Without warning, a demonic voice would whisper in her ear that she could put a quick end to her troubles. She knew she mustn’t let it triumph. I belong to a new breed, she would reply. We are few in number but we will accomplish our mission. I am doing what I must.
    • The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices, by Barbara Foster and Michael Foster (1998)
  • Of her several shorter efforts, “Women in Tibet” (Asia 1934) was an unmitigated triumph... female readers from countries as far apart as America and China were writing to her craving more information. The piece analyzed the means by which Tibetan women mastered a harsh environment and gained sway over their men. The women had achieved a de facto equality despite law and scripture unfavorable to them, this by virtue of innate independence and physical stamina. Tibetan women were clever and brave and therefore valued by their husbands.
  • The tenor of the article showed that David-Neel remained a firm feminist—no less than during the period when she had crusaded for the legal rights of housewives and unwed mothers, still more for their economic independence.
    • The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices, by Barbara Foster and Michael Foster (1998)
  • Whether one looks at Alexandra David-Néel the adventurer and explorer, the anthropologist, the scholar or the writer, her life is a testimony of an exceptional and highly gifted individual who stopped at nothing to achieve her aims, and in the process left behind a legacy of books, both entertaining and scholarly, that many successive generations will be able to study and enjoy. Although she was not known to have been officially affiliated with any specific occult group in the West, any esoteric school that cares to investigate or research her books as regards the world of the occult could only benefit thereby.

Alexandra David-Néel, by David Guy, Tricyle Buddhist Review (1995) edit

(Full text)

  • At the age of 16 she was already running away from home for jaunts across Europe, and she traveled to India at 21... It was not until middle age that she married... in 1910 he (her husband) offered her a “long voyage”—he meant something like a year—to “get it out of her system.” She was gone for fourteen years, traveling and living in India, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Japan, making forays into the forbidden kingdom of Tibet.
  • It was when she moved to Sikkim that she met three people who were to influence her life profoundly... This was the beginning of the most important and fulfilling period of David-Néel’s life. She actually underwent a physical transformation, the “neurasthenic,” somewhat unhealthy woman suddenly growing well and looking years younger....Her state of health improved enormously above a certain altitude —but it also seems significant that David-Néel, who until then had been isolated from other Buddhists, was suddenly living in a place where she received support for her practice.
  • When the Dalai Lama asked her how she could have become a Buddhist without a teacher, she said, When I adopted the principles of Buddhism, I knew not a single Buddhist, and was perhaps the only Buddhist in Paris. During their first conversation, the Gomchen of Lachen remarked, You have seen the ultimate and supreme light. It isn’t in a year or two of meditation that one arrives at the concepts you express.
  • To the Tibetans, it seemed perfectly logical for Alexandra David-Néel to have traveled to Lhasa: she was returning to the site of a previous incarnation.

External links edit

Wikipedia has an article about:

Modern Buddhist writers 19th century to date
Theravada / Vipassana movement B. R. AmbedkarṬhānissaro BhikkhuAjahn ChahAnagarika DharmapalaJoseph GoldsteinHenepola GunaratanaNoah LevineNyanaponika Thera
Mahayana Daisaku IkedaYin ShunAlfred Bloom
Vajrayana Pema ChödrönKelsang GyatsoTenzin GyatsoMatthieu RicardRobert ThurmanChögyam Trungpa
Zen Taisen DeshimaruThích Nhất HạnhPhilip KapleauD. T. SuzukiHan Yong-unHsing Yun
Other and Secular Buddhism Stephen BatchelorRobert Wright
Scholars Lokesh ChandraWalter Evans-WentzRichard GombrichThomas Rhys Davids
Non-Buddhists influenced by Buddhism Edwin ArnoldHelena BlavatskyFritjof CapraLeonard CohenAlexandra David-NéelHermann HesseCarl JungJon Kabat-ZinnFriedrich NietzscheHenry Steel OlcottRajneeshHelena RoerichJ. D. SalingerArthur SchopenhauerGary SnyderAlan WattsAlfred North Whitehead